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Sunday, 20 March 2016

Finding my passion... And my feet! #48hourmillie

On a Friday night in November I saw a tweet from @MindCharity, a charity I've campaigned for in many ways to share my experiences of having mental health problems and challenge the perceptions of people who think mental health is scary, non-existent or makes a person weak. 

The tweet invited people to audition for a musical - here is is:

Immediately I became excited. I learned that Ian Haig and a company called Showtime48Challenge were launching a venture to stage a West End musical for Mind, with the catch being that it would be rehearsed in only 48 hours before a performance in the Adelphi theatre on The Strand. Just in case you didn't get that: a musical. A musical anyone could audition for. In the WEST. END.

Goosebumps prickled my skin as I read Ian's Mind blog to find out more:

Ian had done something extraordinary. He had recognised he had mental health challenges, including crippling anxiety. But in order to tackle this he decided to prescribe himself an incredible medicine: he would gather a team and stage a musical in 48 hours. 

Singing for me brings a smile to my face, and when I open my mouth and sing, whatever the song, the tempo or the lyrics (although perhaps not Whigfield's Saturday Night or "It's Chico Time") I start to glow in the inside and my heart starts singing too. 

I have sung alone in my hotel room after a long day in an office somewhere, anywhere,  to take some time for me and find joy. I have sung at weddings and I have sung in my car. And, finally, I have sung and acted in quite a few musicals when I was a lot younger.

Quite a lot younger!

But the bravery of this exercise and the fantastic nature of the 'medicine' Ian decided to take just inspired me. Ian had found his passion and something which contributed to better health. How could I not want to be a part of that?

The only catch reading that tweet was the timings: barely twelve hours to go till an audition where I would have to act (fine), sing (perfect), and dance... Oh dear.

But I went along anyway, danced horrifically to steps I had never heard of and to my astonishment, at the Mind Media Awards last year, Ian and Ashley and Barry from the team told me that I. had. A. part!


And here I am today writing this after 36 hours of rehearsal (and sleep) time under my belt, costumes and makeup packed, ready (ready?!) to go on tonight with the brilliant cast and crew that have come together to perform Thoroughly Modern Millie.

It became quickly apparent that many of my fellow cast members had a decade or more experience of toe tapping and shuffle steps whereas I'm more comfortable and capable building business strategies for change and creating PowerPoint slides and Excel spreadsheets. And that this was going to be a challenging time because somewhere between November and Friday night, one or more people had decided to put me into a musical where I would have to dance.

As someone who now suffers from anxiety (worsened by the side effects of my anti depressants) this was... Overwhelming... Daunting... Terrifying. I actually started to have shooting pain in my chest during my first rehearsal, as my anxiety levels went 0-60MPH in 2.4 seconds. Yikes.

The one thing I know about my mental health, though, is that stepping away from a challenge is not necessarily the best way to help me feel better. Feeling like a failure is something I do well. I'd go so far as to say that I consider myself an elite failure-feeler.

At work, distracting myself from negative feelings with positive inputs to work or conversations is hugely beneficial. So here I just tried my best and carried on. 

I cried on Friday night (in rehearsal) when I couldn't do the steps. And again yesterday several times after person number twenty-two told me I'd started on the wrong foot and asked me whether I'd like some help. Yep, I was feeling like a high performing failure at this point. And heaping shame onto my poor stepping skills.

But the cast and crew were so endlessly patient and helpful as I felt like every question I asked was too many. And I definitely asked more than a few.

7:30pm last night I had attended several more rehearsals and become slightly less crap, all the while styling it out through acting. And then the dress rehearsal with everyone, plus an audience, to see how those 130+ rehearsals going on had worked it for us.

And it was amazing. I haven't done theatre for so long that I had forgotten how brilliant the camaraderie of a company is. Everyone was supportive, self-motivated and it everything into making the show work. 

A support network is important for everyone and is vital to good mental health. The company worked as a massive support unit, everyone looking out for everyone else. I couldn't help but find that joy in every scene and every person in that room, and will ever be grateful for that support as an amateur performer still holding back the tears and fears to give the best possible performance I could.

So here I am. Saturday morning. Fewer than 12 hours to go till curtain up. Will it be okay? Of course it will, because we are doing something that fills us all with joy, we are working together, and we have big hearts.

See you in a day to tell you all about it. Take care xx

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