Monday, 23 February 2015
The slow discovery that you're an expert...
Reader, something happened to me the other day which knocked me off my feet a bit. Someone referred to me as 'an expert in my field'. I laughed out loud, to which the person looked at me a bit blankly and asked what was so funny. Apparently because I work steadily as an actor, now have various private acting students and executive coaching clients and blog and vlog about it all, I am an 'expert'. You could have knocked me over with a feather Reader. Because today I am headed to Falmouth to work with their students as a visiting lecturer. That's right. I am being paid to shape young minds. Actually, some less young minds as well, since I'll also be working with the MA course.
The thing is Reader, as I'm sure most people feel, even Obama or Julianne Moore, I'm quite sure I'm just winging it most of the time. I feel a bit like a fraud, like at any second someone might tap me on the shoulder and tell me that they know that I snuck into the whole acting thing behind security's back and I am SIMPLY TOO RIDICULOUS to be taken seriously. And then I'll be coaching someone, or get really passionate in a debate about acting and suddenly realise that I've said some things that make sense. Sometimes things that not only make sense, but that are quite interesting and helpful. Of course, this doesn't happen all the time. As my PIC and family will attest to, sometimes I try and put forward my opinion before I really know what my opinion is and it all goes horribly wrong.
The thing is, this whole lecturing lark is exciting and I love that I might lend a hand in helping people grow as professionals but it feels like yesterday I was doing my BA and MA, generally feeling like I was way behind everyone else and unable to speak the same language. I remember so clearly going into my MA and realising that everyone else seemed so much more confident than I felt, women that had trained at film college, had already made their own award winning shorts, came from families that went to balls dressed in designer dresses, women that had industry contacts and petite (Hollywood friendly) bodies and one woman in particular who I couldn't take my eyes off when she got up to perform because she was so real (Interestingly that same woman is now a fabulous documentary maker and photographer-she channelled her skill in another direction and still creates wonderful work). Next to all those people I felt like a scruffpot 12 year old who had thought she might be a good actor because she played Mary in the school Nativity once.
The biggest thing I learnt at drama school was that I was different to everyone else and that even though this sometimes earned me derision and snide comments, that wasn't a bad thing. My way into the industry wasn't through the same route as everyone else, it was to quietly work very hard, be a great person to have on set and a good friend to the crew. I learnt not to panic about the fact that my technical knowledge wasn't great, to ignore pointed remarks about my appearance and to give honest compliments that I really meant. I went from being a doormat to not holding back from critiquing people if I felt that they weren't giving as good as they could. I got a reputation in the jobs I did as being a genuine person who worked hard and left a good impression, both through my acting and my on set relationships, and slowly but surely my career has flourished. Every year that goes by I can chart improvements and new trajectories and although I still feel a bit like that 12 year old scruff pot and still have moments of 'Oh god, I'm a crap actor, why does anyone ever hire me', I also try and let myself be proud of how hard I work and the response I get from my audience.
I've watched with great pride as my peers have gone from strength to strength too. Madeleine Sims-Fewer has become a wonderful film maker alongside her husband Nathan and it's a joy to watch their creations and her acting. Rhiannon Story has evolved into a bum-kicking producer of feminist work, who's theatre company The Thelmas is getting more and more coverage. Naziha Arebi (mentioned earlier) now creates startling work, stark photos, heartbreakingly honest articles and is a rising star in the world of international documentary making. And alongside those wonders are many more who have been inspirational to observe. I was lucky enough to work with two women in particular at Kent University (prior to drama school) who shaped the way I performed. Laura Pearson (otherwise known as Laura Lexx) who is now a writer and comedian, is also one of the most honest actors I've ever seen or worked with and was a bit of an unofficial mentor for me, as was Gemma Barrett, who still works as an actor but is particularly focused on overseas work. Gill Harker is a trooper who I have no doubt will be one of the known British rising stars of screen before the year is out. George Weightman carved a career for himself through graft and sweat, and I've been loving watching Hannah Webster emerge as a professional actress over the past year. Finally, of course, my old housemate and favourite curl queen Vicki Baron who I've watched transform into a wonderful writer and uncompromising director who I am proud to have worked with and to be working with in the future.
So yeah. I'm going off to lecture at this uni remembering all of these wonderful peers of mine (some of whom I will undoubtedly have forgotten to mention then come back later swearing at my computer screen), and remembering our fresh faces and the fear in the pit of my stomach that I wasn't good enough to be working along side them when I started out. And maybe (just maybe) it'll help me be a bit understanding of the students I'll be working with this week.