The Elephant And The Bug
That either sounds like the start of a nursery rhyme, or the opening line of a really corny joke. You will probably be pleased to hear that it relates to neither. In fact, the elephant and the bug to which I’m referring, are Nelly and Acting. Both play a fairly significant role in my life, and I am only just discovering, that the two don’t need to be at war.
As you know, Nelly and I have been joined at the…well…we’ve been together for just seventeen days shy of a year. In that time, I have gone from dangerously malnourished and guzzling morphine, to being a healthy weight and no longer dependent on such hardcore opiate relief. I’m obviously not symptom free, but I can’t ever expect to be.
So I need no convincing of what a remarkable transformation Nelly has enabled me to make. Now, when people tell me I ‘look well’ it’s easy to believe. I have rosy cheeks which are no longer concave, and there is enough flesh on me that I don’t look like I might break if you stare too hard (not that I’ve actually noticed a fear of breaking me ever being enough to deter those ignorant, wide-eyed folk I’ve written about in the past, but hey ho!)
There is a whole universe of difference between knowing something is doing me good, and actually liking having it around. As much as I can no longer dislike Nelly, there is such a thing as too much time together.
It would just be nice if, on occasion at least, I could fly solo. At important meetings maybe, auditions, interviews, or even just on the odd night out.
These are particularly pertinent to me right now, as I’m itching to get back into Acting. In a business where a decision about suitability for a role can be made in the first five seconds of a meeting, the first impression really is crucial.
I’ve been working on the premise that Nelly’s presence precludes me from all opportunities in the Acting industry. It is a profession based so much on appearances and notions of perfection. Surely that makes it impossible to see past an elephant like Nelly.
As it turns out, most people are not as superficial as I once thought.
When something like Nelly comes along, it goes without saying, that anyone close enough will continue to see you. There will inevitably be a brief adjustment period (and by brief, I mean minutes rather than days, weeks, or even hours) but as soon as people’s initial expectations have been recalibrated, they will continue to see the same you they’ve always seen. It is incredible how accepting we really are when we know and love someone enough.
Those outside that inner circle, however, have no obligation to look hard enough to see beyond their first impressions.
The question is – do they have the inclination?
It’s the thought of that initial impression which fills me dread anytime I’m forced to consider putting myself (and Nelly) too far out there.
Earlier this year, a creative associate of mine approached me with an off-the-wall idea for a TV comedy Drama he wanted us to co-create. The aim was that we would co-write the project for me to star in, and him to direct. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity, and the development process began. Things were progressing well, despite a geographical divide between the two of us, and the treatment began to take shape.
In September, the time came for us to move to the next step, which was for me to make a promotional teaser for us to use to entice potential investors.
‘Okay,’ I thought, ‘well, we can do an eighties style photo story. That way, we can just get Nelly photo-shopped out completely.’
I met with the videographer booked for the shoot (another talented creative associate of mine) and he was quiet for a long while as he contemplated the script and suggested schedule I’d given him.
Finally, looking at me earnestly, he spoke: ‘Can I be really honest, Em?’ I nodded my assent. ‘This script is wicked. But a filmed version will have so much more impact than stills and voice over. If the only issue is the tube, I think you need to get over yourself. And it. I mean nobody’s bothered. And if they are, would you really want to work with them?’
I have to hand it him, he’s just about the only person who can get away with speaking to me like that, but he was right.
As soon as we had our final edit, my co-creator sent the promo out for feedback from a select list of industry professionals. Of the 21 people who watched it, only 1 asked about Nelly. Either the other 20 were ridiculously unobservant, or it simply didn’t occur to them that it was even relevant.
And actually, why should it be? So the protagonist has an NG tube. Is that any more note-worthy than if she wore glasses, or had a prominent birth mark?
Just last week, I sent the promo to a BBC radio producer in lieu of an up to date voice reel. Her reaction, despite Nelly taking a starring role, was to congratulate me on the promo, and invite me in to audition.
Now, I know what you’re all thinking – ‘that’s radio. Nobody would even have to see you!’ And you would be right, of course. That isn’t the point, though. The point is, she watched the promo. She watched it and was able to see my performance, rather than my companion.
On A Roll
Those aren’t the only two occasions where Nelly has been accepted in the Acting world. Riding on the buzz of the response to the promo, and the BBC producer’s complimentary assessment, when I spotted an Actors’ Guild workshop in Manchester (a rarity, much to the frustration of many a Northern Actor) I decided to jump in at the deep end, and book myself on.
After the initial teen-angst-style insecurity of walking into the studio feeling like everyone would be judging and questioning my right to be there with a tube in my nose, I soon realised that was all my own stuff. Nobody was even the blindest bit interested in Nelly. Why? It was an Acting workshop with a prolific director; everyone had their own agenda to impress him. There was no time to waste worrying about what the other participants looked like.
To cut a long story short, the workshop was brilliant, I loved giving myself a performance workout again, I got fantastic feedback from the director, and Nelly didn’t show me up in the slightest.
It turns out I really can still act with an NG tube.
The Long And Short Of It
So where does all this leave me? Well, in real terms, nothing has changed. There is still a severely limited bank of casting calls for Actors with visible medical afflictions. That said, I have rediscovered some of the faith in myself that I wasn’t even aware I’d lost.
It would never occur to me to define someone by a condition, to exclude them because of illness or to reject them due to a disability. In fact, I would never even treat someone differently because of those things. Yet, for some reason, I have been doing exactly that to myself, then projecting it onto people around me.
It seems other people don’t have a problem believing in me, with or without Nelly. So maybe that’s my lesson. Perhaps it’s time to stop worrying so much about proving myself, stop judging myself so harshly and start enjoying the ride again. That way, if and when Nelly does relocate to a hidden home, I’ll already be back to peak Acting fitness.