When I was a teenager my Mam took me to see Victoria Wood at the City Hall. I had never seen any stand-up comedy before and, truth be told, don’t think I had actually heard of La Wood. But my Mam was a fan and she booked tickets for the two of us to go. I loved it. I loved her. I don’t tend to remember things very well, but I remember being doubled-over laughing. I remember getting in the car to go home and trying to recite bits of jokes to my Dad, still laughing. But most of all I remember thinking ‘I want to do that’.
Now let’s be clear. I don’t want to be a stand-up comic. I don’t have the guts for it. More importantly, I don’t have the jokes for it. What I was drawn to was the storytelling, the characters, the standing-solo-on-a-stage-making-a-whole-room-of-people-laugh.
My fandom of Wood continued (continues), whether it be stand-up, writing, acting. She is one of the reasons why I started writing in the first place and I still try and see everything she does on telly, stage, etc. I was so excited when I went to see Acorn Antiques The Musical I made myself ill and watching the dinnerladies Box Set is part of my pre-writing ritual!
But in terms of the ‘I want to do that’ … where do you even start?
Well. You start by getting your hand forced, it seems. In 2010 I took part in Paines Plough’s Come To Where I’m From event. Part of the agreement was that the writers had to perform their own pieces. I was so nervous I considered hiding. But I didn’t. A very small taste of how it felt to do that. And I loved it.
Fast forward to early 2011 and BBC Radio 3’s The Verb invited me on to the show with my short Yackety Yak. The producer asked would I read it? My initial reaction was ‘no’, but then. I was so nervous thank God for re-takes. Another taste of how it felt to do that. And I loved it.
I was invited back on The Verb later that year. I was so nervous … you get the idea.
And I was getting an idea too. What if …??
I never thought I’d have a play on in a theatre. Never. But I have. I never thought I’d have a play on Radio 4. Never ever. But I have. And unless you try, you’ll never know. And I don’t want to never know, because what’s the point in that.
So last week I walked out on to the stage at Live Theatre. I was dressed as Mary from the Nativity, with a baby Jesus doll secreted about my person and a slideshow of photos from my childhood.
Me as Mary – 25 years apart!
For the first time I had written a character monologue specifically to be performed by me. I had rehearsed it with director Rosie Kellagher, I had learnt it, I had a costume and props and a sold-out audience staring at me. And I did it. I stood (sat, mostly, but still) solo on a stage making a whole room of people laugh. And I LOVED it.
It wasn’t perfect, I missed a word or two and some of the nuances we had rehearsed were lost because it felt a bit like jumping off a cliff – I launched myself and that was that, no stopping til the end.
Where do I go from here? It might have only been five minutes long, but we all have to start somewhere. And I hope this is a start.
There I said it.
Cos I’ve always worried that branching out into being a writer-performer would lose me credibility as a writer. Make people think I’m a wannabe actor who ‘settled’ for writing. But I know this isn’t the case. I know I work bloody hard at my writing (oh to be so laid back as to be ‘settling’ for it) and there’s no reason why my career can’t be broader.
I’m not stupid, I know one short skit doesn’t make me the next Daniel Kitson. Maybe last week was a fluke, maybe I’ll try and I’ll be terrible, maybe I’ll try and I’ll be terrible and everyone will hate me and I’ll die on my arse. But I’m going to try. It feels like the right time, like a now-or-never time.
So, let’s see what happens …
You’ve probably heard about the proposed 100% cuts to arts funding in Newcastle. One of the venues under threat of closure is the City Hall. Suffice to say the cuts and closures would be devastating to the region and it’s a very worrying time. There’s been lots written about the situation by people more eloquent than me, amongst them Live’s Max Roberts (click here to read his article in The Stage)