During my childhood, I dreamed of being many things when I grew up – a policeman, a vet, a cartoonist, a dinosaur – but the first time I knew what I wanted to be was at age 10, whilst dressed as Anne Robinson. That prestigious role was bestowed upon me by my Junior School teacher not because of any spark of talent that he’d recognised but for the simple reason that I had similar glasses to her and was too awkward and shy to protest. The show was made up of various sketches and parodies and was our year’s last before we left for the terrifying, exciting world of Secondary School. Terrifying is perhaps an understatement; after all, I went to Earlsheaton.*
I remember the feeling of sheer terror as my ‘Weakest Link’ sketch approached; it was the first time I’d stepped out in front of a proper audience. There were no more than 60 parents and grannies watching but to me it felt like I was about to step onstage at Madison Square Garden. To my surprise, when I did grace the stage in my long black coat and frilly shirt, people started laughing. Only they weren’t laughing at me, they were laughing because I was being funny. They were laughing at my impersonation; the cocky side-smile, the way I looked over my glasses and how I drew out the last word of each sentence. Suddenly the nerves went away and for the first time, I was performing. For those four or five minutes, I had the audience in the palm of my hand. It was an amazing feeling and from then on I knew that all I would ever want to do was perform.
Fast forward to 2012 and I still feel the same way. Although looking back on it now, I do think that Mr Hutton’s actions, namely pressuring an introverted young lad into dressing up as a popular female TV personality, were a little bit weird. But still, thanks to his borderline creepiness I found my true calling. And it could’ve been worse, he made two of my friends be the Cheeky Girls.
I first joined the Dewsbury Arts Group in 2008, after being encouraged to do so by my
High School drama teacher, Miss Sutton-Jones. Since joining, I have worked with numerous other theatre groups but Dewsbury Arts is truly unique. I have yet to come across another group as passionate, dedicated, professional or with the same quality of tea making skills.
My first lead role with the group was in Neil Simon’s semi autobiographical ‘Brighton Beach Memoirs’, directed by the brilliant Terry Ryan. I played the part of Eugene Morris Jerome, a 15 year old Polish-Jewish American boy going through puberty and sexual awakening in 1930′s Brooklyn, surrounded by his slightly unbalanced family. It was a challenging part; for the first time I had to use an American accent, learn a lot of lines and, more significantly, portray a character with both humour and heart… but with the support of the group and Terry in particular, I gave a performance that I was proud of. I remember one particular scene near the end of the first act which had a great effect on me. It was a scene in which Eugene has an argument with his older brother Stanley, which escalates until Eugene screams and swears at his brother before slumping on his bed and crying. For the first time in the play, we see that beneath Eugene’s cocky exterior there is a confused, sensitive young boy. It’s a wonderful scene which taught me that there is more to acting, to performing, than simply making an audience laugh. You also have to make them care.
Since then, the opportunities the group has offered me have been extraordinary.
I have represented the group at the All England Theatre festival in the one-act play ‘A Dog’s Life’ (directed by Chris Fletcher), played the lead role in the musical ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ (directed by David Fletcher) and, most recently, starred in Alan Ayckbourn’s ‘Comic Potential’, directed by Richard Brook, a futuristic romantic comedy focusing on the relationship between a young American scriptwriter and an android. All that is in addition to featuring in numerous Christmas shows, winning ‘Who’s Line Is It Anyway?’ at the Member’s Social Evening and, with the group IMPS (consisting of DAG members), performing in an original show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2011.
Living inside my head can be quite aggravating sometimes; I’m just a little bit neurotic and insecure and have a variety of different personas for different people, which I hide behind to mask the fact that the world and it’s inhabitants terrify and fascinate me in equal measure. Perhaps I’m being dramatic, but I do often think that I’m the odd one out which, I suppose, just makes me very human and english.
For me, acting is hiding in plain sight. I think that’s why I love it so much. When I’m onstage, nothing else matters and I have Dewsbury Arts Group to thank for offering me such terrific opportunities to get lost inside a character, whether it be a bumbling florist with extra-terrestrial issues, an abandoned puppy or a horny Jewish teenager. I will be forever grateful to Terry Ryan, David Wood, Richard Brook, Chris Fletcher, David Fletcher, Gary Clayton and many other members of the group for their invaluable advice and encouragment as I continue to challenge myself and develop as an actor.
I hope that my hard work and determination will pay off and that I’ll one day find myself gracing the professional stage… but until then I have DAG. And they’ll do for me.
Dan Sean Henry
(I’ll be blogging again in the near future, I plan to go into more detail about my experiences with the group. I won’t, however, mention the time I accidentally walked in on the Life Drawing class. I don’t think that’s the sort of thing you mention on a blog, is it?)
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*I thought Earlsheaton was a great school, I’m just going with the mainstream and bashing it. Forgive me.