When acting roles dried up, Sara Alexander turned to fiction - and the offers started to come in again
A change is as good as a rest, they say. Good news for actors. The job creates a life in constant shift: regular periods of not being employed - perhaps the most well known aspect – then stepping into the skin of one character and then another. It is a visceral, terrifying, liberating, mercurial art.
And I love it.
When I became a mother, I made the then inescapable overnight shift from auditions for hormonal teenage parts to those for mother of two (even though our first born was but a babe in arms). I was a new mum whom nobody would hire to play a mum; I didn't look, feel, move or sound like the commercial idea of what The Mother was. My agent couldn't envisage my playing anything other than that. I yearned to create, but the acting work just disappeared.
So I wrote.
And a wonderful thing happened. The more I wrote, the more workshops I took part in, the more acting work I was offered. The more I fed my imagination on the page, the more playful and open I was in auditions and connecting with the kind of colleagues I longed to create with.
While I wrote my third novel, my acting work had a direct influence. For the first half, I was on an international tour of a harrowing play. My writing became my refuge, the place where I could recharge. For the second half, I was creating a new show about female sexuality. Those rehearsal rooms, unbridled, sweaty, intense and playful, were fertile ground for letting my imagination stay in flight.
I played the role of Clitoris and Sexual Appetite. It required me to be feral, free, impulsive and naked in all ways, baring aspects of my self usually kept hidden. It was a powerful piece, exhausting to perform and thrilling.
The courage to share in this way has a profound effect on my writing. I tap into the same visceral approach with the characters in my novels, exploring aspects of them I might not have done otherwise.
I know the ice-cold fear of the wait in the wings before a show, as I stand facing my self, wondering whether she and I will have the courage to play and stay present for one more performance. Can I surrender to whatever happens rather than ache to recreate what I did the night before, when the audience laughed loudest, cried deepest? The lean into vulnerability is where the pulse of all creativity lies, in my opinion. It's the free fall where I write my first drafts. Crafting the final drafts of a story after that is no different from listening to my director focus my attention to moments where my character choices can be clarified, heightened or diminished. An editor's feedback and suggestions echo the same.
Compartmentalisation is a useful, oftentimes vital tool for life, but cross fertilisation, when you are creating in whatever form that might be, is where the juice is.
Stories make the world go round; the ones you share, the ones you tell yourself about your self, the ones you choose to believe, create, dare to imagine. At the heart of each lies the yearning to connect and communicate, to play and explore. This is the responsibility of writer and actor. Two aspects of creativity, that, when I nurture them well, trusting that I don't always need to know where either will lead me, are dynamic dance partners.
Sara Alexander is a British-Sardinian actress and author born and raised in North-West London. She has published two novels with HarperCollins, each inspired by her roots in Sardinia, to which she regularly returns, and her third, The Last Concerto, is out today (22 August).