Working In The Theatre
Leaving home and living on my own allowed who I was inside to bubble to the surface, or so I thought. I was free of the control and domination, and free to control and dominate myself. This was what I knew and how I had learned to express myself. My years in the theatre were a, sometimes painful, process of understanding myself and how the world saw me. It was a process of learning that I could not just control and dominate the world, or if I did I needed to offer it something more than just bluster.
In this second chapter of my spiritual memoir I look at the decade I spent as a young man out in the world, free from ties and open to do whatever I wanted. The beginning was over and life was starting for real. As I pointed out last week, it started in loneliness, the loneliness of being released and losing the everyday certainties at home, even if those were certainties I hated. I was released, through my own efforts to find a way forward, and through my desire to be in charge.
Working in the theatre was a massive effort of learning and absorbing. It was not just information that was thrown at me, but also people and how they communicated. Communication was not my forte, at this point, but I learned—quickly. What came out of this, in the long term, was the ability to persuade and manipulate people, something I used later in life. When I joined organisations, I often ended up chairing committees or running them. I did this because people saw that I could get things done and bring others onside.
This started in a faltering way before I learned subtle methods of influence. In my second theatre job, at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford, I was put in charge of the part-time stage crew. This in itself was a recognition that I was changing from the shy, home-sick boy of some months earlier. In my first job, at the old Birmingham Repertory Theatre, I had been asked, after just a few months, if I was interested in being the Assistant Production Manager. Unfortunately, the guy who asked me did not get the job, he became the assistant himself. It was an extraordinary revelation, though, that people saw something in me.
On to Guildford where I was in charge of the crew. The memory I have of being in charge was not really succeeding. There was a moment when I understood that control was not a simple matter. I was standing on stage with the crew around me. I was telling them what I wanted for the current show, and how things would work. They were messing around and not paying attention. One man, in particular, was mocking me and not taking me seriously. There was a point at which I lost my self-control and hit him in the stomach. There the memory ends. The effect on me was not the result I achieved but the way I went about it. I cringe when I remember doing this and I vowed never to do it again.
There was a natural dominance that I had that people looked up to and admired. When I moved on from Guildford to my three year stint at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, I found my way into politics through the start of my involvement in Trade Unions. The first of many unions I joined was Equity, the actor's union. I joined as a stage manager and became deeply involved. From that point on, my life in work always had an element of contribution through either unions or professional associations. I always saw my life as one to give back some of what I took from it. I saw that my place in the world was one of privilege and that I repaid this privilege whenever I could. I was part of a larger picture and a satisfied life, for me, was one that acknowledged this picture.
The Need To Be Creative
My need to dominate continued on a personal level but on a wider scale it became sublimated in helping others. I turned the negative aspects of my character into something positive. I later realised that this was a critical point in the shift I made through my life. I learned that you can never get rid of the essential parts of yourself that have been built up in your formative years. Whether these are inherent characteristics, ones that you have been taught, or ones that society has created in you, they remain with you whatever happens. The key is how you treat them. If you work to suppress them, they come back at you with force. If you accept them as part of you, they subside and cease to control you. I learned this, but over many years.
In Glasgow I joined Equity and quickly became involved. I volunteered as union rep (representative), a position that mainly involved ensuring the company kept the rules in the contracts. This got me interested in the details of the contracts—a weird interest, I know—and took me to a place of agitating for a proper contract for Stage Managers. I joined the Scottish Committee of the union and found myself sitting in committee with well-known Scottish actors. This was an experience that helped me to see how to influence rather than dominate. I went on to join a three man sub-committee tasked with choosing a new Scottish Organiser for the Equity, and go down to London as a delegate at the National Conference.
I was moving on rapidly, but without the dedication or passion to make all this part of my life. I hit the barrier I had encountered earlier in my life, at school. I did not know where I wanted to go and did not seek any advice about where I could best place my focus. The work with Equity went nowhere because It was always a side issue to the work I was doing in the theatre. After three years I moved on from the Citizens Theatre and Scotland and left it all behind. I picked similar work up again in the ABTT (the Association of British Theatre Technicians) and the IALD (The International Association of Lighting Designers) but it always took second place to my main thrust of creativity.
The need to be creative became the driving force in my life. It overrode everything else. It was more important than the need to simply dominate or influence. Looking back I see that it was the premier way I absorbed the need to control fully into my work. I was not satisfied with doing what others wanted, indeed I strove against this. My union work in Glasgow was a way of bringing this into my job, doing what others wanted. This was never sufficient, so I looked around for a way of bringing creativity into my work.
I had always rejected being an actor. I told myself that this was because they had such difficulty getting work, but really it was because of my lack of confidence. This also influenced my not going forward with ideas of being a director, even though this was an ideal route for me. I directed one play, at Salisbury Playhouse, but the process did not inspire or, so it seemed, others. Eventually, though, I saw lighting design as a perfect blend of technical expertise and creative control. I moved into light and changed everything about my life.
Through light I found my voice; through light I found my ability to write; through light I found my purpose in the world.
The story of light is for later, but it is important to acknowledge, at this stage, that the concept of light grew from the design of stage and architectural lighting to the understanding of light in all its forms, including the idea of inner, or spiritual, light. This will become my central story and my saving grace. The need to dominate or control shifted into a desire to influence which then, in its turn, became a love of teaching and inspiring. So something good came out of it after all.
Next I will look back on how I came to live, in this period, and how I so often failed at it.