Part of my reasons for wanting to be an actor, all those millions of years ago, was that I liked the idea that telling a story might somehow have an effect on someone in the audience. The idea that someone might be moved enough by the themes in MacBeth or Comedians to rethink an aspect of their lives was sort of my Holy Grail – and I think it was for most Turns of my generation.
The frustrating thing is that you never got to find out. There’d be the odd time when somebody came up to say how much they enjoyed the show or what you did or whatever, but there was never any inkling as to whether they’d been affected on the profound level that you were secretly hoping for. And that’s where doing authory things, like school visits, ticks an idealistic box for me.
I’ve just got back from doing an author visit/gig/yap at Easthampstead Park Community School, near Reading. It was my first author gig of the year and, not having done one for a few weeks, I was a bit nervous, rusty and dusty. But, within minutes of being there, I was introduced to a number of students, all bubbling with questions and excitement about whatever it was that I was going to do.
Before a do, I like to try and mingle a bit with the audience and find out a bit about them and let them ask me a few questions on the fly; it’s a bit like taking the temperature of the room, before anything happens.
And then I kicked off and we were off and running. I can’t remember all the questions; I kick into Chatterbox Mode and try and get as much into those sixty minutes as I can, but the crowd were really responsive and we created an event that will be unique to that school. But it’s less to do with me and more to do with the engagement of the students.
After the event, there was a signing, where I got to yap to people on a more personal level and had some very lovely conversations. What I really got out of it was that thing you never really get as an actor: people telling you why they enjoyed it and how it’s made them rethink things or maybe argue about why Sci-Fi is better than Fantasy or whatnot. But that Holy Grail is closer in this situation than it is when you’re dressed up and pretending to be someone else.
In some way, the best bits – the most personal exchanges – are those that happen before or after an event. I was introduced today to people who told me their future dreams, unaware that they were helping me fulfil a few of my idealistic little ambitions. One guy even told me it was an honour to meet me. In reality, I think the honour has to be mine.
Easthampstead Park School is a great school, packed with great and enthusiastic pupils – and they’re crying out for authors. So, if you’re one, drop ’em a line – you’ll have a blast. It’s good to talk.
PS. There was one guy there who I was humbled to have met and I just want to thank him for filming the event. No names – but keep flying the flag, chap. When I was 11, I told a proper grown-up actor that that was what I wanted to do. He told me: “If you want it enough, you’ll make it happen. But you’ve got to want it.” Same goes.