Livingston, West Lothian. I’m four years old and though my parents are still hanging onto their youth and hoping to influence the moulding of their youngest child by playing The Everly Brothers and The Beatles, I am in my bedroom, with a tea towel wrapped around my waist dancing to Bucks Fizz.
I can do the whole dance to Thriller. I even have a shiny bomber jacket.
Thetford, Norfolk. I’m in a play called Beowulf the Warrior. The concept of stage acting is alien to me. I’ve never been to the theatre. I have never seen a play. I know I have a line to say. I know I say it after Steven. It’s time and I can feel the words jamming in my throat. My mouth is dry and I’m sweating but out they come…”everybody hide, here comes Beowulf!”. Wrong. It should be “everybody hide, here comes Grendall”, Beowulf is the hero. I’ll never live this down.
School play is not very good. It’s called Grease 2.5 and has a moment when we all dance to Holiday. Because we are going on holiday. The drama department gets closed down. Not because the play is so bad, but because of budget cuts. I along with a couple of other misfits lead a student strike. Someone throws a carton of yoghurt at the Rector. Why am I doing this? I must really like theatre. I don’t like being suspended.
Later that week
An article appears in the Lothian Courier and quotes me as an anonymous teenage girl. I get my sister to shave my head and say goodbye to my ‘Sheena Easton’.
Leave school and go to college to study a National Certificate in Media and Performing Arts. The Media part is important to me as it stops me having to admit that I want to be an actor. Most of my family translate this as I want to be famous.
Later that year
Madonna releases her SEX book. I’m pretty sure vaginas are absolutely boggin’.
Decide I might not want to be an actor, directing appeals to me. I go to Fife to study a Diploma in Theatre Skills and Drama. The course is sold as a rep theatre company where we’ll get to tailor it to our needs. Some of that is true. Meanwhile, my dad writes to the head of BBC Drama ‘on my behalf’ including my headshot and a programme for a show I was in saying I’d be perfect for Eastenders.
After graduating I manage to work fairly consistently as an actor, dancer and sometimes choreographer. I make some fairly bad decisions including but not limited to choosing a role in a never to happen Richard Demarco production of Romeo & Juliet over a role in Oscar nominated film Mrs Brown. I also make a straight to cutting room floor “this will make you famous” film where I spend a lot of time in the bath and a lot less time falling out a window in Marchmont. It was on telly once and then disappeared up it’s own stink-pile.
Like most emerging artists of the time, the majority of my Tesco value bread and butter came from working in TIE or Children’s Theatre Companies that toured schools, eventually serving my time long enough with one of them to become a tour manager with the responsibility of making sure that cheques were collected after the show. Needless to say, as an aspiring director/producer, my £180 per week priorities quickly changed when I realised exactly how much money was being fleeced off of my 18 Disney plaigerised shows per week that I was desperately trying to convince myself was art.
Leaving my Jafar costume at the door, I thumb text my friends a message on my hideously large mobile phone.
B @ MINE 4 8. NE ID8 CAN DO THIS!
I made my way home, thought of a story I wanted to tell and bought 20,000 school labels from Cameron Data. A month later, I had 68 bookings for a show that hadn’t been written, designed, cast or in all honesty, thought about.
It turns out that any idiot can’t do it. It’s hard work and probably about as stressful as pregnancy, but 9 months later when most of my peers were learning their rewritten lyrics to Michael Jackson’s You Are Not Alone and practicing their jazz hands, I was out on tour with a fairly dark production of Cinderella thanks to a great playwright with a fondness for non patronising children’s theatre and a group of actors all willing to wait to get paid until the end of the tour.
And here’s where my story actually begins. I’ll tell you more next week.