The Lockdown Graduate
The Lockdown Graduate
I can’t remember what I did on my day of graduating- and that’s not because I threw my graduation cap into the air, took some cheesy photos with my certificate and got black out drunk in celebration with fellow course mates- the day just wasn’t significant enough for me to recall.
The class of 2020 did not get the milestone ceremony we had envisioned for ourselves after three years of hard, dedicated drama school training. No celebratory closure.
Now, I could’ve thrown a party for myself at home. But I didn’t. I’m far too dramatic for that. Instead, I had to have a period of self-pitying, crying, eating cake in bed all day, feeling like my life was over because I never got to perform at The Globe for the Sam Wannamaker Festival, and wearing black- not out of drama school habit- but in mourning for the characters I was meant to play but will never play. It all felt very unfair and very impossible to ever become an actor.
As a little bit of background about myself: my name is Lori Nicholson. I am a recent graduate of Manchester School of Theatre, originally from Cwmbran in South Wales. I like to think of myself as a hard-working, motivated individual and really, really bad at failing. I have always had, what I would now describe as, a toxic need to achieve. I had my life in education rigorously mapped out: get good grades, do well at extracurricular, get into drama school first time trying. I was constantly chasing milestones, always looking for the next thing to complete, never really slowing down and sitting with myself. Lockdown completely ripped away any stability and future plans that I thought I had and cut my time in education short, forcing me into the beginning of my career early. I never thought I’d say this but….part of me is thankful my plans failed.
Since leaving education I have had to adapt to the situation that lockdown has dealt me. Like all 2020 graduates, I have had to face the challenges of making industry connections, during a time when the world was on hold, to not allow myself to become “The Corona Year”, the forgotten year. To keep making decisions that I felt were right for myself and my career path despite any hurdles I may have to face along the way. To not feel defeated before my career has even begun. So, when I finally stopped feeling so hopeless and finished eating all the cake in the house, I began to use my spare time at home proactively and got creative. I successfully took part in recording a full radio play and despite the challenges of keeping the dog, the family, the neighbours and the fridge quiet, I had a lot of fun and learnt a lot more about voice acting through the process. I took part in an online scratch night. I experimented with self-taping. I recorded a sonnet for Jermyn Street Theatre’s sonnet project. I began Welsh language lessons again to further develop my skillset. I had a number of professional interactions and eventually signed with SD Talent Management. I even took the plunge and moved to Manchester.
My “failed” end to drama school was becoming less of a failure after all. Ok so I still didn’t get to perform at The Globe, but I still felt acknowledged by the industry, despite the strain it was under. With more time on their hands in lockdown, Casting Directors, Writers, Agents, Actors, Directors heard graduates concerns and took the time to talk with us and share their knowledge and wisdom of the industry. Because of lockdown, I had the opportunity to meet and talk online with professionals that, if the world was normal and my acting degree ended how it should’ve, I probably would never have had the opportunity to meet this early on in my career.
If there is one thing I have taken with me from these meetings, it’s not to feel hopeless, not to feel like any less of an actor because we may encounter more hurdles as new graduates than those before us, that the industry are interested in us, and eventually there will be a place for me in it.
So how exactly has being a new graduate in lockdown helped me as an actor? The coronavirus is awful, don’t get me wrong and I wish it never happened. But I am thankful for the discomfort I’ve felt over the past few months having to walk through the unknown and adapt as I go, letting go of my lifelong comfort blankets: stability and control. Good art has never come from artists calmly breezing through life one to-do-list at a time, sometimes you need to fall on your backside a few times to discover new ways of creating, new ways of connecting to others, new ways of exploring who you are. I may not have a graduation photo to show for it, or an album worth of rehearsal shots from a show that never came to be, but I have achieved a lot recently just not in the way I had originally thought. I have met many wonderful artists, created new work from the comfort of my own home, moved my home to a new city and learnt to trust in myself to work through anything life throws my way.
I am comforted by the fact that the industry as a whole is embracing changes and finding new innovative ways to create, and I believe that when the world is ready the arts will bounce back more exciting than ever.
But for now, I am proud of where I have found myself at the beginning of my career and having absolutely no idea where it’s going to take me… but I’m ok with that.