Monday, 29 June 2020

The Corona Diaries: John Owen-Jones



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!

John Owen-Jones most recently played Jean Valjean in the concert production of Les Miserables at the Gielgud Theatre, a role he previously has played on Broadway, in Dubai, on tour in the UK and in the West End at the Queen's and Palace Theatres. His other credits include Burrs in The Wild Party (The Other Palace); Tiger Bay (Wales Millennium Centre); Adolfo Pirelli in Sweeney Todd (London Coliseum); The Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera (International Tour & Her Majesty's Theatre); Gaylord Ravenal in Showboat (Royal Albert Hall); Much Ado About Nothing & The Pirates of Penzance (Regent's Park, Open Air Theatre); A Little Night Music (National Theatre); The Merchant of Venice (Harrogate Theatre) and The Sound of Music, The Hypochondriac & Le Medecin Volant (West Yorkshire Playhouse). 

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 at home - like most other people! I was surprised and annoyed it took so long to do the obvious thing especially after Broadway had already closed. The safety of the audiences and the people who work in the industry was paramount and I don’t think it was done soon enough. It wasn’t the producers’ fault though as they were being led by the government and were not given any clear guidance. I think the government badly handled the whole thing to begin with, as they seemed to want to protect the insurance companies before protecting the theatre world and all involved in it. I just hope that the huge economic and spiritual contribution that the arts bring to the UK is recognised by this government before it’s too late, and they start to help the many, many people who work in theatre who are suffering economic hardship as a result of the pandemic. Theatres will close and jobs will be lost as a result of what has happened, but we have to protect what we can and try to rebuild what is lost as soon as possible. 

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

Well, I’ll be honest here and say I haven’t really done much workwise. I did film one streaming concert from my living room with Lambert Jackson productions as part of their Leave a Light On series. I can cook, decorate, do DIY and gardening like most people but unfortunately both my parents passed away within the last two months (neither covid19 related), and this has, of course, usurped all other things in my life recently. 

There's so much important information and messages being spread on social media but sometimes it can be quite mentally draining and consume a lot of your time, how have you been trying to look after your mental state whilst using these platforms?

I ignore anything that may be personally directed at me – although that has happened very rarely. I use Twitter and Instagram mainly, I hardly touch Facebook as it is too time-consuming. I try to follow a good range of people with lots of differing views but if anyone is abusive or ignorant in their postings on my timeline they are either blocked or immediately unfollowed. Sometimes you can get sucked into an argument without meaning to, but I try not to let that happen. Life is too short to get into meandering pointless arguments and discussions with strangers in whom I have no emotional investment. So I just block or unfollow and get on with bringing positive energy into my life. My social media philosophy is basically this: would you argue with a stranger in a pub who spouts politically unsound and controversial statements just to get a reaction? I wouldn’t. So I don’t do it on social media. 

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

That’s tricky as I don’t want to sound preachy, You can’t make people do anything they don’t want to do. Personally, I have lost all my main income through live work being cancelled and don’t really have a clear idea of when that live work may start up again. So the future is financially stark for me. One way to help an artist like myself (and this obviously doesn’t apply to everyone in my industry) would be to pay for things like music downloads as there is VERY little artist money in streaming on Spotify. You can own one of my albums for life for just a tenner but it would take literally tens of thousands of streams for me to make that £10! So, by all means, stream it to see if you like it – but if you do like it why not just buy it? If more people buy, then the money will go back into me making more albums and concerts - so everyone wins! 

Sadly, I have seen people reluctant to part with their money for this kind of thing. People are happy to spend £10 on a coffee and a pastry or a round of drinks that brings fleeting joy but not to spend that amount of money on something that can bring them joy for a very long time and physically keep forever. 

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

How long have you got? I read and watch film and TV voraciously so it would be a long list. I guess I’ll just list my absolute favourite TV shows that I’ve enjoyed during lockdown: Stath Lets Flats (my fave comedy show for a very long time), Friday Night Dinner, Succession, Star Trek Discovery, Any Alan Partridge stuff (something I can enjoy again and again), Mindhunter, Fleabag, Limmy’s Homemade Show, Archer, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Battlestar Galactica (2007 reboot), Normal People and The Morning Show. 

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

Routine is useful in times like these and my family have regular zoom chats with my in-laws who are shielding. We play quizzes and games and drink alcohol and chat about nothing. It may make Xmas tricky though as we’ll be bored of that kind of thing by the time the festive season comes around!

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

I could say something pithy like “a nice pint”, but I can easily do that on my own at home. What I’m really looking forward to is a shared group experience. Something like going to the theatre or cinema, having a family meal in a restaurant, visiting an Escape Room (I love them), going to a theme park (I really love them) or just simply visiting friends. I’m a gregarious person by nature and love to spend time with friends and family. And of course, it goes without saying - but I will say it - I cannot WAIT to get onstage again. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can beat the experience of being in a theatre full of like-minded people enjoying a live performance. Especially if, as in my case, you are the one on the stage. It’s a privilege I have enjoyed all my adult life and I will be overjoyed the day I will be able to do it again.

We'd like to thank John 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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