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Paul Clayton: The art of forgetting is much harder in the digital age

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I had cause to write a biog the other day, and rather alarmed myself because I had to turn to IMDb to remember some of the things I have done.

Jobs, which I am sure at the time were highly cherished and enjoyed, seem to have faded into nothingness.

Indeed, a couple of weeks ago, on a trip to talk to a group of drama graduates, I bumped into an erstwhile colleague who is now head of acting at the school. It was great to see him again, and we stood chatting and comparing the amount of grey hair we were both sporting. (A full head in his case and just distinguished temples in mine.)

He then regaled the students with an extremely funny story of which I had been part when we performed Hamlet together. Involving as it did a PE teacher, a schools audience, physical violence and a huge misunderstanding, it was a theatrical anecdote of the first degree and has been added to my collection. I nodded along with his retelling of it, but in truth I had no recollection of it at all. Slowly it appeared out of the mist of time. A hidden joy in my past.

I’m not sure why the story had been pushed to the back of my memory banks. Perhaps it was because the job had not been a particularly exciting one.

Certainly all memories of my appearance as Baloo in Mowgli and the Jungle People have not only been pushed to the back of my mind; they’ve been locked in a bombproof box never to be opened, involving as they did morning shows, a lack of opportunity to sing The Bare Necessities, and a costume that didn’t exactly scream bear.

In today’s digital world, memories are dangerously easier to keep. We are no longer entirely reliant on our own grey cells. A friend of mine told me how he was rehearsing a number for a large musical last year when he noticed some younger members of the company videoing it on their phone.

He had to stop and ask them to refrain from their recordings before his imperfect rehearsal version was sprayed across social media, there for all to see and indelibly printed on our collective memories.

I’m incredibly lucky to have very many happy memories of the performances that I’ve done, and I hope there are many more still to collect and cherish, but just as I occasionally make trips to the local charity shop with a bundle of shirts that are no longer me, so there are some things I probably would prefer not to recall.

These would definitely include the full-length lycra bodystocking at Theatre Clwyd in north-east Wales, my blacked-up Grand Vizier in a York pantomime, and probably the whole of my performance in an Arthur Miller play in Nottingham.

But alas, I know that there are many people out there who do remember those things. And one day I will bump into them, and as actors do, they will tell me the story. And I’ll laugh. Emptily.

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