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Summer Strallen: There's not just a global health crisis, there's also a mental health crisis

Summer Strallen discusses bringing the Strallen Collective to life

Summer Strallen
(© Paul Nicholas Dyke)

I remember being with my roommates in our living room when we heard the news, "Broadway is shutting down!". That is when we realized this was no joke. The theatre and showbiz industry has weathered all kinds of storms, wars, elections so for us, sitting there in our living room, watching as the great white way closed its doors one by one, we knew that it was bad.

A week or so later I was forced to move out as both roommates started showing symptoms so I moved in with the lovely man I had been dating only a few months and set up house. After nearly two months and with no sign of the virus going away I had to, in order to meet my new nephew, whose entrance to the world was imminent, find a place to quarantine for two weeks. After three months of absence, I would move in with my sister and her family and get to see my beloved niece and new nephew.

Like so many other times my NY community pulled through and I was blessed with an absolute gift. One of the yoga studio clients had moved her family to their house in the Hamptons and their 3-bed apartment, equipped with a little outside space (which is like finding a unicorn in NY) for Pebbles, my chihuahua, to do her business without having to leave the house, was now free! HALLELUJAH!!

I settled in nicely with two weeks worth of groceries, ready for my isolation.

And there it was… PEACE.

The first bit of peace I had felt since being in the womb, at least, that is how it felt. I was finally able to hear my own thoughts and sometimes they were loud and sometimes they were quiet but, finally, they felt like my own.

Every day I floated through the hours, writing gratitude lists, meditating, doing yoga, catching up with friends in the UK on zoom and feeding my phone addiction by spending far too much time on social media. Then one day I noticed a sudden influx of what I can only describe as adverts on a lot of my newsfeed offering ‘insta live classes' for free or for a donation.

Now, I'm sure it's no secret that for a while I have been trying to stay as active as possible with Equity.org.uk, our trade union. Having climbed the proverbial ladder to lead status from the ensemble in the West End, I knew first hand how incredibly undervalued the ensemble and stage management are due. Their years of training and hard work are often seen as disposable.

It was understandable that these workers, having had not only their livelihoods but in some cases their identities and safety torn away from them so dramatically, were doing all they could to stay active and present. It was clear to me that someone needed to take ‘the lead' to ensure that this new normal and new business of Zoom classes online, was managed fairly.

I am a certified yoga instructor and having seen all these artists like me on social media also offering their ‘side hustles' like HIIT Workouts, meditation and life coaching. I wanted to help bring all those classes to the collective too.

I did not want to wait for the alternative, some bigwig business person, who does not understand artists coming along and taking advantage of us. With the platform that my family and I had built through the years I felt confident. And so The Strallen Collective was born!

I quickly assembled a team of people who knew more about business than me, by sending out an SOS on Instagram for people who had a love of the arts not only the theatre but all forms, who also knew about the ins and outs of setting up a business.

The next step was to ask all my insanely talented friends and colleagues who I had met throughout my career if they wanted to join to offer their classes. Having suffered from mental health issues for a long time I wanted to help promote how dancing, singing and drama can benefit mental health.

There is not only a global health crisis but there is also a mental health crisis

Then I thought, "Why stop there?". I had acquired so many tools from all the self-help and holistic practices that I had needed so desperately at times but had felt too scared to share for fear of ridicule from an industry that see vulnerability as weakness, I thought this is as good a time as any!

There is not only a global health crisis but there is also a mental health crisis that has grown and I wanted to be part of the growing number of people sharing their stories and trying to create change themselves.

These incredible therapies that have literally saved my life at times need to, more than ever, be shared so that they may be able to save someone else's life too.

The pandemic has affected the freelancers in these industries so drastically and by giving not only the creatives an outlet and opportunity to generate some much-needed income from the global community that the pandemic has opened up to us, we are also trying to bring a bit of the light from the arts to the audiences in their homes while we all stay in, stay safe and most importantly try to stay sane.

It was also always in my mission to build a community space on the site for all arts lovers and practitioners to come together. Why must we be so segregated? We are all humans, part of the human race. No discrimination, no exclusion, no shame and no judgement and we must all work together to heal ourselves and our planet.

As Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York said so eloquently in one of his press conferences, "We are socially distant but spiritually connected" and I couldn't agree more.

I live in hope from these dark times that have, for the first time, affected all humans globally, we will have learnt that dis-ease of one does in fact mean dis-ease for all and if we take a moment of pause to be aware of others and actively make the smallest of changes not only for ourselves but for them too, we can start to heal our collective body, mind and spirit and the beautiful planet we inhabit.

"It's surely our responsibility to do everything within our power to create a planet that provides a home not just for us, but for all life on Earth." ~ Sir David Attenborough

Find out more about the Strallen Collective.

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