Thursday, 30 April 2020

The Corona Diaries: Alistair So


These recent times have been some of the hardest challenges we've faced and as a community, it hit us pretty hard. However during these difficult times, here at Pocket Size Theatre, we wanted to spread a little positivity and share some peoples experiences because we are all in this together. Each day we'll be speaking to our friends in the industry to share their experiences with you all so take a read and see how people are getting through these hard times.

Let's stick together, share the love and get through this as a community!

*Some information mentioned in this article may be out of date due to the progress of the current situation. Please keep that in mind when reading* 

Alistair So is currently in the London cast of The Phantom of the Opera, in the ensemble and covering the role of Raoul. His other credits also include Newsvendor/Lawyer in the UK premiere of Amour (Charing Cross Theatre); Jimmy Winter in the UK premiere of Nice Work If You Can Get It (Upstairs at the Gatehouse); understudy Lun Tha in The King and I (London Palladium) and understudy Thuy in Miss Saigon (UK & Ireland Tour).    

On Monday 16th March 2020, The Society of London Theatre announced the closure of all Theatres in London. This followed suit with regional venues. Where were you when you found out and what was your initial reaction?

I had just arrived in the auditorium at Her Majesty’s for our weekly notes session when our company manager made the announcement that we would be shut for at least a week, which of course was later extended for much longer.

I really cannot say that I was at all surprised: Broadway had closed the previous week and at the time, everywhere you went and every news channel you watched, you could not avoid hearing the almost minute-to-minute news of the virus. With every other venue and establishment for large public events gradually closing as the weeks went by, it seemed only natural that the theatres did too.

Can you tell us anything productive you’ve been doing? 

I have recently started studying Web design and development. I find it a fascinating combination of the technical: understanding the use of code and script to shape and put things together and of course create functionality; and the artistic: laying out a website and making it appealing. Our current circumstances will continue to push for more digitalisation across every industry and I thought it would be a good skill to have once I am proficient.

I have always been a bit of a nerd at heart, having spent part of last summer building a computer and then tweaking and upgrading it over the following months. I now use said computer (henceforth dubbed the Alintosh Pro after yours truly) to edit video, record music, do web programming and other bits and bobs. The Alintosh and I have certainly had our work cut out for us over the past few weeks with a number of online choir videos and things that I have been able to sing in and I am working on one now which I am helping to arrange. It is a ginormous and tricky task but it betters my skills and it feels great to work so collaboratively in spite of the distancing. 

When the computery stuff gets too dense and I need a break, one of my first go-to’s is my guitar, I first started playing when I was eight but the skills that I went on to develop fell by the wayside when I decided I wanted to be an actor. In recent years, I played a little bit now and then when I felt like it but never really made any progress, save for maintaining what I already knew. Now, I have the time to sharpen my technique, brush up on my music theory too and hopefully bring a honed skill to the table when all of this is over.

Fitness-wise, I always try and do an hour’s workout every other day with a few weights I have at home. Usually, I find exercise for the sake of exercise to be a total chore and thank goodness for YouTube and the internet for the unending stream of content to give me inspiration for when I need it!

Whenever you log onto social media there is so much negativity circulating. How have you been trying to keep a positive mental attitude during these times?

I have always had a love/hate relationship with social media. When life was “normal”, I would often have a browse through all of the usual channels, quite often mindlessly scrolling to pass time on the train, sometimes genuinely stopping and taking an interest in things and making a moderate effort to maintain my presence online. I am very well aware – now more than ever – that what generally makes it to the top of news feeds internet-wide, is often the very best and very worst of the news and people’s not-so-nice interactions with one another. Now that we are in lockdown and everyone is even more reliant on social media platforms than ever before, I often have to tell myself to step back from it all and take the social atmosphere online with a massive pinch of salt:

There is no use in envying people who, I assume, have it or will have it better than me, nor is it healthy to continually get overly-invested and bear the burden of every depressing or sad post I see. Social media is, of course, a blessing right now to help us all stay in touch, but without balance, the lockdown and social media do not make good bedfellows.

For me to stay sane and happy, I have to choose to see the opportunities here: plenty of time to read and study, learn new skills, build upon others and get a head start so I can hit the ground running when the entr’acte to post Covid life begins. (Too theatrical? Never.) 

With the Arts temporarily shut down, how would you advise people to continue to support the Arts industries? 

Donating is of course a great way. Plenty of companies are now uploading amazing shows you can watch for free, but if you can spare a bit, even the smallest of donations will play a part in not just keeping these companies and shows alive, but will also help rebuild them once we are out of the lockdown. 

Acting for Others and MAD Trust UK are also great places to start if you would be interested in supporting performers and creatives specifically within our line of work. Our industry has already taken a heavy bruising financially since the shows closed: while producers are doing what they can to keep their companies and employees going, and the government has made provisions for the bulk of the populace and the self-employed, there are still, unfortunately, many entertainment professionals who, through no fault of their own, fall through the gaps of the system. I know many people, friends and colleagues of mine, who will be relying to varying extents on the charity and generosity of others. The aforementioned organisations will be on overdrive now, to help as many as they can and any support, financial or otherwise, that can be given to them will be most appreciated and will undoubtedly make a difference for those who are going to struggle in the coming months.

And of course, when we start to recover and it is safe to do so, go to the theatre! It will be good for the economy and good for ya’ soul! You dig me?

Have you discovered anything that you’d like to recommend to our viewers? 

Anyone who wants a good read and a topical, thought-provoking laugh about life as an NHS Doctor should read Adam Kay’s This is Going to Hurt. A real gem for the times! Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is an amazing novel with a mix of great humour, touching moments and a morally weighty storyline. Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak is an exhausting read as I am discovering as I gradually chip away at it, but well worth it so far. The Death of Stalin is a great black-comedy film on Amazon Prime if you haven’t already seen enough political farce in your own lifetime. Hunters and The Boys, both on Amazon Prime too, make for great binge watching.

I have started listening to a lot of music by John Mayer: I know he has been around for a while and I am a little behind the curve, but I only really noticed how much of a brilliant guitarist, singer and lyricist he is.

If you have ever been interested in graphics, animation, 3D modelling or game development, Blender is a really amazing app that is totally free and there are tons of great learning resources out there to go with it:https://www.blender.org/

For anyone who has a basic microphone set up and is interested in voiceover and doing home recordings, Audacity is a great, free app to have on your computer: https://www.audacityteam.org/

In these times of Social Distancing and isolation, how have you been trying to connect with Friends and Family? Any fun quizzes or games?! 

Honestly, all I need is a good old laugh and a chat with my friends and family via Zoom or Facetime and I can call it a day. At the best of times, I don’t have the attention span for quizzes, so it’s anyone’s guess how I would do in a virtual one!

And finally, looking to the future, what are you most looking forward to when all of this is over? 

It sounds a little dramatic, but I cannot wait for the feeling to return (and it will) that there is a future that I can work towards: everyone is stuck in limbo and any plans or ideas, potential jobs, holidays etc. are all completely out of sight, but irritatingly, not out of mind. Like I have said earlier though, there is still plenty one can do now – but it is just that sweet, sweet stability of normal day-to-day things and activities that we took for granted.

After that, I’m also looking forward to our first show back, then getting sozzled with my pals at the Three Crowns before moving the fun to Sophie’s or Century, then tidying myself up and doing a show the next day in spite of being a little worse for wear. 

We'd like to thank Alistair and all other performers who have given up their time to contribute to this feature.

For more information please visit GOV.UK and NHS.co.uk

Other useful links for anyone needing further help:

Acting For Others - Charity that provides financial & emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need. 
Help Musicians - An independent Charity that helps all forms of Musicians through times of need.
Industry Minds - Mental Health Support for the creative arts.
Theatre Helpline - a free, independent and confidential phone and email service that provides support to people working in the theatre industry.
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