The Acting Bug

Cinderella

On my way to a rehearsal for 'Mother Goose', I found myself recalling all the other productions I've been in since I was a child. I wasn't a stage school brat and I didn't have pushy parents but I did get my acting bug pretty young.

I guess my earliest acting memory was a raging battle to be cast as Joseph in a school Nativity play. I must have been about six but none-the-less I was furious to be given the role of 'wise man with myrrh' and I wouldn't rest until I was certain I would be the greatest 'wise man' that Layton had ever seen. Tea towel on head I was keen to shock, awe and maybe even steal the show. I was going to be brilliant!

Obviously, I was rubbish because in the next biblical production I was cast as 'elephant's legs'. It was Noah's ark and the Ark was a giant cut out of a boat with various 'animal print' legs shuffling it along. I didn't even get a tail. And, I think I was at the back.

Not actually me
A few years later at a different school I was yet again cast as 'wise man with myrrh' and this time I nailed it. Everyone had to carry paper lanterns but I had a real one that I found in our garage. Because of this prop I was shuffled to the front and the gifts were presented Myrrh, Gold and then Francinsense. The classic story of Jesus' birth rewritten to suit me. My career as a diva actor had begun.

The next time my little legs trod the boards was in my first year at high school in the Barnett & Howes classic, 'Dreamcatcher'. You most likely won't have heard of it as Barnett & Howes were two eccentric English teachers at the school. The plot was quite sinister, like the 'Friday the 13th' films, children were being hunted in their dreams. Death, or having your 'strings cut', in your dreams meant becoming a walking zombie in life. An intrepid band of kids had to go in and rescue the souls of the lost children and bring them back from their doomed existence. (Imagine being one of the parents who had to sit through that crap!)

A bit more stage time was accrued during my high school years with various other insane B&H productions and when I came to leave for 6th form I felt the need to go academic and take Theatre Studies A level. Theatre theory is all very useful but the practical experience is where it's at. I remember improvising the birth of a calf through the hole in the back of a plastic chair. It was just me and a chair but I was intent on making it real. I mimed the dripping slime and vomit inducing smells, I reached in and felt around for the goo covered calf before teasing it out while trying to keep mamma cow calm, 'Good Daisy, nearly there, good girl'. It was all suddenly very different from anything I'd done before and exhilarating. When we finally finished with imaginary farm animals we progressed to the stage with Charles Dickens, Shakespeare and Fredrick Durrenmatt. I learned about comedy timing, iambic pentameter, dramatic pauses and improvisation. I performed the same week my mother died and was so grateful to have something to focus on, a second personality to explore. I folded myself away inside the character and stayed strong through the grief, I'd learned the healing power of the stage.

Finland
After college, I stupidly left dramatic academia and followed a more traditional route, it wouldnt last.

Later, I would fall into my first acting troupe as a paid actor performing to school groups at the famous Blackpool tower. I played Captain Kane and got a hand in developing everything about the character from the costume (kids joked I looked like I was in pyjamas), through to the name, character and backstory. It was very short lived and never really felt like work rather a twice daily workout with 40 kids in tow. I didn't make much money but I did make great friends and went on to start a small production company with one if them. 'Chance Factory' we called it after randomly pulling words from news paper cuttings, until something clicked, it seemed to sum up our endeavour. We took an original play to the Buxton fringe, it was called 'A Murder of Crows'. The effort involved to get it from idea to stage was staggering but we took it in our stride. We found a rehearsal space, publicity photographer, props, costumes, sponsor and more. Best of all, after our final night we sat in a pub counting our takings only to discover we'd made a profit. It was one of the most beautiful moments in my life and a massive sense of pride and acheivement. Sadly it wasn't to end well, I learned an important lesson about trust when afterwards two slime-ball members decided they would take over the company and boot out the founding members. I was furious, betrayed and heart broken.

Garsington Opera
However, they say 'something's are not meant to be' and this was one of those instances. After losing the company I started regularly auditioning for the first time in my life. It was a steep, terrifying learning curve that had me in Ayrshire one day and London the next. I was the little, wide-eyed and innocent amateur and tried not to be discouraged by the sneering professionals laughing at my inexperience. Auditioning is hard in so many ways, and not a cheap business. Ironically, despite all the travel it was an audition at the Imperial hotel in Blackpool (a short walk from where I lived) that made all the difference. There I was with horde of actors in one big room all having to audition in front of each other, a camera and three intimidating judges (sound familiar?)

Alice in Wonderland
As usual, the finer details of the most significant moments in my life tend to get lost. This is no exception. The audition is a foggy blur. I left thinking it wasn't nearly good enough but a short phone call later that night from one of the judges suggested otherwise. I was going to be Tweedle Dum in a six month UK tour of Alice in Wonderland. I had a professional engagement!

Rehearsals were a shock to the system with 14 hour days packed with choreography, set building, lighting cues, costume changes and more. Then on the road it was five am starts and weekends driving up and down the M1. The work was exhausting but undeniably some of the best experiences in my life. I did three tours of Alice, one of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, a tour of Sleeping Beauty and a tour of Cinderella. On stage I sang, danced, cried, battled with swords and above all learned the craft I loved.

Off stage I had a fair few scandalous dramas too (more of that in another blog) and on Sleeping beauty I lost my father and again I found strength through performance. They were testing times but I remember them with a beaming smile.

Eventually, all good things must end, for me it was a journey that was always destined for London. I did my last show and set off for the bright lights of the big city eager for what was to come.

My first London gig was a grand Opera in Garsington followed by some Grimey London Dungeon time. I did a TV pilot and a film or two but it was a struggle. London is too expensive to live off scrappy actors pay. My final paid work would be a chilly winter in Finland playing Tricky Dicky and then, sadly it was back to London and a real job for me. In an office. It felt like giving up.

Accidental Death of an Anarchist
Determined to keep a hand in, I joined a local amateur group and got to play a handful of parts I would rarely get cast in elsewhere. It led to my first opportunity at Directing where I was lucky enough to win best Director for my vision of Accidental Death of an Anarchist at the Rochester festival. The AmDram theatre group had been a much needed lifeline. The theatre was such a big part of my life for so long I couldn't imagine my life without it and this way I could afford the life I wanted and satisfy my acting bug.

I'm still involved with every production they put on. I'm always planning to skip the latest production and take a break but I always change my mind, I can't help myself. I do my eight hour day, two hour commute, 15 minute dinner and then off I shoot to do the thing I was born to do. It isn't easy, but it is essential.

They call it 'the acting bug' because you catch it. I'm happy to report there's no cure, I've got the bug for life.

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