Getting into character

When I was a young child education finished when the school bell rang.

You sprinted out of the building, said goodbye to your chums and then spent the rest of the day coming up with useless ways to amuse yourself. Climbing trees so you could chuck stones at your brother down below, flinging cow dung into his face, pushing each other into nettles. They were happy times.

But society has taken a firmer grip since then. Education is a much broader concept. We’re continually being told that the most important learning takes place in the home. What is begun in school with the teacher should be continued by the parents.

And opportunities are everywhere now. The number of extra-curricular activities available to children today is, frankly, mind-boggling. In our little boy’s short life so far he’s already taken classes in swimming, tennis, yoga, taxidermy, rugby, football, music, morris dancing, goat staring, yodelling, goose counting and collecting navel fluff (I’ve made some of these up, but you get the idea).

The village centre next to his school offers a seemingly never-ending variety of activities. I know some mummies with several children who seem to run themselves almost to exhaustion hauling different members of the family from one class to the next.

There’s an obsession with making sure the kids don’t miss out on anything. Give them every chance. They might be a ballet genius. A piano virtuoso. A Wimbledon champion.

And I’m utterly hopeless at it all. Left to me the only class my poor boy would ever have partaken in is Sofa slouching: From beginners to advanced. Learn from an expert with over 40 years of experience.

Joining classes was never my thing. It meant meeting new people, learning new skills. Habits I spent most of my life trying to avoid.

Thankfully mummy is a bit more proactive. And so it is that after school we’re in the village centre for drama class.

The lovely instructor Jo gets all of the children to sit in a circle. Six children in the room. And me.

Regular readers will know my boy is very shy and sensitive. But despite this we have high hopes for drama because it seems to suit the personality we know he has, it’s all about creativity and imagination.

It’s just that he doesn’t want to do it alone. He wants to do it sitting on my knee.

I don’t want to give the impression that he’s being dragged along to something he doesn’t want to partake in. That we’re pushy parents trying to force him into awkward corners. I ask him a couple of times if he’s having fun and he always nods. I’ve seen my boy at classes which he doesn’t enjoy. He lets you know soon enough. It never ends well.

He definitely wants to do this. He’s just not ready to do it on his own yet.

And that’s just fine.

So while Jo is introducing the class I inevitably think about my own acting experiences. There aren’t any.

Well, except for a class production of the assassination scene from Julius Caesar when I played the crowd. It was a non-speaking role. However, my brooding intensity was much admired, although scandalously overlooked during awards season.

Jo starts us off by getting us to do a bit of superhero dancing. It’s a decent warm-up. We run around in circles with a straight arm protruding humming the Superman theme song. The inhibitions are quickly shed.

Some of these children are very vocal. I suppose this is to be expected in a drama class. They start to babble excitedly to the instructor. She deals with them patiently. My wee man is a little intimidated by the noise and buries his head in my chest. I tell him he doesn’t have to stay but he insists he wants to.

Monkeys is to be the theme of this week’s class. Jo wants us to act out the parts of lots of different simians.

But there’s a problem. I’m just not feeling it. I can’t quite seem to get into character. I ask Jo what my motivation is. She answers me in the same placid, unruffled tone she uses with the kids.

We run around the room doing impressions of gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans. My son laughs at how animated I’ve become. But all of my monkey impressions are much the same. I’m worried about the apparent limitations in my range.

While I’m running around cupping my arms and shouting ‘ooh ooh ooh’ I notice that a number of adults are gathered outside and staring in the window. But it’s too late for dignity. I give them a moronic look, scratch my head and mimic eating a banana.

I used to be a respected professional, you know.

Next Jo tells us a story. It’s about lots of different types of monkeys in a zoo. It’s a preamble to us all acting out the parts in a little sketch.

My son and I are chosen to play the gorillas (a step up from being the crowd in Julius Caesar I suppose). This necessitates us both beating our chests and roaring a lot. I’ve got an advantage in that this is how I usually behave when I’m about the house.

Jo gives us a couple of lines. When it’s our turn I bellow them. My son whispers them. Nobody else can hear him, but I do and that’s enough. I know he’s having a good time.

The class finishes with some colouring in, which I imagine is a method of calming the children down after all the monkey mayhem.

Jo gives the kids a bag of sweets and then we’re off. As we’re driving home my son asks me if mummy will be home from work yet. We’ve had a lovely day but I can see him slowing down a little now. The day catching up with him.

I tell him that mummy will be home soon. When we enter the house he disappears straight upstairs. Soon he returns carrying a pair of mummy’s pyjamas. He is holding them against his face. It seems a bit odd.

‘What are you doing bud?’ I softly inquire.

‘It’s so I can feel mummy right here until she comes home.’

Children, just like great actors, have that uncanny ability to speak straight to your heart.

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