Acting is the lifelong sting of not being chosen

I wrote the following passage a few months ago now, and it felt a bit too ripe to publish in the heat of the moment, but the sentiment stands, and is, I imagine, something that recurs for other actor-creators too, and perhaps sharing it now it is at a safe distance can be of some worth.

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It’s been a while since I had something to say. It’s been a while since I had something to say that meant something to me. Since this blog has been less anonymous, I’ve also been less carelessly candid. It’s been a dry spell. But pain and writing have long been intertwined in my life, and right now I’m kinda hurtin’.

An actor dating a director, I’ve developed a nasty habit of typecasting myself. I am constantly hearing actors being ruled out for being too comic, too straight, too camp, too hulky, too silly, too homely, etc., etc. I’m sure this doesn’t make directors bad people, it’s just how they’ve learned to function efficiently. Conversely, in acting training I’ve always believed (was I taught to believe it? I don’t remember) that any great actor can perform any role. THE MAGIC OF THEATRE. If you believe it, they believe it. Etc. But… I’ve started to internalise the typecasting, physical and otherwise. Actors beware; if you’re going to put yourself on that side of the table and keep up the acting too, the perspective will take its toll on your ego.

Instead of being the go-getting ambitious actor I was a few years ago who created her own roles, writing new scripts every week for the fun of it with the tireless belief that each piece might be the next exciting project I got to act in, I’ve written less and less, and mentally cast myself in less and less roles. Why? I’m hearing myself say things like “So-and-so would be really good at that actually.” “I can’t do ____.” “My nose is too round.” “I’m not Hollywood enough. You want her instead. She’ll enjoy that.” Which is very selfless of me, bravo me. But no fucker else is going to be doing that for you, and they shouldn’t be either.

Now, I’ve long been in the habit of pretending I care less than I do, because it’s not cool to care. Not in interviews, not in auditions, not in relationships. “Oh, you care how this turns out? Um… O-kaayyyyy…” *Makes ‘help me’ and ‘crazy’ gestures at someone behind you, as if you’re so blind with crazy that you can’t see them.* I’ve been taught over and over that I’m not welcome at the party if I want the thing at the party.

Recently I discovered a TV series which made my heart sing and my brain buzz and I thought, “That’s it. That’s what I want to be doing.” It crept inside me and I started singing out loud and practicing accents and expressions and seeking out auditions and acting classes and agents again. (Don’t get me started on the endlessly deflating catch-22 of needing drama school to get an acting job to get Equity to get Spotlight to get an agent to get an acting job to get Equity…)

I suggested it to my partner while cat-sitting at a friend’s house, we watched it together, and it was all great fun and dreams were ignited. Kittens literally gamboled. And now that friend is making something in the vein of said musical wonderment, and they’re making it for someone else. And they happened to mention to my partner that they discovered it because he had watched it on their TV. So, not only am I not  in the running for my dream roles, (not putting myself in the running?) I’m being written out entirely from my own mini tale of self-pity about it. What am I left with? My own fucking ideas?  Have you forgotten what my brain’s doing to me? No thanks, I hate that guy.

I’m all for loving one’s own company, and building one’s own dreams, but fuck pretending not to care. I am fucking burning with want. It feels ridiculous to even have to say. I’m an actor, of course I want all the goddamn roles that have ever been written. I want to perform every classic as a one-woman show in downtown New York unused fire stations, I want to be shimmying across Broadway under the spotlight, I want to be standing next to Spielberg in photographs where he’s explaining how he wants me to do something emotionally complicated. I want all the lead roles, now and always, all the best and most demanding ones, all the ones that show range and give me a chance to be loved and hated  by committed audiences. And the funny ones.

And I will hunt those down. But it would be nice for the phone to ring sometimes too.

‘Three Kisses’: a work in progress

A short story I am having trouble continuing, about three girls who grow to confront their darkest fears. I’d love to hear what you think is going to happen, or what you’d like to happen next…

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In one world, one lifetime, three girls grew up towards three kisses.

 

Alone, they each discovered, over the length of their young lives, their deepest, darkest fears.

 

They thought this was probably quite an important thing to know, as things go; something that might come up.

 

Nira feared big ears, grey hair, short legs and cats, and stayed away from knitting. She never brushed her teeth or bathed, or sat up straight at dinner. Her mother told her these were things that made a girl a woman, and Nira wanted none of that. This little girl was afraid of old age, in all its wrinkly awe. This thing affected everyone, and held their hand till death. What good was womanhood if that was where it went?

 

Fara followed friends around, all morning, day and eve. She jumped up at the crack of dawn and swapped a teddy for a mum. Saying goodbye, to Fara, meant hello again to someone new. You never saw this girl alone, for money, food or sleep. She seemed a happy child to most, chatty and alive. Fara didn’t care for silence, or boredom, or doing things for yourself. Loneliness was the storm cloud hovering near Fara’s heart.

 

Cold was a more complex child. Cold made footnotes of her post-its. She bracketed in birthday cards. She wrote letters at dinner, giving thanks to the host. Her mother just smiled her thanks. Cold made phone calls twice a day to those she’d just seen, to check and double-check they’d heard and understood everything she said. Cold was keeping track of life by making sure they knew how every word and comment she uttered was really intended. The worst thing that could ever happen to her was to be found in the grey place between grateful and expecting, tired and uninterested, or ill and injured. So she still wrote to tell people, even if she was uninterested.

 

One day these three lives merged under one sun; one that was arching its back over sleepy lapping waters that could have been put there just for this.

 

One carpet saw too many greens one night, and one dish smashed too many. One girl was fed up with playing by the rules. Nira ran away from home, and away, and away, and away.

 

One hand got sweaty and sick of holding onto another. One hand pushed, and one belly felt the weight of one hundred worlds falling into one place. Fara decided to find new friends somewhere else.

 

One letter too few came to one room in one house, and one tongue spoke a final full stop. Cold went turkey on her notes and calls and took a vow of silence. Her words weren’t welcome here.

 

Tired feet worked through a day and a night, while tired lips awaited.

 

One head cocked across a clearing, made of sugary, spicy trees, while… nice things… hung about above.

 

Brown eyes stared right into green, and blue eyes joined right in.

 

Nira reached out first and made the bravest steps of all. Nice things moved out of the way, and sugar sprinkled down.

 

Fara sheltered in the spice, aching for that hand.

 

Two minds grazed under that sun, green troubles and brown shared.

 

One heart stood lonely on but watched how tears were left unsaid. Then wandered off for a little while, through icing in silence.

 

Later, later more, Fara was lead by brown-eyed hands. They told her happy things were close, though she could feel that they were really talking to themselves. Green eyes and brown felt the uncertain warmth of another as they looked up through flossy snow to see a low thing sitting.

 

Warts and straggly hair turned to see them, through eyes that knew about slugs and snails and other things from under rocks.

 

Nira gasped. She had never seen anything so terrifying than what sat before her, gripping the ground it sat on as if it might otherwise float away. Fara felt her place was somewhere else right now, and went to find it.

 

“You’re old.”

 

“I am.”

 

The answer seeming to satisfy Nira somewhat, she approached the thing and started pulling at purple ferns growing conveniently close by.

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To be continued…

Back in the Habit #6 : Embedded

Today's inspiration

Today’s inspiration

They remain. They stayed behind after the busyness. The louder times. They are here, ‘embedded’, as a stranger might say, but not quite, as a native would know. Too gentle a word for the result of natural, unavoidable processes. A kindly word to nature for its noble choice. Art through entrapment. The hills clasping in the product, engulfing its desperate arms until all is quiet.

But this was their choice. They chose to live adventure.

Standing on the horizon, feeling impossible, and feeling the presence of the truly impossible, anyone could tell you they are there. The mountain face looks altered because of their energy, like a dream full of clenched-fists, a replay of a conversation as yet unspoken. There is only purple sky and green mountain, unreal saturation and stillness lurking openly underneath and all around.

Tidiness. Not emptiness, but tidiness. Everything has been shuffled away into its place. Tucked into corners in the rocks, bedded down in moss, invisible. Care is being taken.

One can only wonder what brought them here. There is only a vast unreality. Perhaps this is the reward for real adventurers. It is terrifying to think of what might have become of them, in all this time. How altered they might be.

This space always belonged to others. And it will again. Each of them may leave their signature on it, lifetimes reduced to remnants. They will not all be seen. We can never truly know our predecessors, their dreams or intentions.

Your beginning is a remnant itself now. The only path is the unknown. There is some comfort in the limitation, and yet the purple looks flat, rejecting, like a mental blockade. It is not present. Not like them. Surrounding this spot is the air of neglect, turned backs. Nature has departed to something more important. In stifling solitude you see only yourself. Your own smell, your lonely breathing sounds, your wide eyes bereft of kindly cues from predators.

The wind is silent, yet tempts one to call out. Though you are blind to all but your very self; urge on, adventurer.

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Back in the Habit #4 : Knocking

The room stops. Time is a pair of twins speaking to each other telepathically, secretively concocting new history beyond the control of others.

She looks at you, stock still. She scratches her right cheek, which sags worryingly, as if it might come away, like wet cake.

She looks through you. She knocks on the air as if there were a window between you, and you realise the idea has come to you because the sound was made. The sound of knocking on glass.

She continues to stare. She looks down, sodden and downtrodden; sighs. She looks out of the window, emanating a long-lived disappointment. The street activity is reflected in her glassy eyes under raised eyebrows.

She looks into you, challenging, waiting. The moment is important, and you are incredibly capable of failure. The air is thick and absent. She knocks again.

The starch-stiff waves of her hair, frozen in a long-dead moment of stress unimaginable to your generation, captures your attention long enough to remind you that you are supposed to be looking at her face. Anticipating. Seeing her. She is already looking at you. You are late.

The twins continue to look, to communicate. They are reviewing. A pause in the process of creation. Your decision is paramount. It is urgent.

Happy dreams

This morning I had an absolutely wonderful dream. So wonderful that I wanted to share it with you all. I was cuddling my baby brother and he was giggling and giving me kisses, and then I started teaching him words. I’d say a word, he would copy, and although he’s only six months old he was incredibly advanced and articulate. Though not so much as to sound surreal or unbelievable. I can’t remember which words we started with, but I got to ‘letter’, thinking to myself, ‘He probably won’t get this one, but let’s give it a shot.’ He repeated, ‘Letter,’ and then went on to say, ‘What is letter? I have reason to believe it is something you give to a friend in need.’ My memory of this last line is a bit hazy, but it was said in a similarly Holmes-esque manner, infused with curious wisdom and intelligence. I was shocked, and gave him a cuddle and said something to the effect of explanation, confirming that, yes, sometimes you give a letter to a friend in need, but sometimes there are other reasons for writing them. I then picked him up and walked over to join my theatre group, who were gradually assembling for a warm up and notes, and was preparing to go and warn the boys not to swear, because ‘Tiernan’s talking now, and he’ll copy. He understands.’

And that’s all I remember… In reality, Tiernan only make three noises; crying, some kind of straining noise out of excitement, as if he’s trying to reach something really high, and a kind of ‘Ningngngngnggggg’ noise when he’s about to cry, or is trying to tell you something very important.

Happy Friday!

The man of the hour, in a swimsuit I got him, next to a teddy I got him :) Apparently, black and white toys are particularly good for young babies because of how their vision develops!

Money-controversial

We all have our little taboos. Mine, at the moment, is money.

I keep finding myself regressing to my nine-year-old wish that I had come from a wealthy family. It’s not just to do with the RP accent that I hanker after, because my mum speaks very eloquently despite coming from a low-income household, and anyway I could well have picked that up from her if I was so desperate to belong to the same associations. It’s not to do with wanting more and better Barbies, even though my re-sealable plastic bag full of grubby hand-me-downs was decidedly lacking as far as role models and playmates go.  But money opens doors. More and more in my own ventures as a developing independent artist, I hear that another success story in my industry actually had a fair helping hand. And that is not to say that they don’t work hard for their rewards; often the most bloody-minded workers and the most stringent savers are those same people who started out with an advantage. But it is continuously disheartening to realise that the vast majority of the big names in the arts, young and old, local and national treasures, had such a headstart – or backup, depending how you want to think about it. ‘Anyone who’s anyone…’ is becoming more and more relevant to me; it seems all the notable actors or directors went to Central, or another prestigious drama school. “As long as it costs at least £14,000 a year, mama…”

I don’t just want to speak more clearly and articulately, with better diction and vocabulary; I want to experience that feeling of assured assertiveness, that confidence that you can stand your ground because you have support behind you in a form that transcends the braun of the opposition. Money gets you a lot of things, and I my appetite for those things is splaying in a larger wave perhaps than ever before.  It gets you experiences, connections, as well as all the survival basics, it allows you time to achieve and settle into the bigger things – a more interesting or convenient job, a more initially expensive but long-term-efficient house. You are self-sufficient. You don’t need to worry about the government, I imagine, except that you have a more authoritative say on what they do with all that tax money. The country is at your disposal, and not vice versa. There is still a very present class divide and I am yearning to be on the other side of it. Kings and queens are living in our midst and it is killing me to be around them, harbouring this greater and greater sense of unworthiness. What dignity, what comfort comes in being able to walk the world with that sense of security, the knowledge of going home to a well-bred dog and well-mannered siblings, the awareness of one’s rights and what you should and should not put up with. What one can query, and change. The feeling of contribution, of rightful place, or importance and welcome. Of belonging, especially on Radio 4.

Rumour has it that Oxford University, for all its justifying qualities, places rather higher demands than are commonly known on its applicants. Forgetting the geniuses-only capacity and the inherent dress code, successful first-stagers are not told when their interview will be, but simply expected to be in Oxford and make themselves available at a phonecall’s notice.

I am but a ponderous urchin...

I may be speaking controversially in favour of an element of capitalism that our nation has so long steered away from, if only in terms, but I am in unrequited love with money. Call me pretentious, but a large part of me would still happily forsake other dreams in order to marry some fop named something like Prince William, and expect our visitors from the lower echelons of society to enter the room and be struck by the resemblance to the second series of Green Wing.

And to clear my name should I be speaking ignorantly on my chosen topic, I refer you to Puck’s closing speech of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Think it but a certain kind of brainwash that calls for your fixing.

“If you pardon, we will mend.”

The beauty of hand holding (and banoffee woe)

Tonight, having decided I was ready for a jot of spontaneity, I demanded that my partner meet me at 10pm when he finished work, in order that we might go out for late-night dessert together. I felt fabulous for a brief moment, and then began to really indulge in the fantasy. I received a ‘yes’, it was allowed, I had put it out there and he had accepted my crazy notion. Alright then, well while we can do anything, why not make it exactly what I want. Banoffee waffle it was, at Zizzi‘s. My favourite. The gooey, fulfilling kind that actually had banana mashed into the mixture, topped with ice cream that had a dusting of little bits of vanilla pod throughout. And all that toffee sauce. The stuff that we were surely put on this earth for.

A fair bit like this.

Off I strolled into the glorious evening with newfound love for grownup life and all the wonderful independence that comes with it, ready to surprise my love and own my city, knowing where I was going and taking what I wanted from it all, before – maybe choosing to have a drink, maybe not, what the hell, we’re young and frivolous – then walking home to bed, glowing with satisfaction.

And everything would have been so pink and happy, if only they still served it. Alas, there it was – gone. In its place (the waffle outshone a whole menu) was a paltry list of meats, salads and savoury-confused puddings. So we bandied about it for a good ten minutes, He decided he didn’t want to eat, which meant of course I couldn’t eat, so then he decided he would, and set out to choose again. Once settled and grumpy about it we mooched in, only to be told they were closed, forty-five minutes early.

We decanted to Café Rouge for a decidedly cordon bleu affair with some ice cream and a lot of lemon zest, but the night felt young to me once again, and I enjoyed the fantasy for a while longer, now even accompanied by some Woody Allen fan club jazz.

Looking out of the big high street windows across a cobbled square, I thought about how my ambitions might change under the imposition of a time limit. If I don’t sell my art within the next year, am I likely to give it all up and start again at something new? Or to settle with being a hobby artist, and take to it only as a yummy mummy might. Is that lifestyle an option, or do I have something real to say? Are the two things mutually exclusive?

I am waking up to a couple of ideas that shake the barley a bit.

#1: This might not go anywhere. The most driven of my collective is having strong doubts in our chosen path at the moment, and without her, I know it would be impossible. If any one of us were to quit, what it is now would end. Individually we have our talents and our passions, but combined they are different. We are capable of different things. We are making a brand for ourselves at the moment, and it’s something that I’ve been investing hope and energy into at the cost of putting the same focus on my own product. Will I only have to start completely anew and go through all this again, as myself?

#2: I am relying on people. I am holding the hands of my co-founders, maybe not taking enough initiative myself to drive the company forward. I think I am waiting for others to have ideas, and then just saying yes, and doing as I’m told. Perhaps not truly functioning how I should as the person who came up with this idea in the first place. It feels comfortable, but is becoming less so. Others aren’t satisfied in it, and that is what sends the wind through my feathers.

By way of maintaining a safety net, I desperately continue to write here, as myself more than anything. I strive to create my own brand, keep a ‘self’ separate, to have something definitive to hold on to.