There were three careers I was actively discouraged from following as a child.
Theatre, Advertising and Law.
With my Mother working in theatre we knew far too many struggling for their art. Meanwhile my Father worked in advertising and his whole extended family were lawyers.
So I went to Uni. I still dabbled in theatre and I happened to work in a law firm but I quickly discovered that there was so much more that I wanted to do. I couldn’t just be an actress.
It’s not an easy dream to abandon though. I find myself missing the thrill of being on stage. I worry that any skill I may have had is creeping away. I worry that my place in that world loses legitimacy through my lack of participation.
In Sam Brooks’ Wine Lips, I founding myself feeling somewhat vindicated.
Set in The Basement’s Green room (also the venue), Wine Lips is the story of two theatre devotees at a crossroads. Do you stick it out, sweat your guts out for the art, jeopardising relationships with ridiculous timetables and juggling funds? Or do you move on? Find security, warmth, become a normal working 9 to 5 sort of human being…
It sounds like it could be easy, but it’s not.
What quickly becomes apparent in Wine Lips is how self referential and insular the world of theatre can be. Crazy schedules drive those who work in the industry into a bizarre universe of their own. It makes the choice even more difficult, if you leave do you volunteer to ostracise yourself? Do you end up on the outside?
With such specific terms of reference I couldn’t help but wonder how ‘normals’ (as they referred to non theatre people) would find it. A show so dripping in in jokes that it set my teeth on edge. Is there anything more self-indulgent than theatre people putting on a show about theatre people?
And yet, it’s a show that’s had some longevity, sitting in the back of my mind nudging away. Despite the in jokes and even worse, sighs to express reactions, Chelsea McEwan Miller and Nic Sampson got me with the feels. Together with the adorable Geordie Holibar for comic relief, they filled the room with laughter, bitterness, fear.
I found myself incredibly relieved that I wasn’t Chelsea’s character, Brit. Brit chose acting but now it’s all she has. Acting is fun, but it’s not a nice career to pick. Too often, it doesn’t last. It’s isolating.
At its best performing and working in theatre is incredible. Packed with intense relationships and long nights, big highs and big lows. At it’s worst you’ve got people who spend far too much time totally focussed on thinking about themselves, about how they move, talk, act, be. Too much time in a black box pretending to be someone else on minimal nutrition.
It’s not healthy.