Thursday, February 01, 2007

ABL: "Let Me Entertain You"

After Birthday Letters: "Let Me Entertain You"

This blog comes from what was a fairly intense period of my teenage years, sandwiched as it is between my Oxford interview and the eventual acceptance [which would fall through the post about five days later] and a mere month before my 18th birthday and New York. At my school the Sixth Form Entertainment, an annual collaboration between Sixth Formers and members of staff, was a fairly legendary beast. Being placed in charge of it was something of a big deal, but I fell into it more out of organisational despair than any feeling of destiny. Strange how things work out. I'm fairly certain that had it not been for this day I wouldn't have felt so compelled to submerge myself in drama when I got to Uni and if I hadn't done that I'm equally certain I wouldn't have started writing plays or ended up working at the WYP. I guess it goes to show just how accidental life really is.

If there's anything I love about this particular blog then it's the subtext. Ah, it's wonderful how much emotional distance six years affords; needless to say there's someone within this who was very important in my becoming the person I am today. A couple of years later he wrote in a Christmas card that I was his 'proudest achievement' and, even though he now thinks I'm a stalker, I owe him rather a lot.

"Is everyone ok?"

I look out at the faces peering back at me, a couple nod but no one speaks.

I turn away and unable to hold my curiosity in any longer I peak out of the side of one of the long velvet curtains.

The school hall, for the last 6 and a half years of my life the scene of assemblies, concerts and aborted lessons where PE teachers would - misguidedly in my opinion - try and make me dance, is once again awash with faces. The pre Christmas excitement is manifesting itself in high pitched chatter and a bewildering array of tinsel adorned ponytails. For the first time I'm not amongst it, I'm separated, looking out.

I feel a little thrill of excitement mixed with something I momentarily can't place. I swallow and then realise the taste in my mouth to be something resembling abject terror. I close the gap in the curtain as quickly as I can.

My eyes slowly adjust to the backstage gloom and I try to shake off the knowledge that we've only had one complete run through. And that there are more costume changes than I like to remember.

And possibly most importantly the little fact that I'm presiding over the most complex Sixth Form Entertainment Show that my school has ever seen.

If there's been one constant in the last six weeks or so then this show has been it. As I sat in my concrete block room in Oxford preparing for my interview I received a call about a problem with the running order and putting George Eliot aside for a minute I sat down and sorted it out. Four hours ago I changed the running order for what has had to be the last time. It's not good for my sanity.

As I fuss unnecessarily with the sound system and go over my cues I spot Science Teacher. He comes over.

"You alright?" I ask, smiling as much as I can muster given the distinct possibility I might be sick.

"You know I haven't slept for a week, right?"

I smile at him.

"Seriously - every time it's always like this".

"You'll be great".

And I don't say it just because it's the right thing to say, but because I really believe it. Everyone likes Science Teacher even if no one would ever say so out loud. I bicker with him chronically; me mocking him for all that enthusiasm for nature he harbours, him mocking me for being shallow and reading and liking Bridget Jones's Diary. In reality I think he's brilliant. I probably always will.

Beyond the curtain I can hear the noise beginning to fade. I exchange looks with Science Teacher and then it occurs to me that I still have people standing on my stage. I run, hands flapping, directing people to where they should be standing. Once I've done this I martial my first set of actors to the entrance they need to come in from.

I take my place by the running order again. There's a small delay. Silence.

Then, as suddenly as the silence descended, I'm overwhelmed by the sound of laughing.

I hear the opening line. More laughter. I realise that I've started to breathe.

After that I don't have time to think, there's too much to do as I get pulled into the rigours of the show making sure everything is happening when it should be. But even in the midst of this it occurs to me that hearing an audience laugh at something you've written - even if in this case it's a glorious pastiche of the television hits of 2000 - there's surely not a better feeling than this.

"Happy Christmas - my arse!"

To the final deafening burst of applause I go round pushing everyone out on to stage to take their bows. I watch from the wings, elated and triumphant. Then I feel someone grabbing my arm and I'm pulled out, forced to the front. I survey the audience wondering what the protocol is, I've left my actress days far behind after all, should I curtsy?

The dilemma's solved by someone filling my arms with gifts and before I can properly process anything the attention of the crowd has moved on. I step backwards and the curtains close in front of me.

Despite the continuing bussle I stand still for what is probably all of ten seconds but which feels like forever.

Then I turn round, noting the destruction that has been wrought in the wings and move away from the spot.

And for the first time I feel this emotion sweep on me:

It's over.

NB: The title owes itself - clearly - to Sir Robert of Williams, though I confess that the song involved is far from being a favourite of mine.

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