Realm of make-believe
I doubt my 22-year-old self would have listened to anything he was being told by my now 67-year-old self. 1973 at Victoria Uni in Wellington was a time of trying everything out and learning to be as fearless as possible. If I have any advice for that scrawny 22-year-old it would now be - good on you! Do all that stuff, make all those mistakes, enjoy those good times and do stop worrying so much!
Find your folk
I had somehow found enough courage to force myself to tackle the unknown and audition for the University Drama Society’s production of A Winter’s Tale, directed by Anthony Taylor. I knew no one involved and every step to the audition room was like walking through tar as I fought with myself about why I was wanting to do this mad thing. But I suspect now that part of it was because I knew I would find people who I would like and who might like me. Those strangely eccentric drama folk. Thank god I did go through with it. That successful audition would lead on to meet the most wonderful people and a career which has been incredibly satisfying.
Bruce and Jen Ludlum Jones for Jones and Jones by Vincent O’Sullivan, directed by Colin McColl.
Use them nerves
I had already had a little drama experience at Wanganui High School, and at Wanganui Rep, having had one line in Henry IV part 1 - and I enjoyed it - even though nerves built terrifyingly during the night as I waited for my 10-second appearance. The advice I would give now to that person would be (and something that it has taken me years to learn) enjoy those nerves and use them! They are nature’s way of getting you focused and giving you the required energy to break out of the ordinary and soar into the realm of make-believe!
It’s a world of pretending. Well, lying really. Say what you like but in the end, all acting is lying. Every famous world-renowned actor on stage and/or screen is a lying machine. Being able to enter the lie and then remove oneself back into some sort of reality is the magic of acting. Some people love trying to talk about the mechanics of acting but I don’t think one can. The magic of the craft is beyond understanding. It works or it doesn’t. You can’t fool people with bad acting, your performance is believed or it’s not. I was once teaching a class of students and “pretended” to have a breakdown as I told them my mother had died that morning and I couldn’t go on. I had them all so upset. Then I came out of it and told them the truth. Although furious about being deceived, they learned the lesson which everyone still finds hard to believe. It’s all lies. A great performance is manipulation of the truth to the highest degree.
Jennifer Ward-Lealand and cast in Six Degrees of Separation - photo by Fraser Clements.
On drugs and time
Experimenting with LSD one time just before turning 22, I entered a world without time. The classic cliché of melting walls and flashing colours etc was happening. My girlfriend of the time and I got into bed for what should have been an amazing encounter but suddenly the bed seemed full of ants, the sheets were dissolving into foam and nothing was substantial any more. I ran into the living room of the flat we were in and found myself in front of a large mirror, but I couldn’t see myself reflected. I don’t think I even understood what a mirror was. The edges of it slowly melted like paint dripping. I was lost in a weird place. I was starting to feel like I was about to erupt in one giant scream when, from somewhere like a gift from the gods, I suddenly remembered something I had totally forgotten. There was a thing called TIME. This was going to end. Time would return to my world and this horrible experience would disappear. The relief was enormous. I slowly “came down”. And never had drugs again! But I have felt that same sense of rising panic before a performance and the lesson I learned of time returning and nothing lasting forever has been a wonderful balm for the mind in times of stress.
Now, 45 years later, having lived with the same partner, Murray Gadd, for 43 of those years and having been an actor for the same number of years, I can only say to my 22 year old self… congratulations on your courage when you needed it. You made all the right decisions on the whole, even though it often didn’t feel like it at the time. What a shame you wasted so much time worrying about it all!
Bruce Phillips - photo supplied.
Bruce Phillips performs in Auckland Theatre Company’s MiNDFOOD season of Six Degrees of Separation, playing at the ASB Waterfront Theatre 14 – 30 August. www.atc.co.nz