Alexandra Roach launches a mental health venture for actors
“This industry can be incredibly tough and demanding,” says Alexandra Roach of being in film and television. She should know: the actress has been working in the sector since the age of 11, having started her career on a Welsh soap opera before moving to London to train at Rada aged 16; she appeared alongside Meryl Streep and Olivia Colman as the young Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, and her numerous television credits include episodes of Black Mirror and Killing Eve. But despite her success, Roach remains keenly aware of the impact that being in the public eye – not to mention dealing with the constant risk of rejection – can have on actors’ mental health. Hence the motivation for her new venture, Resting, a website, Instagram feed and event series designed as a source of support and creative rejuvenation for her professional peers.
“I think the combination of the #MeToo movement and the pandemic has ruffled the industry’s feathers, and brought a lot of things to the surface that needed to be dealt with,” says Roach of the past few years. “That’s a really positive thing, but it’s happening so rapidly that we as an acting community need to find ways of staying abreast of the changes. It’s not like we have an HR department, so Resting is about checking in with each other and working out how we can move forward together.”
The initiative consists of a series of in-person events built around four key pillars. First, Resting will host workshops on a range of artistic disciplines – not just drama, but also writing, poetry and dance – to help rekindle participants’ passion for creativity. “There’s a feeling I had when I was starting out at 11 that I remember so vividly – that sense that I loved acting so much, that this is what I wanted to do – and I want to give actors a chance to reconnect with that feeling,” explains Roach. Then there’s the social aspect: Roach wants to bring people together for club and open-mic nights so that they have an opportunity to mingle and share ideas in person, rather than online (“because since the pandemic, everything’s just been on Zoom, and it can feel really disconnected”).
Thirdly, and crucially, there is a focus on mental health. “Acting can take a real toll on people,” says Roach. “So we’re getting experts in to talk about resilience and how to breathe properly, and strengthen all of these tools that actors can use to ground themselves before meetings or even in their everyday lives.” Related to this is the final pillar, which is around safeguarding. “We’re getting in experts to talk about how to report bullying or harassment, how to spot red flags and what to do in those situations,” she says. “It can feel incredibly lonely if you don’t know what the right protocol is, because we’re never taught that as actors.”
Roach is a strong proponent of therapy as a way of coping with change, and plans to create a directory of recommended therapists that actors can access when in need of support. “It’s incredibly helpful to have a space where you can talk to someone without judgement,” she says. This is particularly crucial in the age of social media.
“I think it has a massive effect on actors, because sometimes you’ll do an audition tape and you won’t hear anything back… then one day you’ll be scrolling on Instagram when you see another actor post an image from on set – and that’s how you mainly find out you didn’t get the part!” she says. Thus, Resting will include a focus on the dangers of comparing yourself with others, “and how to disconnect with that, or acknowledge it and move on”.
As this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week gets underway, Roach is hopeful that Resting will play a small part in reducing the stigma around mental illness and encouraging everyone to seek help when they need it. As she puts it, “it’s all about creating a sense of community.”
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