Toby stands outside his mum’s flat, takes a deep breath and knocks on the door. He can hear thumping and a bit of swearing. Bottles clank together and he can hear cans rustling around and scratching the walls. Eventually the door opens and he’s face to face with a bleary eyed Maria. She looks at him for a few moments before she smiles widely and throws her arms around her son.
“My little baby!” she cries, “Aww, my little baby’s come to see me. Come in, come in, ignore the mess,”
She practically drags him in the flat. She stumbles as she walks and she probably would have fallen over a few times if Toby wasn’t there to hold her up. She leads them in to the kitchen, probably the only place in the entire flat that isn’t a complete mess or filled with empty bottles and cans. She wobbles and sways a bit as she stands there, looking at her son and when she speaks she sounds a little slurred. Toby’s used to it though. He usually comes to see her in the evenings and it’s almost always guaranteed that she’ll be pissed by then. Despite all of the alcohol in her system though she can still read her little boy well and knows instantly that something is wrong. She liked to think of it as a mother’s instinct, still alive and kicking despite everything.
“You look like you’ve got the world on your shoulders,” she says, “What’s wrong?”
“You heard about Granddad?” he asks, sighing heavily and taking a seat at the table. “He’s in hospital.”
“Yeah, I heard,” Maria says softly. She comes up behind Toby and runs her fingers through his hair. “But I know it’s more than that. There’s something else wrong and it’s with you.”
“I left home,” Toby admits, “Because of Dad.”
“I don’t blame you,” Maria says, slurring heavily, “What’s he been doing to you now?”
“He keeps hassling me about football,” Toby says harshly. He starts to rant, “He keeps going on and on about me becoming a professional player stuff. He wants me to keep practicing and showing them how much I want it even though I don’t. He’s just trying to control my life and butt in where he’s not wanted. I just had enough!”
“Typical!” Maria says. She settles herself in to one of the kitchen chairs, wobbling and swaying slightly, “He can’t sort his own life out but he’s more than happy to try and sort out other people’s. That’s why I left him you know? Left your dad. He’s got no ambition of his own and keeps trying to live off other people. He’s got no get up and go, won’t get up off his fat, lazy arse and become someone all by himself.”
Toby doesn’t say a word, he just traces patterns on the table top. This is nothing new that he’s hearing. He’s well used to Maria slagging Anthony off by now, she pretty much always gets on to the topic whenever Toby comes around. He knows what she’s saying and kind of understands where she’s coming from but it still hurts a little. He’s asked her before, once or twice, not to talk about his dad like that but she never listens or remembers. So now Toby just sits there, not really listening. He still likes his dad, even if they don’t see eye to eye. He doesn’t want to become like his mum and just be a dad hater all of the time.
“Do you know what your dad’s problem always was?” Maria continues, not even noticing that Toby isn’t actually listening, “He listened to his dad too much. Your granddad? Oh he was a controlling bastard, you wouldn’t believe it. Your dad’s dad had so much influence over him it was unreal. He’d say jump and your dad would ask how high. It would have been ok if his dad was a clever bastard but he was far from it. Your dad was just too stupid to realise it and listened and did what he was told now matter how stupid the idea was.”
Toby winced at the dig at Granddad but let it go. Maria is pissed, he’s willing to overlook it. She always says more than what she thinks, the alcohol exaggerating her emotions, mild dislike and annoyance with a person turning in to hatred, a small bit of happiness turning in to overwhelming joy like she’s won the lottery. She won’t remember saying any of what she’s said in the morning though so Toby just lets her get on with it. There’s no point trying to stop her. Toby gets up and gets a soft drink from the fridge, she always has some there, waiting for him just in case. He tells her his current favourite whenever it changes and despite everything she always makes sure that she has a few cans of it in the fridge for whenever he comes round. The cans have even got a post it note on them with his name on, each and every single can, as though to ward off anyone else who might try to take one. She asks him to get her another beer and he does.
She makes him a late dinner, swaying a little as she does so. It’s the best that she can manage but Toby wolfs it down. Even though it’s only oven food and slightly burnt he enjoys every bite. There’s just something about the fact that his mum has cooked for him, even if she doesn’t really want to, that makes him feel loved for just being a son and no other reason. They sit there and talk for a while afterwards, catching up on the things in their lives that are going on. There’s nothing really happening in Maria’s life so she doesn’t have much to say but she keeps asking Toby about his life, and about Rebecca. He finds himself telling her everything, about Scooby, about training, about the stunt double role, about Fiona and about his sudden drive to become an actor. He even tells her about Emma and what his possibly soon to be ex-girlfriend has been doing. She reacts in all of the right ways and even gets excited when he tells her about becoming an actor.
Even if she won’t remember it all in the morning Toby is still smiling when he leaves. As he heads back to his house share in Manchester he feels happier. He’s exhausted of course, it’s been a long day and he still doesn’t have many of his things at his new place. He decides not to go back to his dad’s that night. The rest of his things can wait until another day.
The next day Toby is due to go to his acting classes. He’s excited, he can’t believe that he’s finally going to have the chance to be treated like a serious actor. But he still has training. The classes don’t start until 4pm though so he can attend part of his training and then bunk off. He doesn’t want to tell anyone where he’s going, or why he’s leaving suddenly so in the middle of a game, when some of the players, including him, are being made to stand on the side lines and watch he quietly slips away. No one is paying him any attention, all eyes are fixed on the pitch and he makes his escape from the Academy without anyone spotting him.
Well almost no one. Scooby happened to catch sight of him slipping in to the changing rooms but didn’t say a word. He just gave Toby the thumbs up and turned back to the game, shouting at those who were playing. Toby had told Scooby about getting in to the National Association of Performing Arts when they had made up and his friend had been really excited for him. Apparently he is still excited and wants to make sure that Toby can do what he wants, even if they don’t agree on it.
When he gets to the college and makes his way to the classroom there are already several other people there. It looks like he’s one of the last to arrive and he takes a seat quickly. The tutor, or at least, someone who looks like he could be a tutor, walks in and throws his briefcase on the desk.
“Hello everyone,” the tutor says, “My name is Gavin and I will be your course tutor. Now, before we begin I want you each to stand up and say why you are here. Share it, no matter how ridiculous you might think it is. Remember, you are all here to improve your acting in some shape or form, no one is better than anyone else. If you were you wouldn’t be here at all.”
The class laughs quietly and then they look around at each other. No one really wants to go first.
“Come on people,” Gavin cries, “You’re supposed to be actors, you’re supposed to want people to look at you. Someone go first!”
“Ok,” one of the people says, standing up. “I’ll go first.”
They all turn in their seats to look at the man who spoke.
He’s a young man, he looks barely old enough to be out of school, let alone part of an acting class. Toby realises, as he looks around, that there are people of all different ages here. Maybe he isn’t the only one who’s only just discovered his desire to act. He glances at Gavin, the tutor and sees him smiling wide.
“Wonderful,” Gavin says, “Why don’t you stand up and tell us your name.”
The guy looks around uncertainly, glancing at all of the other class members. Gavin waves his hands at the man, encouraging him to stand up and speak.
“Ok.” The guy says, climbing to his feet, “My name’s Tom and I’m here because a casting director said that I lacked emotion. I want to learn how to put more emotion in to my performances.”
“And the next person?” he asks.
Now that someone has already stepped up people are more comfortable with it. One by one they all rise and share exactly why they’re there. Some are like Tom, trying to put more emotion in to their acting. The answers and reasons are all a little different though and Toby listens carefully to each person.
“I want to look like a natural,” One person says, “An agent said I looked like a wooden puppet so I want to sort it out.”
“There’s no tone in my voice,” another says, “I want to learn how to put tone in when I’m acting and how to make sure that I’m using the right tone.”
They keep going around the class, in a circle. Eventually it’s Toby’s turn. He takes a deep breath and stands. Everyone’s looking at him and just like that it’s like the stunt double audition all over again. He’s the centre of attention, all eyes are on him and his entire body starts to buzz and vibrate with excitement.
“I get really involved in my roles,” he starts, “But I’ve been told that my movement on stage is too stiff and fake. I need to be less pantomime if I’m going to make it as a professional actor.”
Gavin nods and they move on to the next person. Eventually they are all finished and Gavin stands up in front of everyone again.
“I trust that everyone heard what each other had to say clearly,” he says then looks around the room. Toby nods and sees dozens of other heads bobbing in agreement. “Good, I’m glad. If we all know why we’re here we can keep an eye out for each other’s weaknesses and point out when we’re falling in to those traps again. Thank you all for sharing.”
He walks to the front of the room with a poker straight back. He looks around at everyone, each person craning forwards. Toby sits on the edge of his seat, leaning forward. It feels like the entire room is waiting for Gavin to say something incredible.
“Right,” Gavin says, clapping his hands together. It makes everyone, including Toby, jump, “I want everyone to forget the reasons why we’re here. Not one of these reasons that you have given will be helpful to you in this class. They might be the reason that you’re here but they will not be solved until you remember one thing. Acting is about you.”
The class members look at each other in confusion. Toby can’t really understand what’s going on but there is something at the back of his mind, urging him to keep listening. There is something here, something important that Gavin is telling them that he needs to remember. At least, that’s what Toby’s gut is telling him. He listens to it, he always has, it has never once steered him wrong.
“If you want to act you have to essentially be yourself,” Gavin continues, starting to walk back and forth in front of the class, “You might be a different version of yourself, maybe a little more timid, a little louder, a little arrogant or more self doubting, but at the end of the day, you are the character. If you can’t be you in a scene then you will always be considered a poor actor.”
The class listen closely. He pauses, possibly for effect. He looks at them expectantly. They all turn and look at each other. Their expressions are full of doubt. Toby knows how they feel. This guy seems nuts to him. It’s a bit of an off the wall theory, nothing like what he’s read before during his short bursts of research online. But then again Gavin must be credible. After all, Toby and everyone else did walk in to a building with a massive sign on the front of it saying The National Association of Performing Arts. Toby knows that Gavin must know what he’s talking about. Otherwise, how would he even still have a job? He turns to Gavin, along with the others. Gavin smiles and returns to his speech.
“Acting, at the end of the day, is very simple,” he says, pacing back and forth once more “I know that we make it seems hard and mystical and full of secrets but really, it’s not. Anyone can do it really, most just choose not to or can’t understand or commit to what it takes to be a good actor.”
Toby sits back in his seat and takes out a notebook that Carrie shoved into his bag that morning. He starts to make notes, realising that he’s going to want to remember this all later. Gavin glances at him, catches sight of the notebook and the man’s grin grows wider. He nods to Toby and Toby smiles back a little hesitantly.
“To be a good actor you need to understand a few things. You need to understand the scene that you are in completely. It isn’t just your role that you need to understand but the entire scene. The playwright has put you, your character there for a reason and you need to understand exactly what is in the scene, as a whole. Don’t focus on just your role, your part. Know the entire scene, what other characters were saying before you appeared and what they may not be saying to you. Remember what you know already, as a person in the story that is being told. Allow that to shape your performance. You can’t react to information that you don’t know yet.”
Toby scribbles all of this down. He thinks that he knows what Gavin is trying to say. He needs to treat the scene, not like something that he is playing a part in. He needs to play it like it is real life, as though he is not Toby, the want to be actor, but he is Toby in whichever role the writer had put him in. It is part of his life, an everyday moment, not something that is planned out on paper with everything revealed eventually. Toby’s hand is hurting and he stops writing so he can shake out the cramp. Gavin grins even wider and chuckles a little bit.
“The second thing that you need to understand is the emotion,” Gavin eventually says. “How can you show the audience what you’re feeling? They can’t see inside your head, they don’t know what you’re thinking or feeling. So you need to show them this emotion, whether it’s through the way that you stand, how you are now talking or just the expression on your face. Of course in order to do that you need to understand the emotion that your character is feeling at that very moment and recreate it for everyone to see. You need to understand what emotion you’re experiencing, why you are experiencing it and then you need to recreate it for the wider audience.”
“Voila,” Gavin says, throwing his arms out wide, “If you can do those two things then you won’t even think of yourself as acting a role. You will BE the role, you will BE the character. And that, my friends, is when you will give your best performance. You must be the character and the character must be you. Without that you will never seem completely natural, part of the moment, it won’t be a person’s life that you’re acting in but it will be YOUR life. Forget that this is a story that you’re just playing a part of. This IS your story, this IS your life. I want you to all think about that for a few moments.”
Toby sits there and realises exactly what Gavin is saying. Part of him knew this before, he thinks, it’s why he completely immersed himself in the scenes with Fiona. But he didn’t understand it properly before. And finally it clicks, he understands what it was that Gavin was telling them about forgetting the reasons why they are all here. Acting isn’t about addressing what is wrong in the performance, it’s not about seeing what you are bad at and then fixing it. It isn’t like football or playing music. Toby knows football, he knows that if you’re poor at heading then you do more heading practice, just like he did with Scooby earlier. And he knows from listening to Rebecca sing and practice that if you’re struggling to hit a certain note you keep practicing over and over again until you can hit it.
But acting isn’t like that. You’re not doing something. You’re being a completely different person. Acting is about becoming someone else, for a while at least, about being them with their history and their personality while also being yourself. It’s the combination of two people within yourself, Toby realises. He has to be both himself and Wayne Rooney when he’s acting. Before he’s been Toby playing Wayne, even if he has used some of his own experiences to bring forth the right emotion. But he’s never actually been Wayne and Toby at the same time. To be a great actor, Toby realises, you have to go to the core of yourself, at least that’s what Gavin is trying to tell them. You have to know and understand yourself and bring that in to the performance.
He hasn’t done that, even though he’s tried in his own way. He’s been too focused on what other people might want, what they’re looking for in the character. He hasn’t paid attention, or at least not enough attention, to the character itself, to how Wayne would have been feeling in those scenes, to what might have been going through his head in those moments. From now on he needs to let go of all of that, stop trying to go for what the casting directors and producers might want, or what he thinks that they want. Instead he needs to go for what he wants, play the role how he wants to play it, how he would react if it were actually him. Toby sees now that he has to be himself, fully emotionally engaged with the character, feeling what Wayne feels and at the same time, feeling what Toby feels. If he’s going to be Wayne he needs to go all the way and fully submerse himself in the scene.
Toby blinks in surprise, he’d been doing it already without realising it but he had never been able to give it his all. Now he knows why and how to change that. He looks up. The room is filled with quiet whispers and murmurs as the other students talk about it amongst themselves. He glances at his notepad and is surprised to see that while he’s been thinking he has actually made notes about his thought process. Toby’s eyebrows raise. He’s never done that before, made notes without even thinking about it. He glances up at Gavin who is still looking around the room. Their eyes meet and Gavin smiles again.
“Ok, everyone,” Gavin says, clapping his hands to get everyone’s attention again, “Now you understand you probably have a few questions. For one, you’re probably asking, how does one go about achieving this acting greatness? Am I right?”
A few heads nod, including Toby’s own. He knows what he needs to do, that he needs to basically be the character, but he doesn’t quite know how to do it.
“Well, I will tell you,” Gavin says, starting up his pacing again, “It’s all about emotional memory. You will depend on your ability to recall emotions that you have experienced yourself and experience them again while you are a part of this scene. I know it won’t be easy, few of us have actually experienced anything like some of the characters in film have experienced. You just need to think of what you’ve seen and experienced and felt in your life that is in any way similar to the context of the part and bring it in to the scene. You might be in a scene where you’ve just lost a parent but you may not have had to experience that loss yet. So you think of how you may have felt when you lost another loved one, perhaps a friend or grandparent. Then you bring forward that emotion and try to amplify it up a little bit. You let the emotion out, let the feelings run loose. Think about it, a moment in your life and a scene that you might be called to act in that is somewhat similar.”
Toby thinks back to the only scene that he has ever been in, the one that he first audition with Fiona for. He runs through the scene in his mind. It’s about Rooney, making a difficult decision, perhaps the hardest decision of his life, to leave Everton and go to Manchester United. Everton, after all, has ‘brought him up’ like a rather would his son. Everton has taught Rooney everything that they know and shared experiences that have helped to shape him. But now Rooney, the son, no longer needs Everton, he has grown out of everything that Everton can teach him so he needs to leave for something better and to become his own man at last.
He realises that this is very similar to the same relationship between Toby and his father. Just like Rooney, his dad has taught him everything that he knows, has helped him to become a man. But now Toby needs to move on and learn other things that his dad can’t teach him. Just like Rooney ended up leaving Everton behind, Toby has to leave his father behind and start to live his own life. Toby needs to bring those emotions up, to bring out all of the hurt and annoyance and joy and love. He needs to bring them all out, recall exactly how he felt and reacted, how he still feels when it comes to his dad. And then he needs to experience them all over again. He needs to let himself feel them completely, down to his very core and then let them come out in his acting. It was going to be painful, very painful, he knows it.
“Alright then,” Gavin says, getting everyone’s attention again, “It looks like we’re almost out of time today. Next week you’re going to be sharing your past experiences and how they can be applied to different scenes, hopefully in a variety of ways. But for now I’ve got a worksheet for you to look at and attempt to fill in.”
He hands out a large chunk of paper and the students start to take them off the top. It’s several sheets of paper stapled together, Toby realises when he takes the pile. He takes a booklet and hands the rest on. He glances at the sheets and then looks at it a little more closely.
“On these sheets you will find a number of things,” Gavin says, looking at his own work sheet, “Most of these are emotional experiences that, according to scientists, most people will have experienced by a certain again. I want you all to study this sheet, very closely, and then mark off the ones that you have experienced for yourself. If you haven’t had some of the experience for your age bracket then I want you to go out and experience life!”
The class laughs at this and then the bell sounds. Gavin wishes them all good bye and then disappears out of the door. Toby watches him go. Several of the other class members are talking between themselves, about the list, about the lesson and about their careers so far. Toby keeps out of it, instead sitting there and looking at the list. It’s quite a big one and according to this there are several that he should have experienced already, despite not being quite eighteen. There’s falling in love, breaking up with a long term partner, betrayal by a best friend. It’s all quite heavy stuff, the big things that can really shape who a person is Toby realises. He feels a little inadequate, all too aware that many of these things are things he is yet to experience. Then his eyes fall on two experiences that are right next to each other. Becoming independent and breaking free from a parent. Toby realises that he’s already part way through those ones.
But then he catches mention of a football match on, tonight, a big one. He realises that he won’t be working on the list at all tonight as he remembers. It’s the FA Cup Fourth Round Match. It’s between Skelmerage and Manchester United. It’s live on BBC One. Toby very rarely misses football matches and he definitely isn’t going to miss this one. Scooby’s a reserve, he’s worked hard and he’s full of dedication. There is no way he’s going to miss possibly seeing one of his best friends play a massive football match like this. Toby grabs up his bag and races out of the door, heading straight for home, his new home.