Sitting in a circle, facing our tutor, a contrast of nervous and confident faces scan the room. To my left is a fold-down auditorium and to my right is a stage, awaiting its performers. Clasped tightly in my hands is the terms syllabus, every week marked out with a different topic to provide a broad introduction into acting techniques and the business alike. That first session was filled with so much laughter as we pranced around pretending to be pirates, Russian mimes and secret flashers. 25 strangers instantly forming relationships between spontaneous characters.
This was my experience back in January when I joined a ten week acting course held at Norwich Theatre Royal. Acting has been something that has subtly followed me through the years and recently I’d found myself longing to express myself in a different way.
Back in my school days, I was very keen to partake in any production my school put on. Every nativity I wanted a speaking role (often ending up as the narrator) and I was thrilled even if I just got one line. One of my crowning achievements was during our Year Six play. I was cast as ‘News reporter 1’ for our production of Bugsy Malone. A seemingly minuscule part however I was given a sizeable paragraph to read, solo on stage. I was so proud of this role. I remember revising my script with Mum while she cooked the family’s dinner. Getting up on that MDF, fold-down stage in my smart clothes and new reporter clipboard was one of the most terrifying moments of my life. I remember shaking like a leaf with all those parents staring back at me but despite my rushed delivery, the “Um’s” and “Err’s”, I completed my scene and felt proud. Mum was too.
After that, my family’s relocation phase began and within the space of 5 years, I’d moved schools 5 times. The bullying got worse and I felt like a burden just by being alive. While I was living in Scotland, I took Drama as one of my Standard Grades (GCSE equivalent). I actually took drama as two separate subjects; one was the traditional Standard Grade and the other was a BTEC module with a smaller group. I put my heart and soul into both classes and ignoring the bullies that tormented me every lesson, I still embraced the roles. For our final grade, we put on a showcase featuring scenes from several different plays. By this time, my home life was in tatters and the bullying had taken it’s toll. I no longer feel confident enough to act so I was given the role of Director. The only thing I had to do on the night was introduce my scene, give a very brief history of the play and introduce my characters… Solo. I was petrified. Standing at the left wing, stumbling through my lines, confidence at an all time low, I never wanted to do that again… And I didn’t.
Once you leave school, opportunities to undertake hobbies becomes quite scares. You suddenly have to find your own spare time in between work and other commitments to do the things you used to enjoy. University offered very little, if you didn’t join the drama club during your freshers week, you were never going to get in. And then the whole Bulimia thing hit…
So the idea of taking up acting had fluttered in and out of my mind for a while now and back in early 2019, I was offered a small teaching role at work which required me to present a presentation. Despite being a chatterbox, I struggle presenting formal, pre-prepared work and thought a crash course in acting might boost my confidence. However, the more I researched, the more gripped I became. Suddenly all that passion I once had came flooding back. The feeling of being backstage, the hidden world of costume and quick changes. The props, the lighting, the sounds and smells. The history. And most importantly, the transformation from Dannie to whoever I needed to be.
By the time my first lesson had finally arrived in January, I was well educated on the basics of acting. I’d refreshed my memory, read countless books, plays. Watched a stream of tutorials on YouTube and I was fully invested. I knew what I wanted out of 2020… then COVID-19 happened…