Friday, 8 May 2020

The Corona Diaries: Mark Dugdale

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*Some information mentioned in this article may be out of date due to the progress of the current situation.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

Mark Dugdale is currently playing Kevin T, Gareth and Others in the London production of Come From Away having previously been part of the original London cast as a swing. His other credits include Jersey Boys (Piccadilly Theatre); The Commitments (Palace Theatre); We Will Rock You (Dominion); Les Misérables (Queens Theatre); Chicago (Cambridge Theatre); Jesus Christ Superstar (Regent’s Park Open Air); Jest End (Leicester Square Theatre); Have a Nice Life (Union Theatre); The Threepenny Opera (Opera Northern Ireland); Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (UK Tour) and The Boy Friend (UK 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 remember walking to work that evening and the West End of London feeling so empty, it was a Monday evening at 5 and normally it's buzzing, I didn't even have to queue at the Tescos Metro. I phoned Rachel Tucker because I knew she had flown back to the UK after the Broadway shut down, we both felt like it was inevitable that the West End would follow suit, we just didn't know when. I think The Prime Minister was advising the public not to go to the theatre as I was on that phone call. As far as we (the cast and company on Come From Away) were concerned it was business as usual, so we started warm-up at 6.15pm and at about 6.30pm the entire company were on the stage and our producer John broke the news to us. My reaction was shock and disbelief, others were crying, it really was surreal. The confusion of not knowing if that was the end of our journey with this wonderful show was really the scary part. I think its important in life to get closure and say goodbye to something and my heart goes out to all my fellow actors who didn't get that chance to say goodbye to something that will have, no doubt, been a massive part of their life.

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

Well I am massively into fitness, I go to the gym 5 or 6 times a week. I work it into my routine so I feel like my body is warm and has been physical before I get to work. So the gyms closing down has been a huge shift for me. I managed to get a couple of bits, a pull-up bar and some resistance bands before the sports shops closed down, so I have created a really small makeshift gym in my bedroom. I have found a lot of things online, zoom classes and fitness experts running class on Instagram so I am doing a lot of working out. I miss the weights but I feel that if I can manage to come out of this healthier than I went in, I will be thrilled. 

I have been asked to do a couple of concerts online but to be honest, I am a bit of technophobe and doing my own cabaret or concert is something that terrifies me so the thought of not doing it properly with the help of a musical director is the main reason why I have made excuses not to do it. I have started to write things down every day and maybe now I will sit and work out what kind of solo show I want to do in the future and when this is over take steps to make it happen. I've realised you have to be vulnerable to be yourself on stage in your own show, not playing someone else, its something I've struggled with but if this time has taught me anything its that life is too short and sometimes you have to take a leap of faith.

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 started to meditate every day, my flatmate introduced me to the Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra 21 day meditation challenge. I recommend it to anyone struggling because its main aim is to restore hope in these dark times, you can get it on the App Store and the 21-day challenge is free. I found it very hard initially but the difference even after a few weeks has been immense. I wouldn't go as far as saying "I am now chill" but I am on the road to learning how to tackle negativity, online or otherwise, with hope. Also, people are dealing with this in their own way so I don't judge anyone for perhaps being negative online, we really need to be more Newfoundlander in these times and reach out to people who are struggling. 

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

It's so hard because I can imagine most people are under financial pressure right now but if you have bought a ticket to a show instead of getting a refund please think about transferring it to another date in the future. So when we reopen and are ready to have shared experiences again the theatre will have an audience. We will come back and we will come back strong!

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

I got Disney Plus, well rather my brother did and I got his password. I have been obsessed with a show on there called "Encore". Each episode follows a group of people who come back to reprise the roles they played in their high school musical, in some cases decades after they last played them. It is really funny, heartwarming and humbled me to see how fortunate I am to do what I do for a living. The Oklahoma episode had me crying my eyes out, I wasn't prepared. 

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 am QUIZZED OUT! I am terrible at quizzes and I am doing about 3 a week in lockdown although I find alcohol helps me get smarter for some reason! I think the major positive I am taking from Lockdown is how I communicate with my family, we are very close but living in London and them in Belfast sometimes I am frazzled when I call them after a long day, so I am not really present. We now video call every night and I love it, we are really communicating and I feel even closer to them now. My brother and his wife recently had a baby girl so I became an uncle for the first time and getting to see her on-screen is just amazing. I even sang to her the other day and she just stared at me, I think she's going to be on the stage.

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

There is so much I am looking forward to, having a shared experience with people again, the theatre, the cinema, the pub, travelling, hugging people. I think the major thing, for me, is not taking anything for granted again. Life is precious and we have to be kind, Where I live in London the sense of community is definitely more alive than ever. Like being respectful of keeping a distance when I am in the supermarket or waving at neighbours I have never met when we go out to clap the NHS. I hope this will change how we interact as human beings moving forward and I am throwing fear and anxiety out of the window because there really is no time for it. Definitely looking forward to life after a reset and reboot.

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

For more information please visit GOV.UK and

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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