Being a performer – whether that be a singer, actor, dancer, mime, circus artist or someone who dresses up as a Disney princess for a living – gives a person a certain edge when it comes to life’s inevitable disappointments. One of my earliest disappointments came at the age of 11, when puberty hit and suddenly I found my formerly gamine, ingénue self in the body of a small hippo with C-cups and a huge bum: my ballet career was over. It was crushing, but I’d recently begun high school and soon found that orchestra offered new challenges I was happy to accept.
Another blow came around the age of 25, when I had to accept that the years of performing in my beloved orchestras had left me with hearing damage to my left ear (the one that the neck of the instrument vibrates very closely next to) and fairly substantial tinnitus. To this day, I can’t sleep without some kind of background noise like a fan or rain-noise app because the ringing would cause me to lie there all night questioning every life choice I have ever made.
I am writing this from my bedroom on the Isle of Man, despite the fact that on the 4th July 2016 I had every intention of being in Hancock, New York, watching the 2016 French Woods staff and students perform in their annual ‘Fourth of July’ celebration concert. In what I can only describe as hideous bad luck, I developed acute bacterial tonsillitis two days before I was supposed to fly out. Then Aer Lingus cancelled the flight from Dublin to New York a few hours before we were meant to fly. Then Aer Lingus lost my luggage. In the theatre world we might refer to this as a ‘triple threat’. There was absolutely no chance I was going to New York this week.
A really important life skill every creative person develops is resilience. Those knock backs you get when you don’t get cast in your favourite musical, when someone doesn’t like your interpretation of a song in a competition, when the haggard, spinster examiner says you’re “the wrong size for ballet” and fails you on the spot – they make you strong as balls and totally able to deal when crises like my nightmare of a weekend occur.
If recent news has taught me anything, it’s that really important things can change overnight, the global economy can go into meltdown because of an opinion poll, and that if you make an absolute sh*t-storm of something, you can always walk away.