All in the same boat?

Lockdown has affected everyone differently; my fellow young event profs who have only just entered the industry have faced a very different experience to those with years of experience and established networks. As the youngest member of the team, I’ve been extremely fortunate to have a permanent role and my colleagues around me, but the majority of my industry friends who are at the same stage in their career haven’t been as fortunate. I decided to catch up with one of my old university friends, Ollie Burridge to discuss his experience of the last 18 months.

When did you decide to join the industry and why?

Ollie: Like so many people I’ve met in the theatre industry, I don’t think I ever made a conscious decision to 'sign up’ as it were. I kind of just fell into it through doing things I enjoyed. Growing up, I was interested in technology and was a member of a local amateur dramatics group so when an opportunity arose to assist technicians at our local theatre - I felt it was an opportunity worth taking. Enjoying my first experience, I took the next opportunity and the next, and the next which quickly snowballed. Registering myself as self-employed while studying for my GCSEs, the hobby had quickly become a part-time freelance job that I did in the evenings, on weekends and school holidays - primarily because I enjoyed it. I’ll always be grateful to those who gave me my early opportunities in South Wales that led into a wide variety of other work, lots of great friends and some brilliant gigs!

How did you find the University experience?

Ollie: I was encouraged to apply for University by my Sixth Form tutors but I wasn’t at all certain about my future career ambitions so I chose a course I thought I would enjoy more than anything else. Following several open days and interviews around the country, I was lucky enough to be offered a place studying ‘Performance Technologies and Production’ (Now ’Theatre Production’) at Guildford School of Acting in Guildford, Surrey. GSA offered all the benefits of a ‘drama school style’ vocational course while boasting the name and facilities of the University of Surrey. Although there were many moments when I wasn’t sure I had made the right decision, I stuck at it and thoroughly enjoyed my three years studying. During this time, I continued to fit in as much freelance work around my studies as possible - both back home and creating new contacts in and around London, primarily working in Musical Theatre. Grateful for any opportunity offered to me, the work continued to snowball while I tried to strike the right balance between work, studies, social life and other commitments. When graduation came around, it seemed like the natural decision to continue with my freelance work - a transition that was relatively smooth thanks to my past experience working in this capacity. As with any freelance work though, there were times where I worried that I had very little in the diary but something always came up and kept me afloat before an opportunity arose with ‘Come From Away’.

What were you doing before Covid hit?

Ollie: I was covering maternity leave as Sound No.3 on the production of ‘Come From Away’ at the Phoenix Theatre, London which I was really enjoying. We’d just welcomed a new cast and had celebrated with a media night only days before we were forced to close our doors.

How did Covid impact you?

Ollie: Like the majority of productions, we didn’t realise 14th March was going to be our final ‘Come From Away’ performance of 2020. Freelance opportunities were cancelled and many of the things I liked to do in my spare time like Park Run came to halt too. After initially thinking we’d have a couple of weeks off, the weeks turned to months and the months turned into over a year before I knew it. I was extremely grateful to be placed on furlough by the producers of ‘Come From Away’. Had I not been welcomed as a full-time member of PAYE staff in December 2019, I would have been eligible for very little financial support as a freelancer who had recently graduated. I really consider myself one of the lucky ones in this case and really commend the work of those campaigning for those excluded from financial support. The initial few weeks of lockdown were a welcome rest after a busy period; however once it became clear to me that I wouldn’t be returning to CFA to complete my contract and potentially wouldn’t get back to work in a theatre in 2020, I felt uncertain as to what I would do next.

What have you been doing over the past year?

Ollie: Since August last year, I’ve been volunteering with the brilliant charity FareShare who work nationwide to distribute surplus supermarket produce to food banks and ultimately those in desperate need of food. We’ve seen a huge increase in demand during the lockdowns so there’s always lots to do. I’ve also completed some online courses and was learning to drive before the latest lockdown. I’ve enjoyed many nice dog walks and have recently been exploring my interest in photography and videography to keep myself occupied and out of trouble!

Do you still want to work in the industry?

Ollie: Yes, definitely because I really enjoyed my work. But that’s not to say I haven’t come to further recognise some of its shortcomings such as the unsociable working hours. I’m always up for trying and learning new things though so look forward to whatever opportunities arise in the future whether within this industry or somewhere else.

Have you seen any positive signs that things are going back to 'normal'?

Ollie: Recent announcements from producers announcing their plans for a return offer some welcome positive signs. I think it’s fantastic that they are putting plans in place without 100% certainty of what the future of the theatre and events industry will look like. I remain cautiously optimistic and look forward to some normality as we head out of this lockdown.

What do you think about your future?

Ollie: I’m excited for the future as we head into the "new normal". I see plenty of opportunity for change in the way we work when the industry resumes.