Randomly moving to a new country on the spur of the moment always seemed to me an incredibly glamorous idea. One of my favourite films ever is “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. I became obsessed with it one school summer holiday and watched it every single day for a month. Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly flits about New York, sleeping with men in a manner that makes promiscuity seem the most elegant and endearing of lifestyle choices. Again the main point of her being an exploited, lonely call girl completely escaped my attention, to me she was like “Benji-The World’s Littlest Hobo”, only with better cocktail dresses.
The free spirited girl is my absolute favourite movie cliché; wafting in with a sexy fringed goofy smile, drinking too much, gingerly eating with her fingers and then,just when the male lead has dumped his boring nine to five girlfriend, buggering off again.
My first attempt at being elegantly waifish wasn’t an entire success. I’d taken it into my head to teach in Korea but failed the interview when I thought it’s be hilarious to say my main qualification for the job was having seen MASH loads of times. I’d just finished university and was still convinced I was an undiscovered acting genius. That was the main reason I went to that university in the first place; to join their drama society. I made a fantastic first impression too, swaggering in like young Orson Welles, casually dropping on the auditors desk an outline for my one woman production of “Withnail and I”; Rushmore had nothing on me. My Waterloo was that week’s drama society fresher’s party when, in a fit of nerves, insecurity and cheap vodka, I got heroically pissed, made a move on the auditor and fell asleep behind a piano.
It was so confusing. In films when the carefree girl gets drunk, if anything she gets more adorable, but to the flinty fresher’s of Dramsoc I was now socially dead. In my slobbering needy first week mess, they’d seen their own worst fears externalised and projected. If I was the uncool, eager to please, gauche newbie it couldn’t, by deduction, be them. If I had only known to swagger in the next day with a rueful smile and a devil may care wink it would all have been forgotton, but I had the nimble social skills of an articulated truck. Humiliated, I spent the next three years avoiding the place, having panic attacks just walking by their offices, a strange case of being too dramatic to do any actual drama. So on graduation I signed myself up for a theatre evening class determined to make up for lost time.
But in a surprise twist, instead of feeling the warm glow of a creative homecoming, I found the drama classes tedious and boring. There was all this talk of text analysis, voice training and movement. Movement? Who frigging cares, I move everyday, consider it done- when do I get to pretend to be a drug addict? When the other students talked eager eyed about working with new playwrights, improvising or Commedia De’ll Arte I could barely keep my eyes open. Commedia Dell’Arte, if you’re not aware and why should you, is a hilarious form of medieval Italian theatre. Except it’s not, it’s Benny Hill in period costume, Shakespeare with just the comedy, full of men overacting, women pretending to be shephards and the audience pretending to find the whole thing hilarious. I hated it and anybody who knows me,and knows that pretending to be a medieval shepherd girl is pretty much my idea of the best thing ever; will appreciate what a damning indictment that is.
Then it dawned on me, maybe I didn’t want to immerse myself in parts, become different people, disappear into a role; maybe I just really wanted to show off. I didn’t want to play some frustrated teenager in a housing estate, I wanted to play a Queen that discovers a terrible secret and then dies for her country. I was already so good at the dying; my Barbie’s always had disfiguring illnesses and tragically passed away mourned by all, joined by a struggling to cope Ken in a suicide pact days later. Turns out there was more to acting than that. Boringness, Brecht and Bloody Breathing exercises….
So after an entire class discussing what a poem might be about. (God. Give. Me. Strength.) I happened upon a notice advertising a comedy acting course in Italy. Now that, I thought, is something I am interested in, prat falls, hitting people with sticks, maybe learning how to do that Charlie Chaplin hop skippy heel clicky thing! I didn’t need to know anymore, I was doing it, I was finally off to see the world, my Huckleberry friend and there was such a lot of world to see…
Two months, one handed in job notice and a one way flight to Italy later, I found myself in a dusty drill hall in central Italy. Fava, our teacher was explaining what we’d be studying over the next three months. In Italian. That’s sweet, I thought, maybe I could learn a bit of that while I’m here, mentally logging off till the English bit came, Oh, he’s talking in Spanish now. Maybe I could learn a bit of that too.... Finally the English bit came.
“And also-Welcome, our British friends”
Was that it? He’s been speaking in Italian for a bloody hour? Then a quick inventory of the crowded class revealed that amongst the Italians, Spanish and French Canadians, there was only three other English native speakers, glistening like a rubies in the rough, and I was pretty sure I had already fallen out with most of them already. Faltering, I turned to the Italian girl beside me and whispered how excited I was to be studying comedy acting. She looked confused, I explained again slower with added mimes.
“You know- comic acting...we’re studying falling about… like in the black and white comedies...Charlie Chaplin?”
“Comic acting yes, I suppose…but in Italian we call it Commedia Dell’Arte. Didn’t you read the course booklet?”
Holy shit. I had time for a quick internal Moe from The Simpsons hands to face Waah, and it was time to start the breathing exercises.