Thursday, 18 August 2016

Thicko's Done OK

I'm watching my twitter feed slowly fill with congratulations to all the 6th formers celebrating their well deserved A Level results this morning.  Very few are just 'lucky',  most have worked hard and indeed made some lifestyle sacrifices to achieve the results that the envelope presented them with today.

Then you go onto other forums and read the devastation of those people that equally might have put in the work, but for one reason or another, just didn't get the grades that they need. Parents talking about consoling their children, as they're seemingly left, at 18, branded a disaster.

Next week it'll be the same scenario but two years earlier. Exam results effectively dictating how people feel about themselves and their ability.

What a load of B******ks!!

Exams are such an archaic way of saying whether somebody is clever or not. What a bizarre way of deciding fate. "Here's 2 hours....prove that you've managed to cram everything that you've been taught for the last 16/18 years, then like some fairground memory test, reproduce it in a language that we can judge (so not your vernacular), within the next 120 mins". Then over the course of a couple of weeks, repeat for various subjects.

What is it proving? That you can memorise facts? Why? Where's the applied section? Where's the useful stuff that we need to learn in life? Why do we still have teenagers leaving school that can't read or write to a high enough standard? Why do we have teenagers leaving school that can't do basic maths (and I'm definitely not talking about all those strange 1a X 2b + ?c equations that we used to do all the time...which 30 years on I've still not found a use for)?

I've somehow always known that I was going to be a musician. I didn't know how that was going to happen - but it was! I understand that I was extremely lucky to have such a clear target in mind moving forward. Some people 5 years on having left HE still don't know what they're going to do with their lives. It's hard when you don't have 'a thing'.

Somehow I was in the 'top stream' at school, but interestingly have always branded myself as 'thick'. So much so in fact that my very much better half, tells me off rather regularly for using such a derogatory term to describe myself.  So why 'thick'? I guess because I never saw the value in 'classes' in school or indeed college, I always just saw the opportunities there.  So I saw school as an amazing resource where I could easily find a space, a band, and a cast - and I put on shows.  Similarly at college, of course I sat through all the various lectures, but most of my time was spent volunteering to be in everybody else's shows.  I learnt, through applying resources I guess.  None of my real learning was structured.

However I also grasped the 'system' quickly. So I knew for example, that to get to 6th form, I had to do OK in my O Levels (Yes, I'm that for younger readers, basically my GCSE's). So I attempted to learn just enough.  Enough to scrape me through.  I mean, I couldn't spend hours learning everything - I had shows to play for, performances to do. And that's what I did...scraped through. The lowest pass grade possible was a C, and I got myself a load of them.

By the time I got to the next level, I had already found the perfect route for me, via what was then called a Polytechnic (or as someone actually told me...'the college for those people not clever enough to get into university'). Middlesex was a rarity. It accepted people on their ability via an audition, and then asked you for the most basic of passes to try and help scram you over the cargo net of exams.  My offer came back - two E's. That was it. I needed just 2 E's to get me to the next step.

I wanted to be a musician, but to be a musician did I really need to know dates? What difference does it make to me or indeed the world of music today, what date Beethoven wrote his last symphony? Surely what matters is that he wrote it, and what it sounded like, what was the harmonic structure of that work, how did the orchestration help...the questions are infinite...however the nature of exams meant, at that time, that I needed to know the dull stuff, as well as the interesting, useful stuff.  What's more....I needed to learn that 'stuff' about a whole load of people.  Sure the teachers tried to work out which questions would come up that year, but it was a gamble, and one that I wasn't prepared to take, so I walked out of the exam casino. I decided that the remit was so large, there was no point in dipping my toe in it.  So instead I....did shows! In my defence the shows were getting better, but they didn't facilitate me doing well in my exams.  I scraped through - I got my two E's, and off I trotted to the lesser university...the polytechnic.

Middlesex had a no exam policy (which was one of the attractions for me), and all their assessments were practical.  I mean, we literally did one exam right at the end of the course, and even that was a seen paper. Happy days.  Suddenly I was doing shows...which counted towards my degree.  I don't believe that there is a course like the old BAPA course anymore - but I was literally doing around 8 to 10 shows a term. I had never worked so hard in my life...but I was loving it.

I left college with a healthy 2:1 BA(Hons), however I still felt 'thick'

I became a professional musician, the crap jobs that I've done to facilitate that profession have ranged from cleaner right through to opening a drama college. This year I've been in the business 27 years (29 years if you count the 2 years prior to college training to be a ballet accompanist and working as an organist about the clubs and churches of Swansea).

Being a musician has literally taken me around the world, and has facilitated me having the most amazing life, providing me with a fairly good geographical knowledge of the UK thanks to touring, and more importantly a lifetime of anecdotes to facilitate small talk in awkward situations. I've managed to meet or work with with nearly every single one of the people that inspired me along the way.

Had I spent my earlier years just having my head stuck in a book, revising for the memory test of O and A Levels, I don't think that I would have made it.

For a 'thicko' I've done OK. I've realised my IQ is really high where it matters - emotional intelligence. Ironically the one area that they don't really cover in school.

Our industry will never be based on results. You will not be the next Broadway star because you got an A*....however your parents are more likely to let you give this industry a shot if you have those A*'s tucked away for a rainy day ;-)

The MTA spends a day getting to know you, working with you, in situ, to find out what you can do. Talent and hard work should be the thing that gets you into this industry not a grade.  Long may our radical approach to education empower the 'thickos' ;-)

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Make a Difference

How on earth can we be on week 5 of the #time4change #mentalhealthcharter?

So we're up to 76 companies signed, sealed and delivered. Between Pat O'Toole and myself we also have several companies/organisations considering implementing the charter.  I know that Pat has been massively busy behind the scenes supporting the larger companies to think about how they can easily introduce the charter to their organisations. Meanwhile I'm chatting to a couple of theatres, and attempting to support them to introduce #time4change.

It's so hard though - 76 companies is amazing, and so many more than I initially thought would get involved, however you get greedy don't you? I don't know how many organisations we'd need to get involved to get the industry completely covered, but I do know that it's more than we have right now. I'm aware that we need more colleges, so that young professionals entering the business are mentally prepared from the outset. Obviously the holidays have fallen at a very unfortunate time for the charter.

Similarly I'm aware how London centric our 'members' are right now, yet there are vibrant communities right across the UK that could benefit from implementing this simple PDF.

So the tweets and emails continue.

I still believe that it's the stigma of Mental Health that is preventing people either signing up or indeed just sharing the message of the charter.  I'm still receiving emails with snide comments on them, which I've now decided to just share as dinner party stories. We've come so far, there ain't no way that I'm giving up now.

The distressing thing about the campaign is just when you think you'll leave it for a bit,  a story or event reaches you that pushes you through the apathy. Mental Health 'episodes' are happening every day. You might only be noticing the obvious ones....but the point of the charter is to begin to be aware of the little things.

You can help though...please share the #time4change hashtag, if your agent hasn't signed up yet, please ask them, if the theatre that you're working for haven't signed...ask them, if your college hasn't signed...ask them. People will sign if they can see and understand the need.  Right now Mental Health is so camouflaged by people afraid to 'out' themselves we're close to finding ourselves in a catch 22 situation.  All of us....people suffering from known mental health conditions and people with no known conditions (yet) need to be pushing this charter through our industry.

Today, we could all make a difference.
Email make the subject #time4change Let's do it!!
Full details of the charter can be found here:

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Why Wouldn't You? #time4change

We are now on the 4th week of the #time4change #mentalhealthcharter as launched by Mark Shenton in The Stage in July. If this initiative is news to you, please check out an earlier post which sets out how it came about:

I remember from last year's fundraising at The MTA for our 'Big Move', as the week's go on, it gets harder and harder to campaign in an innovative way.  I feel like I've said it in as many ways as I can now...I'm even boring myself BUT what makes this so different is that when I get that desire to call it a day, I'm reminded of the contents of the emails I was sent prior to the #time4change conference back in March.  Emails listing some of the appalling ways that people with clear mental health difficulties, were treated as part of their 'training'.  Remembering how one uneducated faculty member can actually, inadvertently do so much damage.  Remembering that if Mental Health Education isn't at the core of a college, and therefore supported by the ruling establishment, students in crises can literally be tipped over the edge.

Just this week I was sent an email by somebody that had approached us for help quite some time ago now, someone who had gone through one of the 'top' accredited colleges, one of the colleges that has already told me that 'they're OK'....'their systems work', and yet this person (who of course could have been the exception) literally slipped through the pastoral net, and had found themselves for years out in the mental health wilderness, not knowing where to look for support.  They contacted us because I 'go on' about the subject, so they thought that I could have signposted where they should go next.  Thankfully in this case we did (signpost), the person was in a place ready to hear, and they're now being successfully treated and their life has changed.

Similarly lots of tweets getting RT'ed' this past week by students (past and present) of 'top' accredited colleges, asking their Principals to consider signing up to the #time4change #mentalhealthcharter. Several of them telling me that this initiative was overdue.  Surely this implies that current Mental Health Policies, however well meaning, need improving?

So here's my big question of the week. . .WHY wouldn't you sign the charter? What have you got to lose? For agents and producers it costs them absolutely nothing. That's all they have to do is a file merge and add the Charter to their standard contracts or welcome packs.  I mean that is literally 5 mins work (unless you're on my office computer which admittedly means that it would take 30 is most definitely coming up to a much needed trip to a Genius store). The cost to a theatre is minimal. You just have to locate, in your area, the nearest Mental Health crises intervention team, locate a Buddhist centre providing mindfulness and a couple more things, just to add to your welcome pack. So what's that? Getting an employee to spend 30 mins googling that information (hell...we've even offered to help them out locating these places if they really don't know where to start).  The cost to a college? 1 - 2 full days of having a Mental Health Practitioner with you to deliver a speech to your students, explaining WellBeing and giving a Mental Health overview, and to give a training session(s) to your staff.   That is it.  Other than that it's the same as for everyone else - a file merge to add the #time4change #mentalhealthcharter Fact Sheet to the welcome packs.

Simple isn't it?

Inexpensive isn't it?

So WHY are we having such difficulty selling this simple concept?

This week saw the launch of The Stage, Spotlight UK, BAPAM and Equity initiative ArtsMind, prompted by a survey they did back in 2015 launched by The Stage 5 days ago: Equity's Louise Granger had mentioned that this web portal would be launching this year back in March at our conference, and it's just brilliant that they've created a one stop 'hub' for performers to access as part of their mental health/well being tool kit. However when I was hashtag checking all things #time4change just a day after the launch of this website (a daily occurrence to ensure that I haven't missed anything important), I decided to hashtag check #artsmind and the amount or rather the lack of hashtags was shocking.  This major initiative that had taken months to build, with 4 of our major industry heavy weights behind it, yet it could barely manage a presence for longer than a few days.

Again my question is WHY? WHY wasn't everyone taking care of 'everyone else' and pointing all creatives in that direction, so that webpage could be bookmarked 'in case of emergency'?

Then I was having a conversation with someone the other night who was asking me WHY I thought that people were reluctant to get involved...and it came to me.  The stigma/fear is so great surrounding Mental Health, people are reluctant to engage in a process that might make them hold the mirror up to themselves.  To engage in our initiative you would need to educate yourself, which might mean reflecting on old behaviours, or indeed there may be an acknowledgement of having a difficulty yourself that has never been addressed.  The current consensus appears to be - if you're talking about it, you have it, and if you have it, I don't want to know. The stigma is alive and well.  Heads are well and truly buried in the ground on this one.

I have consciously never divulged my own Mental Health status whilst campaigning - yet I received a positively vitriolic attack, presuming that I had started this campaign off due to 'my own issues'. Like I was attempting to create a problem in our industry for the hell of it?

So my big question of week 4 is WHY?

If you already have a robust Mental Health Policy in place you would naturally be fulfilling the terms of the Charter = RESULT. Sign up, and let's add your name and status to the campaign.

If you're concerned that it'll take too much time - see above. We're talking a maximum of 30 mins out of your life to fulfil the terms of the charter = RESULT. Sign up, and let's add your name and status to the campaign.

If you're worried about the costs - see above.  Colleges would suffer the only financial penalty, but these are clearly costs that can be absorbed by the organisations in a bid to help and educated the young of our industry, and that after all is our job = RESULT. Sign up, and let's add your name and status to the campaign.

Finally my question is a bit more personal - to those people that I've contacted to attempt to get them interested in the initiative WHY have you ignored the email/tweet (or often both)? WHY wouldn't you just show a basic level of manners and say that for personal reasons you're not interested in this, or you think that it's nonsense or just a simple 'thanks but no thanks'? Every single time you've emailed/tweeted me, I've shown you the courtesy of an answer - WHY aren't you able to do the same.  Trust me. . . I'm very busy too, but I always find time for manners.

So.....WHY wouldn't you sign the charter, and spread the word about ArtsMind while you're at it?

If this has made you interested in Charter - putting #time4change as the subject.

PS...if you signed I could stop going on about it. Now WHY wouldn't you want that?