Tonight is opening night for Brian Friel's Translations directed by Adrian Dunbar at the Millennium Forum, Derry. Playing the part of Sarah, this is the first time I have stepped on stage in front of a live audience in ten years.
Building nerves contained only by a combination of caffeine, Pink Floyd and hiding myself away in the dressing room. A renewed focus on that book I was meant to finish a year ago.
A rather bespectacled, spotty teenager at the time, school plays were all about popularity, glamour and whose embarrassing parents were going to be sitting in the front row. The vociferous grandma with the noisy hearing aid, the young mother with the bawling baby who whispers apologies but still doesn't leave the hall, those annoying prepubescent girls from Year 9, the bright lights, the huddle in the common room/dressing room teamed with a high five, the shushed giggles, the ridiculous amounts of make up - a teenager's makeup AND with the dramatic pat of stage makeup and you can just begin to imagine the carnage. You know, as well as I do, that the small, awkward stage at the local secondary school is as big and overwhelming to a small pupil as the auditorium I am stepping out onto tonight. No matter how big or small, old or young, amateur or professional, it feels like the real thing.
Some of you will remember me talking about my love for acting in the blog I wrote for the BBC back in 2010. That hasn't changed - the standing in front of a camera, gripped by a sense of character and lifted by this transformation of the script into a real life entity - what a privilege to be alive and here in this moment! But somehow launching my theatre career after all this time has created a stumbling block for me. I am crippled once more with the fright and insecurity that I encountered ten years ago.
Deafness and an aspiring actress doth not make a happy conjugation. It was my drama teacher encouraging me to audition for those lead roles every year in the school play. Every year I took that leap of faith that yes, I was a good actress, I understood the part, I learnt the lines, I practiced my diction with my speech therapist, with my mother, in front of the mirror. And yet, time and time again, I was clapping with joy in school assembly for my best friends who got those parts - happy for them but yet crippled with insecurity and dejection that it never came right for me. Not really understanding why. And there was only ever one reason that came to the fore, in harsh words echoed by my drama teacher (why so late?) - my deafness. I can't speak clearly enough for the audience to hear me. After all, who wants to hear a blocked, clanging nasal voice painfully reciting lines across the stage? I can understand that.
And there was the solution - go to university, get a degree, aspire for a good job and build up the pennies. Pay off my student debts, find a lovely boyfriend, move into a house, get married, have children and live a happy, happy life. Nothing wrong with that.
Recently I've been thinking about fate. And whether fate turns a hand when you are unsure of the way. If that's the case, then the opportunity that came to be when I was plucked out of obscurity, sitting in a classroom in Bermondsey to the lead role of Amelia in 'The Silence' - that's a big tell. And lately, when I've been doubting whether this was the still right thing to do, with roles far and few, this part seemed to land on my doorstop. And that only brings me to the conclusion that I was meant to be an actress, to keep working viciously at tuning and retuning my voice for the past three years so that when I step on stage tonight - it's finally right, and I'm right there with it.
So...deep breath - it's time to go on. And when the lights in the auditorium fade out, it won't be in the school hall, camped out in my rabbit outfit waiting for the cue to scamper on and scamper off with a whisker here and there (yes I was 17 years old). It will be my time to stand up straight with my head held up high and march onto that stage into the space where I was born to be.