Prior to the theatre shutdown, actress Melissa Jacques was playing the role of Margaret New in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. She has also starred in many other productions including Kinky Boots, Oliver, Little Shop of Horrors, Me and my Girl, Company, Wicked and Mamma Mia! I was fortunate enough to get to talk to Melissa about how she has been handling life in lockdown and her hopes for the future once the theatres are allowed to reopen.
First of all, how are you feeling about the whole virus and lockdown situation?
When the theatres went dark on the 16th of March, we had just had dress rehearsal that afternoon to put Rufus Hound into the show and then at warmup we got the notice that we weren’t going to be going on that night. Initially, I didn’t think it was going to be this long and initially I wasn’t that concerned about the virus. But the more that week leading up to lockdown went on and with the children finishing school, I just started to worry a lot more. I’ve got a father shielding at home, my mum and dad are in their late 60’s and it just seem to take hold very very quickly.
How have you been keeping yourself occupied during the lockdown?
I think we all as a family had symptoms as well so we sort of had to self isolate for a couple of weeks. There’s four of us here, my husband and two children, two girls, they are nine and six so they are very much of primary school age so that’s what kept me occupied. I don’t have time to think, we’ve been homeschooling every day. Luckily, my husband has been working from home so most days he’s able to sit with a nine-year-old and I’ve been able to sit with the six year old in separate rooms, trying to get stuff done with them as much as possible.
We have been going for walks or playing in the garden, doing a bit gardening or baking. I’ve done loads of baking! I find that baking kinda calms me down and takes my mind off things if I can follow recipe and bake something like I like, and I know it’s gonna be nice to eat at the end. I’ve been reading a lot more. I don’t get time to read in my every day life with eight shows a week, two children and a household to run but I’m on my fourth book of the lockdown which I’m really really enjoying. The husband’s been enjoying getting the garden sorted. Just things that we don’t ever get a chance to do, like the list of jobs in the house and stuff that needs sorting. The girls have been doing their dancing school lessons online so three times a week I set them with the computer in the living room with chairs for barres as they do their classes. Some days are long and some days are so much better than others, but we’ve just been busy with children. We have to keep them occupied, because if not they will just sit on their devices or watch the telly until they’ve got square eyes.
What are you most looking forward to doing once lockdown is over?
When it’s over I’m most looking forward to seeing my family. They all live up north, my whole family is up north. If They don’t live in Yorkshire, they live in Northumberland. So we’ve got grandparents that will be desperate to visit and the girls will be desperate to visit. Like I said my dad has been shielding as he has been having treatment for something so he has not left the house at all. So I am very much looking forward to seeing the family and that will be the first thing we do.
Is there anything we, as theatre fans, can do to help the arts industry in these trying times?
Theatre fans can do everything they can to support. Support Acting For Others and the Theatre Support Funds with the T-shirts and notebooks. That charity alone has raised £600,000 with people watching content online and paying to watch content online. And support anything you see from your favourite theatre performers, petitions with the government to try and get the government to realise that this sector needs support big time. You can help by retweeting that, forwarding that and also to be there when we reopen which I know everyone will be and to help us get back on our feet where we left off.
What is your favourite thing about the theatre industry as a whole?
I’ve been a part of it for 25 years. I love what I do, I love my craft, I love working on new shows, I love being a part of a company but I also love our community as well. It is at times like this where communities really come together, and in the West End as on Broadway is it is a family and a community and we help each other out when we need to. That’s what I really love about the whole industry and how amazing we are and how incredibly brilliant we all are.
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?
Coming to the theatre is not going to be the same as it was for quite a while until have eradicated this virus and we can be vaccinated against it and we know that we don’t have any more cases in the UK and also I think we still don’t know what’s going to happen anyway, Whether we will be back in the autumn or the new year we don’t know. I think that we need to ensure the public that they are safe to come to the theatre. I think that we are all raring to go as long as we know that we’re all hygienic and nobody is ill, I think we will just crack on but the public will need to be reassured that it’s okay to come to the theatre and that they will be safe. I think that’s a big factor, it’s not just gonna be like we’re open now, use some hand sanitizer, don’t come if you think you’re poorly. There is a lot more than that. The theatre going public will need to be a lot more mentally ready and feel safe coming to the theatre.
How have you been managing day to day life in quarantine? Do you have a routine, or do you just go with the flow?
Like I said before I’m busy from sun up to sun down so it is a routine in a way. We get up, we do schooling all morning. We do what the school has set us or sometimes I might just think today we are going to do time or learn about money. We might go for a walk, they might go on their scooters or their bikes. We might bake, or do some crafting, we might paint something, . I’ve set them a reading challenge the last few weeks so they’ve been reading a lot which is good because I think that they’ve seen that I’ve been reading.
It’s very very difficult because there is no escape really, you can’t escape and just have time on your own. I was very fortunate to have that commute into town, my own dressing room, adult conversation. I really crave that now, I really crave just some time with other adults, or just on my own really.
Do you have any advice for people who are perhaps finding lockdown and the gradual easing of lockdown hard to manage?
I am sure people are apprehensive. I think that you just need to ease out of it. We are not doing anything different now. The only things I do is go to a pharmacy, the post office or the supermarket. I took the kids for a Happy Meal for the first time in forever this week, just as something different to do. I’ve not sent my youngest back to school because I thought it was too early. So they won’t go back until September. The big change for us will come when we know when I will go to back or when my husband can go back to his job.
I think that people just need to ease out, it’s a personal thing. Some may just want to get back to normal as quick as they can and just carry on as they were before and some people might just take baby steps and do little by little which I think is what we are trying to do at the moment until we definitely know that the r number is down and the cases are getting less and less. I’m just following the science and trying to be really sensible. We have come this far as a family. I just want it all to have settled before we make any sort of rash decisions and thinking right let’s go to the beach or let’s go on holiday.
Do you think that it is important to talk about mental health in these challenging times?
Mental health is very important I think for everybody. I think I have been fortunate enough to never suffer from any mental health problems before but during lockdown the whole situation has been very overwhelming and I have really started to make sure that I take care of myself in that respect. Normally, I work eight shows a week, the girls are at school all day so this is unprecedented. I know we hear that word a lot now, but it is an unprecedented time for my family as we have never in our whole lifetimes spent as much time together as this. So I think that if people are suffering, there are a hell of a lot of outlets out there. You only have to type it into twitter and you’ll find so many free phone lines you can call. There is a lot out there.
I would like to thank Melissa for taking the time out of her very busy schedule to do this interview, and wish her and her family the very best for the future. Stay safe x