This episode of the podcast was recorded back in July 2019 at the home of our guest, Bizzy Day. It was an interesting time to talk to her, because she had recently left The Other Room Theatre, which she co-founded, and began working at Ffilm Cymru. It was a transitional period for Bizzy, but it also felt like Wales was in transition, and it’s astonishing to see how much the cultural landscape has changed since that conversation in the summer. However, what really drew me to Bizzy as someone to have on the podcast was the openness with which she discussed her own health and wellbeing. Burnout is something many of us deal with in our lives, but we don’t really talk about it. This was an opportunity to change that and, thanks to Bizzy’s honesty and willingness to share her experiences, we were able to do so.
If you’d like to listen to the episode, click here.
Welcome to Episode Six of Critically Speaking.
Bizzy Day: You need to be vulnerable.
Jafar Iqbal: Okay.
BD: I think you need vulnerability. I think you need to be able to have the hard discussions, and I think you need to be honest, and I think you need to be willing to be brave and have courage and get things wrong. And I think that that requires vulnerability.
JI: The amount of conversations that I’ve had, where people have said that those things are not in Wales.
JI: That the bravery’s not there, and the courage isn’t there, and even the vulnerability’s not there. Do you not agree with that?
BD: No, I don’t! Really? Who said this to you?!
Shane Nickels (producer): Other guests!
JI: Listen to the podcast!
BD: Oh, wow! No, I 100% disagree. Surely you can’t be in the arts or an artist without being vulnerable and without being brave and courageous. It’s like, all of these people are doing such incredible things. It’s an idea! You know, people have ideas, and then they actually make them happen. And that takes courage.
JI: But do you not think people are being brave in spite of what the arts throws at them, rather than because of the opportunities the arts gives them?
BD: I don’t think it’s about arts giving people opportunities, I think it’s about…artists are driven to create those opportunities for themselves. I really believe that. And I know that the arts is difficult, and it’s a tough industry, and there are hard things. Y’know, general living is hard in theatre and the arts overall. But there’s a resilience there, because you can’t not create. Does that make sense? I feel like I’ve just kind of reeled a load of words off that probably don’t make much sense, but they make sense to me. (laughs)
JI: Who do you look at and go, ‘that person is doing brave things?’
BD: Oh god! That’s hard. That’s putting me on the spot. (laughs) I mean, in all honesty, Jafar, everyone that I meet that is working and doing in the arts. Everyone. I can’t really single any one person out. You know, from the people that are working, getting the funded work, people that are working in organisations, young people that are coming through scratch nights. These are all brave and pioneering people who are trying things, often for the first time and often without knowing what the result’s gonna be or how they’re gonna be perceived or how the work is going to be received. Any of that stuff. I think it just takes balls to even be in this industry. The hardest thing about being in the arts is being in the arts.
JI: When you had those people coming through the doors, young people – we’re talking about The Other Room right now…
JI: …you did the youth festival a few times. What advice do you give them? Are you part of that? Do you sit down with them and tell them about the arts?
BD: It always used to be a bit…it caused me a bit of consternation, because I’d sit in and we’d offer masterclasses in various things, and we would share our own experiences and we’d chat to anyone that wanted to chat about anything. About projects or life or how to do this, how to do that. And I would often get messages afterwards, particularly from artists from the Young Artists Festival, saying, ‘I really just want a sustainable career, like, you know, I’m an actor, but how do I make my career sustainable, how do I keep doing it in Wales?’ And actually, what they were always asking me, really, was ‘how do I act and only act?’ And there is no answer to that. Most actors don’t act and only act. You can at a certain point in your career, if you ever get there, and a lot of people don’t. And I think, actually, we just need to be honest about that, because a sustainable career in the arts isn’t about only doing the arts. It’s about finding ways to apply that skillset in other ways. Sorry to talk shop on this, but because I’ve just started this role at Ffilm Cymru, and I’m learning a lot about this organisation. And they care an awful lot about building a sustainable film sector, and they’ve got this really incredible programme called Foot in the Door, which basically teams up with housing associations and finds people through housing associations and job centres and creates placements for people on films.
JI: That’s amazing.
BD: It is amazing! It is amazing. But the way that they do that is they go, ‘are you a hairdresser, are you a painter-decorator?’ And they get these people on set doing the various things. And I know it’s not the same in theatre, but the idea is that you’ve got painter-decorators and you’ve got hairdressers and woodworkers, all of these people that have real trades, and trades are becoming more and more of a situation where you’re self-employed anyway. It’s hard, it’s even hard then. But then, they’re kind of going, ‘right, well, now you can work in film’. So you can work across film and you can work across your sector that you’re already in. And actually, I think we need to apply more of that thinking in theatre.
JI: I was gonna say, because you just said, that’s not the case in theatre. Well, why isn’t it the case in theatre?
BD: Yeah, so…I’m having these conversations right now because I’m really keen – and it’s come off the back of conversations with Ffilm Cymru about how do we get more women in? And we’re working on that. Because we’re looking at women that are working across the arts, not just in film but perhaps novelists or playwrights or anyone that could be working across that maybe we think, ‘okay, how can we support them into film, what do we need to do?’ So how we address this issue of gender balance in film, whilst supporting new talent into the film sector from other sectors…but if we can do that, then we’re building a sustainable career for people in other sectors across the arts, and not just in film.
JI: I know you’ve not been in the role for very long, but why do you think there is a gender imbalance?
BD: I think it’s part of a broader issue. I think it’s the same issue that we see all across theatre and other parts of the arts. This is gonna sound incredibly patronising and I don’t mean it to be patronising and I don’t mean to simplify the issue, but I think that confidence is quite a big issue. If you look at how many women go through R&D [Research & Development] processes in theatre and how many of those women actually get commissioned, how many of the plays actually get picked up and produced, it’s very, very low in theatre. And we tend to see this thing where it’s like, if a woman goes into development with an idea and she starts working on a script, how many bloody rounds of development do they have to do? It does erode confidence in people, but I think that that happens because of unconscious bias towards men. We tend to platform men more than we do women. Pfft, I mean, what is the answer to that question? I couldn’t give you a definitive answer. I guess, if I could, then there wouldn’t be this problem in the first place. I actually think that the work is being done by lots of different people. I think about unifying it. What we don’t seem to have is a singular drive. Everyone’s so wanting to facilitate the change that they just go, ‘right, we’re just gonna do it then’. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I feel like Wales is at this bubbling point, where it’s all happening just below the surface and, at some point, it is going to boil over.
JI: I kinda feel like I’ve heard that term ‘bubbling over’ a lot, and it’s not bubbling over…
BD: No, I agree with you. I don’t know what will, and I think that that’s the frustrating thing about Wales. Because we’ve had some big things happen in the last few years, and has it been enough?
JI: So in your opinion, what was the last big thing that happened in Wales?
BD: Well, there’s all of the stuff with NTW [National Theatre Wales], which I think is significant…
JI: But that’s a negative. Do you think that’s as important as the big positives?
BD: See, now, that’s an interesting question because, when I think of big things in Wales, I only think of the negatives. Which is sad. (laughing) I would like to know what the positive things are!
JI: But do you think what is happening with NTW and the surrounding issues around it, that, in some weird twisted way, it is a positive thing for Wales? Or do you think it’s just shit?
BD: No, I think it’s always a positive thing when you reassess your position and try and make it better. They’re in a period of change and, whatever way you look at it, that change is responding to a directive, I guess, from the communities that that company serves. And I think that’s a positive.
JI: Do you feel more taken care of…again, I know you’ve not been there for very long, but do you feel like the film industry looks after its employees better than the theatre industry does?
BD: So I think there’s a lot of parallels between film and theatre, in the sense that it is the people on the ground that are making the work that bear the brunt. And that’s not a positive parallel. The film industry as a whole, I think, suffers from the same issues that theatre does in terms of people feeling isolated and burning out regularly, and working hours and pay not being commensurate to not having the support around you from other freelance artists as well. It’s hard!
SN: Do you think that burnout is the reason that it could never boil over? There’s only so long you could be brave and resilient for.
BD: Yeah, potentially! Potentially. I mean, it is part of the reason why I stepped away from theatre.
JI: Do you think it was The Other Room specifically that burnt you out, or do you think it was just the industry as a whole?
BD: See, that’s a really tricky question because, before The Other Room, I was an actor working to various degrees of success, as actors do. Mostly in television, so I didn’t even touch theatre before I set up The Other Room, and it was the most brilliant, amazing thing I’ve ever done. But I did do it for two years without being paid at all by The Other Room, and had to freelance at several different places just to get enough money to scrape by, and was visiting food banks every week because Chris…Chris is my partner and he was in university at the time. And, y’know, I did what I had to do. And I think that that is wrong, and I was constantly having to justify why I should be paying myself all of the time, and that’s really tricky.
JI: How often do you see that in other people?
BD: All the time, particularly if you’re a producer. Particularly if you’re a producer. Producers really do bear the burden in a way that perhaps other artists in the industry don’t. I had so many conversations with so many people that came through The Other Room that were producing, and would sit down and be like, ‘Bizzy, this is really hard!’ And I’d be like, ‘yeah, I know, your job as the producer is to hold the space’. Because it’s what you do.
JI: So who’s job is it, or who’s job should it be, to protect the producer?
BD: Well, I haven’t figured this out yet! And actually, it’s the same in film. I think, actually, the very fact that I was able to talk to producers, people who were coming through The Other Room, who felt able to sit down and talk to me, I think that that was probably helpful for them. And it was certainly helpful for me. I think it’s the responsibility of everyone in the industry to support each other. Sounds really wanky but…
JI: I mean, it’s not wanky. That’s…that’s expected, that we should all be responsible for each other and make sure we’re all okay. But that doesn’t really seem to be the case, though.
BD: I think the realities of it are much more difficult than sitting down with a group of people and going, ‘this is a safe space, it’s okay not to be okay’. At The Other Room, I didn’t just run the company and have to figure out how to fundraise the money to keep the organisation going and all of that kind of stuff, and the strategic direction, fighting everybody’s corner all the time. I also had to produce the shows and people saying to me, ‘well, you know, it’s really terrible, it’s really awful and, hey, I’m here for you’. That wasn’t all that helpful. And, like, kindness is important in the industry, but the realities of the situation when it is your job, I guess, is to keep everything moving, and moving forward and bringing everyone together and recruiting all the right people and thinking about all those elements. And ultimately, the buck stops with the producer. That’s a very true phrase in so many different ways. Which ultimately means, if you’re dealing with the money, then you have to have the hard conversations, and nobody can save you from that. You as the producer just have to do that. So I think that kindness is definitely a given in the industry, I think we’re very good at that. I think what we’re less good at is actually finding tangible support in a way that doesn’t minimise or mitigate burnout.
JI: Can you prevent burnout? Because, if it’s about being brave and courageous and doing new things, and that’s part and parcel of the arts, that comes with hard work. And with hard work comes time and effort, but if it’s that hard work and effort that’s then making you burnt out, it’s always going to happen, isn’t it?
BD: To kind of go back on myself, to be almost completely contradictory to myself, when I said a producer’s job is to hold the space…that is correct, but I think we need to get rid of this notion that a producer cannot talk or cannot be supported. So I understand what you’re saying, you’re saying ‘can we ever stop burnout, because surely it’s just gonna cycle back round?’ I think… (sighs) …I don’t have the answers to that. If I did, I’d probably still be working at The Other Room.
JI: I mean, just throwing ideas out there – is the answer having working hours? Is it possible to have working hours in the arts?
BD: I’m not convinced it is, for people that are making the work. I think that, y’know, we enjoy making the work.
JI: But isn’t that the problem?
BD: So I think it’s about personal boundaries. I think it’s about understanding your own limits. I think it’s about not putting this pressure on ourselves to engage in conversations that, perhaps, are in theory designed to be supportive but, actually, just wrench the energy from you. So, for example, for me, when #MeToo started happening, we were approached to host an event that was about #MeToo, that was about platforming women. And that particular movement, whilst I support it, I struggled with it because I have some very personal trauma related to the movement itself. And I didn’t want to talk about #MeToo, and I didn’t want to sit in a room where lots of women were talking about that trauma. I felt like I could support it but not with all of me, and I needed some space myself to be able to digest how I felt about it and process it. I think your responsibility as a producer should include the responsibility to yourself, and knowing where your limits are and knowing where your line is, and being okay with that. I don’t know any producer that doesn’t go above and beyond, I just don’t, because there is no dedicated job description when it comes to a producer. And I think it’s about being able to identify what our strengths are, professionally but also personally, and knowing what you can give and what you can’t give, and protecting ourselves.
JI: Do you think you found that boundary as a producer?
BD: I had to do a lot of work on myself. So I had this sort of period of having to take three months out from The Other Room due to burnout, that was my biiiig meltdown. (laughs) And during those three months, I found it really hard. I had horrendous depression, anxiety and all of these terrible suicidal thoughts and all of this kind of stuff. So I started to explore ways I could manage those feelings, and not everybody is…I look back on this horrible breakdown that I had not as something that was awful, but actually as an opportunity. And not everybody is gonna have an opportunity like that. But I was able to find some coping mechanisms for myself, which were very personal, that helped me to very much manage my personal feelings and my personal trauma. And that helped me be a better producer, I think. And I think a lot of people, and not just producers, but I think a lot of artists go through that. And I think a lot of people go and do something different for a while and then come back, or a lot of people will go into hiding and then they’ll come back. Because there’s something about the arts that draws us back in.
JI: And you mentioned that a lot of your coping mechanisms are very personal to you, but are there any that you’re happy to share? What helped?
BD: I do yoga every day. That helps me a lot. I just give myself anywhere between twenty minutes to an hour every morning where I get on the yoga mat and I stretch it out. And I found it really hard in the beginning. It’s a bit like being in the arts, actually, yoga for me. Because I do it for a while and then I’ll go away from it and come back to it, but I always come back to it. And the other thing that I do is, I’m very careful about what I eat. So my diet – again, to varying degrees of success and, y’know, I’ll move away from it and then I’ll come back to it. But yeah, just things like sugar and dairy and alcohol, any kind of grains, wheats, stuff like that, I’ll just cut out every so often. And it’s like a fog lifts and I can think clearly again.
JI: You mentioned earlier about the Young Artists Festival and how you were giving the wrong advice. What’s the right advice, now that you’re out of it and more clarity of the situation? What advice would you give?
BD: So I think it’s about saying to people, when it comes to a sustainable career in the arts, you need to broaden your thinking because a sustainable career doesn’t mean doing one thing. A job in the arts, a creative job, is a journey, it’s not a destination. So you’re gonna go from place to place and you’re gonna move around, you’re never gonna end up in one fixed point and go, ‘right, that’s it, I’ve made it now’. I went from being an actor to an arts fundraiser to a producer slash executive director, and now I’m an executive producer in film. So I might well end up in, like…
BD: Yeah! And I did, you know, I worked for an orchestra for a while. So, you know, I think that we need to keep a fluid mindset, so I think that that would be the correct advice for people coming through the Young Artists Festival now. Rather than going, ‘hey, it will all work out, all you need to do is just, you know, keep working in that bar’. Or, y’know…it’s not about piecemeal, it’s about changing the way that you are looking at it. Sustainability doesn’t mean doing one thing, the same thing over and over again. It means taking the skillset that you’ve got, that makes you good at that one thing, and being able to apply it elsewhere, and spotting those opportunities.
SN: You said you stepped away from theatre. Is that as an audience member as well?
BD: No. But I haven’t been for a very long time.
SN: Then my question to you is, as an audience member, what would you like to see on our stages in the future?
BD: Ooooh! That’s a….that’s a hard question to answer. I love small-scale work. Walrus Theatre, Lung, Burnt Lemon, Poltergeist Theatre…these are not Welsh companies, granted, but the kind of scale, the stuff that they do, Barrel Organ do some great, great work as well. And I’d love to see more of that, because I think that that just packs such a punch, that kind of work.
JI: What do you think of the fringe scene?
BD: I think it’s growing. I haven’t been able to engage with it for a while, which sounds nuts because I’ve only been out of The Other Room for the last two months. I’m actually looking forward, now I’m away from theatre, to reconnecting with it, because I haven’t been for so long. Like, I was going to press nights and I was seeing everything at The Other Room and catching up on R&Ds and stuff like that where I could, but there wasn’t a lot of space to enjoy it. I was finding it hard to sit down and watch something without assessing it on a production level, or all of these ridiculous things. And it’s unfortunate that I feel like the fringe scene now, and the fringe companies that are coming through, they’re becoming more and more prolific and they’re making more and more work. And I feel like they’re finally getting some support from other venues I won’t name, but they’re finally getting support from established venues and places like that, that are platforming them the way that they need to be platformed, in order for the work to get better, to reach a bar, and to grow. This is a longer term process, and I’m excited by it, and I hope to catch more of it.
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