Wednesday 16 October 2019

Ciara Kelly: 'I applied for drama in Trinity and was turned down. I ended up a square peg in a round hole in commerce'

Ciara Kelly

People are always banging on about getting out of your comfort zone being great. But it's hard to visualise what that means in real life. Should you do a bungee jump? Become a stand-up comedian? Wear shoes that are too tight?

Doing stuff that petrifies you does seem to be a good way to access it. I know this because this week I'm going to be in the Pavilion Theatre in Dun Laoghaire, in the musical Jekyll & Hyde. And I feel like I could vomit. In fact I can't really imagine walking on the stage at all. Part of me believes I may in fact bottle it at the last minute, or lose my voice, or possibly have a stroke.

Long, long ago when I did my Leaving, I applied for drama in Trinity and was turned down. In fairness they asked me at the interview why I wanted to do it and I said I wanted to act and they said, coldly, this isn't an acting course, and 16-year-old me didn't read their tone well and stuck doggedly to my guns, and they suggested I try the Gaiety School of Acting, and that was that. And I never attempted to set foot on stage again.

I knew I'd never have been allowed to go to the Gaiety. My grandparents had stopped my mum joining the Abbey. My siblings had all gone to university. My parents had never had the chance to go. And come hell or high water, I'd be going too. It was a struggle to get them to even consider drama. When Trinity turned me down I shuffled off and ended up a square peg in a round hole in commerce in UCD. A miserable mismatch only righted by finding my way into medicine.

But secretly I still wanted to act. It's hard to explain. In some ways I've an absolute horror of performing. My audition for Jekyll & Hyde was torturous - not least because I was 20 years older than everyone else auditioning. Twenty. Years. They were very kind to me (I suspect it was pity). But it's no exaggeration to say I was puce, shaking and had tears in my eyes of absolute mortification as I sang the incredibly racy Bring on the Men in a tiny room to four people.

I cannot tell you how much I wanted to leave. To walk out and pretend I'd never signed up. Which makes no sense because I really wanted to do it. It's almost like you want something so much that the fear stops you from doing it at all. But that fear had been stopping me for 30 years. That's long enough.

Surprisingly I wasn't given the role of the 23-year-old prostitute. I was, however, given Lady Beaconsfield and I love her. She's unapologetically obnoxious. An absolute bitch who meets a sticky end. And rehearsals are a joy. It's like playing, but you're an adult.

That doesn't mean the actual performance isn't terrifying. If I'm awful, a lifelong dream will be crushed. I decided I wanted to be Doris Day when I was six. And something that you've wanted but been scared to do for 40 years is not a small thing. My comfort zone is blown well and truly apart.

But if it goes OK I think I've discovered something I can see enriching my life for the next 40 years. The wonderful thing about musical theatre is there are men and women from 20 to 70 involved, singing and dancing in a way that is a pure joy.

I've made friends. I've laughed (a lot). I've almost cried - the audition was traumatic. And I've unlocked a bit of me that's never been allowed out before. I'm a late bloomer. It's taken me years to do this. Now all I need to do is break a leg. Or possibly two.

@ciarakellydoc

Ciara presents Lunchtime Live on Newstalk weekdays noon-2pm

Jekyll & Hyde runs at The Pavilion in Dun Laoghaire from March 12-16

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