Debbie Isitt is the lady behind the popular Nativity! film series, as well as directing the stage musical adaptation and much loved rom-com Confetti. I was fortunate enough to talk to Debbie all about adjusting to life in lockdown and how she has been keeping herself busy.
First of all, how are you feeling about the whole situation?
I think that the most startling that has been how out of the blue this all came. It felt like there was hardly any warning, then sudden crisis. I think it put most of us into a little bit of shock. I’m feeling very sad for all of the people who have lost their lives and lost their loved ones. I’m feeling immensely proud of our NHS. I’m feeling angry at how many lives may have been needlessly lost and I’m feeling heartened and positive by many people’s kindness and the sense of community. I also feel that stopping – just stopping for a moment in time has some positive outcomes – some for the environment and some for the soul – so a mixed bag.
How have you been keeping yourself occupied during the lockdown?
I have times when I feel very demotivated and unable to do very much and then I get spurts of optimism and energy. When I have an energy spurt, I try to do some writing. I am writing songs and film scripts. I also have a lot of thinking and planning to do as the film project I was due to shoot this summer has been put on hold because of the lockdown – so I have had lots of fires to fight re that. I make sure that I get up and dressed every day. I walk the dog with my family and I also do ballet with my daughter. My daughter is training to be a dancer so the ballet is tough but it is a good discipline and it gets my brain and feet in gear. I watch the odd film or online theatre show or concert from the living by some of my talented friends. I face time my parents and siblings and have a weekly virtual house party with my mates. I read a bit too. I eat more than a should and have a drink in the evenings. But lots of time, I also spend just ‘being’, turns out I am brilliant at that. Who knew?
What are you most looking forward to doing once the lockdown is over?
Once lockdown is over, I think it will be tentative steps back into the world for most of us, but I am most looking forward to hugging my parents, friends and family. I am looking forward to putting my work back together if I can and ultimately feeling carefree and positive again. I’ll appreciate all of those communal experiences that I took for granted -theatre, cinema, shopping malls, holidays, restaurants but mostly it is being with loved ones and laughter that I look forward to the most.
Is there anything we, as theatre fans, can do to help the arts industry in these trying times?
The arts industry, like many other industries and businesses, have been hit hard. I know that it will take a lot to rebuild the shows and films and projects that have been stopped but I believe that people will need theatre and culture more than ever once this passes and the shared experience of being together will be healing. Because most people are finding things so tough financially right now, it is a big ask to donate your cancelled theatre ticket rather than have a refund but if you can that is helpful. Also buying tickets for shows and cinema as we look to the future and regain our trust in being together. But for me, it is about being kind to people – a lot of people have struggled financially and with loss and grief and with mental health issues brought on by this period, so we must show kindness to each other and be non-judgmental about people’s choices
What is your favourite thing about theatre as a whole?
My favourite thing about the theatre industry as a whole is the sense of family that is created. You only have to engage with the theatre community on social media to feel the love, loyalty, friendship, support and respect most of us feel for each other. We know the job we do is important and valuable but we also know that many people within our industry fall on hard times and suffer mental health issues because the pressure is immense. But we look out for each other because we honestly love each other as well as loving what we do.
With the theatres closed and so much being moved online, do you think that we are seeing a big change in how the industry works?
It is not just the theatre industry moving online, I think that it is the whole world. Social media has really come into it’s own during the lockdown. Yes, it can be relentless and negative at times but if you seek out the positivity, you will find it. The online classes, the interviews, the concerts and live streaming, the archive theate shows have all been wonderful. The generosity of spirit is the thing that I hope the industry carries forward – making theatre accessible to all – with lots more free events and online events and learning. It demystifies the process and allows people to connect to the industry even if they usually couldn’t afford theatre tickets.
Do you have any advice for people who are perhaps finding lockdown hard to manage?
I think most of us are finding lockdown hard in certain ways but for some it is completely debilitating and overwhelming. The fresh air is so important. Taking the walk if you can do it safely – spending time in the garden if you have one – even looking out of the window with the window open is better than nothing. Reaching out to friends and family is vital. Phone them, text them, email them, face time them – remind them that you exist and need them. Do not think of yourself as imposing on others – trust that everyone needs everyone else right now. Do shower/wash hair regularly even if you are not seeing anyone. It makes you feel better. Do get dressed – try and exercise – make up your own stretches or do Joe Wicks PE or online classes. Watch telly – read books – be creative if you can – be productive when you can but also take the pressure off of yourself and do nothing if you want. Sometimes it is good to be still – to be peaceful – to let yourself off of the hook. Don’t judge others and don’t judge yourself. All will be well.
Do you think that it is important to talk about mental health in these trying times?
Yes I think mental health is always an important subject but now perhaps more than ever. People’s anxiety is running very high and the isolation is depressing too. I am very pleased to see the issue being raised on social media and there being some on line support – we need more! But no one is alone in this. We are all here to help each other through.