Whenever I write, I always have an actor in mind. I do this even if it is a piece of work not intended for production. I do it because I need to hear a character’s voice clearly in my mind before I can let them speak on the page. I was recently commissioned to write a script for a specific actor, and to have her voice in my head as I wrote made the work joyfully plain sailing.
This also works the other way around. Whenever I see an actor whose voice and delivery interest me, or a pair of actors whose onscreen chemistry really sparks, a screenplay begins writing itself in my head. That’s probably why I rarely finish them, as there are just too many ideas knocking around in there. Though commissions and deadlines tend to help me focus more efficiently.
With this in mind, some years ago I took a course at a major London drama school so I could get a handle on what makes an actor choose one part over another, to understand what great lines really feel like in your mouth, to be able to say someone else’s words and make them seem like your own.
While the experience was great fun, and I gained valuable insights from the other students, many of whom were experienced actors, the school’s training style wasn’t really for me. I’d wanted to learn about specific techniques, whereas their approach was more along the lines of ‘running around the hall and making a shape’ and ‘freeing your Inner Child.’
Which brings me to an interesting idea. Who’s to say that everyone’s ‘Inner Child’ is the same, that is, one who likes to cartwheel through the park screaming?
If my inner child is a reflection of the child I once was then right now she’s probably up in her room doing her homework. If my inner child is the part of me who follows her bliss, then she’s writing a screenplay in her head or chopping up samples for her next album.
It could be fair to say that I’ve lived my life in reverse. I was an unbelievably serious child, who hated sports and games. There’s a photograph of me somewhere, aged around nine, which looks as if I’m roller-skating. It’s staged. I put the skates on, posed for the picture, then took them off and went back to reading (or maybe writing) my book. Incidentally, I won the roller skates in a fancy dress competition. I went as a mermaid. A serious, well-researched mermaid complete with tail. Not feet for roller skates. The irony was not lost on me even then.
I acted at school, and took it all way too seriously, to the extent of always memorising the entire script so I could act as unofficial prompt when the others messed up because they were unprofessionally under-rehearsed, or had let nerves get the better of their silly seven-year-old selves.
Another time in primary school, we all had to read out each other’s poems, rather than our own, at a Harvest Festival, and I made sure to credit the poem’s author before I read it out, as I didn’t want anyone thinking I’d written it, because the scansion was off, and, quite frankly, her imagery was poor to say the least.
That’s not to say I didn’t have fun as a child, I did; but it wasn’t of the running, jumping and screaming variety. I read books, wrote songs and stories, had singing and ballet lessons. Most of these activities still give me the most joy today. Not the ballet. That’s too much like hard work.
I am considerably more relaxed and less self-conscious as an adult, and spend much of my leisure time having childish conversations on Twitter with my friends, many of whom are proper grown-ups with serious jobs, such as professors. I suspect they’ve lived their lives in reverse too, and by the time we’re all in our eighties, we’ll probably be bald and wearing nappies. Oh, wait…