Thursday, 26 March 2015

In the words of Jean Valjean - Who Am I?

I feel weird.

Actually, I don't know how I feel.

How should one feel after deciding to step away from their career for a bit? Grief-stricken? Disappointed? Hopeful?

I’ve not got a ‘bun in the oven’ or destined for pastures new, my acting career just hasn't been going as planned recently and so I've decided to take a step back, re-group and re-think.
But oh what a hard decision it's been. Maybe I'm not weeping and wailing now because I did all my grieving during the crappy auditions and dead-end decision process. There’s been months of uncertainty, questions and dwindling self-esteem.

But if I'm not actively looking for acting work for a while then, in the words of Jean Valjean, “who am I?” 
Unlike Jean Valjean and his tenor tones, I don't have an answer hidden under my shirt to rip off in a reveal (trust me, I’ve tried it!)

Ever since I was 8 and told Gary Wilmot after meeting him backstage that I was going to an actress that is what has defined me. It defined my education, my life choices and my personality. I was blinkered and that was my only goal. But when did those blinkers widen? When did my goals change? And what defines me now?

If I'm not "Daniella the actress" then who the hell am I? I certainly don't feel as exciting or interesting anymore. And definitely not defined; instead my edges seem blurry and the colouring has spilled over the lines. Friends and family expect me to be that person, family especially have enjoyed it, so am I letting people down? I have always told aspiring actors in my columns and blogs not to make your career your world and to nurture your normal life too. Did I take that too literally? Or am I so unhinged now because, unwittingly, acting was more of my life then I realised? An Oedipus-like figure wandering in the wilderness of options. Gosh, even my analogies have become epic!

Either way I'm scared now folks. Anxious/calm/over-thinking/relieved/unsure! What if I've done the wrong thing?

Will I be crawling about Grizabella-style haggard by my bad life choices? Will I be planning a come-back in my twilight years a la Norma Desmond? Will I ever be able to live a life not peppered with musical theatre imagery? I hope not, because that's how I like to see the world.

I'm hoping that if I keep humming Boubil and Schonbourg’s beautiful melody long enough, one day I may rip open my shirt and find the answer. 

Monday, 2 March 2015

The Circle of Life - a trip to The Lion King and the life decision I've been avoiding

I went to see a hugely successful and long running show yesterday – The Lion King. Last year it was announced that it had grossed more money through ticket sales (not counting merchandise or the film revenue) than any other stage show or film release. I had seen it a decade ago when a fellow drama student gave her magnificent debut but I hadn’t been back since. However being blessed with a theatre-loving, confident little 4 year old nephew, I felt now was the time to take him on his first trip to the West End. Until ‘Cars’ or ‘Planes 2’ the musical opens in town, The Lion King was the obvious choice. And it did not disappoint.

Seeing theatre through a child’s eyes filled me with magic and awe. But the presence of this show is such that I think I would have been just as tearful had I been sat there alone. This show has been running for 15 years in London and it still amazes. The set and design are just faultless and the skill and energy of the ensemble performers are sublime. I thought I'd done well to master how to work Trekkie Monster and my Bad Idea Bear in Avenue Q until I saw a man on 4 stilts as a giraffe!

My neph and I gasped as the elephant walked past us and cowered as the hyenas sang. I’m sorry but no matter how advanced technology gets, no 3D movie can have the same effect as a live performance.

The irony of attending a Sunday matinee wasn’t lost on me after airing my views on the matter last year. However, it was a packed house and the performers didn’t appear to be dreaming of roast dinners with family instead, they were fully focused and awe-inspiring.  When you are a performer in a long-running show you can be forgiven for having the odd jaded day, it is tough to do the same thing 8 shows a week with the same intensity. So I just want to say thank you to them and should they ever have an “I’m knackered, it’s Sunday, why am I dressed as a bloomin’ bird” feeling, let them know that audiences REALLY appreciate their work.

It’s easy as a performer to forget that the mass of eyes in the darkness are individual people; folk who’ve saved up all year for a ticket (seriously Disney £70 a ticket?) couples on a first date or a proud auntie with her much-adored nephew. If you are playing to a 1000seater house then you are making that many people happy. How great is that? So thank you to all of them, and especially to my barricades pal Andy Mace for organising the tickets, you all made our day.

My enjoyment as an audience member held more poignancy today; I have seen more productions than appeared in them in recent months and my decision making process of ‘what the heck to do next’ has come to a head. That’s hard for a performer to say, whether you’re a jobbing actress or not. It cuts away at the part of you that defines who you are or who you have been. Wow, I feel like I’m at a cyber actors anonymous meeting, but you catch my drift.

I loved watching the skill of The Lion King cast and being able to experience my precious nephew’s reactions to it. But did I enjoy that more than I do performing myself? My heart misses it terribly but if I was sat waiting for the phone to ring then I wouldn’t be able afford such precious days as yesterday with my family (once again, seriously £70 a ticket?)

The Circle of Life is one of the most rousing songs in the musical with a clear message – maybe moments in one’s life are transient. Maybe we can’t have the same career forever and you get caught up in the circle of life that includes responsibility and bills. Or is that an excuse – am I missing out on my place in the world by being scared of this blip and not holding on fast? Surely, all the happiness guides in the world say follow your heart but I have to be honest and tell you, that I don’t know what my heart wants. And that is scarier than a hyena running past you in the theatre. I need Rafiki to come and knock me on the head and give me the answer.......