Tuesday, 7 July 2020

The Corona Diaries: Mitch Leow

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*Some information mentioned in this article may be out of date due to the progress of the current situation.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

Mitch Leow was most recently seen in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe at the Bridge Theatre. His other credits include Ensemble & Cover Iago in Aladdin (Prince Edward Theatre); Swing in Miss Saigon (Prince Edward Theatre); Swing in Barnum (Chichester Festival Theatre); Swing and Ensemble in The Lion King (Lyceum Theatre); Madam Butterfly (English National Opera); Turandot (Royal Opera House)

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 in my flat in Bermondsey, actively keeping up to date with the official announcements. I remember hearing the closure of theatres and other venues mentioned, and feeling the air snatched out of my chest. For a moment, I felt nothing. Then, a sense of logic kicked in, and I told myself, “Of course, this is the right thing to do.” But by this time, I had lost my day job and all casting options were halted.

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

To keep the long story short, I managed to come home to Singapore to shelter for this current period. It’s been a very trying time as Singapore also imposed a very strict lockdown called a Circuit Breaker. All this while, I’m paying rent in London for all the belongings that I could not shift into storage in the little time that I had before I flew back.

Prior to the pandemic, a friend of mine and I had started on the journey to acquire more skills in screen acting, and this was something that I could still continue to do whilst in isolation, and whilst in lockdown here in Singapore. I signed on to complete a screenwriting course with UEA whilst in quarantine. Phil Mennell, my mate, set up a group for us to work on a piece of monologue each on self-tape every week, and we get together on a Zoom meeting at the end of the week to critique the work. This has proved extremely helpful in keeping me occupied and provided an emotional outlet for a lot of suppressed feelings. When June rolled around, it became clear to me that I could use this format to explore the writing of our queer and LGBTQ writers for the stage and screen, and I have embarked on a personal project called Pride Stories, which is my way of participating in Pride this year in a safe and respectful way. All the videos for this project can be found on my Youtube channel

As luck would have it, I managed to find myself a dance project here in Singapore when the lockdown lifted and it will see me to the month of August. This may be the last time I might be dancing for this year and the foreseeable future, so I feel really fortunate to have the chance, and I’m savouring every moment.”

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 looking after your mental state whilst using these platforms?

The first few weeks of getting back to Singapore, going through quarantine and going straight into a lockdown were very challenging. I did a lot of yoga self-practice and meditation, and I followed a lot of practices on youtube channels. I find that listening to a strong leader and role-model at this time is extremely useful. There were a lot of mental hurdles to get over, especially when practising meditation.

One thing became really clear to me: I wasn’t the kind of person that suited denial. I had no faculty for forced positivity. The easiest way for me to deal with the situation was to look at things very starkly and clearly – sifting the information, analyzing the facts, and coming to terms with the reality of it. My new motto became, ‘It’s alright to not be alright.’

I found that as time went on I was able to separate my core being from the issues surrounding me. Even though the situation is still evolving, and there are still stressors and triggers present, I am able to connect with a kind of internal strength and press onward. I am completely aware of the issues that are present, but I also choose to deal with them with deep consciousness and as much integrity as I can muster.

I heard this saying through a yoga/meditation practice, ‘You are the sky and everything else is the weather.’ The stress and anxiety are greatly reduced now, even though there are practical problems to be solved. I have promised myself to deal with it one step at a time.

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

I honestly don’t know. On the one hand, I need anyone reading this to know that the Arts cannot be shut down. The craft of storytelling will continue in very evolved forms, even in this time. People will sing, and write songs. They will still dance in their rooms and their gardens. Parents will still tell bedtime stories to their children. On the other hand, the industry as we know it – the spectacles, the events, the gigs, the crowds, the noise and clamour – is not coming back for a while.

If anyone reading this identifies himself, herself or themselves as theatre lovers, then please do write to your MP and persuade them to bring up the issue of resurrecting the theatre sector when the time to do so presents itself.

So many artists and performers are out of jobs. If theatre and the arts has benefitted you in any way, shape, or form, and has helped improve your quality of life, please do consider encouraging your company or organisation to create jobs and boost the employment of applicants from our sector. We are a hardworking, fun-loving, highly-adaptable, resilient and enthusiastic workforce that will be a huge asset to any workplace at this time.

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

Many theatre companies have decided to release their previous productions online during this time for free. They do so in hopes that their loyal theatre attendees will have something to bide their time in this lockdown, and also to let us know that the work we have done is incredible. If you have seen any of these, please do consider donating to these theatre companies, and production houses.

Unfortunately, many actors who are involved in these recordings may not get a compensation for these releases. However, if they have moved you in any way, please take this time to look them up on social media and connect with them. Chances are they are working hard on a project or two of their own, and could use all the support that comes their way.

In these times of Social Distancing and isolation, how have you been trying to connect with Friends and Family?

I rely heavily on social media and all the apps to connect with family and friends. Having mentioned that, I have to get my faltering mobile phone fixed as soon as possible.

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

There are SO many people that I look forward to hugging, kissing, sharing food and drink with - and I am unashamed about this desire. I was so taken aback by how much we’ve taken our daily freedom and our expression of love, camaraderie and friendship for granted. It pains me so much to not be able to show someone that I care about how much they mean to me.

We'd like to thank Mitch 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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