Aspiring Actor (—)This article was written by Alan Ayckbourn for a programme for an unknown production.
It was the stuff of every young, aspiring actor's dream.
In the late fifties, at the age of 17 or 18 I was at Worthing as an (unpaid) ASM working in all departments but with my hopes always set on small part stage appearances which occasionally cropped up. I knew that, given the right break, my innate star quality would immediately be recognised. Worthing in those days was a weekly rep. The schedule was a punishing one - younger actors today, if you describe it to them, look at you in blank astonishment or shake their heads sadly at the tricks old people's memories can play.
I was working in the scenic workshop when it happened. The current show had opened on the Monday, the next production was already underway when one of the cast had "done a runner". The pressure had finally got to him and he had vanished overnight. I was summoned to the manager's office and offered the part. Could I learn it and be ready to go on that night? Of course, I replied, youthfully unhesitating. Yes, sir! Six long months in show-business and a break at last!
In the event, I got through that Tuesday performance in a shallow trance. My voice, whenever I chanced to remember to speak, appeared to be coming from a deep well. Most of my lines, I seem to recall, were spoken by the leading man, Peter Byrne, who adroitly managed to hold long seamless conversations with himself. I was aware, throughout the show, of continuous, off-putting heavy breathing which I later identified as my own.
At the end of the performance the manager came to me, smiling, shook me by the hand, thanked me and told me that the good news was that a real actor would be arriving for the Wednesday matinee the following day.
I returned to the scene dock, chastened by the harshness of theatrical reality. It was seven years before the message finally sunk in and I finally gave up acting for ever.
Nonetheless, I shall always be grateful to The Connaught for this early hint as to the direction my theatre career should properly have taken.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without the permission of the copyright holder.