Sunday, 19 January 2014

A Bit of a Drama

Last September my daughter took up Performing Arts at the local college.  Earlier this week she took part in her first show.  It was an amazing play.  Highly emotive and full of emotion.  The audience were in tears – as were many of the young actors and actresses.  And these weren’t fake tears.  Oh no!  They were real rolling rivers of water.  It explained why my daughter had been hell to live with for the past month.  Rewind to four weeks ago.
          ‘Hi, darling,’ I trilled, as my daughter slumped into the front seat of the car.  ‘Good day at college?’
          There was an unintelligible grunt while I mirror-signal-manoeuvred the car onto the highway.  Eleanor gazed stonily out of the window for a moment.  Eventually she spoke.
          ‘I think I might have made a massive mistake opting to study performing arts.’
          ‘Why?’
          ‘It’s not what I thought it would be.  We did a workshop today where we were all given a soft piece of cloth.  We were told to hold it and think of somebody very dear.  We had to interact with the cloth.  We hugged it, laid down on the floor with it, and were taken through a long visualization exercise with our eyes tightly closed.  And it was all very beautiful and harmonious and uplifting.  And then the Director tip-toed around to each and every one of us.  She snatched the cloth away.  And she said that this wonderful connection was now severed and we’d never, ever have that again.  And everybody started crying.  Even the lads.’
          I came to a halt at some traffic lights and glanced at my daughter. ‘And who did you think of when you were doing the attachment exercise with this piece of cloth?’  I had a feeling I knew the answer before my daughter even spoke.
          ‘My dad,’ she whispered, eyes starting to brim.
          No wonder she was emotional.  My daughter’s father is deceased.  Acting out losing him all over again in a ‘learn how to cry’ workshop, must have been tough.  The students were told to detach from the exercise and file it away in readiness for an acting experience which might demand they produce real tears on stage.  They didn’t have long to wait.
          Along came their first show.  The students were excited.  What would it be?  A comedy?  A thriller?  Neither.  It was a drama based on true events - politics going crazy, concentration camps, and millions being exterminated for no good reason other than not fitting ‘criteria’.  The director was a formidable lesbian who stomped about in her Doc Martens punctuating every sentence with the F word and, when things didn’t go right, resorted to an awful lot of screeching where the F word went into overdrive.  ‘F*ck*ng call yourselves f*ck*ng actors?  You’re f*ck*ng all a f*ck*ng load of f*ck*ng rubbish!’
          My daughter was shocked.  Shocked that somebody they were meant to respect was not just foul mouthed, but disheartened that this particular director seemed to think that getting the best out of her company was to actually demotivate them.  After all, if you are continually told you are ‘rubbish’, after a while you will believe it.
          My initial reaction was to ring up the college and complain bitterly about this member of staff.  However, I didn’t.  This wasn’t school.  This wasn’t really even college.  It was the theatre attached to the college.
          The traffic lights changed to green and I pulled off.  Tentatively, I cleared my throat.  ‘I’m sorry you are having to rehearse in such a negative atmosphere.’  I reached across the handbrake and patted my daughter’s knee.  ‘However, I have a horrible feeling this is a learning curve.  It might well be that this is how a lot of directors behave and, in fact, serve as a lesson.  Do you think you can toughen up – grow an extra layer of skin?’
          A tear rolled down Eleanor’s cheek and plopped onto her lap.  ‘I’ll try.’
          That evening I got on the phone to my mother to let off steam about it all.
          ‘Oh dear,’ quavered my mum.  ‘I’m so sorry to hear Eleanor isn’t enjoying the acting at the moment.  Who is this woman that is making everybody miserable?’
          ‘The director,’ I sighed.
          ‘Can’t you have a word with her?’ asked my mum.
          ‘Cripes, no!’ I clutched the phone in horror.  ‘She might gore me with her spikey hair.  And she’s built like a bloke.  Got muscles on her muscles.  Spends all her time stomping about.  The only time she takes her Doc Martens off is when she goes off to her kick-boxing class.’
          ‘Kick boxing?’ asked my mum.  ‘Is Eleanor studying kick boxing?’
          ‘No, Mum, I was talking about the director.’
          My mother is eighty-one.  Sometimes her concentration wanders.
          The director continued to terrorise her company and told them their acting was so dire there would only be the one performance.  And so, tickets bought, I sat with my family in the audience as the spotlight hit the stage and the drama began to roll.  I was stunned.  Gobsmacked at the brilliance of these young people.  Shocked at their ability to literally morph into the characters they were playing.  And they all carried a piece of cloth that represented something very significant – a dog, cat, mother, father, sister or a baby.  And when the cloth was snatched away to be brutally executed, they cried.  And their tears infected the audience, and the audience cried with them.  The play finished to a deafening round of applause.
          Needless to say, it wasn’t a one-off performance and the show ran for a few more days.
          ‘I have to take my hat off to your director,’ I told Eleanor.  ‘She might be a cow, but she did a good job with you all.’
          My mother toddled over on her walking stick.  ‘Well done, dear,’ she kissed her grand-daughter on the cheek.  ‘But I’m a little confused.  I thought you were playing the part of a lesbian wearing big boots?’
          As I said, my mother is eighty-one and her concentration does wander.  Meanwhile, my daughter has decided that she hasn’t made a mistake opting to study Performing Arts.  She’s grown that extra layer of skin and looks forward to embracing the next performance and a new director.  Let’s hope the language will be a little more fragrant.  Which reminds me.  Did you hear about the director who said, ‘Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me.’  She was proved wrong when an irate parent hit her over the head with a dictionary...

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