I hold my breath. The plane throws itself down the tarmac and lurches into the air. The great metal beast heaves itself into the sky and whirs louder and louder. I am the only person on board save the crew. I breathe out. Theres a taste of coffee in my mask. I’ve just left a ghostly, empty Sydney airport and I’m heading home. Though I’d managed to sneak out of the southern states a couple months prior to visit Townsville for the first time since the pandemic started, this time was different.
This was a fork in the road. This was the start of a new chapter in my life and I could barely contain my excitement. I’d just come off two years of touring children’s theatre (in this economy?!) and I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into the Shakespeare Under the Stars! Though my enthusiasm would have to wait, because at the end of this plane trip was police supervised hotel quarantine in Cairns for two weeks. Which if I can just say, was absolute bliss and North Queensland wrapped me in a warm, socially distanced hug the moment I touched down.
I had a room facing the north on the esplanade, looking out upon the Macalister range and Muddy’s playground. I bathed in the sunset over the ridge and smelt the mangroves and the salt. For the first time in years I heard the (usually annoying) cry of a curlew and cried.
It was the end of a big chapter in my acting life and I had two weeks in my little carpeted box to reflect upon the lessons I learned on tour. Here are some of the nuggets of wisdom I pondered on.
1) Discipline gives you freedom.
Some days you’d need to hit the road from your motel at 6:15am. Crows cawing up the street, bleary eyed and the rust smell of red dirt, it wasn’t motivation that saw you through the morning, it was discipline. The more I had my day planned out ahead and prepared, moreover the more I had automated tasks, the freer I felt when we finished our fourth year 8 show of the day. A spontaneous arvo waterhole trip is a lot more fun when you don’t have to think about venue logistics for tomorrow, or when you’re going to have time to do laundry this week. But similarly I believe that the harder you work, the more free you will feel to make choices in your work. Throw caution to the wind and try things. (Justifiably of course.) Because you have the work ethic and freedom to give a million more offers to the show.
2) The process is the reward, enjoy the process. There is no golden ticket at the end of the job, nor is there an Oscar. The reward on the tour life is the beautiful snapshots with your friends, the laughter walking down an Adelaide street filled to the brim after a good meal. It’s the picturesque canopy over the winding road between Nimbin and Lismore. It’s the jolly stranger in a country pub who’s “never met actors before!” It’s the children squealing with delight over your T-Rex impression, thunderous applause and a gentle song on the radio as you drive an open of highway for the fourth hour. These moments are precious, they’re the process and they’re the reward for all your hard work.
3) Be bold, fail gloriously!
This one is an old adage from Terri and Brendan, but I’ve carried it through my working life and nowhere has it been more applicable than children’s theatre. Children are the harshest, but most honest critics I’ve met. There are no tepid, polite claps in school theatre. There is riotous laughing and adulation, or there is dead silence and disdain. Children can see through attempts to be cool, but the thing they respect and laugh with more than anything, is someone who is just willing to be a silly goose and lean in to being a dork. Giving yourself permission to go big or go home will free you from the shackles of “cool.”
4) If you start to compromise, you wont stop.
I cannot tell you how many days we’d rock up to a school and “not feel it.” The temptation to cut corners and do a sub-par show or just switch on the autopilot was an ever present beast. All the circumstances were a perfect storm for us to just phone it in. The director was never on tour with us? The teachers and the students haven’t seen the show? We’ll never see them again, they’ll never know? But you will know. You will know every time you do it. Do the hard work, especially if you don’t feel like it. If nothing else, for this final lesson.
5) There will always be one person. Even if it’s only one.
Sometimes no matter what you do, it will feel like everyone is against it. In our case, it seemed certainty that ALL the students watching the show hated it. But then you’d see that one kid. They were wrapped. Although they may be silent in their admiration and captivation, you can recognize it. Because you were once that kid. Gazing up at the travelling troubadours with wonder and magic whilst they envelop you in a story or warn you for the 76th billion time about cyber bullying. And you never know, that dorky little kid may grow up and become an actor like you one day. Because you cared. You cared about the work, you made it important and you had fun. Because if it isn’t important and you don’t care and it isn’t fun, then what’s the point of it all? It is a play in the end.
These are just a handful of the plethora of lessons I reflected on from tour. All of them I was fortunate enough to have learned growing up at TheatreiNQ and I can't wait to reflect upon the many more that will carry me through this exciting new year. Thank you for taking the time to read my scrawlings and I cant wait to see you at Orphans in February.