"It’s not unusual to go through a phase of intense imaginative play - but my phase continues today, and I’m 35. "
For performer, producer and Co-Director of Croydon Cycle Theatre Vanessa Hammick, performing has been her life-blood since she was a tottering acrobat on a chair in her living room. In this uplifting piece, she talks about the highs and lows of her choice and how for her, the play is always the thing.
Vanessa Hammick is a performer living in London. She runs Croydon Cycle Theatre with Amy Foster, and wrote their recent show 'A Particular Kind of Twin'. She has toured work internationally and has recieved funding for her work from a number of arts bodies including the Arts Council's of England and Wales.
Every now and then I meet an adult, fully grown and proper, who has decided to give acting a go. I immediately offer advice - the pros and cons of method acting, how to do fake tears, dealing with fame…. But then i have to ask... ‘what took you so long?’
I have loved performing since I was tiny. I spent my childhood in the world of pretend, watching films and re-enacting them whole, making up stories and performing for anyone who would watch (with mostly no one watching at all). It’s not unusual to go through a phase of intense imaginative play- but my phase continues today, and I’m 35.
My best relationships were formed through this invigorating hobby. My sister and I would gather the family to watch our circus performances- I remember tottering in my little socks on the circular poof in the lounge to enthusiastic, albeit amused, applause (we had to issue stern reminders that we were acrobats, and not clowns, when our limp roly-polys left us sprawling like mangled starfish).
At school a best friend was made in Drama GCSE. As we struggled to forge our fledgling plays we butted heads, but, somehow, we knew to never take our disputes outside of the drama studio; nurturing an honesty and trust in our relationship that means we still make work together today. Another close friend took me to her ametuer dramatics group- backstage we would create amatuer dramatics of our own- the scintillating highs and lows of first crushes, kisses, broken hearts and riveting friendships. I met my first love doing a play, and my fiance at a job in a theatre (and a few other “loves” in between... but we don’t need to mention them here).
Friendships made through drama felt intense, and ephemeral. Even in my post graduate diploma and acting training in my 20s, I experienced the same giddy highs and devastating lows more akin to being a teenager. It was wonderful and terrible; all very dramatic, and exhausting. But the freedom, the exploration and expression helped me understand myself so well. Unpicking the motivation of characters helped me learn about my own motivations, and to truly understand what drives me.It was thrilling to learn to turn vulnerability into something potent and communicative. It was relief to be in a class with others who felt it was important to do so.
As I moved into making more of my own work, it became harder wrought. After years of training and watching the incredible wealth of theatre we have here in London, the challenge of creating work that could stand up to it was insurmountable. Outside of the class, other issues come to the forefront- funding, space, tech fees- making a play went from something you could do in a living room to something that costs the same as a deposit for a flat just to get going! Now I wish I’d not been so hard on myself.
At the time of making a play it can feel like you put your whole life on hold to create the work, but, looking back, those plays are a distillation of my life at the time. I remember walking with a friend from Wales to London to create a piece with hobby horses- it was only a few years ago but my life was so different then, and I am so so glad that we captured that time in a heartfelt, personal play..
I’m guilty of judging myself so harshly for how little money I’ve earnt and how little success I have had. I often feel I have failed. But I am still here, still making work. And looking back, what really matters is what the work meant and the friendships it gave me. It doesn’t matter that I’m often broke, because that’s priceless.