I seem to get two stock responses whenever I tell someone that I’m a drama student, or an actress: 1. Oh, are we going to see you on 7de Laan one day (A local South African soap opera) and 2. That’s so glamorous.
As a masters student with a deadline this week I did two things this weekend. I sang at a wedding and I worked on my Masters dissertation. In between breaks at the wedding I was sitting and working on my dissertation. One of the girls I was singing with on Saturday asked me what I was studying as I sat behind my books. Classic response number 2, and as I sat up into the early hours of the morning for the umpteenth time typing away behind my laptop I couldn’t help thinking again to myself, the life of a drama student is not really that glamorous.
And it’s not just about the hours I’ve spent on the floor of the library, or studying in the wings of a campus theatre with a flashlight while I was doing technical work for a show. Studying drama is hard work both intellectually and physically. We have all the demands of a theoretical course and then we have shows and practical work on top of that. Working barefoot a lot of the time for practical classes and in the theatres on campus the black paint on The Masker theatre stage would attach to the soles of our feet blackening them and the insides of our shoes. We called this phenomenon ‘Masker feet’ and the only way to rid yourself of the black soldered to your soles was to attack your feet with pumice while showering!
As a stage actress the glamour is definitely illusion. The costumes, which were often too small from wardrobe because only anorexics can be actresses, are designed to look good on stage, not necessarily to feel good on you, and there’s nothing quite like wearing a period dress in the middle of summer under the scorching lights of the stage with your partner sweating on you! And as luck would have it, we would perform in the freezing cold Grahamstown in the heart of their icy winters barefoot and in dresses. During the evening shows our exhalations on stage would be visible as the vapour from our hot breaths would reach into the cold air around us.
I think it’s one of the reasons why once you’ve worked with someone on stage there’s a special bond, forged from suffering together, being tired together and laughing together. There are those moments you’ve shared on stage which are hysterical or frightening, and that no one else outside of your cast can understand. And let’s face it, once you’ve travelled together, eaten each other’s food, sweated on each other, spat on each other, and more often than not had to change in some weird small space with no privacy you can’t really get much closer.
I’ve rolled in people’s spit on stage, I’ve told a sweaty partner its ok they can lie on me. In physical theatre people have dropped me, stood on me and probably somewhere along the line I’ve been exposed to someone’s blood. I’ve been blown away by sand on set, and my toes have been misshapen from wear fishnet stockings for 17 hours a day. I’ve broken bones, and stage hands have carried me out the theatre in a mess of tears mascara and facepaint. And today I sit, dedicated to my profession in my pyjama boxer shorts with a sea of books across my living room floor. Yes, its glamorous!