An Actor Unprepares…Part 2 – ‘The Stoopid Embargo’

My adventures in amateur dramatics continue. The rehearsals with our little group are well under way and we are nearing, what I like to call, ‘The Eric Morecombe’ stage. We are saying all the right words, just not necessarily in the right order. I am confident however that we are putting together a really good show. But, at six weeks out, it is time for me to enforce ‘The Stoopid Embargo’.

In 1964 Burt Lancaster was the lead in the film, The Train. It was set during WWII and concerned a train load of stolen French art being transported to Germany, and a French railwayman’s attempts to stop it. During filming Burt Lancaster took a day off filming to play golf. Whilst doing so he stepped into a hole and wrenched his knee, aggravating an old injury. Consequently a scene had to be added where he was shot in the leg to explain why he spent the rest of the film limping.

Burt had failed to enforce ‘ The Stoopid Embargo’.

Back in 1992 I was up at the Edinburgh Fringe with a youth theatre show. One night, a few of us were stepping out to partake of the lively nightlife Edinburgh can offer during August.We were all in our lateish teens (my Fringe Club ID card said I was 18, so I must have been old enough to drink. Wink wink.) and at the height of our immortality. A friend of mine raced up the side of a pedestrian underpass and dashed over the road to the other side. I, being easily led, did the same. I ran down the angled slope the other side. My friend, however, leapt down across the open mouth of the underpass.His landing was…inelegant. It resulted in a cut eyebrow and, when we lifted his sleeve, the discovery of a badly broken wrist. Cancelled performances, surgery and a couple of nights in hospital followed. Did I mention there was a very nice young lady with us, in case you needed a clue to our graceless machismo.

The ‘Stoopid Embargo’, if you haven’t already guessed, is the self imposed rule when I’m approaching a performance, to try and limit the risk of injuring myself in an easily avoidable way. Accidents happen, but in my case, over the years there have been some which are, frankly, my own bloody fault. Since becoming a father these seem to have increased. I’ve stopped trying to impress girls, and now try to impress a little boy instead.

Jumping on my son’s scooter and riding it across the road to faceplant on the other side when I hit the gutter. Jumping with both feet onto a 2ltr plastic bottle full of water to see how far I could squirt the water, failing to remember the fact that water doesn’t compress, meaning I was essentially jumping onto a solid pipe, that rolled and despatched me hilariously on my arse, a dismount that also included a wheelie bin, a conservatory door and a giggling 9 year old.

Your getting the idea? Because I have barely started. Streaking along a frozen river in Sweden. (That turned the soles of my feet black!) Taking part in the Father’s race at my son’s Sports Day. (I am, as the blog name implies, a heavy set gentleman). Wrenched my tendons so badly I couldn’t walk properly for three days.

I first employed the ‘Embargo’ last autumn. We were out shopping and a waist high pillar attracted my attention for a playful leapfrog. I took two steps and paused. It was slightly higher then I thought, and, possibly for the first time in my life, the worst case scenario flashed before my eyes. From a thundering crunch in the groin to broken bones, black eyes and, worse of all, the eye-rolling, ‘told you so’ expression from Mrs Bloke. My son tried egging me on chanting ‘do it, do it’ but I resisted peer pressure with a rueful smile. Since turning 40 every little wrench, pull and strain seem to hurt so much more.

So, along with all the time it takes to learn lines, rehearse, source props and costumes and publicise our play, I am also sacrificing the right to be stoopid! Remember that when buying your tickets for the theatre!

Alright, one last story. Back in my A- Level student days in Leicester we were rehearsing, I think, The Cherry Orchard by Chekhov, as well as working on our exam pieces. We were killing some time in the drama studio playing football with an empty milk carton. I was wearing a pair of chunky brogues with a thick heel and, during the roughhouse tackling, I turned my ankle and wrenched all sorts of muscles and tenders and ligaments. It didn’t hurt too badly at first, so we did our rehearsal and went to the pub. (I was almost certainly 18 at this point!) By  closing time though I found myself almost unable to walk, and not because of the usual reason. My good buddies had to carry me to the bus station to catch my last bus home. Once back in Market Harborough I had to get a taxi! (An act of heresy to this cheapskate!) The house was in dark silence as I hobbled through the door and winced my way up the stairs. My mother, bless her heart, no doubt awakened by maternal instincts, or possibly the sound of me crashing into things, woke and enquired after my welfare. I removed my shoes and trousers and discovered my a ankle and foot had swollen to twice its normal size.

Now, don’t ask me why, but for some reason I thought she’d be cross with me if I admitted I had done it playing football, so instead I told her I had done it pretending to be a sperm. 20 years on and I’m really, really not sure why. Put it down to ‘stoopid’ and cider. As part of our A-Level practical exam piece we were enacting a conception. (I know, drama students right!) and I told her I had stumbled during that.

Hospital the next day; bandages, crutches, agonising physiotherapy. We told people in the outside world that I had done it playing football (I.E, the truth) because it was less embarrassing. (Again, no idea why I wasn’t honest. Sorry mum.) It took weeks before I was fully back in action. Luckily, both my small part in the Cherry Orchard and the A-Level exam piece were unaffected.

So, with opening night of the 21st November I am wrapping myself in cotton wool, and taking that indulgent moment to second guess before I act on impulse.

For the moment, at least, I am stowing the ‘stoopid’

You can read my first blog entry about the am-dram acting experience ‘An Actor Unprepares’ here. The title, incidentally, is an homage to ‘An Actor Prepares’ by Konstantin Stanislavski. The great figure of ‘Method’ acting, a book I own, and very nearly once read.

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