I failed as a teacher!

I never wanted to be a teacher.

In fact, I used to think there couldn’t be anything worse. I was a nightmare at school, why would I want to deal with all of that? Especially being an actor! They say “Those who can’t do, teach.” It was like calling time on yourself and admitting FAILURE! It was worst case scenario stuff for me. I was never going down that road. NOPE!

SO I BECAME A TEACHER!

Well, this is awkward…

I fell into teaching, by chance, fate or sheer bad luck.

There I was, in the local swimming pool, with my then 2-year-old. In the showers after a great morning as we usually did once a week, just me and the boy having splash time. Opposite, a lady with her little girl, is staring at me!

You know when you know you know someone, but you can’t quite pinpoint why or how. After what seemed like hours, (but was likely only minutes) she smiled. “I know you, don’t I?” And there it was, the thick northern accent that brought it all flooding back. I had gone to drama school with her, had spent 2 years knowing her. A blast from the past indeed! Within seconds we were bear-hugging each other, wet and dripping in our mum swimsuits, under the showers, laughing and shouting obscene memories at each other, while the league of elderly flower cap brigade looked on horrified.

She was living in Kent and was teaching drama and music in the school across the road from my house. But she was leaving. She asked what I was doing with myself. I told her we had just moved to town and I was thinking about getting a job but had no idea what I was going to do…

A week later, I am in the office of the Head Teacher’s office, shaking hands and being offered a contract.

I walked away, looking back, hoping no one would find me out! Surely that did not just happen?

Then it dawned on me! What am I doing? This is exactly what I didn’t want to do. This meant the end of my acting career. It meant I was admitting failure. That I was resigned to giving up everything I had worked for my entire life! What had I done?

But then it started.

I have always been the type of person to throw myself into something full throttle and this was no different. I had been sat home for 3 years talking to a baby and watching Mr f*cking Tumble on repeat. My brain was fried and needed some intellectual stimulation other than learning recipes from I Can Cook!

So that’s what I did. I threw myself in, determined to make it work, to be the best I could be, to learn, to train and to be a success. I had energy, enthusiasm, passion and was loving it! I was buzzed and so excited to be a real grown up, with a real grown up’s job and to be in the world of respected professionals. It felt good after the last few years of just surviving.

It didn’t last long.

That feeling left after the second term… and the rest I shall leave for another time.

I worked there for 2 years and a further few months at a Secondary School as a Music, Drama and English teacher – and then I left. It was a bold and risky move, but it had to be done, and it was the best thing I could ever have done.

You see, in 3 short years I had learnt what the education system was really like. I watched teachers crumble in tears and have nervous breakdowns with the workload. I watched as teachers were shoved out of their roles to make way for fresh meat who could be easily moulded to the new system. I watched the politics of data vs. human children and learnt about budgets, Ofsted, criteria and learnt all about observations and changing marking systems every 3 months. I sat up for hours, laminating, cutting and designing maths games, spent holidays redecorating classrooms and building book corners. I spent hours worrying about lesson plans, objectives, outcomes, starters, plenary activities differentiated 15 ways, print outs, power points, marking in 3 different colours, traffic light systems, behaviour management, and sat laboriously marking useless SATS papers and entering data into spreadsheets, watching them turn orange and red and seeing the fear in grown women’s eyes as they were called for appraisals.

To be a teacher is not just to teach a million things you are not an expert in, but so much more. To teach is to be an analyst, an office manager, a psychologist, a public speaker, a wrangler of wild animals, a diplomat, an artist, an actor, a juggler, an editor, a policy maker, a nurse…

You get the picture!

I was in awe of the people around me. You cannot do that job if you don’t love it with all your heart.

But the system is BROKEN!

I loved being with the kids, I loved inspiring them, I loved seeing their eyes light up when they finally got something, when you blew their tiny little minds with science or to see the joy on their faces when they discovered something new. I loved the process too… from the beginning to the end and watching the progress, from not knowing, to that little light bulb moment. I loved the bonds we made, the characters I met and the fun we had! I LOVED teaching. But teachers don’t get to teach anymore.

I hated the industry. I hated the politics, the red tape and all the other stuff that went with it. I hated that something that I wanted to be a part of was becoming something that was being ripped apart. It was painful and I couldn’t help but be emotionally invested in it. It was exhausting. And I had only just dipped my toe in…

I left for several reasons, but an overriding factor was that I figured out why I had been led to teaching… and it meant that I HAD TO LEAVE!

I created a company based on my love for learning, but delivering it my way – as an Actor! An adventure where topics are experienced, history is brought to life and books are lifted out of the page and into the room! A world where Storytelling is the key, using our bodies and voices is celebrated and not silenced in a chair, where knowledge is embedded in emotional connection and social skills are more important than an exam paper question. A place where energy is used to it’s potential, imaginations are free to expand and awareness of ourselves as humans is the forefront of the journey.

Teaching led me to what I was supposed to do. I found my purpose – and I am forever grateful!

As I celebrate another birthday of my beloved Bindlestick Theatre Company, I look back on that time with mixed feelings. Full of gratitude that it led me to my calling, but also because it made me realise that my ability to walk away from things that I don’t believe in and my opinions and moral code are much stronger than I ever thought before.

Teachers have always been a huge part of my life. From the year 6 Teacher who told me I would be a Storyteller one day, to my Secondary School Teachers who I am still in touch with today and the Teachers I work with on a daily basis throughout my work – I thank you! You are all heroes and perform miracles daily.

I may have failed at being a teacher in mainstream education, but as Tim Minchin says;

“Be a teacher! Even if you’re not a teacher, be a teacher!”

Welcome to my Fort Kids – It’s got balloons, cake and party hats in it!

The Boy’s School Musical

I was going through my filing cabinets today and found my old scrapbook and photo 20170507_224006album of my school days and I came over all emotional. I hadn’t realised quite how much I had kept from back then but found every programme, ticket and poster, running orders, scripts and first night cards and letters.

Not gonna lie, had a bit of a cry… but a happy one!

1997

When I was in Year 8, I had gone with my friend Emily, down to the neighbouring boy school for an audition for the annual musical. She had not wanted to walk down by herself, so I was her wingman!

I was excited, not for the event, but the opportunity to see real life boys. They were coveted and rare during school hours, unless you snuck behind the sheds between the fields, or crossed the forbidden line in the PE department, that joined the two. #AllGirlsSchoolGoals.

I rolled up my navy skirt one more time, til the pleats had to be pulled out, so it didn’t show that I was still made to wear god-awful knee lengths, (my mum NEVER let me be cool), whipped out my Coffee Shimmer lipstick, scraped back my curly, frizzy, tangled hair and coated it with enough hairspray to kill a rainforest of spiders and flicked up my shirt collar, like I was Nicky f*cking Kenickie.

I had no intention of auditioning that day, and sat cooly in the auditorium of the main hall, as my friend proudly sang her heart out in front of a panel of Teachers and the other auditionees. I was excited for her and she looked so happy standing there. She looked like she was having so much fun, for what was ultimately a pretty terrifying thing to do.

As she finished and came down the stairs at the front of the stage, I got ready to leave and stood up. Just then, the Director, Mr Ansell, clocked me and asked if I wanted to be in the show too and would I like to have a go at reading some lines and singing a song? Everyone was leaving and I would be the last one so it would not be a big deal or anything…

Everything before that moment is slightly blurred. I never remember wanting to be anything else, other than an actor after that.

I do have a vague flashback of wanting to be Enya once, and creating contemporary interpretative dances to Kate Bush songs, but other than that, I had a one-track mind.

I was the kid who, when the school careers counsellor met with me, ripped up the comprehensive questionnaire and guidance form, with that defiant air of a cocky arsehole teenager, declaring that I didn’t need a backup plan, I was going to Drama School and going to be in the West End and that was the end of it.

I think I had to sign one of those disclosure forms for idiots like I was being discharged against medical advice. She looked at me despairingly… another dreamer that was gonna make her look shit at her job!

The first show was Blitz! And was the first of many. I officially became a Theatre Kid! I slowly drifted away from the ‘Trendy’ clique in my year group and would disappear off, every lunch time to the boy’s school, or the Drama studios to hang out and geek off with my own kind.

20170507_225148

I remember the thrill of the first day of rehearsals, sat with our scores around the piano, being yelled at By Miss Clandillon to ‘SING LOUDER’, and yelling at us to shut up periodically. That woman was terrifying and glorious and a force to be reckoned with. Going through Choreography in the School Reception and sticking my Rehearsal Schedule on top of my actual school timetable – PRIORITIES!

I recall painting sets at weekends and going to EVERY rehearsal even if I wasn’t needed. Jim used to call me his shadow and even let me Assistant Direct him once because I always annoyingly had something to say and would boss the other actors around. I even got the lead part once through this tactic. When Jasmine dropped out of Aladdin, I sat there smugly. I knew she wasn’t up for the job, I knew it was only a matter of time. I was like a patient vulture, knowing every line, scene, blocking move and note in her track. I walked on a week later as if the part had been mine the whole time.

Think Rachel Berry in Glee Club type of intense… that was me.

Then there were backstage antics, emotional last nights and crazy cast parties, with speeches, presents and sobbing hugs, like we were never going to see each other again – except for tomorrow when we all saw each other again… And even crazier ‘After Cast Parties’, which, for legal reasons, I am pretty sure I am not allowed to detail.

I had never really fit in anywhere before then. Sure I had friends, but I was always on the outskirts and never grounded or completely at ease. Suddenly I felt like I was home. I have never laughed so much and had such a good time as those heady days of being in the School Musicals.

20170507_225300One of the last shows I was in at School was Fame. The opening number, ‘Hard Work’ involved singing the lines ‘I Pray I make P.A’. The Choreographer, an awesome, young science teacher, Mr Betts, had us holding fake letters of acceptance, getting into the Performing Arts School. So when I actually got in that same week, I triumphantly, if not a little bit cheesy and dramatically, took my actual Drama School acceptance letter up onto that stage and punched it into the air with tears in my eyes. The same stage that started it all and I was saying goodbye to it in the best possible way.

Those were some of the best days of my life. It is where I started my emotional education, my life skills classes and made friendships like no other. We were a family and, although now, it is only through Facebook and the occasional sighting in a local pub or at an event, they were my family, my tribe, my people. We grew up together, worked together, dated each other (grossly incestuously in fact), lived in each other’s pockets and created some of the best memories I have.

To my School Theatre Family,

For all the laughter, shared experiences, joy, jokes and love! You taught me who I was and how to be me.

Thank You x

Welcome To My Fort Kids – It has show tunes, memories and love in it!

I’m not always ok – AND THAT’S OK!!!

Have you ever curled up on the cold floor of a coffee shop toilet in Camden Town?

Hyperventilating and wanting to jump out of your own skin? Sobbing and clutching your heart because you are pretty sure you are dying and the 1st person to find you will be the ridiculously hot Portuguese Barista… Who is now banging on the door, to see if you are ok, and to kindly let you know that there is a young child about to wee all over the newly mopped floor and, he would rather not have to do it again, as it is closing time soon and he has a lot to do. So you smear the mascara streaks across your face and grab on to the handrail as you unlock the door and put on your best ‘I’m OK’ face and politely sit back down at your seat, pretending that death is not imminent and your head is not about to explode, whilst smoothing down your hair to still look cute to Barista Boy, who clearly thinks you are a f***ing nut job! Awesome.

No? Well, this is awkward then.

And it is awkward. It is dizzyingly mortifying and something that you don’t want anyone to know about you, for fear of seeming weak or incapable at work, at home, as a parent or just as a functioning human being.

I suffer from Anxiety and Panic attacks. And it is exhausting! But it is also Beautiful!

The coffee shop meltdown occurred a couple of weeks ago. I was on my way to the Improv class I had booked as a part of the #FaceYourFearsChallenge from an earlier post “What’s the worst that can happen?” – Falling down to Succeed – But things had taken a turn before I even got there.

IT ALL STARTED WITH A HUG! 

I have been struggling recently. With an overwhelming amount of work, single parent juggling, co-parenting issues, family drama and some physical health issues which have made all of the above, a lot harder to manage. In short, my brain got too full and I forgot to let it breathe!

A couple of weeks ago I was catching up with a beautiful friend of mine, who asked me how I was doing. I could have just said I was fine and moved on to other things, but there are some people who just make you feel safe. Do you have friends like that? I don’t have many, so they are rare and to be treasured. So, It was a big catch up and a lot of shiz had gone down. When I finally finished telling her everything that was going on, she gave me that look. The look of someone watching the sinking ship, while I am happily waving from the upper deck, playing with a spinning top. And she said, “I can’t believe you are holding it all together.”

AND THEN SHE HUGGED ME!

Now, this was a hug! Not just your run of the mill quick squeeze, or sympathetic rub on the back, but one of those hugs… you know, the real f***ing deal hugs that mean something. I don’t get an awful lot of physical contact with other humans apart from the spawn, who is a bony mass of elbows and monkey feet and makes cuddling a wrestling match within seconds, or decides to use me a climbing frame and ends up with his feet in my face or worse… you get the picture, so hugs are pretty much like finding a tenner in your coat pocket!

It is amazing how physically our body’s chemical reactions are so intrinsically linked to our emotional state. This is something that fascinates me and I speak a lot about for my job, so will leave it for another post. But, it is true!

That hug was the first moment in 8 months that I had opened the jam-packed storage closet and everything came flying out. I hadn’t acknowledged that I actually wasn’t that Ok and that I hadn’t really thought about myself or how I was coping with any of it at all.

MASSIVE FAIL! And I should know better.

Sometimes all we need is a hug. In fact, it is essential for our health – I now declare hugs be mandatory for every human at least twice a day! Wouldn’t that be awesome!

The #CoffeeShopMeltDown happened 5 days later. I happened to have seen this very same friend again and having been processing 8 months of crap all week, had given myself migraines, had about 4 hours sleep in as many days, not eaten all week and survived on Anxiety’s worst best friend – coffee!

So all in all, not a great combination or very clever. (My Blurt Buddy Box arrived the very next day, as if by magic!)

So, anyway, seeing this friend, in an environment, where I was having all sorts of nostalgic and emotional thoughts about, was pretty much the last compartment to fill, before the stern rose in the air and the whole ship snapped in half, crashing into the icy waters of doom.

By the time I got to my Improv class, I was so exhausted, drained and smelling a little bit like bathroom disinfectant, that I wasn’t even thinking about being nervous or fearful about it. In fact, it was the only thing that week that felt truly grounding and made me feel like myself again. I was at peace finally and could breathe and just be. The great thing about improv is you just have to say yes, so, the act of letting go of having to try or think for 2 hours, was the most euphoric experience I could have had. We played for 2 hours, made some stupid shit up, created some worlds and told some seriously weird stories. It was perfect. I was with my people, my tribe, rolling around on the floor together, making a giant boat! It was my lifeboat.

Here is the real take away from the tale. The very thing I feared, was, in fact, the cure! It always has been actually and it is the most powerful medicine!

Another person who found it was actress, poet, singer and extraordinary human, Brigitte Aphrodite.

Brigitte Aphrodite, (and yes, that is her real name), is one of those rare creatures, whoMBBD+FLYER manages to instantly fill the room with an infectious and addictive energy – just with her smile. I don’t usually girl-crush, but she is for sure my new BAE!

Brigitte and her other half, the insanely talented, humble and equally beautiful human, Quiet Boy, have created a show about Depression called ‘My Beautiful Black Dog’ – and it is CRESHENDORIOUS!

This is one of the songs in the glitter-filled, manic and heart-wrenchingly honest piece of Theatre, a rare unicorn. A magical storytelling adventure, directed beautifully by Laura Keefe, of one woman’s journey through depression and her relationship with the man who watched it all happen is a #nofilters moment in the world of talking about Mental Health.

Brigitte herself described the creative process as therapy and you can see why. The very acknowledgement of the beast and how it manifested itself, is picked through with a sharp, scratchy nit comb. And it is beautiful.

I was so moved by her willingness to give herself to her audience, so freshly raw and physically open, that I dare anyone not to be moved and touched by them and their story.

You left, glittered up, shimmied out and a little bit of a better human being.

For me though, it came a week after #CoffeeShopToiletGate and the Improv class and suddenly everything started to seem OK again. I had a rough few weeks, mainly because I stopped listening to my body and didn’t treat myself very kindly. It happens.

My Beautiful Black Dog doesn’t sugarcoat the ending, in fact, it ended with Brigitte saying that, it wasn’t the kind of story where ‘She could see clearly now the rain had gone’, but more like, she had a f*cking good raincoat now!

Storms come and they go, but it is always important to be prepared and to have a plan, or even someone to hold the umbrella or to throw you a whistle. Brigitte, Quiet Boy and all the other Theatre makers, musicians and artists, including me, need to keep telling the stories that we all need to hear, with honesty, bravery and love that collectively gives us that deep, releasing and safe hug, that tells us, we can all sail the weathers and it is all going to be OK!

1 in 6 people in the UK will experience a common mental health issue in their lifetime.

With global campaigns like #HeadsTogether coming out with massive coverage, Brigitte with Theatre like #MBBD and local community organisations raising the game, if you need to talk about something or are affected by any of these issues, please do. I am not a mental health expert, but am always here, with a good ear and a cuppa tea! 

Welcome to my fort kids – It’s got glitter, hugs and life-rafts in it! 

My Beautiful Black Dog was a part of Paint the Town Festival @PTT-Festival and Looping the Loop Festival @LoopingThanet, in conjunction with @Battersea_Arts.

Find Brigitte @bbbrigitte and Quiet Boy @Quietbuoy

and thanks to @LyriciArts @IMHPMedway @Rethink_ for the Q&A Panel on Mental Health in the Arts.

Featured Image courtesy of #Bananagrams from Megan Garrett Jones at #ArtBop

And huge thanks to the person who knows who she is – she came back with more boats!