The penny drop moment for me.
All children play pretend, they make up stories and play at being someone else. At primary school, I was no different, but my ‘play pretend’ always went a little further. I choreographed and scripted my playtimes. Break for me was for rehearsal. My friends became the ensemble and I produced, directed, and of course starred in these mini productions. I don’t remember any of the plots or characters, but I knew the audience i.e., my class at the end of the school day on a Friday, were entertained by my efforts. I don’t think I performed for the applause, and I certainly wasn’t mobbed by adoring fans, but it was what I became known for within the school community and gave me an identity and sense of belonging.
This ‘role’ wasn’t just for school. I grew up in a tower block on an estate of apartments full of young families and I would regularly put on a show outside someone’s home. I’d invite an audience who’d sit cross legged on the floor to watch. One time I even charged them 10p each which I altruistically, donated to the local children’s home. God knows what the staff there thought when I turned up, aged about 10 and handed over 50p! I didn’t care I just knew it made me feel good (not so altruistic, then?)
I wasn’t an extroverted child, but I knew I had the ability to tell a story. I could bring people together and make them feel something; warm, fuzzy, happy.
There’s a bond created between a storyteller and the audience also between audience members with each other. It’s a shared experience. We relate, resonate. We can be validated, motivated and/ or inspired. My fondest memories are of listening to my family recounting tales of their childhoods, the eccentric characters and precarious situations that shaped them, made them laugh, and made them cry. It was because of this collective ability to share stories and experiences that I grew up confident and secure.
Adolescence! Yep, hormones hit me like a tonne of bricks. Plus, aged eleven and without my friends, I started at a grammar school two bus rides away from my safe and secure community. I felt out of my depth. I’d gone from being a BIG fish in a little pond, to being a little fish in a BIG pond. All sense of belonging was gone. Plus, there were no drama classes in the curriculum just an after-school club that would have meant my getting home just before midnight!! (I exaggerate, but it was late.)
As you can imagine, with very little creative outlet, the workload associated with a grammar school AND dealing with acne, PMT and breasts, my confidence was severely eroded.
But my dream held firm. Aged sixteen I went to my career’s appointment. ‘I want to be an actress,’ I said. The woman sat across the desk peered over the top of her glasses, raised her eyebrows and smirked. ‘Do you go to the theatre’ she asked. ‘Not really.’ I answered. I lived on a council estate; theatre visits weren’t part of the social calendar. ‘No’, she said. ‘You don’t want to be an actress. If you wanted to be an actress, you’d live, die, and breathe the theatre. What else can you do?’
And in that moment every thought I’d ever had about myself was confirmed. I wasn’t good enough; I wasn’t posh enough. In fact, I was stupid to even think I could be an actor.
I was crushed, of course, but carried on with my education (I went to art school) and on into the world of work. Where, following a brief (and horrible) foray into fashion design, I ended up fortuitously at the Royal Shakespeare Company as a dresser. Well, you could say I found my tribe. It was there in 1994, standing in the wings, a faint smell of grease paint in the air, that I had my penny drop moment…
But hold on a minute, we just need to backtrack to the year before to understand why that moment was so timely. In 1993, five weeks before my wedding, I was diagnosed with breast cancer with a 50:50 chance of survival. I was twenty-eight. F**k!
Suddenly life seemed short and extremely precious. What a shock. Although it’s not an experience I’d want anyone else to go through it was just what I needed to pull my life into sharp focus. I wasn’t afraid anymore. If I could face my own mortality, I could face anything.
So, newly liberated I continued to work at the Barbican sitting in rehearsals watching some of the best actors, directors, and writers in the world work.
And that’s when it happened…
In the quick-change area, on a play called Unfinished Business with the actor, Toby Stevens, (Maggie Smith’s son – name drop clang!!) Having just performed a simulated sex scene in front of the cast and crew he came to me for a quick change (he was wearing some clothes, I think.) I was mortified for him. Wasn’t he embarrassed? I asked how he could do that; noises a la Meg Ryan, thrusting, groaning? His answer, ‘if you don’t believe what you are doing then the audience won’t either.’ And that was it; the penny drop moment.
Acting wasn’t about you PLAYING the character, it’s about BEING the character. I wouldn’t have to go out in front of my audience and ‘pretend’ to be someone else, I could authentically BE someone else. Acting is not about faking it or lying about who you are and waiting to be caught out. When you portray someone else truthfully you can’t be exposed as a fraud, the pressure is off.
And so liberated, enlightened and the week before my 30th birthday, I skipped off to drama school.
This is how my penny drop moment led to my ‘why’.
Very simply, I enjoy (in fact, LOVE) to see that moment happen for my clients. Being in a classroom or a workshop space with them, watching them transform in their penny drop moment. I know that ‘I get it! Now I can move forward’ feeling.
That’s my why! I watch as they take ownership of who they are; ownership of their stories and see them excited to step in front of an audience to share with confidence and clarity, comfortable in their own skin.
I know how it feels to feel inadequate, not enough. I’ve stood in the wings waiting to step on stage feeling sick to my stomach, wondering why the hell I was putting myself through it, but I knew I had something important to share with the world. So, I had to learn how to take the bull by the horns, own my story and shed my victim mentality. It was quite a process, but it’s been life changing.
Fast forward to 2020, having been an actor and spent years as an acting tutor, I took a coaching course. I was in a breakout room with two other aspiring coaches and explained my business to them. I asked whether they understood what I did. One of them said ‘You help people market themselves effectively’ which I’d never considered before. And then the other said ‘You help people show up powerfully in the world.’ Wow, I’ll take that!
And all from my penny drop moment.
What was your penny drop moment? Let me know. I’d love to hear your story. Get in touch.
Or if I can help you find your why and how to share it let me know in the comments or contact me.
And if you want to know how you can show up powerfully for your audience download my complimentary E-booklet, How to Influence, Impact and Inspire Your Audience.