An Embarrassing Confession ... (By A Patron Saint!)
One day whilst preparing to teach a practical class (acting class) with my flagship group at the University of Hull, in Yorkshire, England I suddenly stopped and allowed myself to see the wall of 18-20somethings standing in front of me. I looked at them; all raw energy, moody, a-surge with exquisite ‘tude; pouting their frustrations, souped up on existentialism and high on critical discourses from Barker to ...
They stared back. Who knows what they saw. Perhaps ...?
As I contemplated this rather intimidating force; a force majeure indeed that would eventually go on to become renowned and respected Actors, Directors, Musicians, academics in their own right, I said something that I still remember 20 years later because I have NO IDEA what propelled me to say anything so preposterous.
I said to them (paraphrasing now), I said:
“I think you are remarkable, amazing
I look at you now and
I see your potential. Now. And I know that you will do great things.
You will fail (indeed you must fail)
And you will do great things.
And what I want you to know is that whether you fail or do great things. I will always be here for you.
And why is it that?
Because I am the Patron Saint of Actors.
Like you, they paused. And stared.
It being England, some sort of averted their eyes, politely.
Some looked at each other with furtive, nervous glances.
The Imoru, now?
Internally I startled myself awake and realized I had said something “wierd”.
And still they stared. I let the moment land and then I remembered, the feeling of embarrassment, dissolving. I had spoken an emotional truth that I was not in any way embarrassed about. Okay the words sounded weird but not the truth. The truth, amplified or not, is never weird. It just sounds incongruous relative to so-called reality.
And it was all very slow in its motion. But as they began to lose their discomfort at my obvious weirdness they simultaneously began to take in what I had said and realized that whatever else, I completely believed what I had said.
(I do remember thinking, God help me, I don’t really know what a patron bloody saint is but I've said it now.)
I don’t know why I always remember this, but I do. One day I stood amongst a group of hip, rad, kids and said out loud, with the earnestness of a medieval pilgrim, "I am the Patron Saint of Actors".
Not much has changed in my attitude to Actors in the past 20-odd years, blessedly. The difference is that now I neither need to say it nor feel embarrassed about my occasional regression into Medieval fervour! I simply show it. I live it.
Some two decades ago, I dared to utter a dream, an inner knowing. It was a big dream, still relatively small in the wording, in the fine print. A nascent dream felt and then passionately followed, yes Pilgrim-like. And yet isn't that a part of what the Artist says and does? "Weird shit" that we pursue as Faith in what we hope for, and with a complete assurance about what we do not see. Is that not what we as Actors also do?
I said what I felt and then with complete certainty, with utter and unwavering faith, I continued the walk of my talk for twenty years until one day I said (with an altogether more modern turn of phrase, thankfully!), I said
I am the ultimate Actor’s coach.
I sat in my studio last week, casting a tv show, marvelling at my day job as a casting director. An Actor walked in to audition. I took a moment to connect with her. Instantaneously Awe!struck, I took a breath.
I heard my casting assistant say: "are you ready Nike"?
I gave her an imperceptible nod. I tuned into my actor. I tuned out the rest of the world.