By Glynis Wozniak
Once upon a time there was a girl who wanted to be Snow White, or Dr Doolittle and speak to all the animals. She wanted to be a Native American squaw at 6 so she could wear suede and be at one with horses. She hated people because she hated herself. I no longer hate myself.
At the age of 14, I watched in envy as classmates attended an after school drama club that I was too shy to join.
At the age of 20, I left for Hong Kong with a ballet company for a six month tour. I stayed for 12 years ending up marrying and having a son. I followed Secrets of the Unborn Child to every letter and went from dreading to being a mother as didn’t feel mature enough at 32, to loving it.
Three months later, I moved to Tokyo where my Eurasian husband had been headhunted. Do you remember the movie Lost in Translation? I bet you loved that movie. I hate it. It was literally my life as I basically spent 4 years waiting for my husband to come home. I was amazed we went on to have a daughter we were so rarely together.
I have a very good friend named Mark Karlsson who also happens to be a personal growth coach. He told me that when we have had enough pain, we will do something about things. It took me 4 years to become empowered, but I had finally had enough pain through neglect and left.
Returning to the UK after 16 years was a huge culture shock, but oh how I have learned and more recently I have grown so much in myself that I am actually excited about my life ahead, but let me tell you the turning point.
I began to teach dance and was at preparations for the Forres Alternative Festival when the director asked me to attend the drama workshop in case any of the participants wanted to do the dance too.
We had fun workshops over several evenings, then one evening the playwright and the director had a meeting, so the workshop was filmed.
The next day I had a call. ‘You’ve got to be in the play,’ said the writer. ‘We watched the tape back and you were so funny and natural in the improvisation.
So thus it was, I had a part written for me that was fabulous fun in which I played a coffee shop manager who was revealed to be a dominatrix cult leader. Ha ha.
I was almost sick with nerves before going on. I was used to dancing on stage, but it is so different to use your voice.
I was amazed and as I had really enjoyed the experience, it gave me the confidence to apply for the local amateur dramatic society who were putting on Jack and the Beanstalk. I had short hair at the time – and was given the lead role of Jack.
At the cinema one night with friends, I sat glued to my seat after Mystic River ended wondering, ‘Could I do that?’ ‘I want to do that.’
I researched colleges and found a course in Inverness college, just 45 minutes away. I applied (sometimes it really helps to be naive, I find) and was asked to audition with two contrasting monologues.
I sent a fax (yes, it was in those days!) asking if it would be appropriate to swear. I was given the go ahead to swear.
I honestly don’t know where these things come from, but I wrote something called FFS. In the whole piece, I only ever said ‘For fuck’s sake.’ It was ‘For fuck’s sake’ glumly as I sat ‘typing’ in the office. ‘For fuck’s sake’ happily as I noticed the clock strike 5pm, etc. It was a totally spontaneous creation that made Head of Drama Alan Watters laugh, which was exactly what I wanted.
My second monologue was, as he had asked, contrasting. It was called Five something. I forget the second part of the name, but it was the viewpoint from five different people about the drowning of my father and 5-year old twin brothers.
I spoke from the side of the grandpa who witnessed a wave wash them into the sea; from the side of my father who tried to rescue them; from my brothers’ viewpoint and the sea’s. I probably have it somewhere as like to keep writing that means something to me, but it will be in a box in the loft.
I cried at the end of that monologue because that’s what I felt. I cry easily. It’s very handy in my job actually and I am often cast in emotional roles, but I love to move people. It’s one of the reasons I do this job.
I was just about to turn 40. In the accompanying interview, Alan asked if I was worried about being a mature student in a class full of 18-year olds. I reliably informed him that he would find I was the most immature mature student he would ever have. I got in.
College. OMG! You know people say it’s the best time of your life? You know how sometimes when your marriage fails, you grieve? College brought me back to life. It was fucking awesome. I was fucking awesome. I loved (nearly all) my classmates and are still good friends (with those same nearly all) to this day.
I lapped up everything I learned and yearned to know more, so I took part in every opportunity that came along. The community cast of The Crucible with National Theatre of Scotland and TAG Theatre? Yes please!
For anyone who knows the play, I was cast as Goody Putnam. For anyone who doesn’t, she’s a bitter bitch. She pokes her nose into everyone’s business, although in her defence, it’s because she miscarried 7 babies and believes the world is against her.
Our director, Guy Hollands, was amazing and in rehearsals, as soon as my scene was finished, I sat a few rows behind him watching and learning. I also approached each crew member asking them for their title and what they did. It really helped me get to know what goes on behind the scenes as well.
Amongst the professional cast was an actor called Sally Reid who was playing Mary Warren, a large and important character.
Sally was superb, so as a first year acting student, I watched her every move. I was just so hungry to learn. Starving on a regular basis; that’s me.
We were performing in the beautiful Universal Hall in Findhorn to a packed audience and on the second day, we had a matinee performance during which Sally took ill. She lay down backstage between scenes (Mary Warren is in three of the four acts and featured heavily) almost passing out and did not take a curtain call, she was so ill.
I was called to see the director and was told that Sally was too ill to go on and that we could either cancel the show or I could read in for her part. ‘I would love to read in for her part,’ I simply said.
I only had one hour and was really nervous to highlight her lines and work out another costume with the Wardrobe department, but remember, Sally Reid had fascinated me. I had watched her every move, so knew all her blocking. The theatre announced, ‘Due to cast illness, Mary Warren will be read in by Glynis Wozniak.’ Two friends in the audience gasped.
During the interval, Sam Young playing Abigail, asked ‘How can you do that?’ not realising I had been studying Sally.
Before we went on in the second half, the stage manager said that the curtain calls were going to change and that I would be walking down with Sam. I remember thinking ‘Thank God I won’t be alone.’
All the cast and crew were so lovely. I could see the lighting crew smiling from the lighting box and I felt genuinely supported.
As we took our curtain call, Sam stepped to the side leaving me centre stage. The audience stood to their feet and I received a huge standing ovation. I was so humbled and in awe. I have tears in my eyes as I write this, it meant so much.
Of course, I thought that would be it; that once I had graduated, I would be called on and sought after, but this business doesn’t work like that and they will have forgotten me. And yet, when I have been low and felt like giving it all up, it is that moment I recall. Lying backstage in Act 4 with an energy field of gratitude three feet high buzzing all around me as I said ‘Thank you God, thank you God’ over and over. Beautiful and still one of the best experiences in my life.
In 2006, I auditioned for the University of the West of Scotland where we did a lot of film and television training and I graduated in 2009 with a BA (Hons) Performance. Again, I thought that this would be it, but even with getting an agent after my showcase, work was sporadic and looking back, the only thing I would do differently now, is get a part-time job and write my own work a lot sooner.
I have a new agent now. I am not waiting for a ‘big break.’ I am perfectly content working away doing my thing and being open to whatever comes along. I played a sad Mary Lincoln in First Ladies Revealed, which was shown on the Smithsonian channel in the States but has yet to be released here. I played Frankie in Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune in November at Irvine Harbour Arts Centre and it felt so good. As Frankie I cried as I spoke of my ex hitting me. The audience were silent and I could feel I had done my job: I had moved them.
In Uni, my Community Theatre module was care homes because, as I said at the time, ‘I’ll be old soon!’ I loved it and two years ago, I set up Shine Bright Entertainments specifically for this purpose.
I write one-hour shows (so far none of them have used the words ‘for fuck’s sake!’) on themes that appeal to an older audience, whilst being entertaining for young staff and visitors too.
I have adapted Doris Day’s famous Calamity Jane film. I get to play ole Calam’ and sing all the songs from the film as well as a few others to tie in the story. It is my favourite show and I will never tire of performing it.
I have cabaret-style shows full of songs from the 40s to the 70s. Romantic comedy Secret Love that is based in 1951 where the lead character goes to the House of Fraser and falls in love with a man she meets there to find he is the son and heir to the House of Fraser fortune.
Summer Love features the very mischievous Auntie Betti with an i ‘and don’t you forget it.’ It is the only show where I got into trouble from a visitor in the audience for wearing a fat suit. It was in a very conservative area, so I was very surprised that they have invited me back this summer; albeit it with a different show! Auntie Betti goes to a travel agent and sees ‘Virgin’ on a girl’s uniform. She takes one look up and down and says ‘Not likely, dearie.’
I have so much fun with my care home shows. If ever I am feeling old or plain or blah, I do a care home show and am guaranteed to emerge uplifted and energised as they tell me ‘You’re beautiful’ and ‘You’re so young’ and of course, to them, I am.
However, the results are outstanding as music and performance has such an impact on dementia. I have seen screaming aggressive residents calm quietly down and sing with me when I offer my hand and sing to them. I witnessed one resident hitting her visiting husband. I sang to her and cried when I left as I saw them with their foreheads touching gazing into each other’s eyes. I saw a man with violent tendencies change before my eyes as I sat at his feet and we joined together in harmony. The nurses acting as his guards cried as they walked to the side leaving him with me in peace for the first time. It is a beautiful thing and I feel that I am helping as well as entertaining. One lady said on Thursday ‘Thank you for making my sad heart happy.’ How can I not be happy knowing I make a difference in people’s lives.
I am waiting to hear if I have a casting for a commercial next week. There is a lot of waiting in this job. I didn’t get a theatre tour of a fabulous play that I so wanted, but there is always another opportunity. I sometimes have to remind myself of that. In the meantime, I will continue with my care home shows that I also perform as singalong shows in bars and hotels where young audience members have printed lyrics and is great fun.
Last month, I also performed my first piece of spoken word. It is very rude. It’s called My Peaceful Cock. You can find it on YouTube under my name if it appeals. I don’t have a cock, but if I did, it would be peaceful. I think I’m going to do more spoken word. I am definitely going to write a rude one-woman show not for care homes!
I love my life. I love people. I don’t know what that hermit shit was all about. I still love my horses and animals (except for cats; soz!), but you should see me now with people. I love them. Can you tell? I love complimenting people. I love uplifting them and helping them feel good. I have bashed my ankle bone on a bar stool running out of a coffee shop too quickly to tell two girls in London that they were beautiful.
I don’t mind looking silly. Some people call me mad or bonkers. I call myself fun. I can laugh at myself now and I could never laugh at myself previously.
If inside you are that shy child or scared teenager peeking round the corner at those who do drama; if you yearn to learn or do something different, please know that regardless of your age or your current situation in life, you have the power to retrain and discover a part of yourself that will bring you great freedom and joy.
You will find a way. I didn’t have childcare for the first three weeks of college and almost didn’t get funding, but ultimately I got the best deal ever: I had a spare room, so hired an au pair (male because their father has not been in touch with us since and I wanted them to have a male role model in their life). Be clear; be determined and you will find a way. I promise you.
My playing age is 40-50 now. You might wonder if I’m running out of time, but let me tell you; I have a long way to go. As Tom Butler-Bowdon says You Are Never Too Late To Be Great.
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Glynis Wozniak is half Ukrainian and was born in Scotland, but she spent 16 years in Asia before returning almost that long ago. Originally she was a ballet dancer and re-trained to graduate in 2009 with a BA (Hons) Performance. She is a performer with Shine Bright Entertainments and is in talks with a new agent after being represented by Victoria Steven Management. She lives in the country with a city attitude. Find out more about Glynis on her website.