An Actor’s Guide to Surviving Christmas

Katie Redford prepares us all for the holiday season...

So, this is Christmas…and what have you done…?

Alright, chill out John and Yoko. You sound like Auntie Karen halfway through Christmas dinner.

Yes, my friends, it’s that time of the year again when Bublé accompanies us on our commutes, we spend our weekly wages on the Pret Christmas sandwich range, and we lie awake at night wondering how much the buyout fee was for the actors in the John Lewis advert. It’s Chriiiiiiistmas!

I love this time of year. I love everything from the Ye Old Christmas carol services to the Baileys for breakfast. But it’s not always the easiest time of the year. This could be due to personal reflections, annual “catch up questions” and the financial pressures of, well, absolutely everything. So, wherever you’re spending Christmas this year, here are a few tips on how to make the most of the festive period, whilst also managing to hold on to your sanity.

As long as you’re being proactive and making small steps, have confidence and faith in yourself that it’s just the unpredictability of this industry. It’s a blessing as well as a curse that your luck can change within seconds. So, by all means, reflect on the year but don’t get hung up on the change of circumstances. Who knows where you’ll be this time next year.
Katie Redford

Take time to unwind

I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure if I ever truly switch off from work. If you don’t have an office, you never really have an office to leave (that needs to be on a fridge magnet.) However, I think this is the only time of the year where you can truly relax about the fact the phone’s not ringing. I’m all for the productive approach, but I genuinely do believe Christmas is the time to lose yourself in the festivities. I will be getting the onesie on, digging out the selection box, watching those god awful (but wonderfully nostalgic) Christmas films on Channel 5 and enjoying every second.

Bask in the disconnection of it all. Read, watch films, catch up with relatives, watch Vicar of Dibley re-runs. Do whatever your heart desires. And whilst we’re on the subject, if you’re going back to the parents, you may as well eat as much of the free food that you can muster. A few weeks ago, after a stressful tax return, I found myself taking refuge in Topshop and things got slightly out of hand with my purchases. Far too much money was spent and as a result, I’ve been living off satsumas, belVitas and Snack a Jacks. So, bring on the posh ham and turkey, please. Not sure when I’ll next be able to afford meat.

Get partying

I get a bit jealous this time of the year of my friends that work in offices. Ever since I watched The Office Christmas special, I just want to work in an office in December purely for the Christmas party. Awkward dancing, Slade on repeat, loud mouth Kelly getting with socially awkward Kev in the corner, rubbish Secret Santa gifts - seriously, what’s not to love?!

Me and my housemate are both freelance and we were sick of being left out, so we’ve just started throwing our own office Christmas party… in our kitchen. We’re having 3 this year (it’s been a tough one). So, go to the parties - especially the networking ones. Maybe your agent or a local theatre are holding a festive get-together. I know it seems a bit awkward if you don’t know anyone there but I’m sure the majority of people going feel like that. Get a mulled wine down you and mingle.

It may be tough to drag yourself away from the sofa when the Gogglebox Christmas special is on and you just want to hibernate under your blanket but they will both be there on your return and you’ll feel so much better for going. Even if you just go for one (said no one ever).

Prepare your answers for the relatives

Ah. The annual Christmas hot seating questions from the relatives. Now, I don’t mind these questions when I’m working - ask away Uncle Steve, please ask away. But when I’m not, I’m tempted to face-plant in my roast potatoes. You know the usual: “No, I don’t have anything lined up in January. No, you may not know how much I got for that Just Eat advert and yes, I will hang on in there.” Just a little tip: in your answers, words such as “recently” and “just” go down a treat. They don’t need to know that when you say you ‘recently’ finished a filming job, that it was in actual fact, 6 months ago. Uncle Steve won’t give two hoots.

Now, it depends how you want to play this. You could give the family annual career questions your full attention and really commit to them with your answers. This consists of going into depth about how at times it’s been very difficult to motivate yourself, you’ve had a few dark days when you’ve lost your way a little, but throughout both the rejections and the successes, you’ve discovered so much more about yourself and you’re actually extremely excited to not know what’s coming up and there is no other path destined for you other than this one… or you could just lie and say you’ve joined Emmerdale. Your call.

Go volunteering

Now, I think it’s safe to say our careers can be on the self-indulgent side. There’s nothing wrong with that; we’re taught to fend for ourselves, put acting jobs first and give ourselves the best opportunities we possibly can. But without sounding too much like an unwanted 0845 phone call, we could make a big difference if we wanted to. Whether it’s a few hours in a soup kitchen or sending a shoebox, it all helps.

A few weeks ago, I met a friend for coffee and as she stirred her overpriced latte, she said, “This time last year, I was in an ITV drama. Now, I’m handing out leaflets dressed as a carrot.” We’ve all been there. She started to hate her days off as the more time she spent by herself, the more time it sunk in that she was dressing up as a carrot. So, she started volunteering at South London Cares, a charity that organises social events for their elderly neighbours. So, I joined too. So far, I’ve been to coffee and cake catch ups (oh, hello free lemon drizzle), a pub quiz and a play reading workshop and along the way, I’ve made friends with the warmest, loveliest elderly people who unfortunately also happen to be extremely lonely.

I chatted to one particular lady for hours. She told me that since her husband passed away, she’s lost her confidence when it comes to leaving the house and sometimes goes for days without speaking to anyone. And suddenly, that recall you never heard back from and that stressful tax return don’t seem quite as bad anymore. Alongside the cake and coffee, I was also served a huge dollop of perspective.

Next week, I’m off to volunteer for a few hours at a Christmas beer and cheese-tasting workshop. (Yes, I am aware that there is a pattern starting to occur here…but if consuming free beer and cheese counts as giving back to the community, let it be.) 

Take the chance to reflect (to an extent)

Christmas is one of those times where we naturally reflect on the year and compare it to the previous. What were you up to this time last year? What’s been the highlight of your year? What would you do differently next year? Positive reflections are great as they can keep us on track. But just be careful that you don’t put too much emphasis on the things we can’t control.

Our jobs are rather odd in the fact that our progress isn’t as tangible as it is in other career paths. Our salaries don’t automatically increase and the promotions don’t exist. Take my carrot friend. She’s not only a brilliant actress but a successful one too; she has just found herself in a quiet patch. But that’s not necessarily any reflection on her success overall.

As long as you’re being proactive and making small steps, have confidence and faith in yourself that it’s just the unpredictability of this industry. It’s a blessing as well as a curse that your luck can change within seconds. So, by all means, reflect on the year but don’t get hung up on the change of circumstances. Who knows where you’ll be this time next year.

Also, try not to get hung up comparing yourself to other actor friends who are working this Christmas. Some will be busy, some won’t and that will change year in, year out. So, please don’t ruin the TV Christmas specials for your family when you spot that girl who was in the year below you at drama school, who keeps popping up in everything lately. Take a note of the casting director and drop them an email in the new year. Or just bitterly throw Twiglets at the TV, knowing you’d have played Elf No.3 far more convincingly. Whatever makes you feel better.

I hope you’re now feeling slightly more prepared to take on the festive period that awaits us, so I’ll leave it there. Oh, and just by chance, if anyone does happen to know how much the buyout fee is for the John Lewis advert, do let me know. It gets me every year. Just think of how many bottles of Baileys you could have for breakfast with that pay cheque… On that note, my mug awaits.

Katie Redford is an actress & writer originally from Nottingham, and part of the BBC New Talent Hotlist 2017. Katie won the BBC Norman Beaton Fellowship in 2015 via Birmingham Rep. She was part of the BBC Radio Drama Company and is now currently playing Lily Pargetter in BBC Radio 4’s The Archers and Ruby Tuliver in BBC Radio 4’s Home Front. She can also be heard as Layla in BBC Radio Comedy’s All Those Women.