Thursday, 21 November 2013

Acting

I am sure that most people like me would deny that they are acting - that is, playing a part, a phrase that implies deception, and giving the impression that you are someone you are not. The whole point, surely, is that your female persona (hidden or exposed) is the everyday person, the real person, and that any other persona you may have to present is an artificial one, a contrivance, like the cover of a secret agent. Of course, the 'other persona' may indeed require acting skills of a high order for successful maintenance.

There is another objection to the accusation of acting. An actor assumes a part for a finite time, then puts the part aside and reverts to their ordinary self. It's a temporary business. He or she is someone else for a few hours on stage, and then, behind the scenes, quite a different person. The two existences never mix (or at least, never should). The audience always knows who the actor 'really' is. And the actor, no matter what the emotional demands of the part, always has the relief of putting it aside, letting go of it, and resting his or her mind in between performances. Whereas we are (mentally at least) in the role all the time, with no let-up, even if outwardly we may be forced by circumstances to switch from one kind of presentation to another.

Speaking for myself, I hate acting. Even as a child, I tried strenuously to get out of school plays. But it was not possible when very young. I can recall with particular horror a junior school play one Christmas, when I was eight or so. I was selected to be an angel - which I would leap at now, because I could be up there with the girls. But being dressed in a blanket didn't appeal then. Especially as I'd be watched by parents. On the plus side, the role of angel simply involved standing around in a white robe and tinsel halo, with nothing to do except be sweet and angelic, which I could have done to perfection at the time. But perversely I objected, and instead landed the role of page to some king. I hadn't wanted any role at all, but that was not an option, and this was even worse. Instead of standing around saying nothing, I had to learn a line, and at some crucial point thrust myself boldly forward with a flourish, and blurt it out. All I really had to say was, 'Sire, shall I call out the crier?' - meaning shall I ask the town crier to announce certain Glad Tidings of Great Joy. But being a nervous and easily-flustered child, I fluffed even this simple one-liner, which came out as a squeaky and hysterical 'Sire!!! Shall I crawl out the choir?', to the convulsed fall-around mirth of cast, teachers and watching parents. They all exploded with giggles. Mortified, I longed for a convenient oubliette, but with no opening to swallow me up, I had to survive the farce red-faced and on plain view. Such things warp you.

There was another junior school play, when I was nine or ten, in which I had to dress up in home-made armour that Dad had cunningly made out of cardboard and silver paint, complete with helmet and sword. Dad was a clever man, and it really was a wonderful improvisation, exactly what the part demanded - I was playing Prince Llewellyn or something. But it would only attract attention - by then the last thing I wanted - and I was totally embarrassed. The play must have been awful, as I can remember nothing about it, except that I gave all my armour away to the other kids afterwards, not even retaining the sword. Dad wasn't amused. But by this time, I had acquired a mental block against dressing up and performing in public.

I then managed to avoid treading the boards until 1989, when in my late thirties. I was working in Bromley 1 tax office. It was decided that the Inspectors would put on a Mystery Play for the entertainment of the staff. The District Inspector, the boss, was exempted from this potentially humiliating lunacy. Her deputy was also let off the hook. I was third down the chain of command, the Investigation Manager, and not quite senior enough to escape. Indeed, it was deemed vital that I take part. I gave in with a groan. Thankfully, it was not necessary to play any of the main characters, such as Father Christmas, St George, the Turkish Knight, the Doctor, or the Dragon. I got away with playing a kind of jester, who connected the turgid scenes, full of strange talk and half-hearted sword-wavings, with ripe explanations addressed to the audience. Bad enough, of course.

If you have never come across a Mystery Play, don't go out of your way to see one. They may have seemed wondrous fun to country bumpkins in centuries long past, but I thought they were unsuitable fare for sophisticated London office staff, used to the glitz and glamour of a polished West End show. Such plays often begin with a mournful Father Christmas shambling onto the stage. Ours did. On he came, drearily saying:

Here I am, Old Father Christmas.
Welcome or welcome not, 
I hope Father Christmas will never be forgot.

This might have been lifted almost verbatim from an original play whose ancient script was recorded in 1852 by an interested antiquarian, and which can be found at http://www.folkplay.info/Texts/85----sw.htm. Except that ours lasted much, much longer, and was studded with topical references to tax avoidance cases then in the news, but not topical enough for the staff in general. I foresaw that the whole thing would bomb, and it did bomb. But I was determined to make the best of it. In a sudden fit of 'too hell with it, let's dress up and surprise them all', I went out shopping and bought a red-and-green outfit consisting of long red jersey, green tights, green hat, red boots, red scarf, and matching Christmas tree tinsel. I think I also made a wand to wave around in my caperings, with a balloon attached. I was doubtful about the green tights, but hey ho, in for a penny...

I achieved the surprise element, but had my leg pulled for weeks afterwards about the green tights. Secretly of course I had enjoyed putting them on - and what an excuse to do so! - but I had to donate them to my spouse's wardrobe afterwards. It marked the beginning and end of my adult stage career. One performance only. No more. Ever. And that is one reason why I resent insinuations that I must be a 'born actor'.

2 comments:

  1. All the world's a stage,
    And all the men and women merely players:
    They have their exits and their entrances;
    And one man in his time plays many parts...

    Interesting. Rather than say more now, I think you've inspired a blog entry of my own. On this point I'm not like you, so look out for The Frustrated Thespian!

    Angie x

    ReplyDelete
  2. Angela has the Bard. I have Carly Simon in her song "Anticipation"

    And I tell you how easy it feels to be with you
    And how right your arms feel around me.
    But I, I rehearsed those words just late last night
    When I was thinking about how right tonight might be.


    So, it is part of the human condition that we write our lines, and play our part, even when we realize that is what we are doing.
    Sometimes though, we get to give up a role we were not suited for or happy with!
    Brilliant!!

    ReplyDelete

This blog is public, and I expect comments from many sources and points of view. They will be welcome if sincere, well-expressed and add something worthwhile to the post. If not, they face removal.

Ideally I want to hear from bloggers, who, like myself, are knowable as real people and can be contacted. Anyone whose identity is questionable or impossible to verify may have their comments removed. Commercially-inspired comments will certainly be deleted - I do not allow free advertising.

Whoever you are, if you wish to make a private comment, rather than a public one, then do consider emailing me - see my Blogger Profile for the address.

Lucy Melford