So…What Do You Do?

Guest post by Kailey McGowan @somethingoodtheatre

Even though I’ve written, directed and produced my own shows since 2014, I’ve always called myself an actor. I’ve got a degree in Acting but working across multiple disciplines I’ve always felt that if I said I do it all people would think I must do at least one terribly! So I’d mostly say actor/facilitator.

When I was a kid acting was my safe space. The kids I got on with the most did drama and I always felt I could be myself there. But when I left drama school I became overwhelmed with the politics of the industry – who you know, what you’ve done etc etc. I felt I was getting jobs just for a credit so I could get the next job and the next job. Chasing this non existent thing – that if I just got that job I’d be… satisfied, happy. I never allowed myself to just BE with the present, fully experiencing each project as they came. It became about what venue would look good on my CV, what agent I could get to come and watch. I found myself not loving acting the way I always had, I’d let all the rubbish get in the way of the fact that I love making theatre. That’s it. I love it. 

So I let all of it go and started making work I was passionate about. I set up my own theatre company (Something Good Theatre) off the back of being diagnosed with a chronic illness and started putting out productions I wanted to see. I took on every role – head of marketing, chief casting director, executive producer, director – yep, going it alone is hard graft and finding the people who will support you and your vision is crucial, as with any project. 

When I found the call out for directors for Bluestocking’s All the Rage something felt very different. I’d never put myself in that box, I was an actor who did a bit of writing and directing. But when I was reading through the website, the company and work really resonated with me and I felt drawn to apply…what the hell eh? When I had the Zoom meeting with Victoria I was nervous because I’d never presented myself as just a director before, but I suddenly found it was easy to talk about my style and how I worked and the self doubt faded. I came off that call and bounded into the living room to speak to my other half about it, I was so excited and felt instinctively it was going to be wonderful to be involved. I was right.

It was so eye opening watching the self tapes. I’ve been rejected many many times and I was comforted by the fact that a part can really just not be right for you. That someone can have a little something that sparkles and it just fits with that particular role. It’s hard to put your finger on. I felt relieved almost, I’d been taking rejection far too personally, hoping and desperately wanting to be told I had the part and feeling absolutely devastated when I didn’t. Don’t get me wrong rejection never feels good but I know now it’s about finding that one person that’s right for the part and that’s that. 

Working on Zoom was a challenge but I directed ‘Motherhood’ online and so had already developed little techniques and practices I felt I could use, ways to help the actor tune into character quickly even when on our laptops. We did two days in person rehearsals and I loved every second of it, watching a piece go from script to stage, being able to develop the ideas in person, I felt like I’d tapped into something completely new and without the pressure I felt able to fully blossom in my role. I eased and relaxed into it and wished I’d been directing years earlier. 

There’s no end goal, there’s no finish line, it took me a long time to realise that when you get to that point you’ve been striving for you’ll always wonder, what next? What if we always enjoyed what we were doing and threw ourselves into the work, without wondering what next?

Becoming a Mum was a massive turning point where I felt my priorities shift and it became about taking on work I really wanted to do. Time even more precious when you have a little one. Acting was my baby and I held it on this pedestal which felt constantly unattainable, letting go of that pressure has kept me in this industry as I was getting burnt out. 

All The Rage was a wonderful event of two evenings of 6 short plays, it was a night at the theatre, a chance for us to come back together after Covid. But for me it was so much more, it was hearing female voices in management positions, feeling supported to be flexible around my family and my other work, feeling trusted to make my own decisions with the piece I was gifted to direct. I’ve seen some assistant director jobs online since and before I’d have probably thought I wasn’t experienced enough, or I didn’t have enough things that made me look like a “director.” All The Rage changed that for me, and although I still catch myself saying actor, and then stumbling through the other things I do, I feel I’ve got confidence now to stand in different roles at different times and claim the space as my own. Who knows whether in my next project I’ll be on stage or nervously twiddling my thumbs in the audience, all I know is whatever project it is I’ll be jumping in feet first and loving every single second of it.