Sister Thresa’s Acting Class
A card on the school noticeboard announced that any girl wishing to join Sister Theresa’s Acting Class should go to the hall in the lower corridor after school on Tuesdays.
At four p.m. exactly, with all our homework packed into bags and briefcases, eight of us showed up. The first evening was a warm-up session. We learned about breathing. Counting up to three, holding it and then semi-whistling it out brought us, at first, to something like complete breathlessness. Pauline Murray started to go red in the face and was obviously doing it wrongly.
In no time, Sister Theresa moved us on to laughter. We were asked to giggle, then to laugh politely, then to screech, and then to hold onto our ribs with laughter. This actually happened, it got out of control, as, just like sneezing, it became infectious. Margaret O’Sullivan collapsed on a chair with tears running down her face, while even Sister herself had to use a large white handkerchief to camouflage gulps of laughter. We finished the evening by going through The Train by W.H. Auden and wandered home, very pleased with ourselves.
Next week was even more dramatic – we had to shout after someone, to project our voice, louder and louder and we tried out anger.
“A good temper now, a really good shout. Let it go, get really angry now.” Sister Theresa stamped her foot, and though conscious of the convent Chapel being above, we were soon ranting and raving. Any nun upstairs who had nipped into the Chapel to say her Daily Office would probably not be able to hear us; the building was stout Victorian Gothic with thick walls. “Get into pairs now, and really shout at each other!” All over the hall girls were giving convincing displays of rows. If anyone had walked in, they would have seen an upsetting sight. The session ended with Vachel Lindsay’s The Congo’s Boomlay Boom, which got us back to earth with its stomping rhythm.
The third week was genuinely my downfall. Sister Theresa had progressed onto movement. We had to loosen up, shaking our arms, shaking our legs, pretending to shiver.
“Now, girls, we are going to practise falling, try a faint or start off with a stagger. Just let go.” I did. I fell to the floor with gusto, a lovely fall. We got up and did it again a couple of times, legs and arms spread out as far as we could to make it look convincing. As the end of term play was to be Sheridan’s The Rivals and I was going to be Sir Anthony Absolute, there was no need for this carry-on, but it seemed to be necessary professional practice.
It was some hours later at home, when I was finishing a dinner of sausages and mash that I looked down at the nearly empty plate. How had I got here? The last two hours or more had totally disappeared without trace. Where had I been? What could have happened? Not wanting to worry my parents, I checked that yes, my schoolbag was in the hall, the school mac and scarf hanging up on the hook as usual. Two and a half hours had totally gone. How had I managed to walk home? The front door key was neatly in my coat pocket. The last clear memory was of that perfectly achieved fall and Sister Theresa congratulating me.
Luckily, we were now considered capable of being let loose on the play proper and I spent the rest of term trying to sit cornerwise on chairs, flicking back the coat-tails of a gentleman’s eighteenth-century costume. Lots of doffing of feathered hats. The lines were elegant; best of all, real costumes were hired from London and appeared in large boxes with tissue paper inlays. The costumes were brocade and silk and lace and velvet and feathers, instant richness. The shoes had silver buckles. We were transformed. We sauntered and glided around, secure in the knowledge that no falling down was called for at all in the script.
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Pat Jourdan is a painter from Liverpool College of Art. Winner of the Molly Keane Short Story Award and second in the Michael McLaverty Award, won the Cootehill, Poetry Pulse and Veterans Awareness prizes, published in 200 magazines, with 4 self-published novels, 5 short story collections and 6 poetry collections. Mentioned in Ian McEwan’s Saturday, p137 as “Pat Jourdan, a little-known poet of the Liverpool School.”
Lived in Galway for 10 years; divorced; 2 sons; now lives in Suffolk down a country lane.
Blog-of-sorts at patjourdanwordpress.com.
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