Tuesday, March 24, 2015

My Life in the Theater, Part 3: Keeping Pacey

The wonderful Irish nurse stayed on [in the Ministry of Humour], and was joined by an entrepreneurial Scottish woman who made her living delivering sandwiches to office workers, and a young woman who sang well and was perceived by everyone but me as the sexiest young woman in the UK. She’d studied at Oxford and was romantically linked to a drummer whose parents owned a chain of very profitable hair salons. But by far the most important addition was Peter Pacey, a person of my own vintage who’d been acting for decades, and been in actual films as well as plays. When he came to audition, he presented me with a bottle of excellent red wine, as though his huge talent and cordiality were insufficient! I felt as though I’d traded in a moped for an Aston-Martin.

He was a joy to work with. Having learned all his lines the night before our first rehearsal together, he never failed to turn up on time, never flubbed a line, and kept his mouth shut, even while others where whining ever more shrilly about everything under the sun. (The Scottish woman, for instance, was much aggrieved that I didn’t allow her to trot out as many accents in the show as the Irish nurse used.) He turned out to be an early adaptor of The Who, some of whose first performances outside London he’d seen while a kid down in Brighton, and not posh, as his speech suggested. His poshness was a role he’d written for himself.

By and by, the Ministry of Humour, as the troupe was called, crumbled. The three women agreed that a troupe directed from the inside (that is, by one of the actors — me!) had a fool for a director. (I agreed in many ways, but have never been comfortable entrusting My Vision to outsiders.) I’d hoped to start something new with Peter, but I don’t think sketch comedy was what he most enjoyed, and he felt uncomfortable having to sing (the show alternated sketches and songs), so off he went. But he continued to take my calls, and, for no payment, ever, to be the male lead in a succession of little projects I conceived both before and after my next troupe, Clear & Present Rangers, collapsed in the face of my and its best actress wanting to strangle each other. Enjoy his performance as the male lead, the teenaged drug dealer/singing competition contestant Tarquin, in Mistress Kali’s London. [Mum and Dad are played by the sublime Nicole Forbes and the sublime Stiofan Lanigan-O'Keeffe.

A couple of years after Mistress Kali, I saw him in a not-terribly-major production of Waiting for Godot in Southwark, London. His character was required to grab a chicken leg that another character had tossed onto the stage and gnaw it ravenously. His doing so seemed emblematic of his dedication to his craft. (Would you eat something picked up from a stage on which people had been walking for a couple of hours?)

The dedication of such persons inspires me. Peter’s in his mid-60s now, and I suspect has never known a single day of great wealth, though he entertains, in his little flat in Shepherds Bush as though to the manor born. (The Who claimed to be from Shepherds Bush, because it was fashionable in those days for pop groups to feign backgrounds of woeful deprivation.) If life in general and the arts in particular were fair, he’d be as in-demand as Michael Caine. Between rehearsals, paid and otherwise, he rides his bicycle around west London photographing billboards for advertising companies. Although immensely smart and immensely charming, he forsook money (and the security it bestows) to do that which he loves.

Give me such persons every day of the week over those who gave up that which they loved for a bigger house or a flashier car. Give me those who, like myself, adore the sound of applause. Those who both want and need to create something. 

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