Is that you Anne? Anne Boleyn?

Thursday's Child poster

Thursday’s Child poster

This time last week I was prancing about dressed as Anne Boleyn. Today I’ve just got off a coach after an eight-hour journey down from Yorkshire. It’s been a surreal week, drifting around in a creative mist, avoiding the daily grind of Real Life.

After the manic pace of the past month, leading up to the performance of Thursday’s Child, I decided a little break was in order, so headed up north to stay with my family over Easter. Several days of studying for a journalism exam and working on audition material with the lambs bleating outside my window and the snow-dappled fields beyond was a perfect time-out. Of course, I was still studying, but I don’t really do proper time-outs. Continue reading

LAMDA week three – letting go

As the physical theatre classes have increased with intensity, the singing classes introduced me to the wonder of my ‘head voice’ (quite a revelation for me actually!), and the scene study sessions frustrated me more and more with my general crapness, I have discovered the importance of ‘letting go’. If last week I made the decision to be brave, this week I have been focusing on the result of being brave – letting go. Letting go of me, of my habits, of my fears and insecurities, of all the emotion pent up inside, straining to get out and be freeeeee. When I say letting go of me, I’m not talking about wiping the slate clean completely, just being able to get to a state known as ‘neutral’ and knowing how to return to that state before getting into character. Sitting on the tube, walking through London, eating my breakfast, I will remain as me, with all the wonderful (and not so!) little things that make me me. But in the studio, the rehearsal room, or backstage, before I transform into Viola, Rosalind, Portia, I can shake off me and find that neutral state, then let the character in.

During our work on neutrality with the wonderful John Bartlett, we had the brief chance to do some mask work. Normally this takes weeks or even months to work on and build up to, but given the brief nature of the course, we were given a sneak peak into this wonderful world and the creative possibilities it opens up. We each chose a mask, as much on impulse as possible, then spent a few minutes getting to know our mask. I ran my fingers over its face, felt the prominent cheekbones jutting out, the deep eye sockets; brought it close to my face and rubbed my cheek against its. I held it above me and looked up at the look of a parent; held it below in my arms – the look of a child; held it behind me – the look of a stranger; lay down on my side with it – the passive look of a lover. Once acquainted with our masks, we closed our eyes and put them on. Unfortunately, my eyes being stupidly close together, I struggled with some discomfort to see properly out of the mask; indeed at the end of the session, as I pulled the mask off, my left contact lens, which it had apparently dragged out of my eye, fell into my palm – ouch! However, this aside, the effect of the mask was a powerful one. We were told not to sink and pull it down to us, but rather to lift ourselves to it. Walking around in neutral, executing actions on impulse, listening to what our bodies wanted to do and where they wanted to go, and listening to what the mask wanted to do, we were transformed. I felt my body move automatically, without any conscious thought, as if controlled by some other power, some other force. It was a strangely liberating experience, that loss of conscious control, that letting go.

Our group chilling during a line run at rehearsal – first time using the panorama function on my new camera so the pic’s a little messed up in places!

In my physical theatre and movement classes my body is becoming more and more attuned to letting go, and in my voice classes too, as I drop all the tension I normally carry across my chest (seems all those years of ballet weren’t a good idea after all) and let my breath sink in deeper. The problem I’m facing is putting all this hard work into practice in the rehearsal room. Working on a scene with Viola and Olivia from Twelfth Night (me playing Viola), I’m finding it takes so much time in each session for me to open up and let go of myself. Once I manage to do this, the effect is obvious, and suddenly the scene has an energy and life it was lacking before. One can only presume that, through drama school training, you develop the means to put into practice all the techniques you learn without having to consciously bring them up and go through the exercise each time. I have faith that, if I work hard and open myself to every creative possibility, this could happen. However, for the meantime I need to get this scene nailed by the end of this week, and for this I just need to let go.

A note on Life

I was reading through my notes in my writing scrapbook earlier, and suddenly noticed a tiny bug, the colour of skin, translucent and almost too small for the naked eye to see. At first I was simply going to brush it away, most likely killing it in the process, but I decided to watch it a little, tracking its progress. I strained my eyes to watch it as it made its way across the page. Here was life. It may be small and seem insignificant, but of course everything is relative.

I tried to get it to crawl onto my finger so I could take a closer look, but every time it got near my finger it could sense it looming there and turned to take a different path. Sometimes it faltered a little before doing so, and I realised there must be some sort of thought process going on there! It seemed as if it was not just reacting instinctively, but actually choosing how to proceed. (I’m sure a biologist may have an explanation for this that renders my thoughts merely the result of an over-optimistic imagination.) Suddenly this tiny life-form became very significant. It was life; beautiful, complex, perfectly functioning life. Alive. Living.

There is so much life, all around us. So much energy, so much existence. I imagined its life, this little bug. What did things look like from its perspective? Did it really ‘think’? Was it aware at all? What was its purpose? Did it even need one? Or was it simply existing because it can? Because life is everywhere, and it needs no reason, no justification for being.

We have such small eyes. We think we’re kings of the world. But we’re like moles, burrowing through all this wonder.

Polar Bears by Mark Haddon

I think this fascination with life fuels my creative instincts. When I act a part in a play I am inhabiting a life other than my own, the life of the character. When I put pen to paper my imagination is giving birth to a character, a personality, with every hope, flaw, habit and subtle nuance that altogether moulds a spirit that is uniquely theirs, as they burst from my mind and spill onto the page.

I’m not particularly religious – perhaps ‘undecided’ would be the most suitable label, if anyone feels I need one. But that doesn’t mean I don’t find life itself magical. And right now I can feel a new life coming into being. A new voice wanting to be heard. Has she been there all along, waiting for the right time, for me to discover her? Or were the seeds of her creation only sewn a week or so ago as the idea for a story, her story, first crept out of my subconscious and gave my grey matter a little nudge?

The idea I mentioned in my last post, the beginnings of yet another story that wants to grow up to be a novel, has set down roots and firmly planted itself in my mind. It’s just waiting for me to breathe some life into it, and now that life is ready. I call her Emily. I don’t know her favourite food yet, have only a vague idea of her age. I don’t even know her favourite colour, or if she indeed has one. Whether she’d choose Britney or Christina, or if she even gives a damn. But all this will be revealed to me, as she speaks and I listen, jotting down a characterisation, sketching out the lines of her life. And like the little bug – as important in the scheme of life as ever, yet blink and you’ll miss him – it’s the little details that count.