Simon: I’m a freelance actor and the Musical Director for touring theatre company This Is My Theatre. We had back-to-back show runs booked for pretty much the entire year and were due to start prep on The Tempest the following week. As it became clear that none of that would be possible we hastily cleared out our external storage space to save the rent, cancelled and refunded our upcoming shows, and the company went quiet. I'm an employee so was fortunate to be furloughed, but this wouldn't be enough to live on as freelance acting work would usually make up the majority of my earnings.
I found out through friends that a care home near them urgently needed staff. I'd not worked in a care home before but had worked a lot of different jobs over the years and had some applicable skills, including experience working with very vulnerable groups.
After a while I was asked to start taking my instruments in and playing for residents when I got a chance, as no visitors or any other forms of live entertainment were allowed into the building. I eventually arranged with management to create bi-weekly performance slots. When Ethan joined we began rehearsing and performing sets together as part of our shifts. I kept finding new songs and tunes for us to learn to keep the programme fresh, and we took requests from the residents whenever we could. Meeting the residents has been a privilege. They’ve been friendly, welcoming and so brave in the face of upheaval in the way their home has to operate.
The constantly shifting government guidance has put a lot of pressure on staff and the home due to uncertainty and the difficulty of implementing, adapting and re-implementing policies on a daily basis. We've been very fortunate not to have had a COVID outbreak in the home, but there has still been the progressing illnesses, swift changes to people's condition, challenges and deaths that are part of the life of every nursing home. Working there has been the best non-theatre job I've ever had. The staff are wonderful people, and I can’t thank them enough for having us on the team. After Ethan and I leave to return to our theatre jobs we'll keep going back to play for as long as they'd like us to.
Ethan: The company Simon and I work for, This Is My Theatre, had just finished a co-production with the Hawth Theatre and were due to be starting rehearsals for The Tempest in the coming weeks. We pulled the tour and set about streamlining the company to weather the coming months and getting it ready so that we could hit the ground running as soon as things began to open up again, whenever that would be.
I was determined to work over the lockdown period and some friends of ours had mentioned work going in the kitchen of a local care home. It required emergency staff and I had a bit of previous experience working in kitchens. I start at 8am, preparing breakfasts for all residents whilst staying on top of the washing up and cleaning duties. Then there is food prep (usually just peeling and chopping) before lunch hour. More cleaning duties in the afternoon, a bit more food prep and then washing and drying over dinner followed by a deep clean. I’m usually out of the home by just gone 7pm.
Once or twice a week we have been able to play music for the residents. Simon plays the flute as well as a variety of whistles and has an extensive knowledge of Irish and Scottish folk tunes that I drum along to on the cajon or an Irish drum called a bodhran which I've been learning to play over lockdown. The care home usually has a vicar come in on Sundays to deliver a sermon. With health and safety rules in place preventing visitors coming into the home that role has now fallen to me and I have been reading pre-prepared sermons to the residents. Sometimes there's a hymn; I love a good hymn.
The job has been great! The entire staff at the care home have been so lovely and welcoming. Getting to know the residents has been great also, some truly wonderful personalities with incredible stories to share. I can't begin to express my respect for those working in care, especially the team at our home. With the constant changing of guidelines following nonsensical press briefings I think the home's management and staff have done an incredible job guaranteeing the safety of both staff and residents.