Smile Through It II: The Next Chapter

Chasing dreams, because I can

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Archive for the ‘Uni’ Category

Christmas & all that it brings

Posted by Oli on Monday 21st December, 2009

I’ve been struck again by one of my intermittent bouts of insomnia and have – as usual on nights like this – found myself sitting and contemplating all around me.

In particular, I’ve been reading back over this blog entry from the summer and going back through the last few months on my Facebook. I wanted to break into the “real world” and do something that felt like a tribute to my donor. I know now that the decision to go to Liverpool was made in haste and a fog of ambition and clouded judgement.

I can’t regret that decision, though, as it’s left me in a place now that’s so much happier than I was before I left. Being away has made me realise what it is I want to do, but more than that it’s shown me that I have the knowledge, drive and courage to pursue it.

I’m immensely lucky to be surrounded my my wonderful family, my always-supportive friends and, of course, my wonderful K. Since getting back from Liverpool I’ve been happier in my life, my house and my skin that I can remember for a long time.

At the same time, thinking about the future has made me think about all those around the world less lucky than me. I lost my friend Jo just a few short weeks ago and said my final goodbyes last week and knowing that her family face Christmas without her is heart-wrenching. Added to which I’ve got one friend in hospital over Christmas, another friend’s baby brother in intensive care and two more friends facing the very real possibility that this will be their last Christmas if their transplant doesn’t come in time.

This time last year, my brother was fighting in Afghanistan in one of the longest and most protracted operations of our combat there. On Christmas Eve, in an experience I’ve never had before, I was overcome by emotion during the midnight service thinking about him and the dangers he was facing. Without realising, and something I can only attribute to the kind of sibling bond I’ve always derided, I woke on Christmas morning to a phone call from my parents to say that he’d lost one of his closest friends right by his side that night.

In truth, despite our hardships, my family is undoubtedly one of the luckiest and most blessed in the world. I’ve fought and won battles within my own body and been lucky enough to be given a second chance at life. My mum has battled her own illnesses and come through with flying colours and my bro has fought and survived one of what is turning out to be the bloodiest wars in decades for the British Armed Forces.

I’ve been blessed by so much happiness in my life and as Christmas approaches with people living in fear, in hope and in grief, I realise more than ever that now I know where I’m going, it’s time to put the pedal to the metal and get my arse there.

I can’t wait to get started. Here’s hoping that the New Year brings all of us the things we want most in life and, should it fail to and instead present us with more, deeper challenges, may we all have the strength to fight, battle and rail against them and emerge victorious this time next year.

As a wise man once prayed: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Merry Christmas to you all, and a Happy, Healthy, New Year.


Posted in Day-to-day, Difficulties, Family, Friends, Hospital, Improvement, Projects, Support, Transplant, Uni | 2 Comments »

On Happiness

Posted by Oli on Monday 30th November, 2009

Happiness is an often elusive thing. It is at once indefinable and definite – you just know when you’re happy. It’s also vital to life. Or at least to mine.

A long time ago, pre-transplant before I was seriously ill, I promised myself that I would never have “just a job” – that I would always do something that made me happy. It didn’t matter to me if that was street sweeping, rubbish collecting or running the biggest company in the country; if I was happy that’s where I’d want to be.

This has come back to me over the last few weeks and months up in Liverpool. The ultimate truth is that I’m just not happy up here.

The decision to come to university was made in a rush of confused feelings about my past, my present and my future. At the time it seemed like a great option for me to explore what life is like outside the confines I’d previously lived in and that life as a student – something I’d missed out on when I was still in my teens being too ill to go – would suit me and re-energise me.

The theory behind the decision to come to LIPA was sound: I’d always wanted to come and when I saw the place in clearing I leaped at the chance to be a part of an institute I’d always wanted to go to. I didn’t, however, consider well enough the value of the course to the way I see my life panning out.

LIPA is a remarkable place – the people, the building, the students, the tutors, the shows: all outstanding. But it’s not the right place for me to be.

I’ve been unhappy here for nearly as long as I’ve been up here and it’s taken me a long time to reach the decision that I’ve come to. In the end, though, the opportunity to come back and start the rest of my life with my wonderful, devoted and utterly beloved K combined with the chance to pursue a project I’ve wanted to push through for well over 3 years was too good to turn down.

K and I have been through rough times in the last six months or so. We’ve been through rough times in our own, individual lives; we’ve been through tough times in our relationship and we’ve been through hard times in our lives together. But we’ve come out of it stronger and more supportive than we’ve ever been.

When I came back South a few weeks ago, I had a long chat over lunch to two of our closest friends who, when I aired my views about Liverpool, came up with one singular piece of advice: follow your heart and not your head.

I have spent too much time in the last few months thinking through everything. Wondering about what my family would think, what K’s family would think, what my friends would think and – most important of all – what my donor and their family would think. What it comes down to is this:

I want to do something that makes my donor proud to have bestowed this gift on me. And sitting up in Liverpool, miles from the woman and the people that I love and living 3 years of an already-shortened life being unhappy just isn’t right.

So it is with a heavy heart, but high hopes that I take my leave of Liverpool and LIPA later on today. It’s been a great ride: Wind in the Willows was an amazing show to work on and I’ve made some firm friends. But it’s time for me to do what’s right for me, regardless of what anyone may think or feel about it.

Am I sad to be leaving? Yes. Am I disappointed in myself? I am a little. Am I excited about what comes next? You betcha.

After everything that’s happen this week, there has never been a more important time for me to dedicate myself to the life I want. The life that makes me happy.

Posted in Day-to-day, Difficulties, Family, Friends, Projects, Transplant, Uni | 9 Comments »

Jonathan Pryce

Posted by Oli on Tuesday 27th October, 2009

The one upside of Willows going into rehearsals this week of all weeks (LIPA reading week, that is) is that I was still around to witness this year’s first Masterclass with the legendary Jonathan Pryce of Evita, Pirates of the Caribbean and Miss Saigon fame.

Once again revealing quite how aged I am in relation to the rest of the students at LIPA (or at least the majority), I first saw Jonathan Pryce when he played Fagin in Sam Mendes’ revival of Oliver! in the West End way back in 1994 when most of my classmates were learning to walk.

Thanks to the Pirates series, he’s now famous throughout the student body at LIPA and, since he’s literally just up the road (about 500 yards from LIPA) doing The Caretaker at the Everyman at the moment, he stopped in to talk to us all today.

He may have been nervous or just unsure at the start, as he was somewhat bland and struggling to relate to the audience to begin with, but as time went on he warmed up and became more and more ebullient and amusing with all of his anecdotes. Among my favourites:

  • He turned down the opportunity of taking over from Michael Crawford in the title role of the original production of Phantom of the Opera
  • He gave first jobs to both Julie Walters and Bill Nighy, recalling of Nighy’s audition that he thought we was either an absolute genius or absolute rubbish. He maintains (jokingly) it’s the latter.
  • When he and Nighy were reunited on the set of Pirates of the Caribbean 3, Nighy performed in a lycra body suit with motion-capture markers all over his body and face. The sight made it impossible to get through an emotional scene without laughing, prompting the writer to approach Pryce and ask if everything was OK with the scene.
  • He never actually read the entire script for Pirates and frequently only knew what was going on by asking Jack Davenport while the shots were being set up.
  • When performing in the ill-fated National Theatre production of My Fair Lady, he remarked to one audience “This is you first Eliza, but it’s my second today and third in two days. If anyone would like to apply to play Eliza in this production, please contact Stage Door after the show.”

It’s amazing to be studying what I love in a place I can’t get enough of and to have the added bonus of people like this coming in to talk to us. After almost 2 hours at it, I think the entire audience of actors, dancers, technicians and managers left the room utterly inspired and energised.

Who’s next?

Posted in Day-to-day, Film, Firsts, Theatre, Uni | Leave a Comment »

Willows begins…

Posted by Oli on Monday 26th October, 2009

I say it begins, but for most of the backstage staff, it already has – weeks and weeks ago. But all too often in theatre the start of a production is marked by the start of the rehearsal process.

Like the dutiful techies we all are, foregoing our reading week to be here for the show, we trudged our way to the 4th floor of the main LIPA building and into the room which will house rehearsals for Wind in the Willows for the next 4 weeks before we hit the Paul McCartney Auditorium for a week of technical and dress rehearsals to realise the show everyone’s had in their heads since the first week of term.

Today was also the first time I’d had to see the model box, the small, scale model of what will eventually be realised on stage. I know this is a big show, but seeing the model box today really rammed home just how HUGE the whole thing is. The monstrous set takes up the entire PMA stage and a little bit more besides and there is an incredible amount of work for us lowly ASMs to do in keeping the show running with all the appropriate scene changes as the show goes on.

It’s both extraordinarily exciting and not a little bit daunting. I’ve never been an ASM before – I’ve stage managed, I’ve production managed, but so much of the success of the performance itself rests on the ASMs getting their cues right. Because an ASM missing a cue in the middle of a show is likely to cause one of the most obvious slip ups in the theatre. It’s possible to miss lighting and sound cues without people really being aware, but if the setting and props aren’t in the right place when they’re needed, the actors can look like a right bunch of muppets.

Am looking forward to it, though. I think it’s going to be a great show and a fun show to work on. So here’s to four weeks of running around Liverpool like a loony getting everything sorted and a final week of running around LIPA like a loony getting everything sorteder.

Deep breath!

Posted in Day-to-day, Firsts, Theatre, Uni, Work | 1 Comment »

The Gig

Posted by Oli on Monday 19th October, 2009

Sorry for the delay in posting about the awesome Save Jess-tival on Friday night, but it’s been a hectic and exhausting last few days.

Friday was amazing. A stellar line up including headline turns from Natalie Imbruglia and Ed Byrne as well as the fabulous Yeah Yous and Laughter for Life favourite Glenn Wool who unfortunately suffered from some sound issues meaning his set didn’t go down as well as it might have.

The revelation of the day for me, though, was the two singer/songwriters I’d not heard perform before. Susanna Cork is undoubtedly on the verge of great things – she has an amazing voice that’s beyond anything I expected and is a supreme talent. I can’t wait to pick up her album when it comes out and believe me, I’ll be plugging it like mad on here as soon as it streets.

The other half of the amazement came at first-timer Mr Robin K. Already on his Twitter feed he’s been hailed as the next Tim Minchin and on this performance you can clearly see why. Witty, emotional and often hilarious songs coupled with a little stand up in between made for a truly surprise package. Considering this is his first gig and he’s only been writing since the summer, this guy is undoubtedly going just as far as Susanna, albeit in a slightly different direction. You can check him out here.

The day itself was utterly exhausting. I was up at 8.30am to be at the venue for 10am and I worked through with various members of my team to 1am without a break. The crew who came in with their lighting rig and sound systems were brilliant, working far beyond their working time regs should have allowed them and never complaining or kicking up a fuss, just quietly getting things together to make it all happen.

Most importantly of all, our Jess was there throughout and thoroughly enjoyed it by all accounts, even allowing for the minor hiccup in the cab on the way home.

It was great to be working on something like this again, though, as something along the lines of a production/stage manager. It’s been a lot of work over the last 2 weeks, but really worth it for the buzz of pulling off such a massive gig with such big names.

Now it’s onwards and upwards, although downwards on the stage management ladder to ASM Wind in the Willows, which goes into rehearsals next Monday and promises to be challenging on lots of different levels. Can’t wait.

Posted in Charity, Day-to-day, Difficulties, Friends, Projects, Theatre, Transplant, Uni, Work | 1 Comment »