I have always found auditions, interviews and any other process which involves competing for a part, or job, profoundly terrifying, distressing and confronting. My assumption, for many a decade, has always been – at a very deep level – that I will be the last one to be picked for a team (as it were), and only chosen when nothing better presents itself.
For many many years, I coped with this massive insecurity and low sense of self-worth by refusing to engage with the audition in its widest sense: I gave up very quickly on traditional publishers for this reason; I was convinced I was not good enough to act, sing, dance, play my instruments in public and kept away from stages, drama groups and the like.
We all get setbacks when it comes to being chosen for things – and often this sense of being inferior links directly to early experiences, which then become hardwired in the brain, and emotional centre.
When I was four, I started having ballet lessons. How good was I? Probably not as bad as I thought. Who told me I wasn’t very good, though, or was it an assumption I picked up from thin air?
We had a little dancing display put on by the school – and it involved lots of short dances with children being put into groups. All the little girls danced in something – and I know I was hoping for something pretty and girly and graceful and, well, feminine. Instead, I was chosen for the Clown Dance, which involved a bright orange clown suit which covered me from neck to toe and looked much more boyish and garishly silly, than I, secretly, wanted.
I can still recall the sting of this and the feeling of huge jealousy of my younger sister who got to dance in short yellow skirt, matching ribbons in her hair and black waistcoat. She looked like a proper little ballerina; I looked like a bumbling clown.
Fast forward four decades – and Wrington Drama Club (which I had joined) was casting for ‘Harvey’. Initially, I wasn’t going to bother auditioning, so sure was I which people would be chosen for the main parts – but my friend had decided to go for it, and we always supported and encouraged one another on these scary moments!
I read for two parts: Veta-Louise Simmons and Ruth Kelly. Several people said my reading was excellent, and that I would be brilliant in either role. But – and I am going to be blunt here – two things stood against me: My size and, with the latter role, my age. You see – and it hurts me to say this, but it is the truth – whilst discrimination against performers on the basis of colour and gender orientation is, quite rightly, frowned upon, prejudice against those who are above-average in weight and age is alive and well worldwide.
I had the full range of acting skills – but I didn’t look the part.
In the pub, post show, a female member of the group told me that I had acted the part of Ruth Kelly extremely well, and a tiny surge of hope rose in me.
‘I might even get the part, you never know!’ I jested.
This woman looked at me.
‘Oh no,’ she said, ‘Ruth Kelly is supposed to be young, trim and pretty…’
I don’t think she meant to be hurtful; she was, quite simply, stating an obvious fact – but, when I got home that night, I cried and cried.
Ironically, I did get to play Veta-Louise Simmons in the end – for two of the four nights – after the original actress chosen developed voice problems. I loved it – but was terribly aware of the physical contrast between me and the other Veta-Louise (who was slim and extremely pretty) and felt like an ungainly clown, a whale, in comparison.
I know I was very good in the role – but I didn’t look the way the world wanted her to look.
As many of you will be aware, I joined a lovely local (and very new) drama group here back in March. Shadow of the Tor it is called, and it is an inclusive, ebullient, creative team. I love rehearsals (though insecurity does seep in from time to time) and find my fellow thespians a delight to be around.
But auditioning has, as it always does, reared its scary head once more – and I am having to face deep fears and that childlike sense of clown-related inadequacy. Initially, I wanted to just play safe and audition only for minor, non-speaking roles, but was encouraged by another member of the team to try out for a bigger role in one of the performances currently under the spotlight.
It is to be a small film. Gulp. I nearly didn’t audition because, to be frank, we all know that the camera adds pounds to the body and lines onto the face – and, at nearly sixty with a full figure anyway, all my flaws would be spotlit immediately.
Could I, I wondered, compromise, and audition with a bag over my head (with holes for eyes and mouth so I could be heard and could see!)? It really was very tempting! On the day of the audition, I was terrified, so nervous I was actually shaking. Several times, I nearly said, ‘Look I’ve changed my mind…’
The old old terrors surged, with the biggie in the middle – that of not looking right for any part unless it’s comedic and taking piss out of self type stuff – elbowing its way into things once again.
And then I remembered something so healing and important: Last year, the Silent Eye team deliberately gave me a beautiful role – and it was so lovely, so unusual, to see myself in the role of something other than comic villain or hilariously-hideous hench-woman that I actually cried, amidst whoops, when I ran, with the others following me, out of the centre and onto the fields to watch the Fox Dancers.
I can see, with pitiless clarity, that my mindset for most of my life has been, ‘Don’t risk this audition. You know you won’t be chosen; that you don’t look right for the part…’
But such thinking can become a vicious circle, can’t it? As it has for me. If I don’t audition for things, goes my warped thinking, then I can’t be hurt by the (to me) almost-inevitable disappointment and rejection. If I set my sights low and only go for small parts, I’m more likely to get somewhere.
Is this why I have opted to self-publish?
Is this why, faced with my decision to throw ‘Heneghan‘ to the lions of the traditional publishing world, I have come to a full stop on the editing front and am too scared to continue?
I did audition. It was very scary, though both members of the filming team were extremely kind and reassuring, put me at my ease as best they could. Last night, in rehearsal, I volunteered to read for roles in another performance-to-be, even though a part of me was saying, ‘Keep quiet! Don’t raise your head above the parapet…’
I love being on stage – but am always racked by the fear that I won’t be good enough; that I look stupid and fat and ungainly and ugly.
I do not know whether I’ll get a part in any of the plays or not. But, in a very real sense, it does not matter: By auditioning despite my fears, I have faced demons and battled their evil talon-sharp grip upon my self-confidence.
So perhaps little orange clown Bambi (as I was nick-named then) will finally realise that it was a compliment, and not an insult, to be chosen; that she was, in her way, every bit as sweet and pretty as the more traditional small dancers…
Me, second to back clown, aged seven – December 1965.