When you write a semi regular blog you almost feel obliged to write a New Year feature.
I've been very torn about what to write, as in 2016 the world appeared to go crazy, in a year that I was instrumental in a campaign which was attempting to empower people to stop going crazy.
The #time4change initiative came out of a blog that I wrote in 2014 http://www.thereviewshub.com/blog-annemarie-lewis-thomas-support-each-other-in-2015/
10 months later and nothing had changed: http://www.thereviewshub.com/opinion-annemarie-lewis-thomas-taming-the-black-dog/ except that I was finding myself more and more on the periphery of our industry. All of my own doing I should add - nobody likes being called out, least of all me. However Equity, Spotlight, BAPAM, Drama UK. . . the list goes on, were seemingly doing nothing to address the mental health epidemic in our industry. Now in fairness to all these organisations they might have been working tirelessly behind the scenes to make changes, but when lives are at stake I don't think that you wait 20 months to reveal your grand plan (which in the end is what happened).
In March, The MTA hosted a Mental Health Conference, and the indifference that I encountered was staggering. At the conference Equity reassured us that things WERE being planned, and we just had to be patient. Sadly that is not my best feature. I'm not a sitter. Be patient as people became patients? I don't think so. I had this plan, which in itself was madness. I tried to 'sell' the idea to someone involved in one of the aforementioned organisations. I wanted the organisation's backing, as I knew that if they got behind it we could roll it out in a week! The vitriol that followed has spurred me on throughout 2016. Yes, I'm antagonistic. Yes, I'm persistent. Yes, I tend to think in bigger pictures. Yes, I'm Welsh and my mother's daughter, and if you think that shooting down my idea with a load of personal insults will stop me, then you have no idea about Welsh heritage at all, especially Welsh women! You say no - we say, "I'll bloody show you"!
Angie Peake donated her time, the #time4change Mental Health charter was written, and off I tweeted. I tweeted constantly for months. I emailed colleagues that I had once said hello to at various shows, conferences etc. . . any link to get me through the door to colleges, theatres, production companies and agencies. I made sure that I had a few big hitters on board before announcing the charter, as I knew that by their very presence some would naturally follow. Fast forward 6 months and 115 organisations have signed the Charter.
I never had a desire to run a mental health campaign, I just found myself compelled to DO something. Empirical evidence was growing which supported my long standing personal belief (as documented here) and yet nobody was 'acting' on it (ironic for our industry don't you think?).
That said, I also never had a desire to open a drama college - and look where that got me?
The campaign has exasperated me - I just don't understand why people won't join. Why can't they make a commitment to send out an email? Why are people reluctant to see that there's an issue here that we're not addressing? The bullshit that I've heard this year; Smaller colleges who could enforce the charter in a heartbeat, claiming that they have no money to implement it? Strange that - as the most that it would cost them would be for a mental health consultant to train their staff, and to speak to their students. So the cost of a consultant for a day? If your margins are that tight maybe you should rethink your business plan! Production companies and agencies that will 'think about it'? What is there to think about? I'm asking you so send out a PDF. That's it? Other than BAPAM none of the major organisations mentioned in the 2nd paragraph have entertained endorsing or joining the initiative. Hurrah for BAPAM I say who, as we all know, put health (mental or physical) first. Were Spotlight or Equity to join us - we could flood the industry in one go. How disappointing that both organisations have been too busy to discuss the possibility with us. As for Drama UK. . . well I had always said that they were a waste of space. Their demise in 2016 will, I believe, spur our sector on to be world class, in both our training AND our pastoral care.
However the campaign has also exhilarated me. It's enabled me to meet like minded people. People that like me, don't give up at the first hurdle. People like Pat O'Toole from Rose Bruford, who was not only 'in' from the get go, but was out to get everybody else to sign up too. Mountview and Arts Ed - surely 2 of the most established drama colleges in the UK signed up to the charter. Honest and frank discussions with Stephen from Mountview and Chris from Arts Ed, email chats with Nick from PPA, have all restored my faith in the industry. All four are people that want to make a difference. There is no competition just differences that make us all unique BUT with a unified fight against mental health that will make us all stronger. I can't wait to work closer with all the colleges that have signed up, as we all begin to learn from each other and to give each other support as we work our way through the maze of mental health issues that we are confronted with on a daily basis. The journalist Susan Elkin who has consistently backed the initiative, writing several blogs/features on it when others didn't want to know. Mark Shenton for kindly giving the campaign 'a soft launch' in one of his blogs. Just people restoring my faith in humanity actually, in a world that was appearing to stop caring about anything other than 'self'.
The campaign is ongoing - but given that I have a college to run, shows to write, and a young family to spend time with, it will now run in the background, ready to be sent out to anybody that's interested. The colleges have all agreed to meet early this year (2017) to work out how our peer supervision is going to work.
A couple of weeks ago I was humbled to learn that The MTA has been short listed for The Stage School of the Year Award, an award that we'd already won once, back in 2012. How brilliant that the citation acknowledged #time4change as something important.
I won't name the person that insulted and patronised me way back at the start of the year, as their name isn't important. However I would like to thank them - as they know who they are. If they hadn't been so bloody rude to me I probably wouldn't have been so dogmatic about making this thing work. I'd like to think that they knew that all the time. A paradoxical intervention if you like.
Here's hoping that #time4change continues to grow in 2017. I'm looking forward to meeting with BAPAM to ensure that we keep joining up the dots - as we are only ever stronger together, and whilst that slogan didn't work for Brexit, I still believe that it works in theatre, which after all, has always been about collaboration, and working together.
Happy New Year