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You’ve Got To Live A Life

I’m an actor, and I’ve also worked for both organisations in this building. OFS and Crisis were key to me doing what I wanted to be doing, for the first time in my life. And you’ve got to live a life. I remember in the beginning all the arts community being quite confused by this, you know: ‘It's going to be a homeless centre with a theatre.’ And everybody's kind of going, ‘Well yeah, because that's what the homeless people need – a theatre.’ But I thought, you know, from when I knew Jeremy was involved, I knew it'd be okay. I knew Jeremy from before, we did a Forum Theatre group where we trained midwives with Jeremy's partner and my ex-wife, so I've known Jeremy for years.  

 

I came to the open day here, on the very first day. There was a troupe of actors that they'd hired to be firemen, and I think I was probably furious that I hadn't been asked to be one of the troupe. I came for information and blood! This was November, and I was waiting to do a film in March – which still hasn't been made, by the way – so I spoke to Jeremy and I said, ‘I’ve just got to survive the winter.’ And he suggested that I come and work for OFS in the meantime. So I started that week, as a Front of House manager.   

 

In arts organisations everyone's hugging each other all the time, but in Crisis you need strict boundaries. And that was a really interesting, marrying those two things. There were quite a few magic moments. And it became clear, very quickly, that whatever it was – it was working.  

 

Then there was Hidden Spire. It basically started as a project where professional writers, directors, actors and crew worked with Crisis members to create a show which gave Crisis members a chance to participate in all of the many roles that are involved in creating theatre. Normally in a professional show, everyone just has to do their job, and then it'll be fine. If you have a good night it's, you know, it's 90%. And if you have a bad night, it's 30%. But with Hidden Spire – a bad night is 1%, and a good night is 120%.   

 

In the second Hidden Spire show - it was called How Lucky Are You? - someone was playing my brother, and they had their own difficulties, so they never really showed much all through rehearsals. And then on the night, the bastard blew me off the stage! I felt incredibly proud that I'd gone through that whole process, and was still there at the end having helped them to find their way through it. It doesn't make it easy, you know, like, in a professional sense you would want to know what you're going to be dealing with before the actual show. But Hidden Spire isn’t just a job. You go, you go in deep. It magnifies a lot of emotions. It's quite on the edge, it's quite raw. I think Hidden Spire definitely made me a better person. And it's made me a better actor in certain regards.   

 

I think the main lesson we learned in the beginning of Hidden Spire was, there’s this crash that comes after the euphoria, at the end of every show, and you kind of get used to it as a professional actor, but for some people, they’ve never been part of an artistic project, so for them when the show ended it was a monumental crash. And I think we learned that there needs to be a phase out, debriefs, coffees, keeping in touch afterwards, and Spire began to evolve and change.   

 

On the OFS side of things, I've worked in the shop - when we had the shop - and the gallery. I believe I've done a café shift too, but that may be a lie. I volunteered as an usher as well.   

 

And about three years into my work with the Old Fire Station, there was a family crisis. I couldn't be going away and doing theatre or voice jobs in London. I had to be close to home. And I spoke to Jeremy, as a friend, but also as a colleague. And he suggested ‘Well you could work for Crisis,’ you know, ‘if you're looking for more stability.’ And I thought, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ I know everyone that works for Crisis. I know what they do. I know most of the Crisis members. Why have I not thought about doing this?  

 

I was working every day for Crisis during the second lockdown. It was different from the first. The first lockdown was a novelty to everyone, you know? Isn't it beautiful?! There's no planes in the sky, no cars in the streets. How wonderful. The second was much more difficult; it came in winter. And I struggled quite badly. There were a lot of full-time Crisis staff shielding or off ill, and there were a lot of people not working in the building, so I was in the building pretty much every day for ten months. And I reached burnout. And I discovered, you know, it's really easy to help people or to be a good version of yourself when things are going well. And then when everybody's struggling and stress levels are higher, it's actually quite difficult. And I mean, that was a life lesson I suppose for me. I've always learned in this building – it's very educational, as well as being very creative, and imaginative and magical.   

 

There’s been times in my life when, you know, things haven't been going well, and life's been a struggle. And the thing that I noticed that I miss in those times is joy, fun, creativity, imagination. Because when everything becomes a struggle, everything becomes just about getting through the day. So there's no room for imagination.  But the Old Fire Station is an oasis of love, support, nurturing, encouragement. And the kind of place I want to be. That's what this building and the two organisations have given me: joy.  

 

There's been a lot of significant events in my life that have happened here. You know, a lot of good people. God, that makes me sad. But in a good way. I did a show here with a guy called Joe Graham. We did a play called A Fistful of Mondays, which was about life, love, and line dancing. It was a musical. I didn't know it was a musical because he didn't tell me when he cast me. The bits in italic apparently were songs… who knew? We had bus parties of line dancers in the aisles. And it was a sellout for a week, it was brilliant. All the theatres in Oxford have got different characters, location, size, you know. But the Old Fire Station is my favourite, put it that way.  

 

I came to Oxford for drama school thirty years ago. And we had a loose affiliation with the Old Fire Station, as it was then: a nightclub, and a theatre, with offices scattered about. It was very sort of haphazard, disorganised. You could come in the front door and up three steps into the theatre. And then the nightclub you entered from Gloucester Green. It was all a very different feeling. Even now, if I have to go to the tech balcony, I still can't remember how to get there. I just end up on the opposite balcony. And I'm thinking like, ‘Why? How long have I been here?’ I blame the fact that the theatre did turn ninety degrees.  

 

Theatre comes down to stories. And being involved with Storytelling has been an important thing for me in OFS and in Crisis, we’ve used it through both. I've collected stories, I've transcribed stories, I’ve edited stories. It's a massive privilege, whichever side you're on, to sit down with a coffee and investigate and have no time limit and no agenda. It just allows you to talk and see how you think and how you feel. It's just another thing that's special here. There’s been a lot of special stuff.  

 

And, you know, what happens here is of huge value and massive importance to vulnerable people.  

 

I think this building chooses people, and finds out what their strengths are, what they can give, and then makes it work. It’s special. I don't think this building lets you go very easily. In a good way. I mean, I think it captures your heart. 

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