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A Creative Path: how being an actor makes you a creative parent


Simon, from the Boom Buddies Hilltop Family, shares his experiences as an actor and how this helps in unlocking the power of his children’s imagination.


Trigger warning: loss of a parent

 

I still remember fondly the time when my dad and I were talking about what I would like to study at university. Now that I’m a 38-year-old dad of two myself, it’s often tempting to compare this generational time hop, and wonder how I might act in each scenario now with the benefit of experience in both positions.


My kids are three and seven but, as you do, we talk about what they want to be when they grow up. A doctor, a palaeontologist, an artist, a YouTuber! And although I can’t quite remember what I said at that young age, I do clearly remember, at age 17, telling my dad I wanted to become an actor.


“No, no. You need to study a proper degree, son.” 

"Like what?" I asked, and was subsequently educated in the importance of financial stability, and that a degree in business, marketing, or something equally intelligent and stable was the right path to choose. My dad and I agreed that he would come and watch a play I was doing in my drama A Level, and then we would have this conversation again.  When the show finished, I came out eagerly to find my parents: my dad looked so, so proud. He saw the creativity, the imagination, and the potential, and gave me his full blessing to study acting at university.

 

Three years at Liverpool John Moore’s saw many more moments of pride and happiness with my parents, as they travelled up often to see our performances. On the morning of my graduation, my dad and I had breakfast together and talked about the future. We agreed I would focus on two paths - to push forward with acting but always make sure that I had other career options in my pocket. After all, if I didn’t make it, there was always the likes of Alan Rickman and Samuel L. Jackson who made it later in life - and there would always be the need for older roles - but I’d still need to pay a mortgage one day and help support my own family.


So Dad and I agreed on two paths that day. But ten months later, he suddenly died from a bleed on his brain. My youthful eagerness and aspirations to move back to Liverpool or to London to focus on becoming an actor were replaced by grief, and by helping to support my distraught mum. Acting, and indeed my imagination and creativity, would need to go on hold.



Fast forward sixteen years, and that graduation breakfast promise to my dad has held true. Am I now a full time professional actor? No. And I’m perfectly content with that. But I am an actor. I am a Business Assurance Manager. I am a dad. I am a husband. I am a man of imagination, of creativity, and of emotional intelligence.


The funny thing is that if I hadn’t studied acting at university, I would never have built up the confidence to chair important business meetings, speak with senior stakeholders, or host business town halls with hundreds of people. If I hadn’t studied acting at university, I would never have had all the amazing and fulfilling experiences of working on film sets, whether they be professional, student or amateur. I would never have won Best Actor awards at short film festivals in Los Angeles, Toronto and Las Vegas, or been the lead in a low budget action thriller, or worked with the incredible collective of talented artists and filmmakers here in the East Midlands, building many friendships along the way.



But perhaps most important of all, studying acting has helped me to be even more fun with my kids! The power of imagination, and the stories and games we play, fill me with joy. One of our favourites is a classic improvisation game, with each person telling the next sentence or word in the story. “Once upon a time, there was a….”, “who lived in a….” etc. The kids help create the story and, before you know it, dinosaurs are racing to the centre of the sun to save the world from a mad breakfast-stealing squirrel criminal mastermind! Driving to school is full of The Universe GameThe Thank You Game, and the Would You Rather Game. Even getting the kids off their screens or toys to get ready for bed is helped by The Bedtime Gorilla, as I haunch around on all fours grunting and shouting “Bedtime Gorillllaaaaaa!!!” chasing them upstairs towards their toothbrushes before they’re tickled breathless. (That game does need to be followed up with some calm stories though so they’re not too lively to get to sleep on time!)

 

When we are children, imagination has no limits. It is only as we grow up and conform to the normalities of life, that we often start to oppress and withhold our imagination, and indeed our emotions. If you, or your children, are interested in exploring local acting or film, there are fantastic opportunities all over the East Midlands. The Pauline Quirke Academy in Littleover, Derby, offers weekend classes in Comedy & Drama, Musical Theatre and Film & Television for 4 to 18 year olds, giving “outstanding performing arts training in an environment that is friendly, safe and rewarding” and providing“a space for children and young people to express themselves, build confidence and, most importantly, have fun!” In Nottingham, the Actors Workshop provides over 18s with classes for both complete beginners and professional actors, and is a great way to meet fellow creatives and increase self-confidence. Derby University’s Film School degrees create a host of talented individuals who are often on the lookout for actors to star in their productions. Nexus is a great film and networking event in Nottingham covering the East Midlands and, online, Midlands Movies is well worth a follow to read up on local and national film reviews. They also host a glitzy annual awards ceremony in Leicester. 


My advice to anyone looking to get either themselves or their children involved in acting is to grasp the opportunities and go and have fun. They always say that the actors we see on TV are only the very tip of an iceberg full of huge numbers of unknowns below the surface. But you get to decide where your surface is, based on what you want to get out of it. You get to decide where your path should lead, and also to change that destination as much as you desire. Not every path needs an end. If you are having fun, if you are building confidence, and if you are exploring art, empathy and kindness and truly embracing it, you will be rewarded with integrity, and those around you will be the better for it. I’m so grateful that my dad saw my earlier performances and encouraged me to walk my two paths in life.

 

Back on that horrible night in 2008, when my dad lay dying in the hospital, we had a moment where it was just the two of us in the room. He was unconscious and on ventilators but, of course, I talked, hoping somehow he could hear. I spoke of acting, and of the two paths. And then I quoted one of my favourite westerns, an Emilio Esteves movie called Young Guns. And if you know the film, I was quoting it out of context and using the line in my own way. It was one of the last things I ever said to my dad, before kissing him on the forehead, telling him that I loved him, and leaving the room in tears. “I’ll make you famous.” 

 

Perhaps, one day, I still will.


 

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