‘There is no right or wrong way to deal with a situation that literally no one has ever faced before’ – Life in Lockdown with Maria Coyne

Prior to the lockdown, actress Maria Coyne was covering/playing the role of Anna in the UK Tour of The King and I. Her previous stage credits include covering the role of Christine in The Phantom of the Opera, covering the roles of Glinda and Nessarose in Wicked, starring as Magenta and covering the roles of Columbia and Janet in The Rocky Horror Show and the narrator in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I was lucky enough to talk to Maria all about how she is handling life in lockdown and her hopes for the future.

First of all, how are you feeling about the whole virus and lockdown situation?

I’m very much taking each day as it comes. When it first happened I literally kept myself insanely busy all day every day because I think my body and mind hadn’t quite found a way to adjust to the excess of time that I had to fill. As the time has gone by it has very much become a ’take each day as it comes’ situation. So there are some days where I get a lot done, and some days I feel like I sit down to have a coffee at 10am and then all of a sudden its 8pm and I have no idea where the time has gone. I don’t think there is any ‘correct’ way to deal with it, but I find just taking it a day and task at a time a lot easier for me mentally, as to think about the longevity of it seems a little overwhelming. It has definitely gone a lot quicker than I anticipated. I have concerns about our industry, but I try not to listen to all of the whispers on social media etc, as no one actually KNOWS an answer yet, so I feel it causes unnecessary panic. I think a lot about the people who have sadly lost loved ones and not been able to spend time with them and that is a thought that I get in my head about quite often.

How have you been keeping yourself occupied during the lockdown? 

I had moved into a house literally just before I went on tour with The King and I, and it’s a real project. So I’ve taken this as an opportunity to learn some DIY and decorate as and where I can, which has been fun and also rewarding because it’s becoming much more ‘me’ as the time goes by. Other than that, I get out with my dogs a couple of times a day, catch up with friends on Zoom and FaceTime as much as I can, and take part in plenty of online quizzes haha!

What are you most looking forward to doing once lockdown is over?

Honestly just being able to spend time with my family and friends. I think that there are (hopefully) some positives to be taken from this whole situation. I’ve always been a complete shopaholic and my best friend Zoe and I had made a New Years pact to not buy any new clothes this year – now, this has obviously made that pact a lot easier BUT it has really highlighted how little material possessions actually mean. I’d happily give away my whole wardrobe just to be able to spend time with my family and friends whenever I feel like it. And even though I miss my job terribly, this pandemic and lockdown has proved that all of those things can literally just be taken away from you in a matter of days, but it’s the people in our lives who are important.

My friends and family have always been one of my top priorities anyway, but even more so now because missing out on life and time with those people is the thing that hurts the most I think. Screens just aren’t the same.

Is there anything we, as theatre fans, can do to help the arts industry in these trying times? 

I honestly think the ongoing support I’ve seen online has been amazing, and it’s incredible that whilst all the theatre supporters have their own lives and situations to take care of, they are still taking time to watch and engage with performers in their online concerts, workshops etc. I think because the future of theatre is so unknown at the moment, the most we all can hope for is to keep the passion for it alive, and that both performers and theatre supporters hold on to their love for it, so that when the day comes that we can perform again, we know that there will still be people who actually want to come and watch haha!

What is your favourite thing about the theatre industry as a whole?

I really just love performing. I’m not so good with concerts etc and performing as ‘me’, and I’m not one to sing at home or in the shower etc. But I love taking on a character, learning a journey and getting the opportunity to tell those stories and learn all those beautiful scores. I’m so grateful for the roles I’ve had the opportunity to play so far, and it’s the love of performing that keeps me here. Because it can be a tough, tough industry in many capacities, and if I didn’t absolutely love the root of it, the performing, then I don’t know that a lot of the heartache would be worth it, and also I’d want to make way for someone who DID love it. Obviously I’ve met some incredible people along the way and that has made some experiences more than worth it, but it’s the performing that I’m here for.

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? 

I don’t think that anything comes close to live theatre, so I would like to think that a lot of what is happening online is just a temporary measure until we are able to take it back into the theatres. I do think we are so lucky to live in a time where technology is so advanced so that we are all able to provide so much online. I also think it may encourage all shows to do a ‘recording’ of sorts. It’s highly unlikely that we will find ourselves in this situation again, but if we did, it would be lovely for people to watch a recording of their favourite show – and so hopefully more shows will invest in doing that moving forward.

How have you been managing day to day life in quarantine? Do you have a routine, or do you just go with the flow? 

I don’t have a specific routine no. I start projects and so I do set myself goals for each day, but I also don’t punish myself too much if I don’t meet them. They are mostly DIY related haha! I take the dogs for a walk in the morning and evening so that sort of book ends my day and gets me up and going. I’m a night owl so I tend to become super productive really late on in the day, whereas my morning coffee can literally last for hours – especially at the moment when the weather is so lovely haha. I do try my best to separate the weekdays and weekends though, just so that I can feel a separation between the weeks and so it doesn’t feel too relentless or endless. I take part in a quiz on Sunday evenings run by friend Darren and that always ends the week nicely haha.

Do you have any advice for people who are perhaps finding lockdown hard to manage?  

I try not to give ‘advice’ as such, just because we are all naturally biased to what works for us personally, and that might not be all that helpful. I would just like to think that everyone is being kind to themselves. It’s very difficult because EVERYTHING is being posted online at the moment, because people have no other outlet. So if you’re constantly seeing workouts, projects, relentless productivity – it can be quite anxiety inducing. There are a LOT of unhelpful messages out there in the social media ether – like suggestions belittling those who aren’t taking this time to learn languages and CHANGE THE WORLD, and it makes me so angry.

There is no right or wrong way to deal with a situation that literally no one has ever faced before. If people want or need to take this time to chill, then they should do that, and that is more than fine. No one knows what every individual was going through before this happened, and through its duration. There seems to be a lot of judgement out there, which should be vehemently ignored – so I guess my only thoughts on this are to do what works for you in order to just get through a day at a time. Comparison is the thief of joy, so if there are any social media accounts that make you feel negatively about yourself and your time during this lockdown – MUTE THEM.

 Do you think that it is important to talk about mental health in these challenging times? 

I think it is important to talk about mental health ALWAYS. I really hope that people have others they can reach out to, and I know there are a number of helplines that are doing incredible work at this time. I also hope that people aren’t ashamed to talk about it, it is good that we live in a time where people are more open and communicative about mental health, but I think there are a lot of things that are also a lot more detrimental to that mental health (unhealthy social media, the scare mongering media etc), so I think we still have a long way to go before peoples’ general mental health is taken care of on a day to day basis. We all deserve to have a healthy mind as much as we deserve to have a healthy body, and I still don’t think they are recognised on the same level and hope that one day they will be considered as important as each other.

I would like to thank Maria for her time and her great answers to this interview, as well as wish her the very best for the future. Stay safe x

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