Monday, 10 October 2011

Charity Hilarity

In this un-saving-life job that we do, it's always heart-warming when you can actually do something which might save a life or two. Yep, you can take comfort from the fact that your performance might just entertain someone for a few minutes and let them forget about all the other life-saving duties they have to attend to in the other thousand or so minutes in their day but they will go back to their normal lives and your little stint as a mouse will just become a footnote in their biography. Although we can give people a little respite in their daily lives (unless your performance/show is so dire that you just make them grateful that they're not you) ultimately the world goes on and the way in which you portrayed a gay man will never alter someone's course. Having said that, my 3 month stint of playing a gay man was so awful that I'm sure it made some people reassess their sexuality.

Yesterday I went down to the Block the Bridge, Block the Bill protests on Westminter Bridge to try and stop the NHS reforms. If you don't know much about it then I urge you to read this article which explains things better than I ever could. I'm not a huge protester (they often happen at the weekend and therefore usually clash with a hot date I've got lined up with my duvet, kettle and a family bag of crisps) but the NHS means a lot to me as my mum has been employed by them for most of my life and also the boyfriend was performing at the protest. A gorgeous handful of comedians and musicians performed to do what they could to try and stop these terrible changes happening to one of the most precious things that this country has (it's not quite as precious as my Elmo toy but y'know, it's close) and it was so encouraging to see a group of people take time out and use their skills to try and make a difference. It was a most excellent day with no violence and I really hope that it can help in some way to save this most precious commodity.

I've done a couple of things in my chequered acting past which I hope have made the slightest bit of difference but sadly the opportunities are few and far between and unfortunately the heart-warming glow that I should've come away with hasn't always been there. A few years ago I filmed a commercial for a particular UK wide charity run for cancer where I had to pretend to be one of the runners for their TV and print campaigns. This may have felt like a worthwhile job if we hadn't been filming during one of the real runs where thousands of people were doing the run for real. They were running for real and legitimate reasons while we were there pretending to be running for pretend loved ones. So instead of feeling like I was making a difference, I felt like a fraud as I posed on the start line looking ready to run for a good cause. I then waited for everyone to race off and then sauntered to the finish line to pretend that I'd actually achieved something. But of course, my cold, empty heart would be warmed up by the fact that this advert would encourage thousands of people to enter the race and raise money to help fight this disease. Or at least it would've done if the advert had ever aired. Best put some more anti-freeze on the ol' ticker.

The other way in which an actor can at least attempt to make a difference is through TIE. This was the first job that I did on leaving drama school and was probably the best thing I could've done as if there's another job that can bring an actor back down to earth then I've yet to encounter it. Horribly early mornings, confusing drives to schools in the middle of nowhere and then soul-destroying performances to kids that really wish you weren't there. The play I was in was about the dangers of heroin and of all the TIE plays I've encountered, it was probably one of the best written. I played a 9 year old girl who was soon to turn 10 and she gets a grim look into her heroin-filled future. This play should've been an amazing opporunity to educate children about the horrors of drugs and even though it may have made a few of them think, I imagine most were quite indifferent to our slightly patronising ramblings. We went to schools that required us to walk through metal detectors and be body searched and we were told by teachers to keep our belongings on us at all times, even during performances. I'm fairly sure me skipping about in a flouncy white party dress as other actors took part in a 'rave' would just encourage these kids to turn to drugs. I was often heckled the second I walked on stage and although a handful of kids seemed genuinely interested, most shows went down like a lead-filled lead balloon which is tied up with lead string.

I think we were meant to take comfort from the fact that even if we saved just one child then our efforts were completely worthwhile. However, for each child saved, I'm fairly sure another actor was pushed to the brink and forced to seek solace from various vices. Oh well, I'm sure killing off a few actors is worth it if we're saving the adults of tomorrow. It frees up some of the acting work if nothing else and ultimately, isn't that what we're all striving for?

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