When I was 26, I retired from acting. I’ve never regretted that decision.
When I watch wonderful actors in the theatre, I see them light up. They become more than themselves when they are pretending to be other people. But not me.
I’ve always known that I found my light when I became a writer. That light was the one shining over my desk in my own room.
Fifteen plays later, I turned 58. And, to my own astonishment, I decided I wanted to perform a one-woman show, telling stories from my own life.
This ambition was not entirely deluded. I had trained as an actor at the Victorian College of the Arts.
But I was still not sure: I said to my husband, “I’m a writer. Not an actor.”
He said to me, “Why can’t you be both?”
But being both is not so straightforward. Being a playwright – or my version of it – is about being powerfully invisible. I sort of divest myself of myself, in order to make room for all the colourful personalities of life to take up residence in my imagination. Being an actor is entirely about being present. It’s about directing your energy outwards. Showing up. Being in the moment.
At drama school, my acting teachers would often say, “You sit back on yourself.” They were right. I do.
Despite these misgivings, I approached Matt Lutton, the Artistic Director of the Malthouse, and asked if he would help me make my show.
He said yes. This was a very happy day.
And as it turned out, it was also a very lucky day. Matt helped me make a show called Hello, Beautiful!, which I have been touring for two years.
Matt’s idea was simple: “We are inviting the audience to come into your writing room.”
“So, I’m a writer. On stage!”
What I hated most at acting school was voice classes. We had five hours a week and because of a sibilance, I had to do extra homework: remedial classes after-hours. This involved me peering into a small mirror examining my tongue. It needed exercise: it needed to be poked out and rolled, lifted up, retracted, fluttered. I was 22, a feminist and possibly a Marxist. There was so much that I wanted to understand about the world. The idea that I should waste time on my tongue was risible.
Yet, the first thing I did, when the Malthouse Theatre set a date for the premiere of Hello, Beautiful! was to organise private voice tuition. It was extravagant, but in hindsight, the best decision I made. I asked Leith McPherson if she would take me on. Leith had just returned from New Zealand where she had been working as the voice and dialect coach for The Hobbit.
Leith helped me to unlock the power of voice. It’s a weird thing. Most of us obsess about our body shape. But in fact, taking control of your voice is actually life-changing.
I talk a lot in my show. I do accents. I do dialogue. I do a kind of beat poet number. I sing (a bit). I do jokes. I never shut up.
The best part about all that has happened to me over the past two years is that I have found my voice.
What I have discovered is that while I don’t like pretending to be someone else. What I do like – very much – is pretending to be myself. That’s quite enough. As the American poet Walt Whitman put it: “I am large. I contain multitudes.”
I guess it is rather late in the day to have that realisation.
But, in the privacy of my writing room, it feels profound.
Hello, Beautiful! plays at Griffin Theatre, Kings Cross, July 9-14