Cinema and gender studies has always been my thing. Well at least academically, and at least from my honours year. Even though I’ve always enjoyed my work I tended to feel that it was unimportant in the greater scheme of things. After all, my friends were working in applied theatre and educational theatre to help and uplift people and communities. Or working on actual productions. And there I was, discussing hypotheticals and analysing film scenes. I kind of felt that my work lacked the gravitas to actually be of any practical to use to someone. In the academic sense anyway.
And then on the off-chance someone read my dissertation, and it meant something to them. It helped them understand one of their children better. After working on it for almost four years I told my mom that it was all worth it as my work had, in the smallest way, helped one person. A great achievement when I know only my father and study supervisor would actually read the whole thing. I felt that my research had achieved what it was going to achieve. Expect for maybe being a reference in some other student's undergraduate paper if they happened upon my dissertation in the library.
About a year after handing it in, my study supervisor sent me an email about a Shakespeare conference happening in Durban and focusing on issues of Shakespeare in South Africa. The conference intersected beautifully with my research and he encouraged me to send in an abstract to present a research paper based on my work.
The thought of speaking in front of other people about my research terrified me. I’m completely comfortable on stage. I can walk/dance/sing/act confidently in nothing but my underwear on stage if the role calls for it without batting an eyelash. But ‘public speaking’. No. Give me a few hours of rehearsal and character and I’m fine, but being myself in front of people who get to respond to my work other than a to review it or give a snide comment in passing? No thank you. To add to this, I was going through one of my existential crises, as we actors often do when heightened emotions are our bread and butter. On the cut-off day I threw together and abstract for a paper and emailed it to the appropriate address. I then happily forgot about it, having done my part and being rather sure that I wouldn’t be selected to present at the conference.
Until I was selected to speak at the conference.
Between all the fabulous September castings, adjudicating eisteddfods I was doing my best to write an article.Somewhere, between the student protests my ever-patient study supervisor co-wrote the article with me, and with no time to spear I put together a power point presentation and edited the article down to something I could hopefully read in front of people while nervous. And did I mention we are also in the process of buying property? So between running to the banks, furiously searching for marriage licenses, anti-nuptial agreements, vat numbers and bank certified documents I managed to get everything done. And book my flights and care hire for the conference.
It all became a bit much for me, and as I was throwing clothes into a suitcase on Wednesday evening the anxiety of everything happening at the same time overwhelmed me:
“I wish I wasn’t this nervous person” I said to Mauritz, tears of anxiety and nerves clearly threatening and starting to spill. My husband looked back at me with nothing but love in his eyes, took my hand and said:
“Which nervous person do you want to be?”
With seven words he broke through all my tension and made me laugh. So with a heavily edited and marked speech, and power point presentation on my laptop and far too many pdfs to confirm all my booking that my OCD requires I flew down to Durban on Thursday later afternoon to start my conference on Friday morning.
The third paper for Friday I started, in all seriousness:
“The first time I had to speak about my research I told my now co-writer who was then my study supervisor that I would rather do walk-overs in my underwear in front of everybody than talk about my research”
Their laughter and the general positive atmosphere of the day relaxed me, and I got through my paper. I could even answer all the questions the Shakespeare academics flung at me.
As the group headed towards their cars after day 1 one of the day’s earlier speaker came up to me:
“I must admit, I’ve never seen you dance in your underwear, but you spoke really well today. And I really enjoyed your paper.”
In closing, I just want to give a big thank you to everyone in my life for all the support and messages of encouragement as I tackled this presentation. I've had unwavering support from my husband, parents, brother and study supervisor without whom I probably never would have left the front door.