"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Dreaming in Colour

The wild weather yanked me out of a dream this morning. It was one of those "so real that it doesn't feel like dreaming" dreams.

In it, I re-visited my past life in a vivid and tangible way. And my present life was represented, too.

I grew up in the theatre. My first stage experiences were in grammar school. My big break came at age 10, when I was cast in a featured juvenile role in a big play in a grown up theatre. Things progressed from there. I spent almost every night of my life--until I went to grad school--at rehearsal or performance. (There are great gaps in my knowledge of prime-time television, as result!)

In my dream, I was attending a sale of secondhand goods--books, clothes, stuff. Unexpectedly, I stumbled across a long rack of garments that I recognised as theatrical costumes, having worn some of them. I paused, and carefully examined each one, stroking familiar fabrics, toying with lace trimmings.

I found some of the ones I'd worn in the first important play when I was 10, although I didn't see the one in the picture at the left.

I also spotted a very pink, very princessy costume with a green velvet bodice that I'd loved from the moment I first saw it onstage (I was in the audience at the time). Whenever I went into the costume shop for fittings, I'd gravitate to that pink dress and imagine the day when I would graduate from juvenile parts to ingenue, and wear the really pretty gowns. By then, I was familiar with the backstage legend of the pink dress--constructed for a specific actress, who was very petite. In the weeks prior to her opening night she was sick and losing lots of weight, so the seamstresses had to take in the dress repeatedly.

I was a skinny kid, and confident that when I was old enough for it, that dress would fit me just fine.

But by the time I was a teenager, the pink dress had been used so many times that it looked a bit ratty. And not as princessy as I remembered. For my first ingenue role, I was perfectly happy to have a sea green dress--much more flattering.

A couple of years later, when I got another shot at the pink dress, I let another performer have it. I preferred a strong, rich colour, not a wimpy one, so I'd draw every eye in the audience. I chose a crimson dress that was part of our stock wardrobe, which fit as though it had been made for me.

As my dream self picked through the rack of stage clothes, all this history was floating in my dream mind. And yet, these memories had been absent from my conscious mind for years--even decades.

Suddenly somebody called me over to the area where the books were laid out. I'd brought a book to donate, by a favourite British author. I told one of the organisers how nice this author had been the first time I met her. Suddenly I wasn't Actress, I was Author. I was enthusiastically engaged in a conversation about books and writing at the moment of waking up.

I've had plenty of theatre dreams since stepping down from the stage. Every actor, or ex-actor does. Showing up to perform a scene in front of an audience without any rehearsal, or knowing the lines or business, is a recurring nightmare. It doesn't even scare me any more. Much.

But I don't remember ever having a dream about costumes I used to wear. And now it's got me wondering whether they still exist in the wardrobe room where I spent so much time fantasising about a princessy pink gown I never actually wore.

I did live out that fantasy, eventually. Once upon a time...when I played Cinderella...and a princessy pink dress was made especially for me.

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