Being Myself Again

Southbank London

I have returned to work. This means I’m out on the street juggling and telling my jokes to anyone walking past. In normal times this is always seen as positive and beneficial to the atmosphere of a street. In the middle of a pandemic though, this buffoonery could be controversial. We are still in the late stages of a lockdown and I imagine by performing, I will face criticism from many different angles. I am setting myself up to face pushback from the public, friends, and family, other performers, councilmen, and jobsworths. It can come in many forms, but a man must work.

I need daily practice to improve. I have always tried to rethink my performance and my skills to make them more entertaining and satisfying for my audience. It’s easy to respond that nothing is stopping me from training and practicing skills from home. This is true and it’s what I have been doing for the past year. (Honestly, it has been great for my skills). I have learned many new tricks and perfected routines that used to give me a lot of trouble. How long though, can a performer be expected to train for a show that seems like it will never happen? More training isn’t what I need at this point in my life.

What I need now is to practice the art of performance – something I can’t learn from my bedroom. After the first lockdown, street performing came back for a few months over the Summer. My first show back was a mess. I was hyper-conscious of Covid-compliance and didn’t use any volunteers. I sanitised my gear and maintained social distancing while reminding my audience to do the same.  I had to rethink my whole performance and rewrite entire segments of my show. The first few weeks were tough on my mind, body and voice and each show suffered for it. That is the same story this time around, except I’m still not out of this difficult period.

I’m also seeing the same positive results in my personal life as I did at the start of the year. After just one show I began to work harder on the other aspects of my life. I was sleeping better, exercising more, watching screens less. I had to stretch properly and eat healthier to support what is a physically taxing job. All of these benefits just from being able to be me again.

I have adapted again and again. I have had to reinvent myself 1000 times this year. During the many days and weeks in lockdown, I have read new books, picked up new hobbies, learned new skills and reassessed my priorities ad infinitum. But at the end of all of this, I have not been true to myself. I became ‘Richard in Lockdown’. I became the man I would be if my parameters were limited, and I wasn’t at liberty to choose my own path. ‘Richard in Freedom’ is a completely different machine. Better, in my opinion. These lockdowns have taken away my freedom, my ability to provide and essentially robbed me of my identity, forcing me to become the person I needed to be to spend all day every day locked inside. It feels good to be myself again – outside in the real world.

Photos – BNW Thomas

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