My Worst Acting Job

posted in: Acting, Short Story | 0

     I really did not want this job – but there had been no work for weeks and I couldn’t afford to turn the booking down. It was only for one day and the pay was good.
     The brief was simple: enter the guest house at exactly the right moment, silently help myself to tea and proceed to have a nervous breakdown. The intention was to see if a group of trainee youth workers would use what they had been taught when faced with a real life crisis.
     But if this was to seem like real life, I would need to call on all my acting skills. Role-play can be great fun –  but in role-play everyone knows that this is not reality. Today I needed to be able to convince all the trainees that I really was having a nervous breakdown.
     So there I sat, on the seafront, wearing a wig and clothes bought in a charity shop – shaking with fear. I knew my character’s name – Rose. I knew why Rose was so upset. I knew the terrible strains within Rose’s family that had brought her to be sitting alone, in a cold wind, on a desolate seafront bench.
     Now I had to become that poor woman – make myself believe that I was Rose. Never had a performance frightened me so much.
     Forcing myself to be calm, I thought about Rose’s family – the good times as well as the struggles Rose was now facing. I thought about her money worries, the pregnant daughter, the unemployed husband, the violence – the betrayals…
     Gradually it happened. Rose came to life and took over my body. The confusion and pain were real.
     At just the right moment Rose decided to walk into the nearby guest house to find a last cup of tea before ending the pain once and for all. The solution to her problems was clear. She would take a final walk into the cold waters below the cliff. But first she wanted that cup of tea.
     Rose felt no surprise at seeing the tea trolley standing in the lobby. It seemed right that it should be there when she needed tea. So she helped herself and sat on a nearby sofa.
     The lobby was crowded with people, but they seemed no more than shadows to her. She was alone with her sorrows.
     The heat of the cup thawed her soul. The dam burst and tears started to flow, faster and faster. The pain and confusion swirled around her head until she could not see – could hardly breathe…
     And then… a warm hand was holding hers. A soft voice said, ‘Can I help?’
     A shake of the head was all she could manage. No one could help. Life was too big a problem. She must end it. The sea would welcome her.
     But the voice was insistent, ‘Please… what is your name. Mine is Sarah.’
     ‘Rose,’ she whispered, her voice thick with tears, her hair hiding her face as her head fell forward almost to touch her knees.
     Slowly, patiently Sarah tried to persuade Rose to talk. At last Rose managed to lift her head and look at Sarah. Through tear-blurred eyes she saw a warm, friendly face framed with dark curls. Instinctively Rose knew she could trust that face.
     At first Sarah said nothing: just kept hold of Rose’s hand. Then slowly put an arm around her shoulders.
     As Rose’s sobs died away, Sarah began to probe, her own eyes now beginning to fill with sympathetic tears, ‘What is troubling you? Please tell me.’
     Hesitantly, incoherently, Rose began to talk, responding to Sarah’s quiet questions. She began to explain about the family, the debts, the hopelessness… There was so much to tell and now, for the first time, there was someone prepared to listen, someone who seemed to be able to offer comfort, support and, perhaps, a little hope.
     A friendship was growing – just what Rose needed. Perhaps the sea could wait now. Perhaps with Sarah’s help she could struggle on. Perhaps she could have a future . . .

     Suddenly the tutor for the course strode towards the sofa saying loudly, ‘Thank you, Jill – that is enough.’
     Rose stopped talking. I removed my wig and Rose vanished.
     There was a shocked silence. No one moved. Sarah’s face showed her confused feelings of hurt, anger, disbelief…
     I took Sarah’s hand and whispered, ‘Sorry! And thank you for trying to help. This wasn’t my idea.’
     The tutor tried to explain, ‘This was just a role play to see how you would respond in real life. Most of you just ignored Jill. Why was that?’
     And that really started it.
     The trainees were furious. They shouted, complained, argued – and I agreed with them, though no one asked for my opinion.
     The tutor saw that he was in trouble. What happened next I never knew: the tutor simply  said, ‘Right, everyone back to the classroom,’ and strode away from the lobby. The trainees followed in sullen silence.
     I was left alone, sitting on the sofa.
     As always after a performance, it took time for the adrenaline to drain away. I helped myself to another cup of tea, and sat down again, thinking.
     Thinking – had it really come to this? Years of training, years of experience and yet, here I was giving a great performance in a small seaside guest house, for a group of youth workers who did not even know I was acting.
     Today I had given a performance worthy of an Oscar. My audience had been moved to tears… and yet, no one had applauded. There were no congratulations, no flowers. I had been forgotten, left sitting alone in the deserted lobby; treated as though I were a video instead of a living performer.
     Still shaking a little as the last echoes of Rose’s painful emotions slowly faded from my mind, I gathered myself together, picked up the discarded wig and walked wearily out into the daylight.
     My day’s work was done.
Jill Lamede
©June 2017

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