The young man on the VHS tape : A writer’s journey.

There’s a line in one of the best songs ever written, Being Boring by the Pet Shop Boys, which goes, ‘I never dreamed that I would get to be the creature that I always meant to be’. I was thinking of this earlier today when I was going through some old vhs tapes, having borrowed a vcr from a friend for a couple of days.

As I was scanning through, hoping to see something which might inspire my spoken word shows, I found a brief clip of a video some friends had made back in the end of the 1990s. I’d just moved to Devon from Surrey and I didn’t know anyone, so, much to my family’s amazement, I joined acting classes at the local theatre. I was hopeless at the actual acting, but I really enjoyed the warm-up exercises, and the fact that I was meeting all new friends. And they were different to the friends I’d had in Surrey, who were the people I’d been to school and sixth form with. These were arty types, actors and performers, and while they were all around ten years older than myself, we became good friends.

Eventually a select few of us began to do projects away from the official lessons, and this is where I found my niche as a writer of sketches and scripts for the group to perform mostly on cassettes, hoping that one day we might get a radio show. I wasn’t keen on the performing part, but I would write all kinds of silly things, amusing scenes and monologues.

The video shows the group playing around, and then the camera pans over very briefly showing a glimpse of a good looking young thin man in his mid twenties sitting on the floor, watching everything intently, and yet with a slight hint of misery. The sort of hint of misery you get from someone who wants to perform but is incredibly rubbish, the sort of hint of misery you get from a young man who wants to come out to the world but feels unable and constrained. The young man was very good looking, or at least, i thought so, and I pressed pause. Of course, it was me.

It was a shock, more so that I hadn’t realised how much weight I’d put on in the twenty years hence. But it was more of a shock because I remember how I felt at the time, jealous of these actors with their training and their university backgrounds and their joviality and their knowledge of what to say and how to say it to gain the maximum laughs. They’re obviously performing something I’ve written, because I remember that every now and then I would suggest revisions, write new lines.

(I remember on one occasion writing a monologue about a rocket scientist who falls in love with his rocket and doesn’t want it to launch. I couldn’t see at the time how phallic the monologue was, and couldn’t understand why nobody wanted to perform it!)

But the biggest shock of all is that I now perform, and do so regularly, and get paid for doing so. Ok, so I’m not a comic actor or a playwright, but I use my mouth and the things I’ve written to make people laugh.

Sadly, I didn’t keep in touch with any of the people from the little group. It all kind of fizzled out, and we all moved on with our lives.

About ten years after the video was made, around 2008, I finally made it in to a play, a Northcott Theatre production of Sarah Kane’s Crave. The camaraderie was just the same and this time I have managed to stay in touch with some of the people in it. A year later I wrote a play, Fuselage, and amazingly it won a playwriting competition and was produced in a rehearsed reading with a professional cast. And a year after that, I discovered spoken word.

And of course, I came out. In the year 2000. The start of the millennium!

This year I’m working on my Edinburgh show, Juicy, which follows on from Static last year, and they both probably might trace back their lineage to Fuselage, and then further back to the sketches I wrote, and perhaps even further back than that, to 1987 when, as a kid, I’d crank out humorous stories on my old typewriter which I still have now and use whenever I’m a Poet in Residence anywhere.

It’s been an amazing journey, and all conjured up from that one brief image.

As another Pet Shop Boys song might have gone,
‘I was faced with a choice at a difficult age, would I write a book, or should I take to the stage?’
So I became a spoken word artist and did both!

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