Acting the fool

24th May 2013 at 01:00

My husband has poor time-management skills. Last weekend, he invited my sister and her husband for Sunday lunch. "Come at 2pm," he said. They arrived on the hour expecting roast beef and all the trimmings, only to find him inexpertly dismantling the hedge trimmer while the meat burned in the oven and the potatoes remained in the fridge. Fortunately, they're used to his ways and came equipped with emergency crisps.

I suspect that his cavalier attitude to time is a result of his job. Actors operate in a different space-time continuum where, contrary to Einstein's theory, time passes more slowly for objects at rest. Hence, whereas I take Rudyard Kipling's advice and fill every "unforgiving minute with sixty seconds' worth of distance run", he fills his with a cup of tea and a biscuit. Time may be a matter of relativity but, relative to the busy life of a teacher, an actor's life is a piece of piss.

When he's in paid work, he usually starts his day by "warming up". He once described to me an exercise known as "slow walking", which involves sitting motionless for 15 minutes, then walking slowly towards the director, who looks up occasionally from his Twitter feed to criticise the actor's neutral stance. In the same short time span, a teacher is expected to take a register, differentiate the entire English canon for 30 children, track progress, mark books and staunch someone's nosebleed. The only similarity between the two careers is that in the classroom you are also observed - by two senior teachers, who smile at you encouragingly while casting sotto voce aspersions on your ability to teach.

Even an actor's professional training is more palatable than ours. We have to learn how to interrogate data, plan for progression and manage unruly behaviour, whereas my husband once spent an entire training workshop learning how to massage his fellow actors with his soft body parts. The only consolation is that jobbing actors earn less than newly qualified teachers.

So, when my husband decided to spend this summer at home, it looked as if he was, for once, sorting out his timetable in a considerate manner. We had talked through all the pressures of this term - a crucial one for me because of tests and coursework; a crucial one for our family because of our daughter's anorexia and our son's imminent exams - and he concluded that he needed to spend more time with us.

He turned down work, although I harboured a suspicion that his rejection of a job with a small-scale touring company was because it was on a professional par with understudying the festive gnome in Santa's grotto. Whatever the reason, I was grateful for his support.

But when his agent rang up last week murmuring "National Theatre" and "offer you can't refuse", he didn't, unsurprisingly. He snapped it up as quickly as a dog gobbles an unguarded sausage, then skulked around feeling sorry for what he had done.

He left last night for London and will come home in late September. Next time, I'll remember Robert Burns' cautionary counsel: "The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men (and shallow, narcissistic thespians)Gang aft agleyAn' lea'e us nought but grief an' painFor promis'd joy!"

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a teacher in the North of England. @AnnethropeMs.

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