There is a verse in the Bible, in Corinthians, that talks about growing up and putting away childish things – “When I was a child, I spoke as a child…” But it is not a lesson that should be heeded by actors.
The questioning, the joy, the desire to play that comes from our inner child is crucial in the rehearsal room. The ability to react without preconceptions or self-consciousness. To experience as if for the first time; to step forward without hesitation or question.
Though maybe I should clarify: it is not the childish nature that should be brought to rehearsals but the childlike attitude. To be able to tap into that at work is a great job. It is at the centre of what we do as actors, and yet sometimes it’s hard to find the time for it.
In the modern world, many of the demands on actors require us to put away a childlike approach. We have to shoulder responsibility; cope with the pressure of rejection and lack of work; guard against constant exploitation and question daily whether we have the strength to go forward and continue. We have to be adult in our thinking and in our actions. It’s right that we are, but it can be joyless.
Recently, at the age of 62, my childhood ended. The mother who adopted me at the age of six weeks and whose nurture and care made me who I am, passed away. Part of the grief was the knowledge that I was, in real terms, no longer a child. A cloak of responsibility seemed to fall and weigh heavily on my shoulders.
And yet the day after the funeral, I was back on set playing a scene opposite someone I worked with nearly 20 years ago. He has since become a very well liked and very much in-demand actor. And rightly so.
That morning he brought the inner child to our work. He played and allowed me to play too. Each take was a joy. A surprise. Always just different enough to make both of us joyful inside. We played. And it felt good. Two hours of childhood again.
It made me resolve to try to find these moments in life more often. Many of the techniques we use as actors are valuable life skills. Drama training is training for life and is useful in so many arenas.
So no matter what grief or disappointment life brings, try to release that inner child. Cry freely, laugh spontaneously, surprise yourself and rejoice in the moment. Treat each experience as a first night: full of nervous promise and with so many possibilities. I owe it to my mum to keep the inner child alive.
Paul Clayton is an actor, director and author. Read more of his columns at the thestage.co.uk/author/paul-clayton/