A Fortunate Stumble
It was 1972 and I was lying on my tummy on the carpet, elbows on the floor, chin resting on my hands, watching cartoons with my sisters and our neighbours. It was a good place to be, so when my mother called me to tell me it was ‘my turn with Kathleen’, I wasn’t pleased. Kathleen, our friends’ mother, lectured in child psychology, and was doing some exams at the time – her Masters I assume - so each of us had our spell with her. I liked Kathleen, she was, and still is, like a favourite aunt, but there were cartoons on the TV and none of the other kids had to leave that sacred space. My mother bribed me with a club milk and I succumbed (though I do remember weighing up the pros and cons and I won’t lie, it was a tough decision) and then I took my five year old self off to answer questions and put round pegs into holes. I’ve since realized, in my maturity, that it’s most likely the other kids all got a club milk once I had left, but what I didn’t know at the time didn’t hurt me. Much of the episode is clear to me as is the outcome of my test: I would most likely become an actress. My fate was sealed; I liked to talk, I was confident and sassy and loud. Hereafter, people would say, “Oh, don’t mind Emer; she’s dramatic.” I began to resent the idea of becoming an actress – apart from a brief flirtation with the idea when I was ten, during the aftermath of the very first Star Wars. Who, I surmised, in their right mind wouldn’t want to head for the Hollywood hills and seek out the handsome Mark Hamill, aka Luke Skywalker? What opportunities lay waiting for someone of my abilities (an accident prone day dreaming mood swinging pre-teen)? But once I got over that, and turned thirteen, I was determined not to satisfy the oracle. I would do anything but become an actress.
Besides, back in those days, the kids who took private drama classes seemed to be of an elite class, belonging to an inner sanctum that I could never know. We did drama in my primary school, so I was somewhat familiar with mime and voice production; with princesses who wouldn’t stop scrubbing the floor and toads that liked to drive flashy cars. The fact that I played a tree or the wind at every annual end of year play only convinced me further that I was destined for anywhere other than the stage. (Incidentally, I did attend ballet class during these confusing days, and received from the teacher a sharp slap on my leg one year for playing with my shadow during an entire concert. My mother did her best, but how could she prevail against such anarchy?) My turn finally came in the last year of primary school when, instead of having Griselinia branches sellotaped to my arms, I donned the fancy robes of the prince; handsome and wise, he saved the scrubbing princess from housework by disguising himself as a non-prince person and talking her out of such nonsense.
“I should like to meet the princess ‘incognito’ so to speak.” The first lines I ever learned. I was nervous but proud to be holding down such a decent role and I learned what incognito meant. I used it at every opportunity until someone declared I was such a bore with my incognito this and my incognito that.
I went through secondary unscathed; no dramatis personae came looking for me. I got over Mark Hamill and fell in love with Art Garfunkel, although I was looking at old footage of him in his younger years, but what did I care? Discos, boys, cigarettes, disobeying parents, boozing and other distractions took over. Gone, long gone were my dreams of being discovered by George Lucas while working as a petrol pump attendant in Hollywood (cute and all as I would have appeared, in my little eighties jumpsuit.) Did I join my friends when they signed up to take part in plays and musicals with the neighbouring boys school? I did not. I think I may have laughed at them, for their fancy frolicking about. By the time I was nineteen, I had nothing filling my life except a difficult social scene. I found myself on a dark road, pregnant, abandoned and with my eyes fully opened. It’s been well documented, but in case you don’t know, the short version of this part of the story is that I gave my baby up for adoption, and I was broken for a while. After some time, I allowed myself to be dragged along to the local musical society rehearsals for Grease, by my two friends Denise and Fiona. I got a job backstage: I found my calling. Nothing had ever made me happier. Backstage life was so comfortable to me, I realized I was never destined to be on the boards, I was destined to be all around them. Two years later I was directing The Sound of Music and my drama school grew from there. That was more than thirty years ago.
A fortunate stumble.
You must understand, I never meant to find myself living the dramatic life. And I’ve spent my adult life learning to be calm, to be mindful, to eliminate the stress that life drama brings. Teaching drama has helped that, ironic as it sounds. I don’t train actors, or look for talented performers; I use drama to help people to develop; to build confidence; to look inside and find all sorts of wonderful surprises about themselves.
When people ask me what I do, I say “I teach drama.” But I don’t – not exactly. Not anymore.
Over the years I have adapted my teachings and developed an important ethos:
I facilitate creative possibilities.
Do you want to see what's possible for you this September? I'm now enrolling for the following:
Youth Theatre aged 14-17
Youth Theatre aged 17-22
The Exceptionals: Musical Theatre for exceptional people with extra needs, aged 16+
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I closed my drama school and stopped teaching & directing in 2019 after 29 years building confidence in people of all ages through creative endeavour. But a true Drama Queen never forgets so here I am, back teaching again after all this time :)