Friday, August 18, 2006


I was surprised to discover that my older sister and my spouse were unaware of my brief career as a stage actor. So I have decided to write my Memoir.

It all began the day our English teacher told our Year 8 class that we were going to put on a play at the end of the year and invite the rest of the school to watch.

I suspect that our teacher’s love of Language and the Arts also meant that he harboured a desire to work in The Theatre. So he became a High School English teacher, as you do.

Perhaps I should set the scene by introducing my fellow class mates.

The Powers That Be decided to set up the Year 8 classes in groups of students with similar academic performances. Hence 8A consisted of the very smart kids who chose French as a subject. 8B, my group, was the very smart kids who chose German as a subject. 8C was the smart kids who picked French and 8D was the smart kids who picked German. 8E was the not so smart kids who picked French and it continued on, like so, down the alphabet.

I do wonder just what transpired in 8J’s classroom.

Yes, they placed my sensitive soul in a class filled with very smart, competitive, obsessive-compulsive over-achievers. These kids were actually there to learn something and they had plans to eventually go out into the world to become doctors, lawyers, corporation chiefs and other highly paid highly placed people in the community.

Now, the play in question was called “The Bushrangers’ Christmas Eve”. I suspect it was written by Kylie Tennant. There were parts for the boys as (19th Century outlaws).

And if I recall correctly, and it is all a bit hazy mind, Mrs. Chisholm (19th Century Do-Gooder) and a number of her young female protégés stumble into the bushrangers’ campsite thus allowing parts for the girls.

As our teacher announced each role, he would call for volunteers. Many arms would reach up to the Heavens accompanied by desperate mutterings of, “Pick me. Pick me.”

There was a lead role (read: he had a lot of lines to remember) which went to a tall skinny boy with the demeanour of an eighth grade Gary Cooper.

There was a small but pivotal (as we actors say) role for a timid young girl.

Hands flayed about as he announced the part.

Suddenly I heard the teacher call out MY name. I looked quickly to my right and then to my left and noted that my arms were not raised. And I knew I had not uttered the words “Pick me. Pick me.”

Yet he had the gall to foist this role upon me.

But, being a timid young girl, I didn’t have the mettle to say no.

I am sure his choice would have infuriated the other role-less girls.

“It wasn’t fair, mum. She didn’t even put her hand up.”

However, there were plenty of other positions to be filled as we needed make-up artists, hairstyle artists, costume designers, set designers, poster designers and ushers.

At one point in the play, a snake slithers towards the campfire which, thanks to the set designers, was a light bulb covered in red cellophane paper surrounded by lifelike pieces of wood.

Come to think of it, they were pieces of wood.

My character was called upon to panic and scream at the sudden arrival of the snake.

It was during rehearsals that I found out that I could actually act. I wasn’t from the John Wayne School of Acting where I would woodenly swagger through the role.

No, I was Acting. I may even have been channelling Sarah Bernhardt which was fortunate because it was a female part.

Now the reason I knew that I was a good actor was due to the fact that I had nothing in common with this wimp of a girl and I had to dig deep within me to find my Motivation for this character.

For example, I am wary of snakes but I am not terrified of them.

I recall one encounter when I was about seven. I was running through a grassy paddock in a westward direction and I saw to my right a snake scurrying in a southward direction. As we interconnected I simply leapt, gazelle like, over its shiny body and then calmly asked the girl cousin if she had seen it too.

Now, when I was called upon to scream at the arrival of the snake during the first rehearsal, I let out a rather respectable “AAHHH!”

Our teacher, wearing his director’s hat, shouted, “No, no. I want an authentic scream.”

I then let loose an ear piercing, blood curdling scream which echoed about the school campus. He approved.

Fortunately, I didn’t have a lot of lines to learn and I decided that the best way to know when it was my turn to speak was to memorise the line that immediately preceded my line.

Fast forward to the performances. Yes, there was such interest in our play from our fellow students that we had to do two matinee performances.

I was eerily calm.

We were partway through the second performance of the play when I sensed a prolonged silence and eyes fixed upon me. I am not talking about the audience here. My fellow actors and the prompt person were glaring at me in a menacing fashion.

I immediately threw an accusing glare at Gary Cooper. Sure, he had a lot of lines to learn, but why did he have to forget the crucial line that signalled to me that it was my turn to speak.

I took a superior breath and then bowed to peer pressure and the deafening silence and proceeded with my line.

It was after Gary Cooper let me down so badly that I decided not to continue with my career as a stage actor.

It seemed fairly clear to me that one needed to memorise more than that one line as a cue. And I wasn’t prepared to learn entire plays just because I could not trust my fellow actors to conduct themselves in a professional manner and to remember ALL their lines.

Perhaps I could have turned to the “cut and retake” world of film and television. But there would be no greasepaint and adrenalin rushes. No, it’s just not The Theatre, is it?

Michelle ©


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rubytoo said...

well, I'm just wondering whether you rehearsed your line at home and if so how did the neighbours react?

Michelle said...

Hello Jessica,

Thanks for the encouragement. I shall investigate the autosrfmonster site.

Best wishes, Michelle

Michelle said...

Hello Again rubytoo,

Once I found my "authentic" scream I only used it during rehearsals at school and the two matinee performances.

We had an elderly lady living beside us and I felt it would be unwise to practise it at home.

I do scream now and again these days but it is usually at the family and we are fortunate to have a large property so the neighbours do not hear me.

Best wishes, Michelle