In the Face of the Emptiness

In the Face of the Emptiness

Like thousands (conservative number), I’ve discovered the work of British actress/writer/show-creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge through Killing Eve and Fleabag, and my head exploded a bit (conservative explosion).

Naturally I decided to go on learning more about Waller-Bridge, her career and how she came to write and write parts that feel (sadly?) so incredibly reinvigorating to watch for women.

Lucky me, Waller-Bridge was the first guest on the British podcast How to Fail where she talked about what lead her to write she could not read. And as the podcast’s name might have hinted, it started with failures and a lot of rejection:

My life has been a series of brutal failure and that’s just become a way of life. Everyone tells you that you have to prepare yourself for the rejection and it’s heartbreaking because sometimes you fall in love with a part, obviously, but the rest of the time you just want to work, you just desperately want to work and get better at what you’re doing and you can’t do that, you can’t practice acting at home like you can an instrument. I mean you can try but you need an audience, you need somebody to riff off and that’s really all I wanted to do when I first came out, I just wanted to do it all the time, and it was hard because it was as if the industry was saying “You’re not allowed to do it yet, you’re not allowed to do it yet, you’re not allowed to do it yet.” So the thing that I loved more than anything else I couldn’t do on my own and that quickly became a way of life.

But actually it was the relentlessness of the no’s and also the silences -you know you’re up against hundreds or thousands of other actresses for a single part in a TV Comedy that is essentially a part that you have to be hoped-for.

It was in the face of the emptiness that I started writing and creating my own work, so the failure of that, and the feeling like I didn’t belong in the industry in some way because I was trying to fit into all these other boxes and eventually I was like  “I’ve got to practice what I preach and write the parts that I’m not reading.”

This reminds me a sentence from Gloria Steinem‘s great book My Life on the Road:

“Limits lead to invention.”

Creativity needs a canvas often made of no’s, rejections, fears, constraints and shortcomings. The paradox here is that what seems like a factory of negativity produces the playground for our creativity and growth.

You Can’t Play Alone

The other point that struck me in Waller-Bridge’s story is that she worded a frustration I’ve so often felt: the absence of possibility to train and grow in our jobs because we can’t play alone.

Actors needs counterparts to re-act against and a director to give them directions. A director needs actors and a team to co-create with. So yes, of course, you can make a movie that you’ll direct, act in, DP and produce.

But why nobody does it more than once? Because that’s the weakest ladder of the scale. Our medium is one that calls for collaboration. That calls for the village. Doing it alone is not very fun and will outgrow muscles while atrophying those that made us want to do this job in the first place.

You can’t act alone. You can’t direct alone. Facing this limit, what will you do?