Writing Exercise: The Actress

This was a writing exercise I conducted as part of a writing group, where we put a picture in the middle of the table every few minutes and tried to work them into our story. I don’t have copies the images we used at the moment but they were:

1. A scene with an elderly woman sewing the pants of a young girl who was wearing nothing but a pair of frilly knickers and a bra.

2. A Card with lots of hot air balloons on it.

3. A vintage Bicycle with a basket.

4. A picture of a sculpture of someone leaning over something, maybe over another person, it was a bit vague.

5. A picture of two trees which had been grown together into an archway.

Here is what I came up with:

The Actress

I tried to hide my embarrassment the show was about to start and I’d burst my knickers, old lady Tannenbaum was helping my sew them together, it wasn’t every day you had an 80 year old woman fix your pants, but they were an essential part of my outfit and curtains were in 15 minutes.

“Girls these days, I can’t believe you never learnt to sew” The old lady said to me as she deftly threaded the needle in and out of my pants.

“I’m so sorry, my mother never taught me how to sew and since then I’ve never had the chance to pick it up”

“Taught you how to sew? Taught? No one taught me, it’s a talent girl either you have it or you don’t” I could feel a ‘when I was your age’ story coming on. “When I was your age we didn’t have to sew just clothes. The great balloon gala of ’23 we had to make all the balloons, every last one of them 6 months it took us”

Whether or not there was a great balloon gala of ’23 and whether old Lady Tannenbaum had had any part in it was up for debate, Lidia, who worked for the council had gone to the trouble of looking up the council records and had found no record of it, Sam thought that it was maybe something the old senile woman had seen on TV and it had worked it’s ways into her memories. None the less whenever anyone asked her to fix, mend or sew anything for them she invariably brought up the story. The facts changed each time, sometimes she’d sewed a hundred balloons herself sometimes it was 50. Sometimes it had taken the whole village 6 months sometimes a year. Was it all just a figment of her imagination or had it actually happened?

Not that it mattered really, it gave the old woman something to talk to us about, we would dutifully ask her questions about the gala, and she would answer them. I guess when you are that old you live in your memories, and it feels good to recount them, regardless of whether they are real or made up.

“Ten minutes to curtains!” yelled a voice from outside the changing rooms.

“There that’s me done, those stitches should last you a life time. Unless you live as long as me.” She started laughing but her laughter quickly turned into a hacking cough. The old lady was sick, everyone could see that, the doctors apparently hadn’t given her long to live. We all knew but we didn’t talk about it, old Lady Tannenbaum was as much a part of the show as the dancers and the musician. Fred, one of the ushers, had said that once she had been a dancer, but that was a very long time ago, he even showed me an old picture he’d found of a woman in her early twenties wearing what looked like the exact same costume that we wore in the show today. He said it was her from back when she was a dancer, I didn’t believe him the show couldn’t have been that old.

I put on the rest of my costume, and prepared my makeup. I wasn’t happy with the makeup, I never was, but I figured that I’d be far enough from the crowd for them to notice.

The stage hands were waiting for me as I neared the left of the stage, on handed me my bike, I mounted it and prepared myself to ride onto the stage, I’d not had a chance to warm up my voice before the performance, but it was an early show so there shouldn’t be too many people in the crowd, hopefully no one influential, this show wasn’t ‘the big time’, but if I got noticed it could be my ticket there.

We took our places ready for curtains, Lydia was center stage, she was playing the part of the washer woman today, we all took turns doing all the parts, but of all the parts I thought that was the worst. You got next to no lines, and you didn’t do very much dancing, you just sat there in the background pretending to wash an endless basket of clothes. I wasn’t even sure why the part was in the show, to me it just didn’t seem to serve any purpose. Rudy the director said I didn’t understand the hidden complexities behind the role, he said it added a human element to show, brought it down to earth. He’d said it was the most important part of the first act and without it the show lacked the necessary gravitas. I didn’t understand half of when he said, when he spoke about some aspects of the show it was like he was speaking another language, I said as much to him and he just said I was right, I didn’t understand.

I didn’t particularly like the way he’d said it to me, but I daren’t confront him about it, as far as the producers were concerned Rudy was a god among men, a fountain of inspiration and creativity. If he wanted a washer women in the first act then there was a washer woman in the first act, everyone else be damned.

We were after all just lowly dancers, I’d actually heard Rudy say once that he was the artist, the stage was his canvas, and we were his paints. What a load of bullshit.

As far as I could tell the show had been going for years, if Fred was right about old Lady Tannenbaum then the show hadn’t changed much in sixty or so years, but if the people who paid the bills thought Rudy was a virtuoso, then we had to treat him as such if we wanted to stay in the show, and staying in the show was the only way for us to get the hell out of here and onto bigger and better things.

The music started, in my head I counted the beats, my cue to enter stage left riding my bicycle was the start of the violin solo.

Tommy the violinist was a nice guy, I’d dated him a few years ago, years before either of us had anything to do with the show, it didn’t last long, a couple of months at most, we both liked long walks in the park, but where I’d enjoyed just marveling at the wonder of nature he just would not stop talking. I don’t think he took the hint that I only answered his questions with single words, he just kept on talking and talking and talking, it was as if if he stopped talking he’d forget to breathe and die.

I think in my heart I knew fairly early on that it wasn’t going anywhere, but I just couldn’t admit it to myself, he was cute and he was interesting, I wanted to like him, all my friends wanted me to like him, but for some reason deep down I just didn’t.

The moment where the realisation bubbled forth from my subconscious and into the forefront of my mind wasn’t untill we’d been dating for a good couple of months. We’d been on one of our customary walks in the path, he was talking I was silent when we came upon a beautiful tree. Somehow two tree’s had grown together forming an archway, they had fused together and it looked like they were one tree with two trunks.

As we walked under the archway I looked up at the tree, a tear in my eye at the sheer magnificence of it, I turned to him to find he was talking about something that had happened in school that day, something about the football coach, he seemed completely oblivious to the wonder of nature that was above us.

I turned to him, put my finger to his lips to silence him and said three words I’d needed to say for weeks, but hadn’t until that moment realised it.

“This isn’t working”

He stared at me dumbstruck for a moment, and I turned on my heels and walked away. I feel a little bad for doing that to him I don’t think I ever explained to him what happened in the lead up to that moment, I was vilified at school for months after that. It wasn’t until Tommy started going out with Heather 6 months later, that things started to calm down. My villainy turned to a weirdness, then faded away.

Now years later, he was my cue to enter stage left riding my bicycle.

This is as is unedited from the coffee shop. I would have never written something like this if I hadn’t bee put on the spot so I’m quite proud of it even if it is a bit rubbish.

Every one else came up with some very different but very cool ideas, all in all it was a good session.

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