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Tuesday, 1 November 2011

I was 12 when I realized what I want.

Twelve years ago I decided that I was going to be an actor. That was half my lifetime ago, now, and I still haven't quite attained my goal. 

I fantasize a lot about being an actor. I stand in front of a mirror and experiment with different vocal qualities and physicalities, making a new character out of my body and voice. I play dress-ups, seeing what costumes define the character I'm devising... just right. I daydream about immersing myself in a character. I make up dialogue and say lines out loud and in my head and sometimes forget that people can see or hear me walking around my back yard or driving in my car. It is only marginally better when I can genuinely excuse myself as busy learning lines for a play. It's still embarrassing being caught out all the time, revealing to everyone that I am make-believing. I need an audience to validate my drive to pretend, to bend and lend myself to the story. I can get so engaged in a story that I am creating in my mind for a performance that my emotional memory stores it as a genuine experience. I think I really have been stalked by a serial killer or that I really have confronted my cheating husband. I forget that that was just me, making it up again. I don't really know what it's like to be stalked or cheated on but I've pretended to know so many times that I feel perfectly qualified to portray such a person that has been. I never lack inspiration for a performance. Even though I can sometimes be unsure of my character when someone else has imagined her into life, after a brief acquaintance I know all her deepest, darkest secrets. I know what makes her tick and what she can endure without complaint. Sometimes she tells me things that the writer or director doesn't know and then it's just our little secret, it's my responsibility to help her hide it from the world while the rest of her story is being paraded around for the world to see. When I once betrayed a character, the repercussions were not good. She forgave me but only because I stood by her. I always love my characters, even when objectively I know that they are terrible personifications. I sometimes forget my characters' names but I don't ever forget what it felt like in their skin.

I also think about all the wonderful things I could do if I got money in a job that I actually enjoyed. To be a 'successful' actor in my own esteem all I want is to be able to live my current lifestyle but paying the bills with money I've earned through acting, not childcare.  I'm training to be a teacher and I work in childcare. It's upsetting that I have to constantly justify my decision to make acting my primary ambition and teaching my fallback. I know they say if you have a fallback you will fall back on it but I come from a slightly unstable background so being sensible and self-preserving is always my main priority. However, I am not so sensible that I just give up. In fact, I couldn't just give up, even if I did think it was the right thing to do. I am driven by some part of my psyche to be a storyteller through performance and I don't have a choice about that. If I gave up now, accepted that I don't have what it takes to be an actor and never pursued it again, or only pursued it half-heartedly, I would be consumed with sadness and emptiness for the rest of my life. I can't even explain why it's so important to me other than to suggest that it is a part of my nature. I've always been a daydreamer and storyteller.

When I was little I was much too shy to perform formally, I would blush whenever it was my turn to make up a skit with my friends but I would go green with envy when my friends had the courage to show off to our parents and I had to sit in the audience, passive and suppressed. I couldn't talk to males that were unfamiliar, I was too bashful, but you couldn't stop me from talking to friends or random ladies or children. I was overly friendly and extroverted with everyone and I would take every opportunity to modestly exhibit some self-perceived skill or talent. I wasn't allowed to be stuck up or show off but I could walk around wearing a skirt on my head as a nun's habit and pretend to bless people and tell them I was Mother Mary. Mother Mary, from what I could gain from my protestant mother, was a very good lady that gave birth to God and was a virgin until after he was born. As Mother Mary I was perfectly free to think of myself very highly and to tell people exactly how good and holy I was and let them know how much God loves them. It didn't matter that I was a five year old child in reality, all that mattered is that when I put on my skirt I became Mother Mary and no one would dare contradict me. This is a strange episode in my childhood because I was sure I would grow up to be a nun, despite the discomfort my mother had with Roman Catholicism.

When I was about eight I started school and my first performance was in the year two school assembly. I was the crow that chases the Damper man (an Australianised version of the Gingerbread man) and I had one line. I had looked forward to this part (which the teacher had appointed me during one of my many absences) for about three weeks. All I had to say was, "I can catch you Mr. Damper Man!" and then flap my bird wings and chase him around the stage. I was so excited and thought I looked spiffing in my black Lycra crow costume with crepe paper feathers. But I got so caught up in trying to actually catch the Damper man that I forgot to flap my wings and when I came off stage I burst into tears because of my failure to properly characterise a hungry, flying bird. Yes, my character motivation was great: I think I displayed the right degree of desperation. But I really let myself down when I didn't keep my performance consistent with my character's nature and the implied purpose of costume! It took me years to recover from the shame and the blow to my confidence!

I took TEE drama after years of drama in high school and extra curricular drama courses and groups. Since I was 12 and started a drama class because my grandparents wanted me to show an interest in something other than being depressed and anxious, my dream had been to graduate from high school with a good enough Drama score to guarantee me entry into WAAPA or NIDA! Laugh out loud! I was a fantastic drama student but somehow that did not translate into fantastic grades and I scraped through with a C for crappy. (I honestly  do not know how he justified giving me that grade but what does it matter now?) I auditioned for WAAPA and they said, "Come back when you have more life experience." Which roughly translates into Molly-speak as, "You're shitty and should give up. You can't offer us anything and we've got nothing to work with if we do let you through. We hold the key to success in the industry and we've said 'no'."
...So I enrolled in a combined Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education degree majoring in History and Italian at UWA.

I dabbled in drama groups after graduation but I pretty much had resigned myself to being a teacher. I didn't really like my job in childcare. I love children but I don't like the person I have to be when I'm looking after them in that environment. It's very stressful looking after other people's children and being answerable to a massive organisation. But it was an alright job to get me through uni until I would take up teaching. In 2009 I did a 6 week long teaching practicum and it was a really negative experience. If I am not cut out to be an actor, I am certainly no more cut out to be a teacher. My classes were boring and ineffective and my content knowledge was sub par. I had to wear office clothes everyday and had to say Amen at the end of staff meetings. URGH! At the end of that practicum I was resolved to find something else to focus on. I searched and I searched and I failed. All I could think about was acting but I had already convinced myself that this dream was a waste of time and would just make me feel like a loser. Then I failed at uni and was literally a loser. And a suspendee.

In 2010 I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands and I decided to give acting another go. The first community theatre play I did was not a good example of what I can do, I'm afraid. Watching a recorded performance made me acutely aware that I have to work on my voice (still doing it and not much improvement to report, though, it's a bit like working out, not a lot of fun even when I try to remind myself of the benefits). I used to think I was great at accents but holding an Irish accent through a whole play proved a challenge and then I discovered that every accent I attempt basically boils down to some dialect of Irish! Another blow to my self esteem. This time, however, I chose to seek opportunities to improve myself and develop my craft. I auditioned for a few more plays and investigated what it would take to get representation. I decided that I probably need more experience before I could get representation and I was finding it difficult to get a second community theatre role. Things were not looking promising and the year was rounding up and I had only completed one play and played with one character!

But, once more, my resolve hardened and I chose to seek opportunities and not excuses. 

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