Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Dime Bars, Tequila and Good Will Hunting

A friend of mine, Lily, teaches stage management in a Drama School and is introducing a ‘Mentor’ scheme. The general idea is that a professional stage manager, the ‘Mentor’, is introduced to a student who is about to graduate and for the first twelve months following their graduation, the student is in regular contact with their ‘Mentor’. The contact will mostly be through texts and e mails but the Mentor is expected to meet up with the graduate about once a month.

Lily is one of my Grown Up friends. This doesn’t mean that she is any older than me. It just means that she owns a house and a car and a fifty five piece cutlery set. I on the other hand, rent a boat, drag a shopping trolley around with me and own a Tesco’s cutlery set which is missing a teaspoon because I threw it out with an empty yoghurt pot when I was hungover.

I love hanging around at Lily’s although sometimes it means that i leave feeling slightly deflated, wondering how somebody the same age as me and in the same industry as me has ended up living such a different lifestyle to me.

One Saturday night I was hanging round at Lily’s, lounging on her Grown Up Habitat sofa, drinking wine from a glass the size of a small goldfish bowl and watching ‘Britain’s Got Talent’. She was telling me about the Mentoring thing, although I was only really half-listening. If I have to either concentrate on a body-popping Romanian or someone talking about stage management, the Romanian will win hands down every time.

'I think you should do it,’ suggested Lily.

‘Go on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’?' I suppose I could do my trick with a beer bottle....’

‘No, you tool. Be a Mentor.’

I turned my full attention to Lily. ‘How the hell would I mentor someone?’

‘It’s easy. Just, you know, meet up with them occasionally, encourage them, pass on your knowledge....’

‘My knowledge!?’ I struggled not to spit my Merlot out across her Grown Up, fluffy Heals rug.

‘Oh, come on,’ sighed Lily in a Grown Up exasperated fashion. ‘You’ve been doing this for ten years, you must have some knowledge.’

I took another gulp of my wine and focussed on the much more entertaining spectacle of a middle-aged couple playing the theme from ‘Titanic’ on hand-bells and tried to ignore Lily who was still talking about the mentoring thing.

‘I think you’d get on with her,’ she said.

‘Amanda Holden?’

‘No! Fuck’s sake. This girl on my course. She’s about to graduate and I think you would get on with her.’

I rested my glass on the Grown Up John Lewis coffee table and peered at Lily through my fringe.

‘Do I get paid?’

‘Nope.’ Lily shook her head firmly, ‘No money. Not even expenses. But think of how good you’d feel, knowing that you are helping someone. You might even make a friend.’

‘I have friends,’ I muttered before rolling my eyes and picking up my wine glass again. But I could feel Lily’s eyes boring into me in her slightly disapproving Grown Up way. The very same way that she had stared at me when I confessed to her that I sometimes used a friend’s old ‘Baby on Board’ badge so that I could always sit down on the tube, even when it was rammed. Teamed with a hand resting on the small of my back and a big lunch I was pretty much guaranteed a seat every time.

‘I’ll think about it,’ I promised, reaching for the Grown Up bottle of wine from Selfridges and generously topping up both of our glasses.

By two am, Lily and I had finished three bottles of Grown Up wine and were dancing around to All Saints videos which we had found on You Tube using Lily’s Grown Up 27 inch iMac (although at this point Lily was behaving in a far from Grown Up manner). And then at three am I even demonstrated my beer bottle trick which involves me positioning an opened beer bottle in my cleavage, putting my mouth around the top and then going into the crab position and downing the entire bottle in about twenty seconds without spilling a drop.

I doubt that it would get me on to the Royal Variety Performance but it’s a hit at Press Night Parties.

The next morning I woke up in my own bed  with a throbbing headache and the vague recollection that I had drunkenly agreed to mentor one of Lily’s students in return for a bottle of Tequila, a family pack of Dime Bars and (according to Lily), the opportunity to be “just like Robin Williams in ‘Good Will Hunting’.” It only took a quick scan around my bedroom for me to locate a half drunk bottle of Jose Cuervo and several empty chocolate bar wrappers which explained the toffee stuck in my teeth.

I groaned and rummaged around in the duvet for my Blackberry. Sure enough I had a text message from Lily with the name and number of the girl who I was going to ‘Mentor’.  Although sitting up in my cheap Ikea futon at ten o clock on a Sunday morning, clutching a half-drunk bottle of Tequila and contemplating having a Dime bar for breakfast, I didn’t really think I was fit to be put in charge of or advise anyone younger than myself.  

Surely it would be like asking Lindsay Lohan to be Brown Owl.

One sausage and egg McMuffin later and I was starting to feel relatively more responsible but was hardly in Robin Williams territory. As I munched on my third Dime Bar of the morning, I composed a text to Charlotte, the girl who I was apparently going to Mentor. (My Mentoree?)

I fired off a text (friendly, casual, no kisses) about how I’d be happy to meet her for a drink one night. She replied quickly enough and after a few texts, we had arranged to meet at a pub in Soho on Wednesday night once I’d finished rehearsals. As the days passed by I started to feel slightly more high spirited about our forthcoming rendezvous and the possibility of being a wise, firm and less beardy Robin Williams to her unguided and fledgling Matt Damon.

She was waiting for me when I arrived at the pub and I recognised her from the picture that Lily had previously texted to me. She looked younger than her age (twenty one), with natural ash- blonde hair cut into a fuzzy bob which framed her pale, freckled face. Her eyes were green and heavy-lidded with mascara-free, light eyelashes and on her nose rested bright red, square framed glasses.

Charlotte’s clothes were baggy and black and her hooded jumper had the name of her drama school emblazoned across the front. I hadn’t really needed Lily’s photo reference. 

I would have known it was her.

We made our slightly awkward introductions and I saw the half empty glass of coke sat in front of her.

‘Shall I get you a drink?’ I offered.

‘Yes thank you. I’ll have a coffee if they do them.’

I dutifully went to the bar and sure enough, they had fresh filter coffee bubbling away in a machine underneath the spirits. Personally I don’t really see the point of going into pubs and asking for coffees or soft drinks. I think that it’s the equivalent of going into a brothel and asking for a hug.

I bring the drinks back to our table and perch opposite Charlotte on a little red stool, wondering why I feel like I’m on a first date. Charlotte is playing with her beer mat and looking down at her lap. I decide to do what I often do on first dates and take a long gulp of wine.

‘So....’ I prompted, ‘Not long now till you graduate.’

That was enough to start Charlotte off and she told me in a lilting Midlands accent about her course and the people she liked and the people she didn’t like and what she would miss.

‘I like it at insertnameofdramaschoolhere,’ she states, ‘The tutors are more like friends. Most of them anway. I’ll keep in contact with them all when I leave.’

‘That’s nice,’ I smile, realising I sound like a patronising Auntie. There is a silence and I desperately resist the urge to ask her about her hobbies.

‘So what do you want to be?’ I ask, making sure I don’t finish the question with ‘when you grow up?’

Charlotte bites her bottom lip and looks up at the ornate pub ceiling.

‘Start off as an ASM, I guess. Then work my way up to CSM.’ She peers back at me, her bespectacled eyes blinking slowly. ‘Lily said that’s what you did.’

‘Yeah I guess I did.’

‘Is that the right way?’ she fires back.

‘Erm. I don’t think that there is a right way. It just kind of happened like that.’

Charlotte looks disappointed and I also feel slightly deflated. I don’t ever remember a scene in ‘Good Will Hunting’ where Robin Williams said that things ‘just kind of happened like that’ before nervously draining the dregs of a wine glass. I try to think of a suitable ‘Good Will Hunting’ quote but now is not the right time to look Charlotte in the eye and softly say ‘Real loss is only possible when you love something more than you love yourself.’

I’ll save that one for later.

Charlotte goes to the toilet and I get us a couple more soft drinks, no wine, as I am self-conscious of being less Robin Williams and more Robbie Williams(circa 1995).

When she comes back I ask her if she has found a job to go to and sure enough, she has just accepted the role of Stage Manager at a small pub/fringe venue for a very low fee. She plays with the elasticated cord at her hood while she tells me and brings her shoulders up towards her ears.

‘I’m quite nervous about it actually,’ she confides in me.

At this point, Robin Williams would stand up, point his finger at Matt Damon and shout ‘Why are you still so fucking afraid of failure!’ but if I did that it would get surely back to Lily. And then she would be annoyed with me and that would mean the end of drinking expensive wine on Grown Up sofas, which is always preferable to knecking cheap tequila whilst sat on my futon. Not that I do that.


So instead I say, ‘What is it that you’re nervous about?’

She chews thoughtfully on the cord. ‘It’s just.... the props list. It’s quite long and some of it I don’t really know where to start.’

‘Okay. Well why don’t you tell me some of the stuff. Maybe I can help?’

Charlotte rummages around in her bag and pulls out an alarmingly Grown Up filofax from which she pulls out her Props List and I scan over it.

It’s pretty tough. It’s the kind of props list that if I was presented with it, I would spend the first day of rehearsals phoning up more experienced stage managers and asking them for their input. And it’s a fairly frightening moment when I look up at Charlotte’s hopeful, freckled face and realise that in her eyes, I am the more experienced stage manager

‘Well’, I start hesitantly ‘I think that there is quite a lot of stuff here that is pretty tough. But most theatres will have it in their props stores. And I’m sure I can help you as I have some contacts.’ I look back down at the list and rack my brains for something more inspirational and helpful to say but nothing comes.

Sat on my worn stool with my soft drink in front of me, I don’t feel anything like a Mentor. Or Robin Williams. I feel just like I did when I was back in Drama School; nervous and incompetent and terrified of looking like a dick.

But when I look back up at Charlotte she is smiling. It’s the first time I have seen her smile properly all evening. Her lips part to reveal even, white teeth and the corners of her mouth dimple her cheeks. She looks pretty when she smiles.

She should do it more often.

‘I’m kind of glad that you also think it’s a hard list,’ she explains. ‘I would have felt really rotten if you had just looked over it and known exactly where to get everything from. Then I really would have felt like I was out of my depth.’

I laugh and shake my head.  Charlotte’s shoulders relax and she rests her elbows on the table before carrying on

‘I thought that people like you in the industry just knew everything.’

‘Well that’s definitely not true. You spend a lot of time just making it up as you go along. But there’s never anything wrong with asking for help. If you don’t know how to do something you can always find somebody who does. For instance, I know jack shit about woodwork and tools but I also know that if I point my breasts in the right direction I can usually locate someone willing to help me.’

Charlotte blushes and giggles into her empty glass. I get my wallet and stand up.

‘Why don’t I get us some proper drinks?’

She nibbles her bottom lip again. ‘Okay.’

An hour and a half later, Charlotte and I parted ways at the mouth of the tube with promises to meet up soon and I jumped onto a Jubilee Line tube which was absolutely rammed so I was forced to stand. My ‘Baby on Board’ badge was in my handbag but as I was clearly quite inebriated I decided against using it. Nothing angers the British public more than a pissed and pregnant woman.

Back at home I clambered onto my boat and straight into my little futon to watch ‘Road Wars’ (my favourite late night viewing) and considered the evening’s events. Just as Lily had predicted, I thought that I may well have made a friend and did actually feel slightly better about myself. When I had told Charlotte about my rather Un Grown Up boat her eyes had widened and she had clapped her hands together.

‘A boat? That’s so cool.’

And maybe I didn’t know everything that there was to know about stage management and maybe there was still a lot that I didn’t know about. And maybe I didn’t have a Grown Up flat with a wine rack and a Jospeh Joseph chopping board and Molton Brown hand soap.

But as Robin Williams once said to Matt Damon,

‘People may call those imperfections, but no. That’s the good stuff.’






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1 comment:

  1. Charlotte trusts you because you are A Lot Older Than Her.