One night I sat up late in a B and B in Inverness. The day before, Friday, I had posted a status on Facebook joking about how there was only an hour left until you could apply for Artistic Director at the National Theatre. With my tongue wedged firmly in my check I said that I rather fancied my chances and was excited about my first season ‘Plays Without Props’ and joked that it would be ‘groundbreaking’ because that’s what I think Facebook should be used for.
About thirty odd people ‘liked’ it and it got me thinking. What if I did run the National? What would happen if a stage manager ran the National? The thought just made me smile a bit. And there was something about that thought which didn’t go away.
So on Saturday night I did the get-out, went back to my B and B and stayed up for a couple of hours tapping away on my laptop and half watching some gruesome horror on Film 4. The one with the zombie people who have been affected by nuclear radiation. My mind was mostly on the blogpost but also on the bad prosthetics and trying to work out where I’d seen the blonde chick before.
‘Lost’. That’s it. She had been in ‘Lost’.
After a while I got bored and tired so just shut my laptop and went to bed. I had to be up for an eight thirty am B and B breakfast before packing up and catching the train from Inverness to Aberdeen.
The next morning, as I threw my face wipes and pyjamas and Po (my Teletubby) into the overnight bag (I always put my big suitcase on to the truck), I realised that my laptop was still on. As I flipped the screen up I saw the half finished word document from the night before. I re read it with fresh eyes and without the murmur of deranged, mutated monsters and chuckled a bit. It was sort of funny. Sort of.
Fuck it. I’ll post it.
I usually spend a bit longer on blog posts. A few days actually. Re-reading and pondering and editing. But I could post this now and my friend’s comments and shares would amuse me on the train. Because that’s what usually happens. I post my blog and my friends read it. Maybe they re post it or send it on to other people and then my lovely little band of Twitter followers say nice things. One time Louise Brealey (Molly in ‘Sherlock’) tweeted my blog because I was working with her. I got about 2000 hits for one post as opposed to the usual 500 and it was all very exciting. Dead exciting.
Probably the most exciting thing that had ever happened to my blog.
So I posted it slightly hurriedly. The title was fairly obvious. All I needed was the punchline and that took a few minutes more. What would show that I was clearly a fluffy idiot who had no real desire to run a building? What would leave the reader with the sense that the whole thing was clearly a load of nonsense and that I was barely capable of running a bath, let alone a prestigious building.
I’ll ask for a crown.
So I posted it, boarded my train and settled down to egg sandwiches and kit kats with the rest of my company. Every now and again my phone would beep with a comment or a ‘like’ or a tweet but nothing out of the ordinary.
Once in Aberdeen I had to hang out at a Starbucks for an hour or so as my digs landlady was not going to be home for a bit. As I had time to kill I tweeted the link to a couple of directors I had worked for who had enjoyed previous blog entries. Sure enough they retweeted it and then other people retweeted it and at about 4.30pm, roughly five hours after I originally put it up, I had about six hundred hits.
Finally my landlady let me know she was at home so I went and checked into the digs and did the usual small talk. Got given keys and shown showers and fridge space before being left to my own devices. My room had a low and comfy futon and that was about it. But it was clean and airy and warm and, most importantly, there was wi-fi.
Po the Teletubby, was placed carefully and lovingly between the two pillows, as is my digs custom, and I settled down with a supermarket salad and booted up my laptop.
The computer gave me a broader view of the internet than my mobile and I started to realise what was happening and I started to really feel excited. But not just excited, something else. Now I have thought long and hard and pored over my Thesaurus but the only way I can describe the emotion is this;
It was only about this time, 5.30pm, that I started to think that actually this was going to be bigger than the usual hits and re-posts. Maybe people, important people, would read it and that would be cool. Really cool. All of the feedback was so lovely and positive and I couldn’t help but feel elated and flattered. How incredible to have so many people say nice things about me all at the same time. It was like having a birthday but with people sending you well wishes because they wanted to, not just because Facebook had told them they really should. I generally get annoyed with Twitter folk who re tweet their own praise but it was intensely tempting to let people know how much praise I was getting. It was like it was a validation of my existence.
‘Look!! I am an okay human being!! Lots of random strangers think I am cool!!’
All of this encouragement and cheer stimulated my boldness and I decided to tweet the National Theatre with the link. Again, my followers ran with this and it was swiftly retweeted all over the place. Some people also reworded the tweet to say things like ‘Come on @nationaltheatre. Give @agirlinthedark the job’ before including the link. The flattery and persuasion was profoundly intoxicating and I am happy to admit that I sat in my digs on my low futon and felt on a total high.
Then about six o’clock, my phone buzzed with a Twitter alert. I had been sent a tweet from a Well Known Actor. I saw his name before I read the message and instantly felt another wave of elation. By this point, people like Derek Bond and Stephen Unwin had tweeted me their support so I had no reason to think that it would be anything otherwise. This was even more exciting. A Well Known Actor was going to tweet me and tell me how great I was.
‘That’s some high-end, ill-conceived bitterness. And you’re actually sending that to people in your industry?’
To say everything came crashing down is an understatement.
It wasn’t that I came crashing down. It was more like I broke away. My little futon which was still fairly alien to me having only plonked myself down on it an hour before, suddenly felt a very lonely and isolated place. What was I supposed to do with this tweet? Ignore it? Confront it? Part of me said ‘dismiss it, let it go’ but I was curious. How had he read my blog as bitter? How had the drivel which I had tapped out not 24 hours before whilst watching a third rate horror film be considered as anything else other than light hearted bubblegum for the brain?
So I asked Well Known Actor why he thought I was bitter. He won’t reply though will he? He won’t give a shit?
‘Aside from the passive aggressive tone? All of it. Obvs you’re entitled, but I think it’s dumb.’
My futon broke even further away and went into it’s own solitary little orbit. Having just been riding on the shoulders of several hundred readers, they all suddenly placed me back down on the ground and strolled off. I was on my own, or at least that is how it felt.
I tweeted Well Known Actor several times and explained the joke. But he didn’t seem to be getting it and I was getting increasingly more and more panicked that the joke was on me. You see, any random troll could have tweeted me and I probably would have shrugged it off and climbed back on to the jubilant shoulders of my supporters. But this was Well Known Actor. And he was in Well Loved TV show. And you know what, if truth be told, I quite fancied him. As an experienced actor he knew what he was talking about and for the first time it dawned on me that the piece could be offensive or demeaning to people who actually worked at the National. Well Known Actor was baffled as to why I would write this stuff as I was a stage manager in the industry and thought I was stupid to ‘undermine and send up future colleagues.’
He did have a point. When I sat up at midnight watching that bird from ‘Lost’ running from half dead and heavily made up actors, it just never occurred to me that there was even the smallest possibility that they would read it. I mean, why the fuck would they? But the game had changed since the blog had travelled beyond the realms of my backstage mates.
However, I genuinely hadn’t written a piece which was meant to ridicule or offend. I don’t know him personally but I have a feeling that when Quentin Letts writes a vitriolic piece about someone who works in the arts, he doesn’t then reach for his Teletubby and get a wobbly bottom lip at the first sign of trouble.
It was not long before other people picked up on the argument. Although I didn’t do the traditional ‘lets tweet the nasty abuse so people come to my rescue’ thing, I did feel the need to put out a string of tweets stating that I had not meant to cause anyone offence and then people did their own detective work and located Well Known Actor’s tweets. People very dutifully came to my defence but it wasn’t long before I was being tagged in conversations which I really didn’t want to be involved in. When someone tweeted Well known Actor about the National having a sense of humour, Well Known Actor rather darkly responded with ‘Get back to me when Hytner reads it.’
Oh shitting hell.
Again, when I had bashed out my words at one in the morning the previous night (which was starting to feel several weeks ago) I had definitely not written it in the frame of mind that Hytner would read it. But Well Known Actor’s tweet made me feel slightly ill and I started to feel very naïve and vulnerable.
Someone tweeted Well Known Actor saying that I was right and that the ‘National Theatre was out of touch’. They included me and the National Theatre in the tweet and once again, I felt as if my planet was beginning to orbit further and further away from everybody else. As much as I wanted to slam the laptop shut and call my mum, I did come to the conclusion that the only thing keeping me linked to everyone else was the internet.
It was weird.
I was one hundred per cent by myself in that bare bedroom but I felt like I was in a jostling crowd of people. Well Known Actor could be on the other side of the world for all I knew but he felt scarily near. As if at any point he was going to walk in that bare bedroom for a stand up row. And the lack of control over what other people were tweeting was terrifying. I felt the need to step in and explain that I had never declared that the NT was out of touch and Well Known Actor responded just to me saying he knew that my blog was not saying that and that he was simply concerned about it.
The whole thing culminated in Well Known Actor tweeting me saying
‘I think I’ve also taken it all too seriously. Wanna do a play at the Nash??;)’
Phew. That was the one thing I did re-tweet and then thankfully everyone simmered down. But I was still getting private messages and texts all over the place about it.
‘Jess I saw Well Known Actor from ‘Well Loved TV show’ say those things about your blog!’
‘I know. Weird.’
‘Good though! Your blog will benefit!’
Indeed, the counter was going at an even more alarming rate now and had gone into the realms of 2000. Not even my most popular posts had hit that kind of number in a week, never mind several hours. My phone was buzzing with even more well wishers. Most notably a Facebook message from a very established lighting designer who had worked at the National saying that he had enjoyed it and several other established actors were tweeting me praise so I began to think that Well Known Actor was hopefully a one off.
That certainly seemed to be the case.
Then just after midnight, as I was scanning my mentions I saw a name and once again I froze. My little futon which had been the scene of elation could once again break away into vulnerability and isolation.
In my blog I had mentioned Jamie Lloyd being ‘seventeen’ which was in no way a dig. It was just a reference to the fact that he is so bloody successful but not that old. Someone must have shown the blog to him as he was name checked.
‘Actually I’m only fifteen. And I’m excited that you wanna do the Falsettoland trilogy.’
He wasn’t the only one. Fifteen minutes after Lloyd’s tweet I got another one from Jonathan Harvey.
‘I wanna do the props play x’
I responded to both of these tweets in a cool and measured manner.
‘OH MY GOD!!! Thank you thank you thank you soooooo much!!!!’
I am such a tool it is unbelievable. But I think I was just overwhelmed with the relief that neither of them had publicly slammed me or declared me an idiot or bitter. They had read the blog in the way that I had written it and that was what was important. It also stopped me from just deleting the whole thing which I was very tempted to do.
So I went to bed having put a thing up on Facebook about my ‘4000 hits!!!’ and just thought ‘What a mad day. It will all calm back down tomorrow.’
On Monday morning, I realised that the tweets and shares were picking up again. I was clearly aware that it was a Slow Twitter Day and had I been up against the riots or Margaret Thatcher’s death I don’t think I would have stood a chance but it was still going strong. Stronger in fact, than the day before. Louise Brealey once again tweeted it. As did a whole other load of industry folk including Lyn Gardner. The Birmingham Rep put it on their Facebook as did other theatre companies. But the most exciting one was David Eldridge, the playwright. He wasn’t as effusive as other people. All he did was tweet the link and write this.
It was enough for me and I am ashamed to say that it was the one tweet I did re-tweet. David Eldridge thought I was funny. And I’m really not. There is no way I could ever be a stand up comedienne or write like Charlie Brooker. I always start to laugh halfway through telling jokes and can never compete with the incredibly funny comic actors I work with. But David Eldridge thought that I was funny.
I felt like Brad Pitt had told me I was hot.
One unnerving thing that happened was that I got a phone call from a journalist friend of mine who said an interesting thing.
‘Anyone who wants to read this as an attack on the National will read this as an attack on the National.’
She had seen on Twitter how big it was getting and thought a little intervention was required. There is nothing like the word ‘libellous’ to scare the shit out of you. So with her assistance a light edit was made, again hunched over my laptop on my little futon. This little futon which I had flopped down onto at 5pm the previous day was starting to feel like my only home. I was a typing tortoise and it was my hard, smooth shell.
I got to the theatre and joined the Get In at about two o’ clock and it was great to just get on with it and ignore the internet flurry. The only time it was mentioned was when my production manager sidled over to me and said that I should really check with him before applying for other jobs.
People kept texting me saying I was all over their Facebook and Twitter. One friend called me and shrieked,
‘Jesus Jess!! You’re fucking everywhere! You’re like the Grumpy Cat of theatre!’
I don’t mind that moniker. The Grumpy Cat is fun and frivolous which is what the whole thing was meant to be. I never wrote it to cause offence or a storm. I just wrote it to be silly and because the horror film on telly wasn’t good enough to hold my attention.
So now the post is about to have it’s 35,000th hit. In the two years that I have been writing ‘Girl In The Dark’ I have had 15,000 hits. So in the past 48 hours I have more than doubled that. I have loved getting so many messages from people and been in contact with people I haven’t actually heard from in years which has been really lovely. I have had a real crash course in navigating the internet and feel lucky that I had great friends offering guidance and support and listened when I just phoned them up and went ‘GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!’
The National started to follow me but they haven’t responded in anyway. I don’t know who runs their Twitter account but they probably just got a bit sick and tired of it all. They clearly know, as I do, that these things die down just as quickly as they flare up. The internet is fickle and next week we will all be sharing a meme of a cigarette smoking lobster or something. I have had nice contact from a literary agent who has said that she enjoyed the blog and the writing style and maybe I should attempt a book. It’s a fun idea. I don’t know if I have enough ideas to attempt a book. I prefer writing in blog/column style. But maybe I will sit down one day and have a go. I don’t know, really.
Do I have any regrets about the whole thing? Yeah. I do actually.
Lunch Hour Twister.
I wish I had suggested Lunch Hour Twister.
Thank you so much for reading this. As usual, you can click on ‘Share’ on the top left hand corner. You can also follow me on Twitter (@agirlinthedark) or ‘Like’ my Facebook page (‘Girl In The Dark’)