Saturday, 4 April 2020

The Corona Diaries: Andrew Keates


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! 

Andrew Keates is a multi-award winning Theatre Director, who has directed plays and musicals in the West End and internationally. His recent credits include Dark Sublime, Dessa Rose and As Is (Trafalgar Studios) and Chinglish (Park Theatre). He is the Artistic Director of Arion Productions, a theatre company dedicated to creating opportunities for theatremakers, as well as being the producer and host of The Show People Podcast – an award-winning podcast dedicated to theatremakers and their craft.

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? 

Like most, I was at home. But if I’m honest, my first thought was relief. Look, I have dedicated my whole life to the theatre, but we can never put our profession above the value of human life. I had seen some artists pleading with their Twitter followers to still come and see their shows/concerts, which on one hand I understood, because the government and our Prime Minister had, up until this point, advised everyone to keep calm and carry on. But on the other hand, I was frustrated that some didn’t use common sense to consider that being sat in close proximately to others in an auditorium was clearly a terrible and dangerous idea.

Of course, I didn’t want our industry to be decimated overnight. But it was the right decision, albeit delivered by this government in a tardy and messy fashion.

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

Yes. I’ve spent my life creating things - often out of impossible situations, whether that be trying to co-run the Landor Theatre with next to no money and the various events we faced during those years (including the London Riots) to confronting outdated views on the fair representation of BAME artists. I know tough.

But, I’ve treated this time as an opportunity to write my ultimate ‘odds and sods list’ – a compendium of all the jobs I’ve not got round to doing, because of being busy with my work, whether that be re-wallpapering my lounge, putting up shelves, reorganising wardrobes and having a proper Spring clean. I’ve updated my website, found my nose in books that I’ve always wanted to read and been as creative as I can in the kitchen (sometimes out of necessity due to the supermarkets at the moment). I think as artists, we’re happy when we have: an idea – a process – and a result. So, things like cooking give me great satisfaction and I still get to be creative and see a result, even if it doesn’t involve a rehearsal room.

You host the extremely successful Show People Podcast with Andrew Keates, when can we look forward to it returning?

I’m glad you asked. I am currently producing the fourth season, however, there are obvious restraints in front of us now, such as not being able to get guests to come to the studio and record. But, I will be creating a much looser format to create episodes specifically about coping with this pandemic, speaking with professionals such as accountants, therapists and theatremakers. I’ll also interview the great and the good as before, but the interview process will have to be via telephone. I’m also keen for anyone who is creating anything during this time, to get in contact by visiting www.arion-productions.com so we can feature you on the show in some way or another. 

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 think everyone’s Twitter feed is different. In my experience, I’ve actually found a lot of love and inspiring posts – more so than when we were in the omnishambles of Brexit madness. Sure, there’s always going to be someone dispensing hate, but my advice is to press block/mute. My Twitter feed is already an infinitely kinder place since blocking Piers Morgan, Katie Hopkins and a number of others.

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

Honestly, if we’re talking about performers/creatives etc and other self-employed artists, I would suggest that they don’t. Look after yourselves right now. None of us, and I really mean, none of us have any money. I think it’s better to put together a monthly budget with whatever pennies any of us have left, take advantage of things such as Universal Credit, the Self Employed Grant Scheme, ask for help from loved ones and batten down the hatches. This isn’t going to be over anytime soon.

However, as someone with a theatre company that relies heavily on donations to survive. I think it’s a wonderful thing to see how you can help the company using your time and skill without making a financial contribution. Perhaps, you’re a composer and you might like to send me a song to play on The Show People Podcast, or share our posts via your social media accounts, there’s any number of ways you can help theatre companies without just giving cash.

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

Actor and theatremaker, Nathaniel J. Hall said something to me the other day which really resonated. At the beginning of this “lock-down”, I was very frustrated as I’m naturally someone who is accustomed to making shit happen. And as my whole industry and contacts became temporarily inactive, I felt somewhat impotent in my ability to create. Nathaniel said to me, ‘Don’t forget you’re a human being, not a human doing’. And he reminded me that we don’t always have to be defined by what we’re doing sometimes. This is a great time to reflect, to be, to be present in this moment and allow ourselves to press the reset button. 

I’d also recommend, regardless of how you feel, to get your feet out of bed in the morning, dress and plan your day. It’s too easy for all of us to waste away. I write myself a to-do list every morning and find great satisfaction achieving little victories, even if they’re as simple as ‘read a chapter of this book’, ‘clean the fridge’ or ‘play the piano’.

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

Oddly, I’ve found friends reaching out to me in a way I never expected. Two particular friends, actor Scott Hunter and producer Alfie Taylor Gaunt contacted me out of the blue just to make sure I had enough food and supplies as I was self-isolating for a period. I will never forget their kindness. 

I recently attended a drunken Musical Theatre quiz, where I was asked to roast a very, very dear friend, musical director Ben Papworth for his birthday via Zoom. I’m a member of the private members club Quo Vadis and we have weekly get-togethers on that platform too. What I adore the most about this industry is no matter what obstacles are put in front of us, we always find a way of coming together. I hope when this is over, we’ll appreciate so many things we’ve taken for granted, such as the pleasure of having a friend sat opposite you, sharing anecdotes and a bottle (or three) of wine. Yes, you can do that via Facetime – but laughing (and crying) just isn’t the same as being in a room with someone you love.

I speak to my mum and sister every day as they are on the frontline, my mum is a carer for the elderly and my sister is a nurse for the NHS. Speaking to them really puts our frustrations into a very different perspective. The two most important women in my life are literally risking their lives for the good of this country, to be asked to just stay home and not make shows for a bit seems like the absolute least the rest of us can do.

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

A Labour Government.

You can follow Andrew on Twitter: @AndrewKeates, Instagram @MrAndrewKeates, visit his website at www.andrewkeates.co.uk and make sure you subscribe to The Show People Podcast.
 
We'd like to thank Andrew and all the 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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