Fran and Amelie start the proper run of the pantomime they’ve been rehearsing today; six weeks of Sunday mornings morph into a run of 16 performances. They’ve experienced a shouty director who expects them to behave like pros (despite not actually being paid!) and the shock of finding themselves cut out of a dance because it suddenly just doesn’t look right. They’ve had costume fittings and dress rehearsals till late at night and sat in a dressing room with a proper call system and proper stage crew and paid chaperones. Both have a performance licence from the local council (like Ballet Shoes!) and both have to learn to do their own hair quickly in a variety of styles and put their own make up on.
I was laughing last night as I listened to them describing the glittery set and complicated costumes, the terrible jokes and all the stage props that have magically appeared in time for the first performance. The complete thrill to be one of the mice that pulls Cinderella off the stage has to be heard – repeatedly 😉 – to be believed! I can hardly believe that here are two of my children fulfilling one of my childhood dreams, to be in a ‘proper show’ and even more that they are now firmly consigning all my drama achievements to the past.
My kids know that I was obsessed with drama when I was a child and teen; they do know that I acted and sang and was good enough to get main parts and then moved on to back stage work as I got older, eventually directing several plays (and even writing one) before I was 18. I wonder if they really know HOW obsessed with it I was though, or if it is impossible for them to understand that when I was only a few years older than them, I could see through the planning, budgeting, directing and organising of a musical performance that had a cast of 200 and a budget of £4000. That after being the quiet one at school, my year mates none the less knew I was the right person to pilot the school leavers musical and that it turned out to be the best one that had ever been done. I think they probably can’t entirely imagine that once it seemed inevitable that I would disappear off into a life of professional theatre and would almost certainly do very well at it.
I won a coveted place at a London drama school when I left, much to the horror of my teachers for whom everything but university was a failure. By then though, my personal confidence in my own performing strengths had ebbed and I went off to do stage management, which I enjoyed, but which wasn’t my passion. I had no real interest in lighting or sound work or building huge sets, though I loved making costumes and organising props. I spent many happy hours that year traipsing around the capital on tubes, hunting out rosaries in their hundreds at the best possible price or sourcing weird and wonderful furniture, perched on the circle line with the yellow pages open at chair hire in London on my knee. Those were before the days of the internet, before mobile phones that could send a quick photo and so, as a first year, I’d spend hours looking for my lists of requirements, purchasing sample or collecting catalogues and then come back to my supervising senior to have them approved.
My real love was the organising and directing of plays and that was not what that course was about. In fact, they had a policy of finding out the pieces of theatre you loved and making sure you visited all the parts you loathed first. After a year of being there, through a difficult year personally, I had had enough. I didn’t have the mental stamina for the drinking and networking and social tricks that theatre requires in order to get noticed and get the jobs. In fact, that’s something I still struggle with now. I found it hard to be part of the furniture, just an ordinary thing in a room of talented people – and I ran away. I don’t regret it exactly,but I do find myself a little wistful at times, especially now the girls are dipping their toes so firmly into those waters.
Of all the skills I hope it teaches them, I hope they come through the experience having learned a little more of that backbone that means ‘the show must go on’. I hope they’ll prove yet again they can deal with the knocks and bumps of 3 weeks in the company of other people who all want to be a star and see beyond the glitz and glamour of the sparkle and decoration. I hope they’ll take a sense of strength from getting up and smiling when tired and when your feet hurt and, if they still want to do such things afterwards, I hope they’ll have a really positive experience under their belts that will see them through into their future careers and it will be enough to stop them running away and giving up, like I did.