The Power of Acting and Returning To School

Four years ago I performed one of the most important performances of my life. Why was it so important? Because it was my Year 12 final performance, but more than that it was the first performance of my acting and social progression of its kind. It was intense, it was challenging and completely out of my comfort zone. Despite the fact I had been in performances, one way or another, in school or out of school since the age of about 11 they were all relatively tame or comedic. It wasn’t until college when we were given the challenge of dealing with something incredibly sensitive and emotionally straining that I realised the real power of acting and the feeling of getting up on stage and performing.

There were actually two performances: one group piece and one monologue. My group piece was a fascinatingly structured verbatim play called Monsters by Niklas Radstrom, based on the killing of Jamie Bulger by Jon Venables and Robert Thompson. My monologue was an Italian-American interpretation of the classic Macbeth speech “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrrow”. Two completely different performances in the space of two days. I can’t tell you how nervous I was to perform Monsters, a play completely grounded in reality. How do you do justice to a case like that? How do you perform something like that without feeling like you are misrepresenting aspects of it, that may change the perspective of the entire case? It’s a little dramatic of me to think but those were the general thoughts and feelings I had about performing it.

What I didn’t expect to feel from the play was sympathy. Obviously I felt sorry for Jamie Bulger and for his family, but I also felt it for Robert Thompson. It’s not completely a ridiculous idea as Robert Thompson was my primary role in the play but playing him became a strange, method-driven performance that felt far too real. The rehearsals were exhausting (wonderful though) it was a physical theatre piece, so we were straining every inch of our bodies to get the most stylistic, and intriguing result, so literally all of us finished with bruises and scratches. So when we actually came to perform it on the night, in front of an audience and our examiner, it’s really not too much of surprise that it felt as real as it did. In fact there is one moment that I always remember and recite to friends. It was about half hour into the play (It was around 55 minutes in total) and I had completely forgotten the audience even existed, without sounding too pretentious I had actually become the character as much as one can. Then came a scene where my friend playing Jon Venables had to attack the child in a vile manner, and I had to stand at the side watching, feeling ashamed and dominated. I did so, and to start with it was just a normal performance, but then I started to cry, and rock, and I promise you I hadn’t expected it, it just happened, tears were falling from my eyes and I felt a genuine, piercing sense of shame and guilt. By the time we had finished the play, I was so inexplicably tired and drained, and that sadness remained within me for quite a while, even though it shouldn’t have belonged to me. It did however help with my performance the next day, as my monologue was also meant to be sad. That performance was less important because of the actual play, and more of the fright and opportunity to perform 2 minutes of a piece all by myself, where the only person the success depended on was me. That is frightening, but also freeing, once you’ve performed something that intimately lonely, and intense then it gives a great sense of believing you can do whatever you want.

Now, this past Tuesday and Wednesday I was invited back to my secondary school to watch the current Year 12’s performances, and to help out with rehearsals etc. As I’ve now finished Uni, and as the performances of my year were such an important part of my life I quickly accepted. They were a cool, and incredibly talented bunch, and it was such great fun to be able to help out directing/setting up. So many of them had such a dedication, and such a need for drama that it was so refreshing. I was sort of beginning to worry that people weren’t seeing it for what it was, that they weren’t appreciating the full extent of what theatre is. But seeing them perform refuted that. Some of the performances were far beyond their ages, and they were so incredibly mature and well read (or at least more-so than I was at 17). Even though I’d only met them and known them for two days, there was a weird sense of pride once the performances were over. I understand the pressure and fear of standing in front of an audience and, effectively, presenting yourself bare, vulnerable and open to ridicule and being confident and dedicated enough to do a good job of it.

You may be wondering, this far into the blog, why if this is what the post is about do I have a pair of Asics trainers as the featured image? Well then, allow me to explain. At my time back at the school, I found myself wandering through the corridors of a school, barely changed, and experiencing this ethereal feeling. As if I was nostalgic, in my remembrance of past memories that took place in that school, while also physically feeling as if I was reliving them. All of these visions I could imagine of young Liam arguing, fighting, caring, laughing, crying, loving, all these adolescent memories I could almost see walking past me made me wonder. Did I do everything I could have at the time? Should I have done this? Should I have done that? As much as I dislike looking back with regret, I couldn’t help it, I could have done so much more and yet I let obstacles prevent me.

Here we come to the reason for the Asics featured image. Yesterday evening, no longer at the school, and going for a run, hoping to time it right so that the sun would slowly set, just as that natural running euphoria hits, I got to thinking. After having run to the park I sat down. My timing was just about right, so as I sat on the bench overlooking the large park, itself a powerful image of my childhood, the sun began to bathe me in a warm and setting light. I thought about my worries of having not experienced life in the manner many people I knew had, and having been as reclusive and unsocial as I was and I saw it’s ridiculousness. It doesn’t matter. It’s that typical sentiment about life being the way that it should be and your mistakes making you who you are. But more than that, the fact I can look back on it and realise that I am a better person now, that changes were made, that I didn’t just remain the same, shows I did more than I thought. Life shouldn’t be rushed, nor explicitly planned, most of all comparing oneself to another is the biggest mistake a person can make. Returning to school, reliving those memories, going for the run and feeling reflective all reminded me that everyday I am living in the past, the present and the future, and however you take that it is important to remember.

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