(Please note: It took me more than two weeks to write this post. Normally I can write a post in one sitting, but my creativity is completely dried up. So this might suck. But I worked long and hard on it, SO READ IT, DAMMIT!)
It isn’t easy being a freelancer, whatever field you may be in. But it is especially difficult, I believe, for performers and artists. I started the year off quite well with a children’s theatre show (I was the Frog Prince), but since then I’ve gone back to struggling to find work. The truth is that often I feel embarrassed to hand my CV in, because all that I really have on there is a list of the shows that I’ve done and the few short stories that I’ve published. People generally don’t see acting as work, so it doesn’t help that I’ve been in 15 different theatre productions in the past three years, because they think I was just playing. That is if you can consider a 12 hour rehearsal with dancing and blisters on your toes “playing”. Anyway…
All this uncertainty has pushed me to the point of being willing to do almost anything for money (not that… yet). A few weeks ago, a good friend of mine contacted me and asked me if I would be willing to work at a four day camp for a bunch of grade 10 kids. My initial thought was oh hell no, but then I thought about it. I needed the money, so I couldn’t say no. The pay wasn’t bad and my friend knows about my social anxiety, so I believed that if she believed that I could do it I would be able to. I hesitantly said yes. I began to think that maybe they decided not to use a crazy person, but about a week later I received a phone call. Fortunately I answered, because normally I just leave the phone to ring. An indescribable panic always takes hold of me when I need to speak to a stranger on the phone. But I answered anyway. The man was very kind and he explained that he had spoken to my friend and he understands. I take this as code for “We know you’re crazy and a nervous wreck, but we’re going to use you anyway.”
Time went by and the big day drew closer. The tension began to build. I kept thinking of all the things that could go wrong. One of the kids could break a leg and we would be in the middle of nowhere. A snake could appear (I’m terrified of those things). A giant tornado could appear and suck us all up in the sky and strew us all over the place like ragdolls. The latter is very unlikely in South Africa, I know, but that’s what it’s like in the mind of someone who constantly over thinks and battles with anxiety. I think that all these thoughts probably led to my great meltdown at the mall the other day.
The big day finally arrived and I got up really early to drive to the office of the company. When I got there I wasn’t sure if I was at the right place. There wasn’t any sign up. It wasn’t even 5h00 yet, so it was still dark. Another car arrived and a guy got out to smoke. Immediately the anxiety kicked in. Should I get out and greet him? What will I say? What if he isn’t even one of the people going on the camp? Just imagine how terrible that would be. What if he burns me in my face with his cigarette? Okay, probably not. But still…
Slowly but surely all the other people started to arrive, so I supposed that I was at the right place, unless some kind of unholy cult was gathering for their weekly early morning meeting and I was going to sacrificed. (What the fuck am I writing here? I don’t even know anymore) A kind looking man then came to me and asked me to move my car. I did so, and as I got out, all the other people stood there staring at me. Immediately I wanted to get back in my car and speed off, but I reckoned that it probably wouldn’t be the most rational thing to do. As I walked closer to them, the kind looking man asked me; “Wentzel, from which part of the Free State are you?” Oh great. I thought. My number plate is Free State, so there’s no hiding it now. South African readers will know what I am talking about. People from all the other places, particularly Gauteng and Cape Town, tend to think that we are common hillbillies who know nothing. And, to be honest, in many instances they are right. But I’d like to think that I’ve adapted to city life by now, except for the fact that I often want to run down the street screaming in a fit of panic.
I braced myself and slowly said; “Harrismith.” “Oh.” He replied; “That’s not so bad. Let’s go inside.” I was so surprised. I almost stopped them to ask if they had forgotten the part where they belittle and tease me.
When we got inside we slowly started getting the stuff ready. And by that I mean loading things that are heavy as fuck onto the vans. I quickly realized that I was the only gay guy there, so I had to carry the stuff and pretend like I wasn’t dying on the inside if I wanted to survive. It’s hard out here for a gay dude. The plus side however, was that the straight guys wanted to outdo me and carry heavier things, so in that way I tricked them into doing most of it. I’m not new to this game, motherfuckers.
When we were finally ready to leave, we got into the cars and left. I was hoping that I would be in my friend’s car, but that didn’t happen, so I just got into the car of the other guy who arrived early. As usual, I didn’t feel the need to agonize myself with small talk, so I just kept quiet and sat there, secretly hoping that we wouldn’t die in a car accident, because my friend drives like a maniac and the poor guy had to drive super fast to catch up to her.
When we finally got to the campsite, I was relieved to see that there was actually a building with beds, tables, chairs, and running water. I always imagine the worst possible thing beforehand, so that I am pleasantly surprised by the most mundane things. After we offloaded the stuff we were shown where we would be working and told what we would be doing. And then they arrived: the children. I was expecting perhaps one big bus or so, but no… There were two huge buses with an extra smaller bus. I started to think that this must be what the characters in The Walking Dead must feel like when they see a giant group of walkers headed their way. It was a feeling of sheer, building panic. It was like an entire new season idea for South African Horror Story. There were so many of them. I thought I was going to die.
But I didn’t. Duh.
Now, I could go into a detailed account of how each day went, but then this (already meandering) blog post will turn into a 100 page memoir. And I’m already tired of writing it. The long story short is this:
I learned something that I have actually always known about myself: I am very adaptable. I very quickly realized that I was going to have to make it work somehow. I’m not in school anymore, so I can’t just go home whenever I feel a panic attack coming. I need to stay strong and deal with shit. And I can be very strong when I want to be. My personality is very introverted and I’m not a very strong leader, but… I’m an actor, and I realized that this would be my salvation. I would play a role. As ridiculous as it sounds, I created a character for myself. The other facilitators seemed to be mostly likeable and friendly towards the kids, so my role would be simple: I would be a villain. If I needed to be, I would be the mean one, the asshole. It’s not so far removed from my real personality, and if you put enough power into it, you really can get people to listen to you. I even had a muse for my “character”. It would be my screen goddess Meryl Streep in her role as The Witch in Into the Woods, which is my latest obsession.
My friend told me that she found my screaming at the children quite comical, because she knew that on the inside I was pissing myself. And this much is true. But the whole time I was just thinking WWMD: What Would Meryl Do? And that was what saved me.
When I got back from the camp, I was so exhausted that I slept for a total of almost 18 hours (no jokes). You don’t get a lot of time for sleeping when you work at this kind of thing, so when you get home you sleep like a log.
At the end of the day, the camp wasn’t so much about making money, but rather about growing and learning about myself. I don’t know if these people will ask me to come back again, but that’s okay, because I’m stronger than I was before. No casting director can ever be as mean as a grade 10 student. Believe me when I say this. Also, I had a lot of fun and saw some awesome wild animals among other things:
Thank God I finally finished writing this blog post.