“After reading the Crucible and realising what a c**t I’d made of myself I desperately needed something to redeem my confidence”.
At 17, my best gay, Craig, and I auditioned for drama schools together. I’d already fucked one up massively the year before; determined to get out of school as soon as I could*.
*Apparently, if you don’t read the whole script, it is possible to play a John Proctor monologue from the Crucible in a green pinstripe suit while smoking a cigar. (Add to this the fact that I had a shaved head and a quiff, I’m actually pretty impressed that the audition panel didn’t laugh in the face of the young clueless boy that looked like Ani Defranco playing at being a grown up).
Fortunately, a year makes a massive difference when you’re that young.
With a little more maturity, I was ready to throw myself to the lions again. In the spring of 93, with the hope of being afforded the rare and sought after opportunity of becoming Leroy from Fame, I started to work on my tan. And my monologues.
For those of you that are fortunate enough not to have undergone the humiliating process of auditioning to get work, you should know it’s the equivalent of giving a dog a biscuit for rolling over or giving good paw. But instead of a crunchy treat, your tricks need to be of a standard to convince a director, panel of lecturers and sometimes even your contemporaries that you are worthy of the opportunity you are chasing. Sometimes it’s a day’s work that will pay your bills for a month. At other times, it’s the opportunity to develop professionally and be in with a much better chance of getting work in the future.
We were facing the latter and were about to embark on a series of auditions to get into one of three sought after courses available to aspiring actors in Scotland.
As such, we needed the perfect monologues to convince potential course heads that we were exactly the right people to occupy their hallways, singing arias while stag leaping our way to superstardom.
After reading the Crucible and realising what a cunt I’d made of myself I desperately needed something to redeem my confidence. I wanted the perfect role. A solid, deep 3 minutes that showcased my range and my cast-ability for the upcoming seasons. An engaging speech that showcased my face, voice and physicality.
I searched libraries far and wide for the perfect character. Something about a teenager from a council estate. Someone from West Lothian.
Passing Places. The Life of Stuff. Find Me. Trainspotting. The list of opportunities was endless. I worked on four or five different performances. Night and day. Day and night. Over and over again until they were all instinctive. I was all ready to go when Craig brought me something that he said was perfect for me…
Bruce Niles, a thirty-something ex marine from New York whose boyfriend had just died of AIDS.
Regardless of how inappropriate the casting would be in the real world, the writing was so powerful that I elected to create a tailored performance around the piece.
From that point in, I developed an incredible relationship with the play, it’s themes and it’s author.
In my second year at college I used WH Auden’s poem September 1st 1939 as stimuli for a street performance for World Aids Day. The Normal Heart took its name from the poem. This was the start of a long relationship with World Aids Day.
As a director and producer, my first publicly staged work was a preview of a section of the play and my first successfully written funding application was from the Health Education Board of Scotland for the full show to be produced. Incidentally, this also bred my first BBC radio interview for that production and egotistically my first ever standing-ovation.
Revisiting the monologue in my graduation showcase at the Pleasance got me cast in my first film and when a few years later, I applied for a grown up job as a Cultural Coordinator for Fife Council, it was apparent that where I was in my life at that particular time all came back to The Normal Heart.
That job opened so many doors for me professionally that by 2007 when I restaged the Normal Heart with Civil Disobedience it was with the full support of Larry Kramer, at the National Museum of Scotland and came with an editorial in the Sunday Herald.
25 year after it was first written, as we mark World Aids Day once more, the play is as powerful as ever and testimony to the need for a community to take responsibility got itself.
It’s recently been revived on Broadway and Ryan Murphy has announced that he had been given the film rights. Personally, I can’t wait to see what the creator of Glee, Nip Tuck and American Horror Story does with it.
As I sit in my beautiful Edinburgh flat whisky in hand, today I’m raising a glass to everyone I met that was taken too soon. I’ll raise another for Larry Kramer and all the boys from Act Up. And finally I’m raising it to big gay Craig and the wonderful moment he created that set me on this track.
IGNORANCE IS NOT BLISS.