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Winning article for the week ending 8th November

Industry Interviews - Self-Care in the Theatre Industry with Kerry Sparks - Josephine Shaw - LEH

Fast-paced and cutthroat, the theatre industry is known for the challenges it brings to those who choose the career path of a performer. Again and again emphasis is put on performers needing to have the drive, passion and commitment to make it in the industry, yet often self-care and personal wellbeing is forgotten in the race to be at the top of the game. Throughout the years, we’ve seen performers and pop stars turn to unhealthy vices to cope with the immense workload and pressure of performing. However the rise of social media and a greater understanding of mental health has brought to light the importance of self care, and Kerry Spark, yoga teacher and west end performer has spoken to us on how the industry is changing for performers and their mental health, and how, as a performer, he has balanced his work with his own self care and personal reflection, as well as aiding others in this task.

Kerry Spark is a very active member of the musical theatre industry, and is about to perform on the national China tour of the musical Chicago. Yet he started out training in ballet. We asked what made him realise he wanted to pursue musical theatre, upon which he commented ‘There are so many ways to dance, not just ballet. To just invest in one style...was like using only one colour of the whole pallet. Why only experience yellow when there’s orange and green and blue? There’s so many shades, so many rhythms, so many genres of music, and you want to be able to express all those types of music.’ He also explained that through musical theatre, ‘You have a voice’. Being able to portray a character vocally as well as physically adds another dimension to a performance, and is ‘Another tool in the box’, as Kerry puts it.

Kerry began teaching yoga less than a year ago. With the aid of social media, he frequently puts emphasis on helping others find their freedom and being able to feel revitalised in a routine life. He has been teaching classes in the heart of London that provide a sanctuary from the bustling city outside, and creates a calming atmosphere in his classes with the help of candles, spacious yoga studios and live music. He reflected on how teaching yoga has impacted his identity as a performer and yoga teacher. ‘No longer can you be...just a performer.’ He describes how it’s helped him enrich his life ‘behind the curtain’ and how he finds the experience very humbling, ‘Bring[ing] the elevator down’ from the pedestal of being a flawless performer. Kerry talked about his aim to help people through opening more yoga workshops with live music from aspiring artists, and also writing his own self-help book, which he hopes will be released within the next year and a half.

With such a fast-paced industry, it is vital yet also difficult to balance work with self care, personal health and relaxation. Kerry’s advice on this difficult subject is remembering to ‘slow that tempo down’. He emphasised the many ways to do this, such as ‘meditation, reading books, hanging out with your family, hanging out with yourself, being in nature, and balance.’ Another important factor is ‘Learning to say no, and learning when to say yes.’ It can be easy to just agree to whatever opportunity comes your way, but it is important to not overload yourself with projects that could cumulate to unhealthy amounts of stress. Having the experience and knowledge of when to decline or accept a new project takes time to learn, but ‘The sooner you get that, the better.’ Kerry also adds, ‘Sometimes you might have to say no even when it’s a bit of a regret,’ but he explains that the ability to firmly make that decision is fundamental to your own wellbeing.

We also asked for advice on dealing with rejection, something every actor experiences in the theatre industry. It can be a struggle for artists to maintain self-confidence in the face of being rejected for the job, but Kerry encourages performers to ‘See rejection as your protection. I got that from Amber Riley, who won the Olivier for Dreamgirls for playing Effie. She said that in an article or an interview, and I thought ‘Rejection is your Protection’, and I went ‘Oh my god, that’s so right,’’ He jokingly comments, ‘It’s the rejection olympics!’ And goes on to add that even well known actors, musicians and filmmakers such as Oprah, Beyoncé and Steven Spielberg get rejected to work on projects. Kerry points out that ‘It’s an emotional olympics to really build up your immune system, to know your worth. Rejection, I’m still going through my relationship with it, but I no longer internalise it. There used to be a while where I was internalising this rejection, I was carrying it almost like an emotional rucksack...and I realised this is actually feeling quite heavy, and I want to feel a bit more free here.’ He summarises all this with ‘So rejection, don’t internalise it.’ ‘Don’t stop and press pause because someone said no, it’s just a not yet.’

Our final question for Kerry was how he thinks the industry is changing in terms of looking after the mental health and wellbeing of performers. He answered, ‘100%’, and commented on how styles of training are starting to change for the better with more awareness of wellbeing, yet he also made the point that the majority of change has to come from you personally if you want to ensure you have a stable wellbeing. ‘I think we as adults have the responsibility to convert the script that we tell ourselves, not the script that people tell us. So you have to be in a space where if you’re not talking to yourself nicely, you’ve got to change and rewrite that script. It’s that internal mechanism and ultimately, yes the industry can change, but you’re not going to solve that problem until you look at yourself.’ He challenges performers to ask themselves, ‘Are you being safe in your choices in your career or are you being bold? And sometimes it’s being out of work, and being okay with being out of work, and who are you, without work? And who are you, when you’re just singing in the shower and in your mind to millions of people?’ Kerry summarised by explaining that by taking care of yourself, the industry you are in will come to reflect that.

Kerry Spark has shown us that a balanced lifestyle in the performing arts industry is achievable and can be done with the right mindset and attitude. The theatre industry is a community in which the focus on mental health and wellbeing is growing, and by prioritising those yourself, you help the industry grow in its inclusion of wellbeing. We can hope that these small steps will lead to an industry that is mindful and positive for current and future performers.

For more information on Kerry Spark:

Article written by Josephine Shaw, see link below.

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