Thursday, 22 June 2017

On Cloud Line

It’s well known that, as actors, when we meet someone, they’ll almost definitely ask if you’ve been in anything they might’ve seen.  This may come as a surprise to some people but we don’t actually just sit outside your living room window, keeping track of all the programmes you watch, entering it into a central database so we can all cross-reference our CVs with your viewing habits. Once that line of conversation goes nowhere, we’ll go down the, ‘Got any work coming up?’ route, a similarly short and futile pathway to head down. It’s at this point that I’m most often asked what the best acting job is that I’ve ever done.

Now, this is a question I often struggle to answer. Is it the painful months of touring schools playing an 8-year-old? Was it the play that was held in a venue that was so poorly protected from the elements that we went in one day to find actual snow drifts on stage? Was it the summer season that paid so poorly that I was forced to live off tinned soup for a month and the height of luxury was value gin mixed with cheap sparkling water and the tiniest drop of cassis?

Of course, I’ve had some amazing jobs too. I’ve starred in adverts alongside comedy heroes, I’ve put on my own show in Edinburgh and graced the stage with proper legends, I’ve even got to wear an Aldi warehouse jacket, but I realised this morning what the actual best acting role is that I’ve ever played.  It’s none of the jobs I previously mentioned.  It’s not a job that involved loved celebrities or endless supplies of pizza or even my own trailer. It’s not even the job that warranted my own police escort. And, if you’ve read my essay in The Good Immigrant, it wasn’t even the time I got to play Jack Frost. No, it was the time I got a line in the local pantomime.

‘So what did you do in Munchkinland Mr Scarecrow?’

That was it.  I’ve battled for so much more, lamented over a lack of lines and the unfairness of it all.  I’ve dreamt of starring roles and endless heartfelt monologues but nothing has made me happier than that one line.

I remember being taken to one side and being told that I would be getting this line.  For a quiet but confident 8-year-old child, this was quite the responsibility and I treated it as such.  Looking back now, I realise this part wasn’t given to me for any particular acting ability that I had, I was just a sensible girl with a loud voice who could be trusted with such a thing.  If I was told to be somewhere, that’s where I would be.  I’m very much the same now but sadly acting roles don’t seem to be handed out on your scale of dependability.

I treasured that line like I would a tiny kitten.  Those words were precious and demanded my full attention.  I’m embarrassed to say that in my professional career I’ve had thousands of words, acres of dialogue, hours of verse, and I’ve treated none of them with the respect that I held for that one pretty inconsequential phrase.

‘So what did you do in Munchkinland Mr Scarecrow?’

It was a line that probably didn’t even need to exist but I’ve never felt so important.  I remember I got to stand in the wings with the man who played the scarecrow and I basically felt 12 feet tall. I mean, I was a tall child for my age anyway but this made me feel practically Amazonian.

A line.

A precious line.

A line that had been given to me and no one else.

I treated that role like I was Olivier going on at the Globe. I wasn’t being paid, only getting a few snacks in between the matinee and evening performance, but I felt like an A-lister.

That’s the level of pride I want to feel for everything that I do now on. 8-year-old me has set a high standard, but if it was good enough for her then it’s good enough for me a quarter of a century on. If she had been asked if she was up to anything at the moment, she wouldn’t have coyly muttered that she only had a line in the local panto, she would have summoned a fanfare and boomed it from the rooftops.

So, when I next catch myself belittling an achievement, trying to talk down something just because I think it’s insignificant, I’ll remember her and be proud, as proud as an 8-year-old with a line that’s spoken in front of 50 people in a dusty school hall.

No comments:

Post a Comment