That’s me at my high school leavers cabaret show. I was sixteen. Standing next to me is History teacher Mr Scott. He was the compere. I was…the stripper. Yep, this was 1990 when it was perfectly acceptable for school girls to pretend to be strippers and flirt outrageously on stage with plump, male members of staff who were old enough to be our Dads, for an audience which included our actual Dads…
And I LOVED it; have always loved being on stage and showing-off.
I can’t tell you at precisely what age the showing-off began, but I can tell you that at the age of five I was cast as Mary in the school Nativity and that never before or since has that holy mother been so passionately portrayed. I knew all my lines. I also knew everyone elses lines and would proudly announce them if there was even a moments pause or hesitation from my fellow cast members.
Yes, I was a precocious arsehole. But being good at virtually nothing else, I seized the joyous thrill of performance and made it my thing.
Except it wasn’t just about performing, or at least not always for an audience. I was just as absorbed and dedicated when performing to no one. Sunday mornings I would creep downstairs, put on the Jesus Christ Superstar album and BECOME Mary Magdalene. The costume was important, a blanket over my head as I warbled: ‘I don’t know how to love him…’ making real tears flow down my still-baby cheeks.
This role-playing almost certainly began here:
That’s my mum, sister and I, in the back garden of our holiday home in Pevensey Bay on the Sussex coast. We would play in that old boat for hours. My sister and I would be pirates; Mum our hostage. Or we’d be shipwrecked and pretend to have made the boat for our escape. I love how ‘in character’ Mum and I are as we stagger back to the shore, surely under a hail of pirate’s bullets.
We were less ‘in character’ here:
That’s at our village carnival one year when Mum decided it would be perfectly darling for us three to dress up as…erm…I dunno…Victorians?…and decorate Dad’s trailer, get in it and be pulled along by his car for the full four hours of the carnival procession. Look, if you didn’t grow up in a village in the seventies/eighties, you won’t get it…
Other village rituals included the annual New Year’s Eve fancy-dress party at the village hall. Everyone went. Everyone dressed up. Few did it with as much dedication as me:
That year I was Madonna, I rocked those conical boobs ALL night until they got squished during the obligatory midnight snog-fest with as many local boys as you could get your chops into.
At high school I made sure I was in every school production and as a student of the brand new drama GCSE, I began to take acting more…pretentiously. It was ART. It was SELF-EXPRESSION. It was ABUSING other students who didn’t take it as seriously as me. Acting was going to be MY LIFE.
And it was. Right up until my final year at university, when I did a production of Medea:
For those of you unfamiliar with the story of Medea (plebs), this is the moment when I killed my own children. Yeah, it wasn’t exactly Sunday night at the London Palladium…
And I think that’s what did it for me. Performing had become too serious, too grown-up. As soon as I graduated, I never really performed again.
Until now, people!
Tonight I will, for the third time, attend a local drinking establishment filled with lovely local people (mostly my smashing mates), and I will ascend the stage with the express purpose of SHOWING OFF AND MAKING PEOPLE LAUGH.
My costume will be me, with added No.7 and bling. The on-stage persona will be me, with added confidence and spirit. It feels frightening and new, this confidence, but also familiar and very old; as if I’ve been digging away all these years and have finally excavated the old Anna, the one who loved to play make-believe, to be a pirate, to tell you a story.
Also, I get to wear a feather boa again like I did at the high school show. Though this time I am the compere (and probs ten years older than Mr Scott was in that pic which is absolutely YAK).
Also, I will NOT be fishnet-clad this time. I prefer to remember my legs as they were, back in the days of my yoof.
Do things that thrill you as much as you can. That is the Annagram lesson for today…