Saturday, 9 May 2020

The Corona Diaries: Billy Cullum


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*Some information mentioned in this article may be out of date due to the progress of the current situation.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* 

Billy Cullum was most recently seen in Leave to Remain at the Lyric Hammersmith. His other credits include Ensemble & Cover Seymour & Dentist in Little Shop of Horrors (Regent's Park Open Air Theatre); Mark Cohen in RENT (UK Tour, St. James Theatre); Ensemble/1st Cover Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar (Regent's Park Open Air Theatre); Ensemble in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Theatre Royal, Drury Lane); Ensemble and understudy Michael Wormwood & Rudolpho in Matilda (Cambridge Theatre); Moritz in Spring Awakening (UK Tour); Jesus in Godspell (Union Theatre). 

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 was sat at home in a bit of a mood that I wasn’t able to see Tori Kelly live at the Roundhouse that night. Myself and my best friend had tickets, the concert was still going ahead but it just didn’t feel sensible going. When the announcement of the theatre’s closing happened I was watching Tori Kelly videos on YouTube! I was shocked and sad that all my friends in the theatre world had their jobs just taken away from them in an instant. It’s such a strange thought that those theatre’s are all empty now. I feel so much for everyone dealing with this as the future is now so uncertain, but people within the world of theatre are incredible people and it’s amazing to see how people are adapting. I can’t wait once this is over for all the lights to be turned back on again and for theatre to thrive more than it ever has. People will need it after this. 

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

I’ve had many days where I have just stayed on the sofa watching RuPaul’s Drag Race and Grey’s Anatomy but I have been really productive as well! Me and my partner were already in the process of writing a new musical so it’s given me a whole load of time to be creative and focus on that. It’s a family musical with such heart and emotion. It feels really special and I can’t wait to start workshopping the piece post lockdown. I also run my own theatre school in Kingston upon Thames called KiPA: Kingston Performers Academy which I’ve been utilising the online world to access my students and anyone else who loves performing. On our insta page @kipakingston from 26th April - 31st May, every Sunday at 2pm, you can tune into a live FREE West End workshop. We have Half a Sixpence, Six, Hamilton, Mary Poppins, Hairspray and Legally Blonde! I’ve also been doing live Q&A’s for the students with incredible talent including my friends and patrons Lucie Jones, Jenny O’Leary and Layton Williams, there’s lots more to come!

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? 

Firstly, I’ve turned off all my notifications. It’s helped in such a big way to allow me to have control of when I want to use social media. Everyone is dealing with these unusual circumstances in different ways. There’s no right or wrong way. Luckily I don’t follow or surround myself with negativity so it all feels really positive online for me. Getting to watch friends do live performances and challenging themselves creatively is so entertaining and inspiring to see. I don’t watch the news on TV now so I use the headlines on my feed as an indication as to what’s going on in the world! 

I’ve been doing mediation every morning and evening. If you follow @breathewithjames on Instagram he has brilliant breathing videos. I work part-time at a wellbeing centre so I’ve been taking part in the live yoga classes which is good for me physically and mentally. I joined this little workout group on Instagram called @bodybyciara which is killing me daily. It’s probably the most intense workouts I’ve ever done! One of the most important things though is to not think too far ahead. We have no idea at the moment how long things are going to take so it’s good to be simply present in the moment. Take things day by day. 

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

Acting for Others is a great place to give money to those in need right now. If you can’t afford to give right now you can support individuals or companies online. There are so many talented people out there doing classes, live shows, Q&A sessions, recorded sessions. Support all the talent by sharing, retweeting, liking and reposting so you can spread the amazing things they’re all doing. I created a “lockdown” performance of Seasons of Love with the 20th-anniversary cast of RENT for the NHS and key workers. It's had so many views! The messages from essential workers were really overwhelming. The shares keep coming which means we’re spreading love and smiles all over! 

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

I’ve just finished a brilliant series on Apple TV called “Home Before Dark” which is such a gripping murder mystery series being solved by a young reporter and her classmates. If you’re into fashion then “Making the Cut” on Prime TV is the one! Heidi Klum and Naomi Campbell as judges, you can't go wrong. Disney+ just came at the right time, didn’t it?! Also a moment to appreciate BBC Three’s adaptation of Sally Rooney’s ‘Normal People.’ It is perfection. If you haven’t read the book, read it! If you’ve read the book, watch it! You will not be disappointed.

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

I’ve done many quizzes! I have regular time slots for some and have had fun one-off group zooms and quizzes with workmates which has been hilarious. Regular face times and sharing lots of memes is the way I’ve been connecting with those close to me. 

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

Hugging all my friends and family. I just can’t wait. I also cannot wait to re-open my theatre school. I miss the students so much! Their talent and enthusiasm for performing gives me life!

Just before lockdown started I was almost finished on my new EP. There’ll be 6 tracks on it which I’ve written and worked on with an incredible producer called J MAC. With the EP coming out and getting the new musical to a workshop state I really can’t wait for all this creativity to be seen and heard. 

We'd like to thank Billy 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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