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  • Writer's pictureEleanor Barr-Sim

4 months in and you've got an existential crisis :)

Updated: Oct 1, 2018


4 months out of drama school, how do you feel? Well, it’s September now and my instinct is to stride into W H Smith and invest in a whole new set of stationary, whether it’s needed or not for my term ahead. I should be checking my black leggings to see if they’ve gone see through yet or whether there are holes in all of my socks. I should be going on a few runs to build up my fitness before my return. I should actually be back at school already and basking in the structure of a timetable. Instead, I don't have the need for any blacks, and all my socks have holes in them but no one will see, my alarm goes off at 9 am and I turn it off, roll over and go back to sleep. I have a bar job at the weekend which keeps me going, the occasional temp job, a few auditions and I’m living at my Grandma’s to tide me over. I have no idea where my life is going. So 4 months out of drama school and I’m having an existential crisis.


It’s in this moment that I yearn to go back to 16 years old and choose my A-levels. Instead of all the creative subjects, I could have slipped in a few sciences and therefore be in another year of medical training. I could be seeing out a placement on a hospital ward and eventually become a doctor. Work my way up, year to year and be steady knowing that I have a clear trajectory for most of my life. Or I could have got an office job, started with handing out the post, taking coffee orders and slowly gaining more responsibility and sooner or later work my way up the ladder. The numbers would keep adding, and I could live a fairly conventional life. However for some bloody reason I decided it’d be my life’s ambition to become a successful actor. Yes, I know it’s an incredibly competitive job. We’ve known that forever. But it’s not the competitive nature of it that I’m struggling with. I don’t know what’s going to happen day to day, week to week. I couldn’t tell you what my next month looks like let alone the next year. Each day could come with a new opportunity, a new sparkling inspiration. Who knows!


I do my daily, even hourly scroll of Instagram and Lily James pops up in an advert for a new stage production of ‘All About Eve.’ She infuriates me. There’s something about her that really gets to me. I feel a burning anger against her, and I like to make a big song and dance about it when someone mentions her name. Then I think more thoroughly about it and essentially that anger against her is jealously. I see myself in her. In the roles that she plays, bloody taking all my parts, in her dancing on a boat in Greece, or with victory rolls and a tea dress. She’s got the whole ‘English Rose’ casting down and it’s infuriating because that’s my casting too. And I could play all the parts she’s had, I could be on stage with Gillian Anderson, I could be just as charming as her and win everyone over, I could! So when I see her, my body fills with this bubbling sensation which I’ve coined as a hatred but in truth I’m not a hateful person but apparently I’m a jealous one. Why not me? Why haven’t I got those breaks? Why wasn’t I whisked up after drama school and sent straight to ‘Downton Abbey’?


It is also the new lesson of how to deal with your contemporaries’ successes. Now, of course I am so completely and utterly proud of them, I cheer them on with a great imaginary flag flying high. With each new success story, each new job that someone’s got it’s only a great thing. Thank god someone’s got something going for them, marvellous. It comes with a bitter sting, though. For all your happiness for them, there’s the moment of ‘fuck.’ ‘Fuck, it’s not me, what am I doing wrong?’ It’s a hard lesson to learn and one that all actors have to go through, important that you go through it rather than get stuck and thrown by it. You don’t want to be the one that’s forever bitter about other’s success. But it’s been hard to see yet another one from your year popping up on a film set or learning lines or in a rehearsal room (thanks social media). You do start comparing yourself, right that person has that selling point, they’ve got a USP, what’s mine? Maybe I don’t have one? Maybe I’m ten a penny and the world has enough of me? What can I sell myself as that’s different to everyone else? And even, if I lost weight would that give me more of a chance? All these questions are relatively useless and possibly detrimental to be asking. I think it’s important to know what you bring to the party, but it’s the comparisons that you make that could send you into a spiral. Be who you bloody are and that’s your selling point, nothing more, nothing less.


Oh but honey, you’re only 4 months out of drama school! 4 months! That is not even a thumb nail of what it will take. There is so much more frustration ahead, so much more anguish over people who are doing jobs you could be doing just as well. That’s when you have to get rational. You can’t get carried away with frustrations over Lily James doing better than you, or even some of your friends, they’re in a different league, let them crack on while you do the same. And I’d like to make it clear that I am aware that it’s not all about the BAFTA’s and big block buster films that mean success, success comes in many many forms. But I find it incredibly stressful to not know what form it will be for me.


I hate not knowing, and I hate not knowing what I’m working for or not being able to plan. In a more cheesy sense, I hate not really having a purpose. I have a purpose on a grander scale; the great plan to become this actor by any means, but the daily grind of what gets me up every day is rather blurry. And that makes me have thoughts that I never thought I’d have. The lack security in this line work could potentially be too much for me. That an office job is sounding more and more appealing. That the fact that if I’m having these thoughts so soon out of drama school then what will it mean in a year or two or five years time? Do I have what it takes to tough it out? Maybe, maybe not. It is unknown and only time will tell.


And then I watch ‘The Crown’ or ‘Mamma Mia 2, Here We Go Again’, again or I see a life changing piece of theatre and I think, how could I do anything else? Sometimes I don’t allow myself to continue watching something, I haven’t actually finished 'The Crown’, I simply love it too much and when I watch it I get this bubbling, burning desire to be on it, to be on something, anything as great or be a part of a show in the theatre, that is could be as great. It feels like electricity is shooting through my veins and I can’t continue watching because it’ll be too painful for me to make the comparisons that I make. It sounds absurd, I know, but it’s honestly what it feels like. By watching ‘Friends’ for the 28th time I’m in the safety of knowing exactly how it feels when that episode comes to an end, ‘The One With The Embryos’ is the one where Joey and Chandler win Monica and Rachel’s apartment and the next few episodes will be, in my opinion, the best out of all 10 series. But it’s not for that security that we do this, it’s for that electricity. It is for that feeling when you’re back stage and you can hear the audience piling in, chatting about what’s to come, that moment before it all happens. It’s a powerful position and even more so because you could be in a position that changes the world in some way, changes someone’s perspective. Could that be worth all the pain, the struggling, the not knowing? Could it all be worth it for that moment?


There are no real answers. It is purely a ‘time will tell’ situation. Maybe I do need to see psychic to see if there’ll be any answers for them to decipher in a magic ball… This has all been rambling thoughts of my existential crisis and maybe too much to be admitting, too honest, but through this writing I can figure out my thoughts then keeping them in a jumble mess in my head. I hope to find a ‘that’s why we do this’ epiphany soon, I think I need a good, strong dose of it. Until then I’ll do my best to keep up the good work. I’ll keep a brave face on and tackle things with every fibre of my being and I’ll just have to come to terms with the unknown and hope that my energy tank has enough juice in it.


For the record - I am immensely and objectively proud of friends’ successes. Honestly. It’s just a learning curve in how to deal with it but I am learning and I’m so very chuffed for you all, so keep the jolly good work.


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