“Margaret, she’s smoking!” … “Maybe she’s nervous.” That’s my friend Tanya’s mum and dad, when they came to our University production of Little Shop of Horrors. She was playing a prostitute on Skid Row and there was a pre-show where she smoked. Her parents had no reality conflict with the way she was dressed, but did with the smoking. Tanya had no desire to be an actor. She mostly got roped in, in this case by Mark Williams. Mark was very actively and comfortably fighting for a better understanding of gay rights on campus. But was still happy to persuade Tanya to dress as a pro. He went shopping with her, and helped baby oil her rubber skirt. He made the musicals for our drama society. I made the Shakespeares. We had a tense friendship. Looking back, it was remarkable what we had to play with.
Through sheer front, over a few years, we managed to build the biggest society on campus in terms of membership, so we could demand big budgets. Also the return on the budget was good. We would guarantee big audiences. We even stopped Chumbawamba from playing the union once, for Little Shop.
We got a huge budget from the union. Partly through hitting Freshers fair hard. Partly through visibility. We’d build summer Shakespeare stages in massively public parts of campus, and rehearse knowing we were going to get bombed by nudists, drunks, lads, and anyone else. We’d then, in the last week, close off the area with a scaff circle and drapes, seats, point a load of lights and make it lovely. Whiteknights Open Air Theatre. Beautiful bullshit. People paid. They’d jumped on stage when we were rehearsing. They felt part of it. They sat and watched us murder the classics.
I still look back and wonder how I did it, as President. I think I did it by just asking. And that’s certainly why Tanya got on stage, when she hated the idea of it. I just asked her. And she was my friend, and kind enough to say yes. I got her to be a mother superior. Trust the musical theatre guy to get her to be a pro… but asking… I was fucking great at it back then. Guildhall taught me humility. I needed that lesson. But now it’s time to ask again.
Right now I’m enjoying a beautiful evening with Tanya, and thinking how the years that have passed mean nothing and that I’m glad I persuaded her to get involved in my endeavours for the simple reason that I enjoyed her company. There are very few people from those days that I see regularly. I feel that I have changed almost entirely from the guy I was back then. But then perhaps we all like to think that of ourselves. I still feel like that kid that loved making stuff, that wanted to make things with people, that loved that feeling of seeing groups of diverse people come together and communally make things of which they could share ownership. More of that.