The charity I work for uses theatre to try to influence the way ‘young people’ behave in order to reduce the spread of HIV. Stand back! There’s no right-wing-SilverRingThing-positioning going on here. George Bush wouldn’t approve. It’s all very pragmatic and realistic. (Actually, it’s remarkably candid – I never knew there were so many sexual practices available to young people today, I was quite envious – I’ll list them another time…) And because it’s theatre, darling, the 15 or so actors do various warm up acts in the mornings and afternoons before rehearsals and performances. So today, I thought I’d leave the dreariness of my office and wander down to join them in a warm up. I imagined that maybe we’d do something fairly innocuous like… um, like… play British Bulldog or something. But no.
Everyone stood round in a circle, then each person had to jump into the circle, shout someone else’s name and then “do a jive” which everyone else had to copy, with loads of shouting, whooping, clapping, etc. After a few seconds the person whose name was called jumped into the circle, shouted someone else’s name and “did a jive”, whooped, cheered, etc. The thing is, these people are all black and young and cool and lithe and they can bump and grind and whoop and, you know, they can do it, man! Me, I’m none of these things and, what’s worse, I’m a bleedin’ Blighter (person from Blighty) so I’m additionally transfixed by the horror of having to make a complete fuckin idiot of myself. Can you imagine the terror?
So not only was I frantically searching my brain for a “jive” I could do without looking a complete prick but I was also making the feeblest, pathetic-est attempt to copy the jives that were being flung out mercilessly in front in me, quick time. Most of the time I just squiggled from foot to foot, grinning inanely, but once or twice they did a jive that was easy enough for me to vaguely copy, so I’d give it an extra small pathetic effort, and then, big-hole-please-swallow-me-up, they pointed at my hips, whooped more and shouted, ‘yeah, Sissy!”
After a few rounds (believe me, it felt like a boxing match) my name got called. People who know me will vouch that I don’t suffer nerves – I don’t mind public speaking and I quite enjoy interviews, but this… this… this felt like the emotional equivalent of fingernails scraping very slowly down a blackboard.
So I stumbled into the circle like the scarecrow in Wizard of Oz, stopped, looked up and, right there, discovered that I know how to do the Charleston. It just happened. My feet were twisting left-right, forward-back; my hands were twirling round in circles together then opposite; then kick foot out front, hold it! then kick foot out back, hold it! then straight back to the twisting and circling – the whole bleedin’ jive, and everyone’s shouting, ‘Yeah, Sissy’s doing the Charleston!’. And then we’re all doing the Charleston with whooping and shouting and I survived.
So was it liberating? Did I find out something new about myself? Is this like the ending to an American film where we clap each other on the back and big each other up? No. I am NEVER NEVER doing that again.