REAL STORIES FROM REAL PEOPLE – PERFORMED BY ALS ACTORS
We came up with WAM to give Actors Lab Studio (ALS) actors and Alumni the chance to showcase their work, while adding to the store of empathy in the world. These are real people’s stories, in their own words, retold by ALS actors, past and present. The interviewees are kept anonymous to respect their privacy. Some names in the stories may be changed but beyond this we have no editorial control over the scripts or videos, only quality control over the final product.
Acting is the ultimate expression of empathy. The actor must always get inside the skin of another, see the world through their eyes, and ultimately walk for a time in their shoes. WAM exemplifies this aspect of acting and, in addition, reflects back to the subject their own story, retold with compassion and curiosity.
You’ll find below the videos we’ve done so far, and some stories we have yet to film. Sometimes more than one actor has done one story/ monologue, so you’ll see how the same words can be refracted differently through the unique flavour of each actor. If an actor appears here, they have also done the hard graft of interviewing and editing at least one of the stories as well.
Peter Feeney & Nicoel Boschman
I’m curious about other people. That’s the essence of my acting. I’m interested in what it would be like to be you. – Meryl Streep
Yeah, I um…
I seem to have a delayed reaction with grief… And I don’t know if that’s unusual. Umm… I, I, had a girlfriend… and we were really into each other, and we had a pretty amazing story really, about how we met and – this is this was when I was a teenager, I was at school. Anyway, we broke up and I think about a year later – I knew she was going out with another guy – and about a year later I got a phone call from her mother… to say that she died in an accident, in a skiing accident. And um, I would have been, still 17, I think. And she would have been 16. Or maybe 17. And I’d heard a report on the radio driving into work actually the day before about a skiing accident, at Ohau ski-field, saying that a skier had, um, had slid down a hill and, you know, their head had connected with the pylon of a chairlift, and next to the pylon was a pile of rubber tyres that they had been meaning to… put around the pylon to protect people from having that sort of accident… hadn’t quite got around to it.
So, I remember going to the funeral and just feeling completely numb and not feeling a thing. And then my father died 30 years later. I wouldn’t say I didn’t feel anything, but I didn’t cry, I mean, we were busy and organizing everything.
I mean I loved dad and we; we got on well in the end and we had we had our issues like you do with your dad, and, but you know I felt OK about my relationship with him. And then… these delayed reactions to grief, so odd aren’t they, but… there’s no denying the power of them. I got a phone call from my therapist‘s wife. I hadn’t talked to him for a while, this therapist, I’d talked to him at a very important part of my life, and I used to ring him occasionally when I needed to. He was a wonderful man. Maybe everyone in therapy says this, you know; he was more than a therapist. But he seemed to me to be more of a therapist. You know… when I travelled… and had to talk to him at odd hours and he would always… you know, be there for me. Anyway, she rang to say that he had died. I took the phone call – I was down on the study – and I like… I walked up the stairs and I said to my wife… ‘fuck!’ You know. John’s dead.
And when I said that my knees collapsed, and I fell to the ground. I fell on my knees. I mean, you couldn’t write this shit, could you? It’d just be, it would seem like every kind of cliché. But that’s exactly what I did. And started to cry. And, you know, my wife is quite wonderful. And she, she came over and comforted me. And I realized that with my father’s death I’d had the, the doorstop of having John there as a kind of a dyke against the flood of the grief and then when he went, that went, and I was left with not having any barriers or protections up against that ocean of loss.
And I think… I think a lot of grief hit me that day.
It was an intense situation. I had been with my partner for four years… we were engaged. I ended up ending it.
Afterward I was really lost. I was still in love with him… but I wanted to experience more. He was my first real relationship… but I realised that I was ready to meet other people. I had started to panic because we were going to get married… but I didn’t think I could commit to the first boyfriend I’d ever had.
He was 6 years older than me… and he was ready to settle down. He was very focused on that.
It was extremely painful… and there was a huge amount of grieving… and he didn’t handle the breakup well. He lashed out at me and said hurtful things about me and my family, which was really hard to hear from the person I had loved for years…
We went from living together and being engaged… to completely no contact.
For weeks, I felt like I had made a huge mistake… but I’m glad that I just let everything settle, because it was the right thing. I am independent now, and I have grown a lot…
I ran into him in a Jazz club. He wasn’t in a good place. He had gotten new tattoos on his right forearm… which showed a forest, a wolf and a girl’s face… He said… it was my face… He’s going to carry that forever.
I don’t know what to reply… It’s been 9 months… I still wish I could share things with him. I think he is a beautiful person… For a while he left a big hole in my life. But… I’m okay now.
A Sister’s Love
I don’t like anger much. My parents split up when I was three and my sister Emily was one. It was fine, like they’re all healed, and forgiven, and friendly now. But they did a lot of fighting, and so now I don’t like conflict… I try to be peaceful… and not step on anyone’s emotions.
Actually, there was one time when I was younger. That I felt anger.
Emily came home with a hickey on her neck and my step mum – we must have been like 12 and 14 or something like that? And my step mum called her a slut. I remember feeling a fire down here (TOUCHES BELLY) bubbling up (HAND TRACES UP TO CHEST) and a pressure on my chest (PRESSES HAND ON CHEST).
There was such an overwhelming energy in my body… I wanted to explode!
I told her, “Don’t call my sister a slut ever again!” and I ran out of the room. She ran after me and grabbed hold of my shirt and I kicked her away. I kept running down the hall, out of the house and up the driveway. I remember my much younger half-brother crying and running after me saying “Please don’t leave”.
Emily was a sensitive child, and I often felt the way she was treated was unfair. I always tried my best to get along with my parents’ new partners… I think I did that to make sure life ran smoothly for Emily and I.
Emily was always managing to mess something up or knock something over… and I remember my step mum often calling her a bull in a China shop.
I would keep my mouth shut because I didn’t want to break the peace between my step mum and I.
That day with the hickey though, I felt like my step mum had crossed the line… I couldn’t bear to just sit there and be silent about the way she was treating Emily.
My step mum always used to mock and humiliate Emily whilst praising me. I never understood why…
Freedom in the Forest
We were right in front of the river, and I remember that the wind touched my skin, and I could feel these goosebumps going all the way up my spine and going back down.
And we brewed some tea by the river. It was almost like the best feeling I ever had. It’s like pure freedom – there was no wifi, no bystanders, no cars, there was just me and nature.
And that gave me so many ideas of what I wanted to do with this film. I wanted to touch base on spirituality, on philosophy, existence… And so I started to write a script based on the feeling that I got that day.
By the time we finished shooting, it was dark, and we saw, on the side of the mountain… there were glow worms. And it looked like a milky way paving a road. That was magical.
Yeah… I probably didn’t realise that was the most beautiful moment in my life for a while.
Loyalty, Morality and MDMA
She got too drunk as usual at B.Y.Os and she had to go home early.
We went to another bar and we met up with this other group of girls there, just strangers but anyway uh, we started hanging out with them. Then my friend, he started talking to this girl and he took some drugs. I dunno what he took… MDMA probably. And he was quite drunk, met a girl and then they disappeared for a little bit. I just thought that was him being him, y’know. And then I found them in the bathroom, in the stall next to me… y’know, doing the things you do with someone in a public bathroom, and… I didn’t feel anger at that point, I was just… shocked? I just felt nervous, like my stomach just dropped a little bit. I started to get butterflies because I was trying to figure out what I was supposed to do now. Like, do I tell her? Do I tell my friend about this? I think it was just anxiety because I didn’t know what was gonna happen. Because I didn’t want her to get hurt and I didn’t wanna betray his trust, so it was just like a real interesting conflict between loyalty and morality.
I think it was the next day that I got angry about it.
I asked him how he was feeling and he came over to talk it out and then he said, “Oh I can’t tell her because she’d break up with me… It was just the drugs and alcohol that made me do it…” and all of that, and I think that’s when I started getting really angry… He went out of his way to hurt her and he wasn’t so drunk that he didn’t know what he was doing. Then he said “Well I’m not gonna tell her, I’m just gonna go back home and we’re gonna, y’know… have kids.” He’s planning on having kids soon. It made me angry enough that I was just like well, I dunno if I wanna hang out with you guys together. Coz I can’t see the two of you together.
I think in a way, I’ve been feeling more joy than I ever felt because I’ve been letting myself feel angry and upset and scared about the world.
I mean, I kind of opened up to…
(A PAUSE. THINKS FOR A MOMENT)
I’ve kind of opened up to feeling all these all these feelings which I used to have a harder time with. Especially with feeling anger. (PAUSE)
But yeah, opening up, opening up to that just made me feel so much joy. And different parts of my life I really appreciate now.
I really appreciate being able to do what I’m passionate about and talk to other people about it and really express myself.
And there are other people as well… like my mentor’s one, genuinely. He makes me feel so joyful and really open to feeling anything. But he’s also willing to give me a lot of shit.
It’s just… I think it’s just beautiful when you can feel so unrestricted around someone. I love that.
And I feel it with my friends all the time. Actually my friends joke about how happy I get. One of my best friends often says I have the sociability of a drunk person at all times.
And I think people just get the idea that I’ll like… just find a wrapper for a nut bar or something floating around on the street and be like, “Oh my God, I love that!” I love that flavour. Nut bar! That’s so fucking good! Ohh yes, that’s just reminding me of… Ohh man. That takes me back to my childhood!!!
And that’s not completely incorrect. I’ve got to be honest. But all the fucking time I feel, I feel joy about shit. All the fucking time. I feel scared about stuff. I feel angry. I feel sad. But fuck yeah, I feel joy. Hell yeah.
People Pleaser Goes to Mexico
She was the squeaky wheel. And my parents were doing the absolute best they could but 8-year-old me didn’t know that and, a lot of times, she got what I wanted.
Um and I learnt to swallow, and people please, because it felt like I was never going to get what I wanted so, if I pretended that I wanted to give it, then I got praise for that. And at least that was something.
I’m sure that there are also some really beautiful things like caretaking and kindness and that’s, that’s good, uhh, but in this instance its people pleasing, meaning, uhhh, sacrificing… but what am I getting? What’s the trade-off? Um, sacrificing what I want, for acceptance? For belonging? To not have a fight? Like whatever the case is, it feels like a worthwhile trade off when you’re 8.
And maybe it’s a battle for love. ‘At least if I give in then she’s happy and they’re happy.’ But holy shit, the price tag is fucking huge.
So, I’m 8 and I’m mad and I don’t know what I’m mad about and I go to my room. And I’m doing my homework and I get distracted because there’s this little chip where the paint is starting to peel away on my desk and I know it’s wrong, but I just start picking at it and these little chunks of paint come off and I keep going, and I just keep picking at it. It’s so satisfying, I’m getting my frustration out and there’s something about doing it and knowing that I shouldn’t be but I’m doing it because I want to because it feels good – so fuck you and I’m doing it.
And then that sort of rage leaves me a little bit and I go get my dad and say “Dad I did something bad,” and show him and he looks at me and he says “I am so proud of you. I know this is hard for you.”
And I just felt so seen, oh and loved. It was the first time I remember having permission to be mad. Yes.
Oh yeah, I’ve ended up in dangerous situations because I’m a people pleaser. Not to please others, but because, ahhh, because if I’m not giving myself what I want in little moments I’ll do something fucking crazy because I… I’ve had enough.
I ended up in Mexico… with a guy who was buying cocaine and wanting to get his hands on a gun! I’d had enough of pleasing everybody, so I just went fuck it, yes, I’m going to Mexico. I didn’t know him well enough, but because I’m a people pleaser and I’d had enough of this really stressful summer, I was like: ‘yeah, let’s go to Mexico.’
While we’re in Mexico the laws changed and I couldn’t get back home on just my driver’s license anymore, and I didn’t have a valid passport, so I almost got stuck in Mexico, with a guy, doing cocaine, who wanted guns. (LAUGHS)
The First Goodbye
But she did know. She remembered.
Just walking into the room and seeing her face… I just could not stop – I cried for about three hours. But it wasn’t sad crying – I mean it was a mixture of sad crying because she’s not well, but it was also just getting to see her and having my time to say goodbye to her. When I walked in and saw her face, we both just… Like, she didn’t say anything because she can’t speak that much anymore, but the feeling that I felt was pretty indescribable. She’s kinda like my second mum kind of thing.
It was hard, I was so happy I got to see her but then I… I felt so guilty when I had to leave because I only had ten days. (EXHALES) I think that I need to realise that I went there and made the effort to say goodbye and that’s – I should feel at peace, and that should be enough. Y’know, we live on this side of the world, she lives there and um… Yeah I think I just need to realise that. I just hope that she maybe, hopefully, potentially will still be around next year and I’ll get to see her again for the last time. But for now I have to be okay with the fact that I may not get the chance to do that.
The Sudden Goodbye
I remember when it first hit me, I was just thinking… no that’s not real…
No! That’s my boy, I see him all the time and talk to him. Like, even if I don’t see him in ages, we strike up a conversation.
I was thinking, like about the last time I talked to him, and it was like it was all gone without explanation.
It felt like the beginning and the end of the friendship happened without the middle… like there was still more to go, more stories to be told – and where the fuck did it go?
You just always question yourself and second guess if there was something else under the surface.
There was a time where I just started to feel alone and he was always there for me in the beginning when I fucking needed it.
Like he was there when it was really important for me to have someone. I don’t think he ever realised that and I never got to tell him…
I wrote a lot, it was when I really started writing more lyrics, more music and… by the time it got to… the funeral, I guess it must have all been burrowing inside… because I just let it all fucking out.
And what really did it, was the moment his dad started talking – he literally got a few words out and was unable to speak and was sat in front of the microphone like trying to stop himself from crying because his teenage son had died.
It was like… holy shit.. this is a person I am never going to see again.