“I DO love London. I love the anonymity of it. But mental health in an industry like this and in a city like this can easily just slip off the radar. You need to have a support system, whether that is family, friends, colleagues and teachers to make sure your work doesn’t become your whole life.”
Originally from Bandon, Alison Arnopp, 30, is a singer and actress living in London. Her first job when she moved there was covering the role of a young boy at the Royal Opera House.
In between singing work, she has waitressed, babysat, conducted craft workshops, taught classes and had stints minding cats and being a hostess at events.
“The bigger challenge is learning how to make yourself happy when you are not working. I got some great advice from another actress. She said ‘you’ve just had a job, there’s no reason you’ll not get another job. What’s the logical reason that you are never going to get another job again? You just got one and it was a good one. So why are you worrying? You just have to wait for the next job’. That is what you have to deal with.”
Asked about advice to young actors and actresses, Alison said; “It is all well and good having dreams to make it in the West End, but you must be clued into reality. After you graduate that is the start of the real learning.”
In the theatre industry, mental health and mental breakdowns are more common than you’d realise.
“A job can get at your self-esteem because people will tell you to lose weight or you are not good enough. There is the stress of being in a dressing room with six or 12 other people who are always talking about what they are getting. You feel jealous and that is another thing you have to deal with when you see friends and contemporaries doing great things. I want this to be a positive article but those things are so there — every day.”
To deal with the issues of living in a big city and the pressures of working (or not) in the acting industry, Alison enjoys performing improvised comedy.
“Improv is all about the team and making other people look good. London can be quite isolating so I would go to improv jams on my days off.”
Alison acknowledges that everyone deals with gaps in work “but it is amplified in the arts, especially when you put more pressure on the work. We create this for ourselves which is not helpful but maybe it is helpful as it drives us on.”
This drive has seen her perform in Les Liaisons Dangereuses (pictured on the WOW! cover) at the Donmar Warehouse with Dominic West (The Wire, The Affair), Elaine Cassidy (Disco Pigs, No Offence) and Janet McTeer (Maleficent, The Divergent Series). She has also been part of workshops and demos for new musicals which has seen her perform at the London Palladium and record with Alfie Boe (Les Misérables) and Ramin Karimloo (The Phantom of the Opera). Alison also played the lead in a production about the life of singer Dusty Springfield.
“You can be a faceless mask in an ensemble and then you can be the lead,” she says.
“It is such a privilege to do a job that’s so fun and weird. I do feel very lucky and I do feel that luck has a lot to do with it. A series of events happened that made me be in the right place at the right time. One thing I am really proud of, more than getting those jobs, is keeping up my skills when I wasn’t working. It kept me feeling like a performer when I wasn’t performing.”
Alison created and wrote a one-woman show. It is honest and vulnerable in ways that mean it can’t be in a commercial show.
“It is about London turning you into a robot. Then you become this robot who refuses to let anyone in, you have to be tough and resilient to get to where you want to be. And then the human part says ‘help’ and bursts out. You have a malfunction because you can’t deal with being a robot and you can’t function being a human. It was about reconnecting with humans.”
She has always enjoyed connecting and reconnecting with people. When she was in school, she and some friends co-founded Coolaboola Events, organising gigs that brought such band as The Blizzards and Delorentos to Cork.
“I wish I had the opportunities to work in Cork that I have here because then I could be with my parents. My CV becomes like a key to a door in a way that I didn’t realise before but I have to collect other keys before I can open the door I want. I want to originate a lead role in a musical that is really successful. You know on Netflix, there is a category called ‘Films with a strong female lead’; I think it is ridiculous we still have a category like that. But I would like to see more of that in musical theatre.”
Alison is currently doing a series of shows with Royal Shakespeare Company First Encounters’ production of The Tempest which runs in London this summer.