I question I have been asked, and I am sure has been asked of many an actor, or even public speaker, is “How can you do that?” Usually quickly followed with “I’d be too scared.” Usually some derivative of this discussion follows when you introduce yourself as an actor to “non-actors”, and I use that term loosely.
I have thought about this for a long time. initially I just passed it off as nonsense saying “Oh it’s easy. Once you get up there blah blah blah.” It’s easy to forget your first attempt. For me, it was in the early 1980’s when I was in primary school. I remember auditioning for Oliver and how excited I was at the thought of it. I thought about all the plays I had seen in my previous years and that I wanted to be a part of that. I rehearsed Oliver’s beautiful song “Where is Love” and my teacher was very supportive.
Actually, you don’t see this any more, proper theatrical values at primary school. My daughter’s school has skit based theatre, and from what I hear, that is about the standard. Yet in my day, we did shows like “Paint You Wagon” and “Oliver!”, and I remember loving all the fan-fair that went with it.
So up I went to audition, in front of my classmates (and do this day it surprises me that I didn’t freeze from the beginning) and I sang rather well I thought, until the end, when I noticed the audience, and the smirks of the bullies, or the hidden giggles of the girls. I lost it and cracked on the final note. I also realised something in that moment; being on stage meant being in the spot-light.
I didn’t get the lead role and ended up filling odd extra and supernumerary parts. I hated it. I was ruthlessly teased after my breaking at the audition, and my enjoyment of theatre was somewhat drowned away, for many years to follow.
It was not until my first year of university in 1990 when I discovered Theatre Sports, or improvisational theatre, before I again felt that spark of joy and wonder. Yet I was tentative about joining in. My embarrassment was almost worn like armour in a (in hindsight) foolish attempt to protect myself from further shame.
However, from there I became involved in a theatre workshop group. I became involved with like minded theatre lovers and over the course of a year and a bit, I slowly develop enough confidence to take to the stage in a play written, cast and directed by the members of the workshop. It was easy to walk on the stage that time, as we were all about to jump together.
Then there was no stopping me. I had tasted something long forbidden to myself, and it was good. I auditioned for a play, got it, and then another, and so on. I was doing between four to five shows a year just because I could and loved it.
I look back on this and I find that fear was my biggest opponent. Fear of shame. More importantly, a fear of making mistakes. I made one mistake in Oliver! and it was an easy one to make, but the impact of that mistake became the focus of my excuses for not following what was in my heart.
Now look at Improvisational Theatre. These guys were utterly incredible to me, to perform without a script. Without knowing what was going to happen next. They still are incredible. I am not talking about the Improvisational Comedy here, but Improvised Theatre. Live Theatre. If you think stepping on stage with an awareness of the script and the plot is hard, try walking out knowing that you have nothing but your wits about you, to create drama. Now there is confidence.