The Child Star and philanthropist
When I was a little girl, I don’t know, 7 or 8 maybe, I would coax my friends into making up and performing little plays for our classmates and anybody else that would watch. We would rehearse in the playground at break and then perform in the classroom on a Friday afternoon. Everybody in the class had the option to do this but as far as I remember it was just me – writer, director and lead actor- that did the honours.
This selfless act was not just for the benefit of my classmates but for everyone that lived anywhere near me. I grew up in a tower block, 12 storeys high. Each floor had a landing, a communal space, housing entrances to the flats and the lift. This was where frustrated mothers sent us kids to play when we were getting under their feet and it was raining outside. To me it was a space for ‘public theatre’. My friends and I would perform our made-up plays to other friends and neighbours sometimes charging an entrance fee, for charity of course. I remember one time presenting the proceeds, around 60p, to the local children’s home. How magnanimous of me!
The Careers Officer
The need to create, perform and tell stories has always been in me and so, even though I went to a grammar school in the 80’s, where maths and physics were king, and drama was marginalised (what’s new?) I still persisted in chasing the dream. Aged 16 I had an appointment with the careers officer.
‘What would you like to do when you leave school’ she asked.
‘To be an actress’ I said with a little trepidation, my mother beside me assuring her I was ‘very good.’
‘Ok’, she said. ‘Do you belong to a drama club?’
‘Do you go to the theatre?’
‘Erh, no’. (I grew up on a council estate, there wasn’t one on the doorstep).
‘Have you been in any school plays?’
‘What about the cinema. Do you go to the cinema?’’
(At last) ‘Yes, Yes!’ I said, ‘I love films.’
The careers officer smiled, not in a nice way, but in a patronising way.
‘No’ She said ‘You don’t want to be an actress. If you wanted to be an actress you’d live, die and breath the theatre. What else can you do?’
Crushed, I said ‘I’m not bad at art’.
And that was how my career as a fashion designer started… Ah ha, you weren’t expecting that were you? Yes, I went off to art college and ended up designing for a manufacturer supplying the High street – Top Shop, H&M, River Island etc. I lasted about 5 years. It was an awful business, cutthroat and not creative at all. I was employed to copy high end for the high street – add a pocket, change a cuff, that kind of thing.
The Royal Shakespeare Company, daahlings!
However, the stars conspired to bring me back to what I knew and loved. My best friend from college, also disillusioned with the fashion industry, started work with the Royal Shakespeare Company, then, resident at the Barbican in London. She got me some work dressing the actors and despite the unsociable hours and dirty laundry I felt instantly at home. I had found my tribe. I would sit in the darkness during tech rehearsals watching amazing directors, actors and designers create magical worlds – Peter Hall, Michael Attenborough, Trevor Nunn. I was even Judy Dench’s dresser at one point. It was during one of these tech rehearsals that I watched an actress and the actor I was dressing perform (that is ‘act out’) a rather noisy sex scene under a sheet. They rehearsed it again and again for the technicians and crew. When the actor finally came to me for a quick change, I asked him wryly, but genuinely, how he could do that without dying of embarrassment. What he said set a light bulb flashing above my head – ‘If you don’t believe what you are doing on stage then the audience won’t believe it either’. Of course! You become that character, you don’t have to stand in front of all those people as yourself! It was in that moment that I understood acting; the difference between ‘playing’ a character and ‘being’ a character. Now I just needed to learn how to do it. I was thirty, had a husband, a mortgage and a dog. I couldn’t afford to go full time but after a traumatic brush with breast cancer I thought ‘f**k it!’ and applied to drama school, part time.
After the course I went to the Edinburgh Fringe and performed a newly written four hander to some critical acclaim!? I continued the fringe theme back home, working with the same group in and around London. What a learning curve. I was actor, set and costume designer/ maker, fundraiser, promoter and producer. I went for auditions and even got other parts performing with, and being directed by, some dubious characters. It was a strange time in a completely new environment walking into rooms and performing or bearing your soul to strangers. One time I landed a great part, a Duchess, in a fabulous Jacobean play but the director had me wearing a boiler suit and a strap on dildo!!
I know… I have no idea either!
While fringe theatre and its eccentric characters were fun, it wasn’t paying the bills and by the time I had my daughter the lifestyle was impossible to sustain so I took a step back and gave teaching a go. Although, 20 eight-year olds bouncing off the walls on a Saturday morning wasn’t exactly my idea of heaven, I found that I was quite good at it. My experiences at the RSC and on the fringe meant I didn’t follow the ‘jazz hands’ version of stage school but saw the youth theatre experience as a way of team and confidence building. I loved being able to give the shy kids a voice while teaching the loud ones that they were part of something bigger than themselves. They learnt to trust one another and give each other space to step up.
We moved away from London when my daughter was coming up to school age and to be honest, doing what I did, assumed I would never work again. Thankfully, I was wrong. I began running drama clubs at a local arts centre and eventually took a permanent job there, organising outreach projects (I know, not so much a career ladder more like a jungle gym!). Outreach was great, I was at the heart of the community organising arts-based projects for local groups that really benefitted. For example, young carers, disadvantaged young people and people with learning disabilities. Over the next ten years I received funding from the local authority, town and county councils plus Heritage Lottery and organised numerous workshops in drama, art and film making. The culmination of each project resulting in a ‘look at what we’ve done’ public performance, film screening or exhibition. One project, even, built the local town in Minecraft!
All ‘warm and fuzzy’ stuff with storytelling at its centre. Stories of the local community, their history, where they came from. This seems to be the theme that runs through my career, no, my life. And so, (because I didn’t have enough to do) I decided to start studying an Open University degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. This meant I could read more story’s and maybe write some of my own, too. I’m four years in with two to go and, man, have I learnt a lot plus it has given me confidence not only in writing (hello, I’m writing a blog!) but in life. I’ve realised I have a wealth of knowledge and skills to pass on not just to children but, and more importantly, I think, to adults.
Shock and Awe
My husband died unexpectedly a couple of years ago and once the shock subsided, I realised life is too short, there is still so much I want to do and so I left the arts centre and started Atticus Arts. It is my way of bringing together all the things I love, collaboration with others, creatively in business and in the community, and sharing what I’ve learnt. Personally, I hope to empower others in their workplace, with their colleagues and peers and give people from all, and any, walk of life the opportunity to speak up confidently and be heard.
So far, I have worked with some awe-inspiring individuals in the voice and acting workshops I’ve run. Individuals that have been brave enough to step out of their comfort zone and gained confidence in doing so. I’ve, also, worked with established organisations and charities. For example, hArt is a Hampshire based Arts therapy charity who do amazing and necessary work around mental health and wellbeing, and, Blue Apple Theatre Company who do inspiring work with performers with learning disabilities in order to entertain and educate others.
The Call to Action Bit
As a voice and presentation coach, I work with teachers, professionals, teams and young people. Groups or 1-2-1. In fact, anyone who needs help to:
· Enhance, develop or support their voice.
· Build confidence around presenting themselves or their work.
· Remove vocal blocks and communicate with full power.
· Develop creative thinking.
· Work with others collaboratively.
Working with Permission To Play as part of their pilot innovation programme, I had the pleasure of putting some software experts from CIVICA, through their paces. They blew me away with their improvised scenes and willingness to play. Improvisation, with its ‘permission to play’ ethos, is a great way of getting a team to think creatively and collaborate with confidence.
In my Finding Your Voice workshops, I share tips and techniques on how to support and improve the voice. I love to be part of these sessions as I think I benefit as much as the participants do having worked with some quite inspirational groups. I can feel confidence levels rise and voices emerge quite often to the surprise of their owners – a real pleasure.
I want to give people the opportunity to be the best version of themselves. To give them a voice, permission to play, to create and express themselves. To feel empowered. To tell their story.
So, if you have something to say or a story to tell, in business, teaching or telesales. As an entrepreneur, coach or father of the bride: I have a programme that will empower you.
Please, get in contact. Let’s have a chat.