In April I wrote to Phil Matthews, Editor of The Drama Student, to highlight the relative invisibility of older students in the magazine and the wider drama student world. I wasn't really expecting a reply, and I certainly wasn't expecting the challenge that Phil offered me – writing about my own experience for this column!
I am fifty-five and just coming to the end of the first year of the two year full-time training at The Actor Works. I still sometimes feel astonished that I am doing this – it's certainly taken me long enough! In a way I have done things backwards: having children young, becoming a single mum and spending my time looking after my children and working to keep us afloat.
If only I could go to drama school and become an actor.
But I always found time to fit in some acting, singing, and dancing. I went to dance classes, sang in choirs, joined a community theatre group and did some summer courses. I loved being a mum, still do, but always, at the back of my mind, was an ‘if only'. If only I could go to drama school and become an actor. I remember phoning RADA when I was in my late thirties. They told me that thirty-six was the maximum age. I also found out what it costs to go to drama school. Ah well, no chance then.
At forty three I started to work as an ‘Extra' – perhaps that would be a way into acting? It was fascinating to be in TV studios and on film sets.
I ended up doing this for six years, but however much fun it was to find myself on the set of Eastenders, The Bill, or dressed up in period costume in Nicholas Nickleby or Bedazzled, it was also frustrating. I wanted to be one of the actors, not part of the background. However, it paid the bills and I did learn a lot, and I got used to seeing how I look on screen – never easy!
I had had enough of being an extra, and decided to train as a Tour Guide. I qualified in 2003. A lot of what I do is storytelling – Ghost Walks in the City of London, trips to Stonehenge and Oxford, tours of the Tower of London etc. And so many guides are also actors! Mind you, they became guides after having found that they needed another job to fill in the bits between acting work!
Here we go again! This time was different though. I knew that this was my last chance.
I had the ‘I want to be an actor' thing suppressed for a while. Then I saw the RSC's History Plays at the Roundhouse in 2007 and bang, there I was again. It was after seeing the three Henry VIs in a day. I'd expected to be bored and fidgety – nine hours of Shakespeare in a day. But, my God. I came out at the end clutching my programme and feeling so overwhelmed I burst into tears. By two in the morning I had signed up online to a short course. Here we go again! This time was different though. I knew that this was my last chance.
Already in my fifties, it was now or never. I couldn't bear the thought of getting old and regretting that I'd never really gone for it. Before I had been surrounded by people who thought it was a farfetched desire, this acting bug of mine. Now I had friends who were actors and they said ‘why not?' I was lucky to find ‘Propel Acting', a Saturday course run by Simon Trinder. Simon gave me the confidence to believe in myself – he didn't find it odd that I wanted to be an actor at my age. I still didn't think any drama schools would take me seriously but I began to look around.
While working on All Clean, an improvised film, I met Debra Baker, a fabulous actor, and she told me about The Actor Works. They do a two year full-time evening and weekend course, so I would still be able to work, and therefore eat and pay the bills. If I could get a place.
If there are any other older people out there interested in this crazy career, please don't be put off!
I auditioned in May last year and could not believe it when I found out that I had been accepted! I walked around in a daze for ages! But here I am, and loving every minute. The Actor Works is run by Daniel Brennan, and is the only school in the UK based on the work of Viola Spolin. Daniel and his team of teachers are truly inspiring and we are all learning and growing as actors every term.
I will be 57 when I graduate next summer – ancient perhaps, but that's not how I feel. I don't feel any different from my lovely classmates, all of whom are younger than my kids! I love feeling challenged and stretched, finding places inside myself that just needed help to open up. We work hard, we dance, we sing, we do Physical Theatre, Speech and Voice classes, Improvisation, put on plays and go down the pub. It's hard and wonderful, and I'm exactly where I should be.
If there are any other older people out there interested in this crazy career, please don't be put off! In a way I should have done this years ago, but the life experience I have is an advantage. If you want to act – DO IT. You could always come and join me at The Actor Works!