Tracy-Ann Oberman: Learning just how to fake it

November 24, 2016 23:13

One of my favourite-ever television programmes was called Faking It and was on Channel 4. The premise was a simple. yet effective one. It was essentially based on George Bernard's Shaw's play Pygmalion where a working class flower girl from Covent Garden was tutored and trained to appear to be a high born aristocrat and was ultimately presented to '"polite society" where she fooled them all. Remember that scene in My Fair Lady (same story, added music).

Every episode of Faking It saw a person utterly unskilled and ill-equipped for a certain trade, being prepped and tutored at lightning speed to fool high-ranking industry professionals into believing they were one of them. The stakes were high, the results, phenomenal.

My favourite episode was when a straight-laced classical cellist was given a few weeks training to become a highly convincing and sought after hedonistic club DJ. I also loved the transformation of a rough round the edges painter and decorator, who thought modern art was ridiculous, yet cracked the modern art world with his critically acclaimed 'conceptual art pieces'. Every week I'd ask myself "How do they do it? It's impossible!"

When I was asked to be in Stepping Out a few months ago I finally knew how those contestants must have felt when asked to do the seemingly unfeasible.

I'd ask myself how do they do it? It's impossible

Stepping Out is known as "the tap dancing play". Written in 1984 by Richard Harris, who was inspired after picking up his wife from her evening dance class and accidentally stumbling into the tap class in the next room, he decided to use it as inspiration for studying the human condition and it shimmied onto the West End stage before being turned into a film starring Liza Minnelli.

Just like the contestants on Faking It my jaw dropped when I was asked to be in the cast. Dancing is one of those performing skills that isn't part of my theatrical DNA.

"But I don't dance," I said to Maria Friedman the director. "I don't care," she replied. " You can act and you'll learn to tap." I didn't have the heart to tell her that I've broken the will of the best of them.

I once had to do a clog dance at the RSC as an itinerant homeless revolutionary. I was terrible. Another time, the brilliant choreographer Scott Ambler (who could train a rhino to move in time to music) was reduced to breaking down movement sequences for me at the National Theatre by intoning "Wind Screen Wiper arms. Jump the snake feet." When my husband and I met a choreographer for our first wedding dance she gave up after one lesson, saying it was like teaching two ironing boards to waltz.

Starting rehearsals I was very apprehensive as different steps were being hurled my way. It was all seemingly impossible. Perhaps it was a genetic thing? Jews are the people of the book, of the word, not the shuffle ball change. So, I looked to the sacred texts for a bit of inspiration and found some.

Our female ancestors were forever dancing. Miriam is often described as picking up her timbrel and dancing for joy. Saul and David are met at the gates by dancing women of the city. The Old Testament is full of Jewish women and men moving their feet. It's an act of utter abandon in the face of happiness.

So I utterly abandoned my fear and embraced the joy, and I think I passed my own personal episode of Faking It. We opened to a packed house last week and I loved every minute - even professional dancers were convinced that I had dancing in my bones. I'm now a fully committed tapper and it is joyous. I may even take my taps to the next family wedding.

November 24, 2016 23:13

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