I remember plucking up the courage to phone a couple of drama schools when I was thirty-six. Both told me over the phone that I was too old. So I let it go. Then, in my forties, I became an extra, thinking it might be a way into acting. It certainly isn’t, but I learned a lot and had some great experiences. I was in my fifties when I got accepted on a two year full-time training at drama school.
It all started when I was in a community play when I was pregnant with my daughter, dashing around painted gold, being an alien with a very large stomach! I was twenty-five, and it seeded a desire in me to become an actor. But, as a mum with two small children, and later a single mum, I didn’t see it as a real possibility. I didn’t know any actors and thought of them as a different sort of being, people with the ability to transform themselves. Not ordinary, like me. I grew up on a council estate in Southampton, and the chances of becoming an actor were about equal to those of going to Mars! Although I had been living in London for several years by that time, it still didn’t seem possible. But the desire to act didn’t go away.
It took me so long to decide to take the plunge and find some training. Thinking back, I can see the blocks I had put up: too old, don’t know anything about acting, not beautiful, I might fail, and so on. The best advice I can give anyone thinking of training to do anything later in life is to stop listening to all the inner negativity. Easier said than done, but if you don’t try you may regret it forever, and even if things don’t work out the way you hope they will you will probably have some fun along the way. I was lucky to find a short course run by someone who told me I could act and that of course I could go to drama school. Affirmation from other people helped me shut off the negativity. If other people thought I could be an actor then I could believe it too.
If I had trained when I was younger I would have found it a lot more difficult. I’m now much more confident and less afraid of making a fool of myself. I was terrified before going on stage in the end of term plays during the first year, wanting to run away, throw up, pee, anything rather than go out there! But as soon as I did go on I loved it. I’m sure that the fear would have been even worse in my twenties, and more complicated too: I would have been so much more self-conscious and scared of looking ugly or stupid. I would also have compared myself with all the lovely young women and fancied the guys. That was something that was never an issue, my age protected me from competition anxiety and overactive hormones – an unexpected bonus!
The main disadvantage to starting a career later in life is the lack of roles for older women. It is immensely frustrating to see so many roles being cast younger than they need be, and it can be disheartening to realise how few things there are that my agent can suggest me for. I was angry when I graduated to find out that many opportunities for new graduates were only open to the under twenty-fives or under thirties and wrote a few emails registering my feelings. But then there are the few advantages: people constantly seem interested in why and how I got to be an actor, and I’m unusual in the industry, which can be a good thing. I also don’t take all the rejection personally, as I would have done when I was younger. It’s not getting seen in the first place that frustrates me!
Life is a funny and sometimes you just have to be bold and think ‘fuck it.’ Becoming who you want to be isn’t necessarily easy, but it is essential to try. I am learning all the time and doing workshops and classes when I don’t have an acting job keeps me fresh and gives me new skills. ‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint’ is an oft-quoted phrase, and it’s true for most of us; it takes time to build a career. So I’m going to keep on in my marathon and enjoy the route, wherever it takes me.
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