• Matt Powell

Graduating, without a graduation


Today I should be graduating. Whilst plans were never fully in place, I was imagining a cheeky glass of Prosecco over breakfast. I’d be wearing a fabulous suit: maybe something maroon red or a gorgeous plaid pattern. Mum, Dad, Grandma, Gary & Susie, all gathered at the Southbank Centre looking equally as fabulous I’d be celebrating with beautiful friends made over three years at Central & getting to see the incredible MA Music Theatre cohort, who I’ve worked with during & after studying, take the ceremonial walk along the stage as years of work formally come to an end. However, like pretty much everything this year, graduation is indefinitely postponed.

Instead, I’m off to work at Southwark Playhouse on an exciting innovative digital musical for one of my closest collaborators with a fantastic team of people. I’m incredibly lucky to be doing so, and to have had so many exciting opportunities happen when the world went dark. I find myself feeling very reflective today. Wondering what that other life would be. I’m writing it down to somewhat process that and share a few thoughts.


It goes without saying that this year has been unpredictable, leaving a lot of us having to rapidly adapt and take directions in life we didn’t expect to take. To be suddenly thrown into a space that has no timetabled, ten week term structure was always going to be strange, let alone there being no new structures to fall into. We were so used to order and time and now that’s completely gone out the window. So many of us have taken different directions to the ones we’d hope the end of our degree would give us. And that is something we should be celebrating whole heartedly.


I could not be prouder of my friends who’ve graduated at this point. We did it! Somehow, we got through the chaos and stresses. Somehow, we got to those deadlines and survived many a boozy mistake in the student union bar. And somehow, we’re continuing and won’t ever stop continuing.


Whilst we may constantly ask ourselves “what if”, there is still so much to celebrate at this moment. Graduating into such an always uncertain industry has been a huge reality for thousands of individuals, many sacrificing so much to have got to this final point. I feel so proud of all of my friends and fellow 2020 graduates for managing to reach that end point in such an uncertain time.


In lieu of an actual celebration today, I encourage everyone to take a moment to take stock of something good from this year. The hurt and difficulty that the pandemic has put on us all has certainly been painful, and I hope we can all for a moment step back and find a moment to smile about. Whatever you’ve achieved: be it making some outstanding sourdough, finally getting to write that thing you’ve wanted to write, completing your 17th rewatch of The Office (a personal achievement), found an exciting new passion or learnt something new about yourself. You did it. Let’s celebrate it! I write a lot about reframing musicals and feel I’m taking that 10000 word dissertation conclusion to 2020: reframing this strange moment to achievements and positives no matter how big or small.

I’d set myself six career goals at the start of the year and in some way, I’ve achieved them. I’m really not one for acknowledging or celebrating what I do as honestly, sometimes I feel I don’t deserve it. I’ve certainly felt a weird guilt that I’m doing what I love when the world has been so dark. My natural mode when faced with uncertainty is to find something, do it and see where it leads. I often feel I need to be pinched to look at the things I’ve made with beautiful creatives as well as the connections, friendships and communities created throughout this year. I’ve got to work on stages that are completely different to what I aspired to and am loving it. I’m getting to do what I dreamed for so many years and yeah, there are definitely some not so nice moments. Two of the audio works I’ve produced are expected to make quite big losses. I’ve nothing confirmed for 2021 and I can’t quite see a way forward for the first time in a while. But I’m going to push that aside for the moment and take a breath to celebrate this moment. That and enjoy a bit of a lie down over Christmas.


So, as I wrap up this reflection and head over to video design a digital musical, I’m reminded of three musical songs and memories. (I’m such a cliche- sorry not sorry about it).


I vividly remember in second term of first year finally settling and comfortable around a fantastic group of people. We sat drinking in my tiny maisonette bedroom, I badly improvised songs about us all playing a small piano. I took a moment to share a song that’s always stayed with me, Seeing You from Groundhog Day. Seeing this show on Broadway has always stayed with me, as it was around this time I got confirmation of my interview for Central. Taking the leap to move to London was one filled with fear, leaving so much behind and was a real leap into the unknown. I return to the lyric “if I had known what know I know, maybe I would have taken a moment.” That day in September 2017, moving to a huge city to study what I’d dreamt, was scary but eventually settled. We take steps into uncertainty everyday, and will continue to as life goes by. Hence why in this moment, I’m taking that moment to breathe and celebrate.


I finished my final ‘five year career plan’ essay for Central talking about the alternate reality 2020 could have been. I spoke of how I’d have assisted my long term collaborator and great friend Adam Lenson on a production of Merrily We Roll Along. So many of Sondheim’s words ring true, particularly Our Time. As we step forward into an unknown time, it’s ours to grab. Even if it feels we’re grabbing onto thin air, let’s breathe it in and begin that new journey together.


Finally, I’m reminded of a particular lyric from Kerrigan & Lowdermilk’s Holding On: The earth keeps turning, the light keeps shifting and I keep holding on, I'm growing up again.” Journeys will seem uncertain, unsure and unpredictable. They always will at moments where a chapter comes to a close. As the light shifts, reality reforms and we journey on, we will always hold on and find a way forward.