You won’t be surprised to learn that as a young gayboy (before my first interruption), I had a hankering for the over dramatic: amateur dramatics, specifically. It’s obligatory when you’re a slightly effeminate homosexual to become involved in what I call “thesping”.
I was first hypnotised into the idea of acting when the Kids from Fame came on TV in the early 80s and remember distinctly telling the whole class at junior school that my intention was to become one of the aforementioned kids when I grew up. I absolutely knew that my future was going to involve a crotchety woman banging a stick and telling me that fame costs and that I’d have to pay in sweat. I also knew that I’d have some nasty fungal issues from leotard wearing and a sprain from leaping onto a cafeteria table or yellow taxi, by the age of 20.
I’d seen a few plays and found them bewitching and the sudden thought that I could be part of that world had instant appeal. I got a part in the school play as the prince in Rumpelstiltskin. I was very proud to get a lead role and took it very seriously. I was about 9. My father had a very twisted sense of humour which could be quite dark at times and he began a terrible campaign. He didn’t take my future stardom seriously and decided to try sabotage for comedy effect and general mischief. He decided it would be hilariously funny were I to accidentally say “Wrinkled-Foreskin” instead of “Rumpelstiltskin” during the play. Nowadays this would elicit a call from Social Services and a major enquiry but in the 1970s you could buy cans of beer with pictures of topless women on and people paid good money to see Bernard Manning perform.
I had to say the word “Rumpelstiltskin” about twenty times during the play and my dad began a war of indoctrination and brain washing. He constantly dropped the words “wrinkled foreskin” into every conversation he had with me. He’d leap out from behind doors shouting it over and over again and occupy long car journeys by chanting it. Eventually I began to think the words and found it a feat of strength not to shout it all the time. Luckily I showed a little star quality and managed to get through the performance with no Tourette’s moments and my mum was delighted. I still recall my dad’s excited face as he got in from work and said to my mum “Well? Did he say it?” He was disappointed.
I then went on to play a little Chinese boy in some crap about pandas and Hansel of Gretel fame. I lapped it up. I loved the make-up, the costumes and the pretending stuff and would write little scripts to perform with my gaggle of female friends. We’d set up little stages and pout through lengthy formless plays and dances. I was a pretty child with big blue eyes and a mop of blond hair which made me much fawned upon by adults which I found quite an addictive thing. No, not in that way, the local paedophiles never bothered me, perhaps I was too prim or too quick footed.
I read and re-read all the Noel Streatfeild books about junior thespians and dreamed of appearing on the stage to rapturous applause. I dreamily watched Bugsy Malone with a tear in my eye and lip synced to my Mary Poppins tape. My mum bought me a book all about being a junior thespian written by legendary stereotype enforcer, John Inman. My mum didn’t quite have the energy or time to be a pushy mother but did encourage me a little. She saw an advert for an audition of a national production of “Oliver” and decided it sounded ideal as I was blond and urchin like and quite star struck. What was to lose but my dignity? She applied on my behalf.
We attended an audition. I was 11. There were hundreds of boys there, all blond and urchin like and astoundingly (to me, but no one else) were all a little bit camp and lisping. Audition one was acting. We all had to file in one by one and recite a piece from a script. I minced in, spouted my lines and was met by a row of beaming faces from the panel of aging homos and severe woman with their hair in buns. Naturally, I was through. I knew the part was mine.
The next part was the dancing. Dancing? What did they mean dancing? I’d never danced before (well only to Shirley Bassey in the privacy of my own bedroom with a hairbrush and mirror) but decided to give it a go. They put on some dreamy classical music and asked us to “free-style”. I pranced about moodily. Then we had to do a little group routine where we skipped about in a circle. We were down to about 50 boys now and the dance tutor hot footed amongst us on her tip toes smiling graciously as she tapped boys on the head and indicated they were through. I just made it through as I clumsily gave it my all. I think she just liked my hair and emaciation.
Finally it was singing. I was horrified. Somewhere in my brain I’d managed to block out a slightly minor point. Oliver is a musical and I’m tone deaf. Suddenly the panel turned nasty and off I went, back to ordinary life as they shook their heads and drew sharp intakes of breath or bared teeth at my flat rendition of “I’ll Do Anything” To be frank, I would have done anything. They only had to ask: anything but sing. Show business is harsh. I went home, put on my dressing gown, had a Panda Pop and listened to my Nolan Sisters records feeling quite embarrassed.
I went on to join a junior amateur dramatics group and we put on exorable productions of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (I was Edmund, the naughty boy, naturally), The Moonstone and Annie. Damn them for not letting me have a crack at the red haired orphan. I could do mawkish sickly kid so well and knew the words to all the songs. I met some nice children there and made a few friends and actually found it quite fun. I even got to wear tights when I played a liquorice allsort in The Nutcracker. I had a tabard with a pink coconut sweet painted on, wore loads of pale makeup and white tights. Sadly they snagged on a nail during The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies and I was catapulted backwards slightly with my gusset askew, spoiling the routine momentarily, but I carried on regardless with a show business smile.
I went to some drama classes which were hateful. The class was full of obnoxious children preparing for stage school applications and I found them annoying and hateful. It wasn’t fun anymore. We did a lot of pretending to be trees or jellies and practising our enunciation. I soon jacked it in. The two teachers (a married couple) were beyond pretentious and spoke in booming voices which said “I am an actor (with a capital A)” They staged horrifically camp productions full of over acting and dramatic gestures. I did sit a few exams in English speaking and poetry reading though, which has been no use to me at all, ever.
I lost the acting bug in time at about the time puberty kicked in. Embarrassingly early for me, I was shaving daily at 13 and had a pelt of leg hair any man would be proud of. The onset of hormones also bought on an onset of utter shame and although I carried on for a while at Secondary School, I soon lost the urge and found no thrill in it, only horrible gut clenching stage fright and total shame. I played a mincing Saint George and struggled to master the battle scene choreography. It was such a heavy sword. I did a Victorian monologue of Albert and the Lion in a Music Hall production, marked in my mind by the fact that a trio of older girls decided to alter the lines they had as “crowd extras” from “Rhubarb rhubarb” to “Poofter poofter”. If you reach the top of your game there will always be detractors.
I’m thankful really that my dreams of leg warmers and grease paint fell flat. I’m not sure my fragile moods could have coped with the highs and lows of performing and the erratic lifestyle would have driven me insane. I imagine there would have been a lot of drugs and alcohol about too and that isn’t so good for me either.
I’d much rather be a spectator. Unless it’s amateur dramatics, I did enough of those to know that’s not for me as a participant or a viewer. Spare me from that, please. I’d rather stay home than watch failed thespians prance about with their middle aged disappointment so evident on their faces. Eurgh. In fact, I’d rather pretend to be a jelly.