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Playwriting and stage smooching

Life intervenes. My acting class has been postponed to an unknown date because my teacher's mother has become seriously ill. What now? I ask myself.

Life intervenes.

My acting class has been postponed to an unknown date because my teacher’s mother has become seriously ill.

What now? I ask myself. What is the next step in this process of becoming an actor?

Am I ready to find an agent? Enrol in a new class?

Do I look for a non-acting part time job?

Do I try to find other writing gigs?

Maybe I should go home to Teslin for a visit, though I am booked to go home in June also.

In the midst of my mental conundrum of deciding what to do, my friend (and scene partner) Anthony invited me to attend a David Mamet play, Oleanna, directed by one of our other classmates.

Before the play, we went for a coffee. Anthony has become a bit of a mentor to me, though he is my brother’s age (two years younger).

Kate paired us to work on a scene from Don Nigro’s Seascape with Sharks and Dancer for a presentation night. It would be my first time performing in a theatre for the public, besides the plays and dances my friends and I staged as pre-teens in our living rooms for our parents.

Before rehearsals set in motion, Anthony said we needed to make a pact. A pact, I learned, is an actor’s boundaries.

“You can punch and hit me here,” He motioned to the fleshier parts of his arms. “My chest and my thighs are fine ... hmm ...”. His voice became serious. “But under no circumstance may you hit me here.” He marked an invisible boundary around his groin area.

“Oh, goodness, no.” I nodded, understanding the implications.

“You can bite and pinch, but no puncturing the skin. What else ... hmmm? Do you know how to pull hair properly?”

“I have a little brother,” I giggled, and then flinched as Anthony grabbed a fistful of my hair and mimicked a yanking motion.

“See, I am not actually pulling your hair.” He tugged up and down.

Surprisingly, I am unharmed. He released my hair from his fist and I unfurled my brow.

“I think that’s all.” He scratched his head.

“What about kissing?” I asked, bashfully.

My whole life I have admired and envied actors who get to kiss one another under the imaginary circumstances of a story. Ever since I was a child and recognized the trend in popular stories—girls are princesses, boys are princes and I need rescuing.

I wanted to be kissed.

In Kindergarten at Grey Mountain Primary, we played ‘Kissy boys and Kissy girls,’ a game where boys chase girls and vice versa. If you were caught, you were kissed. I fashioned an extremely realistic (but staged) plummet into the dirt and won many kisses.

Blame Disney. I was hardwired this way.

By the age of seven, my head was pumped full of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Little Mermaid stories.

I was disappointed when I realized not all boys are princes and relationships are more complex than killing a sea witch and claiming your lover.

Girls can be bitches and princes can be toads.

Naturally, I developed a fascination with stage kisses (although, I have never been kissed on stage ... yet).

“That’s another thing.” Anthony points his finger sternly. “Whatever anybody tells you, you never need to use your tongue. It’s a lie.”

“Phew ... no tongue,” I said, honestly.

“We are actors. It is our job to make a kiss look believable without the tongue.”

Coming from Don Juan DeMarco of stage loving, I take this as sound advice.

After chatting a while, I tell Anthony I think I am ready to find an agent and maybe this is the perfect time considering the extended break in classes.

“You seem like you have your head in the right place,” he said, matter of factly. “It’s not that big of a thing ... you can get an agent.”

I swallow my inner cynic and the impulse to shake him.

“The only thing ... I suggest is to consider your craft. Sometimes actors are so trapped in the idea of getting film and TV work they forget about the growth of their craft ....” He paused.

Then his eyes beamed with enthusiasm

“You should be in a play!” he said.

Images of stage fright, bad humour, silent audiences and failure flicker rapidly through my mind.

I inhale. The first acting teacher I ever had told me I was meant to be a film and television actor.

“You are a film girl ... and besides, the camera loves you!” that teacher had said with such certainty and adoration I took it as a compliment.

But now the more I think about the prospects of doing theatre the more the comment comes to mind.

What exactly did he mean?

I exhale.

“How do you find plays to perform in?”

I ask.

“Word of mouth. You just have to listen to the grapevine for casting calls.”

As we watched Mamet’s play, directed by our classmate Victor, I was far too preoccupied with Anthony’s suggestion to focus attention on the play itself.

It had nothing to do with the poor acting. I was completely absorbed by this potential new opportunity.

My awareness grew to encompass the whole theatre.

It slowly dawned on me, I was studying the audience, the small rugged venue, the stage, the dots on the back wall, the squeaking chairs, balding spots, cold air currents, a spider crawling on the floor, all while listening to the dialogue.

I was perched on my seat waiting expectantly, examining, thinking and bidding something to inspire me.

And it hit me. Theatre! There is more to it than performing.

I need to write a play!

As I sorted my thoughts, a vague memory entered my mind of an annual playwriting competition in Whitehorse. I stumbled across it on the internet a while back, but dismissed the thought because of time conflicts with my acting classes.

But, but, why not! Yes, serendipity, yes.

Later that evening, after returning home, I found the original source of my memory, Nakai’s 24-hour Playwriting Competition.

More serendipity. The dates had been pushed back from the original date.

I immediately phoned to confirm the competition date, which is to take place at the Westmark April 18-19, sent my registration form in and booked my flight home.

Hurray! I am coming home to write my first play. I can write in as many stage kisses as I want!

Doors close, others open. Opportunities fold, and new ones unfold.

Life intervenes.

Ashley Hunking grew up in Teslin.

She is now a freelance writer and

actor who lives in Vancouver.