We all like to believe we could be actors, faking our way from one character to the next, from the strong embodiment of a cunning villain, over the gentle portrayal of a sensuous love, to the convincing spitting image of an obese, spitting old lady.
Some actors’ paths are just paved with opportunities, coins, naked living bodies and spankings (if those actors would be into those things, that is). Others, such as Yours Truly’s, have been clad with wolf traps, landmines, banana peels, naked dead bodies and severe beatings (none of which I was, or am, particularly enticed by).
The first landmine on becoming the next Jean-Claude Van Damme (being Belgian, that was all that I could aim for… Again, not an enticing prospect, but it was way better than being a toilet roll roller all your life, isn’t it?) already came at an early age, already in the first play I would ever star in, at age 3.
What happened? Well, the director was a mess (simple proof: on stage during the performance, that’s how bad she was!). During the first rehearsal, I could immediately sense this was going to be detrimental to my acting career, but I had already signed the contract, having been lured by the promise of free milk every day (something that, as I would later found out, was a privilege everyone was given). Breaking the contract was impossible anyway, she'd have us waterboarded in an instant.
When she explained her idea about the play, the raison d’être
, the philosophies behind it (not shying away from using big names as Derrida, Nietzsche, and Babar the Elephant), we could all sense something was wrong, but none of us has the verbal skills to go against this giant of a woman who reeked of cigarettes and multiple divorce.
The script was horrible. Badly written drivel with flimsy plotlines and transparently boring attempts at crowd-pleasing. All of us three-year-olds held a secret meeting to address the issue. It was a rowdy meeting and tensions ran high; people’s futures were at stake here! It didn’t take long for the most extreme voices to take over the discussion. We were thinking of ways to get rid of her; maybe if enough of us told our parents the director had touch us in our no-no place, we’d be able to get her arrested. I opposed the idea, telling them that paedophilia was still very much suppressed in criminal courts, and that it probably wouldn’t work. After all, it was still the 80s.
It was then that I proposed to do away with her
altogether. Everyone went quiet, looking at each other.
“Is this how we want our careers to start, dancing on the grave of our first director?” A voice shouted.
I replied: “Dancing on her grave is not really necessary for this to work.”
“No. You can, but that's up to you...”
“Oh, in that case, let's do it!”
As the only surviving photo from that abominable play proves, we did not succeed in our kill plot. In hindsight, it of course makes sense that filling a coffee maker with toddler urine isn’t going to kill anyone, but one of our parents had told this to one of our classmates, probably to scare him off because he had been drinking his own pee, but that was something we could not know and he would not have us know. Anyway, she just ended up making coffee, drinking three or four cups, before realising something was amiss (she just added sugar and drank the whole thing, a cocktail of 23 boys and girls’ urine and cheap coffee).
To make matters worse, the director had spent the entire play’s budget, which was more money than any of us had ever seen (about 10 euros roughly), on vodka and nail polish.
So there was nothing left for our costumes.
Probably drunk from the vodka, she ordered us to take some empty egg trays with us. I tried refusing, but she put me in the corner for what seemed like forever, so in the end, a full twelve minutes later, I had to give in.
The results looked embarrassing. Probably still tripping from an LSD trip taken over the weekend, she then forced us to paint our newly made elephant ears in different colours.
“But… but… elephants are grey!”
“WHAT?!” She screamed at me from across the room. Filled with anger, I decided to fill my nappy and make her change me (I would wear one of those strategically every day until I was 24, just so I'd always get my way). Sadly, she didn't change her mind (even though she did change me (my nappy, at least)) and she told me to paint my ears green, or otherwise she’d come to my house at night, shoot a bullet through my kneecaps, and force me to watch how she would cut out the eye of my favourite teddy bear (a seal) and pee in its gaping eye socket. Though she was probably bluffing, I had no choice but to obey.
Should I have refused and called upon my artistic integrity to save my career? *sigh* I guess we’ll never know…
After weeks of badly organised rehearsals, more threats to people’s favourite teddies, finally, our trauma could end. We all knew it would be with another trauma, but at least it would end.
There was a packed crowd on opening night. Everyone begged their friends and relatives not to show up, but they still did.
I can give a short summary of the play.
All elephants entered the stage from the left, stamping their feet unconvincingly (because we weren’t gray!). The intention was probably to express nature’s force over man’s seemingly fleeting existence. The director thought she had written a new Waiting for Godot
, but all she got was Waiting for the Next Toilet Break
. She tried to convince us that maybe the colours would be something against racism. Again, we objected, green and red weren’t races, plus the portrayal of Asians as yellow, we found to be very offensive, even at such a young age (these objections were no longer voiced, out of fear of her retaliation).
So after entering the stage and stampeding towards our set positions, we had to stand still. The silence was of course a metaphor for how dead we wanted our director to be at that point. Probably she’d have explained it something like this: “By deconstructing the elephant’s character, we are really referring to Derrida’s deconstruction and how this influences our contemporary post-modern society – I first wanted to do an elephant striptease to highlight this even more, but parents objected.”
All actors were feeling the same and were on the verge of rebellion. We all kept quiet, longer than she wanted. She started singing the song she wanted us to sing.
“A musical? Seriously? FUCK OFF!” An audience member screamed before running off in a fit of rage, much to our satisfaction.
She had changed the lyrics at the very last minute, with the clear intention to insult us. “Fat elephants! We are fatty-FAT elephants, stampeding all the way!”
I will spare you the rest of the song. Let's just say it came down to an eternity of 4 minutes of us standing angrily on stage, with her throwing insults at us in a mock-singing manner. It caused me eight years of therapy to get over this and I still turn murderous whenever I see an elephant (which is not that often, I must admit).
I guess she won that round, and not only that round… As a direct result, four of the people on that photograph would end up as chronic anorexics, another one would end up as a “furry” (you know, one of those pervs who dressed up as an animal and has sex with other people dressed as other animals – guess what his chosen animal was… Yup, a mouse! The only thing he knew that would frighten away an elephant; a sad story, really).
The crowd’s response? As the play ended, there was a long and painful silence, after which you could hear people asking, “Wait, that’s it?”
“What a rip-off!”
“We paid parking for THIS?”
Voices were raised. Louder and angrier.
It wasn’t long before this disbelief translated itself into violence. Beer bottles, empty glasses, chairs were hurled at the stage, knocking over, and handicapping, one of the yellow elephants. As we fled towards the exit, we closed the door behind us, letting the director be trapped outside for the angry masses to deal with.
Justice had come to us. Backstage, we realised our futures would be forever different. Career plans would have to be changed. As young as we were, we already learnt one of life’s most frustrating lessons, that the older you get, the more doors will close for you. None of us had expected the first door to shut itself quite so soon, or violently, but at least we knew what was in store for us.
The director? No idea what became of her, if she even survived the angry crowd’s punches that day. She never directed again, that we know, which is not that big a surprise after creating such an abomination. I once met one of my fellow ex-actors and she told me she had heard a theory. I don’t know if it is true, but she told me that one of our colleagues had hunted her down, made her dress up as a green elephant, before shooting her with a shotgun, cutting off the tusks, and burying her in the woods.
I just told her this: “There was no shotgun, only a machete…”Note: one or two elements in this story from my past may have been slightly dramatised and/or fictionalised. The gist of it is all true though.