12 Apr A Brief History of Me. Chapter 10. Drama School and JOn.
I started life as a drama school student at the age of 24. It was a late start for this specific type of career, but I felt so very ready to throw myself into a creative endeavour that I was willing to take the risk. Auditioning for drama schools is expensive, and with the last £25 in my account I had paid for an audition at a Manchester drama school. I performed a monologue from ‘Look Back in Anger’ by John Osbourne, and received the feedback from the head of the school that considering my background in Spain, I should have chosen something ‘more fiery’. Luckily the movement tutor saw something in me and persuaded them to take me on.
We had full days, starting with vocal and physical warm ups at 9am followed by lectures on the history of theatre, acting workshops, stage combat, ballet, Alexander technique, clowning/improv, Stanislavski and Uta Hagen. As soon as classes were finished I would race to work at the theatre, often finishing past midnight, home to sleep, and then a cycle ride back to school in the early mornings to prepare before warmups began.
And of course the drinking and the socialising. I didn’t live in halls like most of the other students, and I already had a group of friends that I loved and felt inspired by, but I would straddle both worlds and, when I wasn’t working, there was always someone having a party. I loved learning, I loved writing the backstory of a character, finding the physicality and the voice, I loved the idea of creating a scene with props, of telling a story with every single object, movement, light, shadow. I loved the distraction from the heartbreak still haunting me and I loved the thin new me that had emerged from daily physical classes and very little time to eat.
I grew in confidence and did well in my assessments. Performing felt natural and powerful As had happened when I was a teenager, I found an ease on stage that I often struggled to feel in daily life. Unfortunately things started to derail when I got involved with a fellow student, and after six months together, we ended badly and my burn out came to a head. I was exhausted from leading two lives between drama school and work and never allowing myself enough sleep.
In my second year we went to Venice for ten days with school and I had some type of emotional or mental breakdown. I returned to Manchester a shell. During this period I had also burned bridges and betrayed trusts which led to some of my closest friends abandoning me. I was lonely and lost. One night I went to see my housemate play at the Night and Day cafe in Manchester and I spied a tall guy in the audience who I vaguely recognised. Maybe he would speak to me? A combination of too many cans of Red Stripe and feeling like I had lost so much, nothing mattered anymore, I walked up to him and declared ‘Jon! It’s me, Java. I used to be blonde.’
And that evening something shifted. We went back to my house on Cotton Hill with a couple of stragglers and stayed up until the early hours talking. As the next day dawned, I watched this beautiful man asleep on an armchair and realised that there would be no point in ever being with anyone else but him, and that I was good enough.
I was willing to wait, so I kept my distance but made sure I was in his line of vision, occasionally ‘bumping into him’ and making sure I was online when he was (the old days of facebook being the ultimate clue for tracking someone’s movements).
After four months Jon declared ‘Damn, I think I’m in love with you.’ and shortly after, he moved in.
I finished drama school with high expectations of the dazzling career that lay ahead of me. The halcyon days of Cotton Hill had begun to fade and it felt like time for a change. So I had a series of garage sales selling my fortress of kitsch and retro paraphernalia and we moved into a beautiful apartment with high ceilings and sash windows in a Victorian building in Withington. Jon continued working in video production and working on projects in Ecuador and India, while I worked in admin at the Library theatre, teaching drama to kids and doing any spare hours at a wine shop. In our spare time we organised walks for a group I had created called Ramble Pie, always in search of a hill with a pub on the other side. Our lives were rich with friendships, fun and colour.
I occasionally auditioned for a few pieces and performed in many fulfilling yet financially bereft fringe theatre pieces, but nothing was happening on the scale I wanted it to be. I felt trapped by cold cycling rides across manchester to set up drama workshops in church halls, and days trapped typing data at a desk. I felt old at 27, was struggling to find a reputable agent and had quickly realised that instead of hoping for auditions, I dreaded them. One of my lowest points was failing to get a part that had been written for me. Jon arrived home to find me in a smoky apartment, tears streaming down my face, bottle of gin next to me and a burnt fish finger sandwich in my hand. I didn’t take rejection well.
Jon and I had talked and talked and talked about moving. We had spent six weeks one summer cycling from Bordeaux to Barcelona and dreamt about one day moving there. I had always felt a longing to return to where I had spent time as a child and be closer to nature again. The mounting frustration about work and creativity felt neverending. Jon had turned 30, which we had celebrated with friends on the Costa Brava, and it felt like time for another change.
And then one day, as Jon was having a shower, he called out ‘Shall we just do it? Shall we just leave the country?’. I walked into the bathroom, saw him covered in suds, mad grin on his face and I replied ‘Ok then’. I headed to the shop, bought a bottle of gin, and that night we sat and booked ourselves two one way flights to the South of France, wrote our letters of notice for our jobs and our flat and signed up to the WWOOF scheme (Worldwide Workers On Organic Farms). We would be working on small holdings in exchange for food and a bed while we figured out what we would do long term. A month later, we closed the door on our sweet little flat with the beautiful windows and took our rucksacks to Birmingham airport in anticipation of the next adventure.