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You Want Fame?
Last night was the first parents’ evening for my son’s new college. We are not parents’ evening kind of parents as a rule. If we or the school has to wait three months to talk about a problem, my theory is that it isn’t a problem worth talking about. Similarly, no teacher is going to lean across the table in a crowded sports’ hall and say; ‘your kid is a back chatting, lazy git. SORTITOUT.’ If they have waited to tell you something awful, it comes out in passive aggressive feasts of euphemistic doublespeak that I could do without.
Or there isn’t anything the matter in which case, you don’t need to go to school so that they can tell you your kid is terrific. Hopefully you already know that.
Having said all of that, I found myself wending my way to the new place in a spirit of new beginnings and the admonishment to not be so cynical. After all, this was not a school school. This was a dedicated drama school for 17 and 18 year old BTEC students. The email had said it was 5.30 to 7.30 pm. There were no other instructions. I assumed it would be a relaxed, informal thing with a few minutes introduction and then a chance to chat to the tutors if you wanted to. I reckoned if I got there at 5.30 I could be home by 6.30 at the latest.
How wrong I was.
After we had been signed in on the register, we were escorted to the theatre space where we were subjected to a wonky, out of focus slide show and an hour long lecture on how the school is a nurturing family, but if your kid arrives ten minutes late in the morning there will be consequences. There will also be consequences for almost everything else you care to mention. Similarly, the students are old enough to be largely self-guided but could you as the parents make sure that they have the right uniform, get up on time, do their homework, attend to their deadlines, run their lines and get into RADA.
After that we were split into the three subjects the school teaches and given another lecture about how acting is a passion and a gift, but also hard, sweaty graft. Acting is a vocation but also teaching is a vocation, but also hard work.
I knew all this already because I grew up watching The Kids From Fame. The words of leg warmered dance teacher, Lydia are forever emblazoned in my brain.
“You’ve got big dreams? You want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying … in sweat.”
Bangs big dancey stick on the floor. Exeunt pursued by bear.
Only I couldn’t exeunt because we were in the theatre space and the only way out was down through the seating and across the front of the stage. I did feel very much like I was being pursued by a bear though. The bear of my righteous anger at having been dragged all that way for a lot of pointless, clipboard fuelled nonsense.
Some of the kids in this school drive cars and own more facial hair than a bus load of pensioners. Some of them can vote and drink whisky sours. Some of them are old enough to get married. I’m not suggesting we cut their hair and force them to join the army, but they should surely not need their parents to cajole them into wearing clean pants and doing their homework on time? If they do, I feel they have already self-selected themselves out of the brutal business that is show.
I kept my mouth shut. I sat patiently through the pointless questions from parents: ‘When you say that if they’re late, they won’t be allowed in - what if a herd of wildebeest obstruct the Elizabeth Line and they can’t come in until London Zoo has recaptured them all?’ ‘When you say they will be marked on their performance, what if they take a risk and decided to do a one man show of The Caucasian Chalk Circle dressed as a duck but it all goes wrong? Will they get points for trying?’
It was a shame really, because all I had really wanted to do was find someone and say:
‘Thank you for taking a chance on my son when he was broken and desperate. You gave him a reason to keep trying when there wasn’t anything else. Thank you for the last two weeks in which he got himself up for college every day because he wants to come here more than he wants to lie in bed. Thank you for the gift of him saying to me: ‘I just realised in the last few days that I’m a normal boy again. I’m really confused by it, but it feels good.’’