In a small, nondescript room, I take my place near the door, occupying a lecture room seat, wondering, through a sprinkling of wild thoughts, if my decision to be here is all kinds of ridiculous.
It’s a beginners’ class for screen acting, and glancing around me, I suspect I’m not the only one lost in such unnerving contemplation. But before I can sink into some truly depressing thoughts, our teacher – the actress Rachael Blake – enters, luminous, her bright eyes crinkled in delight. As she surveys the room, she breaks out into a grin, like she knows something we don’t.
The connective tissue here seems thin. This small class of people is an assembly of genuine diversity – in backgrounds, age and temperament. There’s an ethereal-looking model. There’s a construction worker, still in his work gear. There’s a guy barely out of university, baseball cap still on, head down. There’s the young man raring to go; a little brash, seemingly unafraid. There’s me, on the edge of 40, wondering if – life-long love of film and television aside – it really can be too late to pursue an interest.
As a writer, I generally appreciate and savour the solitude of my profession.
Until now, it’s been a light experiment. Lady Luck delivering me opportunities to expand my creative endeavours. As a writer, I generally appreciate and savour the solitude of my profession. Being a hermit isn’t terribly lonely when you’re in good company, and I tend to find that when I’m writing, I am always in good company (even if it’s because I have one foot in with the faeries). But I suppose, no matter how easily one can be alone, it can still get lonely.
Being on a film or TV set is an entirely different experience. For months, I have been working as an extra (aka ‘background supporting artist’), enjoying the camaraderie between my fellow players. We joke about the highs and lows of being a ‘human prop’. We comb everything we’ve ever been in to find ourselves. I once saw six hours of work distilled to a shot of my leg.
Nevertheless, something in me becomes both still and excited as I hear the first assistant director yell ‘Action’. Like a life-long undercurrent of desire is rising to the surface. So I paid attention when fate delivered me an actual line in a show with bona fide actors. It was an experience that felt otherworldly and completely comfortable all at once. Meanwhile, I have attempted further to crack my hard shell through improv theatre. It’s something I dipped my toe in at a taster, but retreated from when I was surrounded by enthusiastic, confident millennials. But the idea lingered in my mind, and when a friend mentioned he’d been attending this theatre school, once again I paid attention.
Nevertheless, something in me becomes both still and excited as I hear the first assistant director yell ‘Action’.
Improv is not quite acting, but it requires the same working parts: an ability to step outside of yourself without completely disconnecting; a willingness to look silly or get things ‘wrong’. Both require immense amounts of vulnerability. Both are intimate. Unless you’re delivering a monologue, you have scene partners. This is a beautiful thing, no matter the challenges it can present given the strength of a performance can depend heavily on the chemistry between performers.
The first time I performed improv on stage for an audience, I am sure I made a bunch of mistakes, but I didn’t care. The feeling was incredible. It’s not simply getting a laugh; it’s the connection between performers and the audience, and performers themselves. Something special happens and it can never be recreated exactly, and that is the gift of the moment. You have to be in it.
My goals here are humble and small, perhaps even a bit foggy. I simply know that I am drawn to performance in a way I have always been, since I was a kid, engrossed in the extensive film library I had at my fingertips through my father’s video rental store. It’s an interest that was never interrogated or fulfilled due to many life factors: the weight of cultural expectations; career misdirection; distractions I confused for genuine longings; self-esteem; fear of being seen. There’s more, I’m sure.
Whatever has led me to this strange but interesting stop on my career, I am enjoying the potential of it. The way seeing how film and TV is actually made, and how taking on the mindset of an actor have both enhanced my writing and perspectives on creative energy in general.
Whatever has led me to this strange but interesting stop on my career, I am enjoying the potential of it.
They say that the decade of your 40s is the one when you finally unburden yourself of the expectations that have weighed you down in various ways in the past. You are more centred, stripped of the false notions that you have both accepted and created about yourself and your place in the world. You also, blissfully and quite importantly, start to care less about these false notions. It’s too exhausting to be inauthentic, and quite honestly, too painful.
Perhaps it’s the shadow of mortality or less fear. Whatever the case, this stripping-away is like a tearing down of poorly constructed foundations. It’s time to face the truth of who you are and all that kind of thing, and the oddest part about it is, where we land is probably where we started.