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If You Could See Me Now

What were you like as a teenager? Outgoing? Bold? Mischievous? Focused?

I was a nervous wreck. I mean, I carried myself well and to all intents and purposes, looked confident, but inside I was a complete and utter nervous wreck.

I would look at classmates attending drama class and be in awe wishing I could do that. I would look at models in magazines wishing I could do that yet instantly putting myself down and judging myself negatively.

I was born in Aberdeen, Scotland to a Ukrainian father and Welsh mother. It may be because my father died when I was just a baby coupled with my mother being a devout born-again Christian who, being both the mother and the father, was very strict and gave me little freedom or choice that I was painfully shy with a severe lack of self esteem and preferred dogs and horses to people. In fact, I was convinced that I would become a hermit when I grew up.

By the time I was 6 years old, all I wanted to be was a Native American Indian so I could wear suede; be at one with nature and especially my horse. There was nothing more in the world I wanted than a horse.

My mother thought the novelty would wear off and insisted I wait until I was 7 before starting riding lessons.

Around the same time, I discovered dance and spent my childhood stretching and rehearsing dance on one hand and on the other, voraciously reading about horses and sitting astride walls when not in riding lessons. As you may imagine, the turnout in ballet and the turn-in of riding gave me bandy legs for quite a while.

In fact, I clearly remember my Uncle Cliff laughing at a photo of me in a skirt saying I ‘still looked as if I was on a horse’. Thanks, Uncle. More fodder for the lack of self-esteem.

Aged 10, I announced that I wanted to be a dancer. My mother was aghast and pitifully said, ‘Not the stage, Glynis?’

‘Mm hmm.’

‘But there are drugs and all sorts,’ was her reply. Little did she know that the first person I ever went on to see take drugs was a nurse. So much for the theory that the stage is a den of iniquity!

However, as she vehemently disagreed with my career choice, I was whisked out of ballet and tap classes and only allowed to remain in non-threatening gymnastics.

My very wonderful teacher, Annette Cameron, took pity on me and said that she would let me attend ballet and tap for free. My mother really had no excuse to say no to that.

And so it was, I remained with the Cameron School of Dance until we moved to England when I was nearly 13, whereupon I had to work on my dance solo.

In fact, I spent a lot of time on my own either riding or dancing (a little hermit after all).

I mean, I did have friends, but none who shared my passions.

Belfairs High School for Girls was very old fashioned compared to the plush contemporary Academy I had attended in Scotland and one day it was announced an after school drama club would be set up.

I longed to attend. I gazed on the vivacious Maria and this boy who once dyed his hair grey in order to play a character, but I was too scared to even think about applying: I did not have the courage or confidence to stand out like that.

Even my mother, recognising this, saw a confidence class advertised and asked if I’d like to go ... but I was too scared. Too under-confident to go to a confidence class. Oh the irony!

Yet, when I danced ~ I felt beautiful! I could look in a dance mirror and like what I saw. For many many years, it was the only time I liked what I saw when I looked in the mirror.

Four years later, the local newspaper published an article saying that a former member of the Royal Ballet was setting up a ballet company locally. I went to audition and got in.

Some time after the completion of my A’Levels, the company was granted a 6-month tour of Asia based in Hong Kong.

If there is one thing my upbringing taught me, it is not to be so strict with your child that he or she has to lie in order to carve out the life they want to live for themselves.

I told my mother that I had got a job as Assistant Manager in a health club in Hong Kong. ‘Not Hong Kong?’ she said, but was soon buying various coffee table books seemingly excited about my journey.

And so it was, a few days after arriving, I called her to say that the job was ‘not as advertised’, but, ‘You’ll never guess what? There’s a ballet company in town and I’m going to join them.’ Mighty gullible and innocent was my mother, but she was simply happy that I had not taken the job that was ‘not as advertised.’ ;)

Freedom is a marvellous thing when first experienced and I loved Hong Kong; its culture, sights and sounds.

For 6 months, I toured Asia as Principal Dancer of neo-classical company Blanc Dance Society visiting Seoul in South Korea, the Philippines, 5 weeks in Thailand and Nagoya and Osaka in Japan, to name but a few places.

When the tour finished and it came time for the company to return to the UK, I couldn’t leave. I loved Hong Kong and Hong Kong seemed to love me; this spotty girl who still only felt beautiful when she was dancing yet now had friends of every nationality and from every walk of life.

I was to remain in Hong Kong for 12 years ~ dancing freelance at first, but then setting up a company called Illusions for performance work then holding workshops and classes called Inner Rhythm that focused on using dance to raise self esteem in others equally afflicted. Any other work I did, such as hotel or airline work, always saw me dance afterwards.

I opened Glencastle, a Kindergarten that focused on creativity and self esteem and in the afternoon, would push their colourful furniture and toys to the side to reveal a dance studio for rehearsals and classes. I had a rich, full life and was impacting people positively yet continued to feel negative inside.

I married (albeit briefly) and had a son. I stopped teaching just two days before he was born and, after relocating to Tokyo for my husband’s job, was dancing again when he was 6 months of age. Much to my surprise, I loved being a mother (I had always liked the idea of handing them back!) and a daughter followed 3 years later.

However, a life from the movie Lost in Translation was not for me and I left Tokyo with my children after just 4 years and flew to Scotland.

What a culture shock that was!

I had become so used to being the only Caucasian face in a sea of Chinese or Japanese faces that to find myself ‘just one of the crowd’ was demoralising. I still don’t think I’m over it.

And yet, it was in Scotland that my life changed in every way.

I began dancing here and there. Of course, no one knew me, so I had to build up my reputation from scratch.

We were living in Forres so my children could attend a Steiner School that also focuses on creativity and self-esteem – and initially, the only dance work I could find was teaching – both private classes and workshops for the Moray Council. However, in time that built up to performances.

It was at one such audition workshop for a performance for the Forres Alternative Festival that led me to where I am now.

I was working alongside John Batty from Eden Court Theatre. John was conducting the drama workshops for several performances that would be held in empty shop spaces in the town in a bid to bring more business into the area. I, of course, was taking care of the dance side of things. However, I was required to take part in the drama workshop so I could gauge interest in those who wanted to dance.

We were asked to improvise a story line about a statue having been stolen in Forres. I couldn’t tell you what I said, although I remember remarking that ‘You can never find a policeman when you need one.’

The next day, the writer of the project, John Harvey and director Symon Macintyre, called me up and said that I ‘had to’ be in the drama performance as was ‘brilliant'.

It’s interesting when someone sees something in you that you don’t see yourself. I was bewildered, but grateful to be considered brilliant at something, so I began attending rehearsals. I was to play the manager of a café in a plain white shirt, which my staff later removed to reveal a leather basque and a whip as the leader of a cult. (I assure you, it was not as risqué as it sounds.)

Now, you might think that having been dancing on stage for so many years, acting would be second nature, or at least similar.

And yet, in dance our dialogue is expressed through our physicality and musicality. Our technique and strength is what we portray and ‘conversations’ are depicted through mime.

I had never spoken on stage and I was terrified.

Thinking myself very clever beforehand, I decided to fill up on macaroni and cheese, thinking the protein and carbs would keep me going through the long evening.

Alas, I had not yet experienced the stomach-gripping power of nerves ... Suffice it to say, for the following nights, I stuck to a light salad.

It was a super production and when an audience member approached me afterwards saying, ‘Everyone was good, but it’s obvious you are a professional,’ I was shocked – a little pleased, but very shocked.

I did love the experience and it gave me the confidence to audition for the local pantomime and I was given the lead in Jack in the Beanstalk (my hair was short then!). I had so much fun and it gave me the chance to use my dance skills and sing, which I also love. It was so nice when travelling on a train to Aberdeen several months later and being told by a fellow passenger: ‘You were in the pantomime, weren’t you? You were awfully good as Jack.’

I don’t know if you have ever seen the movie that is the brilliant Mystic River with Sean Penn, but when I was unable to move from my cinema seat afterwards, I began to seriously ask myself, ‘Could I do that? Could I move people the way I was just moved?’

So, with great naivety (again), I applied for a drama course at Inverness college writing two contrasting monologues ~ one based on losing my father, which allowed me to show a range of emotions.

‘Are you worried that you’ll be the oldest in the class?’ tutor Alan Watters asked.

‘Em; I think you’ll find me the most immature mature student you’ve ever had,’ I proudly replied. We both laughed. I got in.

You know how people say that your college or University days are the best days of your life? Well, it’s true. I LOVED college.

I loved the way my tutor would have his hands behind his head staring into space seemingly asleep until, secretly alert all the time, he would abruptly say, ‘Now, that’s an interesting change of thought, isn’t it?’

I loved the fun and camaraderie and I can honestly say that I learned so much about myself.

In fact, in a meeting with Alan early on, I pointed out that acting is like holding up a mirror to the way we act in daily life ... and I did not like the way I acted in daily life.

My younger colleagues did not agree with this observation, yet studying acting showed me how much I had been ‘acting’ every day of my life. No wonder that audience member thought I was a professional: I had been ‘acting’ for years: pretending I was okay; covering up feelings of inadequacies, etc.

And so the learning continued along with my journey of self discovery and it was time for our first performance.

Along with the roles of King Herod (after a class member dropped out of college on the third day) and the all-important ‘sheep’ whose only line was ‘Baah!’ I played the lead of Eve in The Fall and Redemption of Man.

The entire script was in rhyme and I had initially found it difficult to learn, but I was raring to go on the night. (No macaroni and cheese for me!)

Then, as we sat on stage Brechtian style, my mind said, ‘What if you forget your lines? What if you get to that part with Jesus and forget your lines? What if? What if?

I was gulping in panic yet once on stage, seemed to be fine ... and then ‘that part with Jesus’ came up and ... I forgot my lines.

I absolutely froze. ‘Dried’ as they say in the business. I stared with yearning and panic at the guy playing Jesus as if it would help me remember the line, but Jesus was already on the cross, so couldn’t help me.

I skipped to the next paragraph and continued without further issue. It was probably only a matter of seconds, but I berated myself and insisted on going over and over the section the next day.

This time, before going on stage I internally said, ‘I know this. I am know this. I am Eve.’ (I still do this now.) I was so relieved when all went well on that and subsequent shows.

And that was performance number 1 rule learned: Never allow self-doubt in.

The first year of college, I said yes to everything in order to gain experience.

One such project was the National Theatre of Scotland’s joint production with TAG Theatre of The Crucible at the hallowed Universal Hall in Findhorn.

The community cast of which I was part, were working alongside professional actors. I was cast in the role of the very bitter aging Goody Putnam.

On our first day of rehearsals, I was captivated by a female actor called Sally Reid, who was cast as Mary Warren.

Whenever my scene had finished, I would sit behind the director and watch every move Sally Reid made; every subtle nuance. She was a superb actor.

The show was a sell out and the first night was wonderful.

During the matinee on the second day, Sally Reid took ill and in between each of her scenes, came backstage to rest clearly in agony.

That afternoon, one hour before our call time, director Guy Hollands asked to see me. With him were the stage manager, the lead actors playing Abigail and Proctor and the manager of the Universal Hall.

The conversation went like this:

Guy Hollands: ‘Sally has the flu. We have two choices. We can cancel the show, or you can read in for her part.’

What did I say? ‘Okay; let’s cancel the show.’

Did I heck!

‘I would love to read in for her part,’ I quietly responded in actual awe and humility.

‘Right; this is what we’ll do,’ he said. And he directed the others to move the scenery to give me less to have to think about.

Wardrobe came next and she’s looking at me working out how to combine costumes for the much younger (18 as a matter of fact) Mary Warren.

She’s doing this extremely calmly and inside I’m going, ‘Hurry up! I have to highlight my lines.’

We finally settled on a skirt that could be pulled lower for the respectable Goody Putnam and a white top for Mary Warren that could fit over Goody Putnam’s.

I sat in the sun and highlighted Mary Warren’s lines. Several community cast members approached me. Some through gritted teeth. ‘Congratulations!’ they forced themselves to say.

One girl pondered, ‘I wonder why they asked you.’

I was so focused that I didn’t register the petty jealousy, but when another girl quite viciously said, ‘I’m only in Act 4. I’m completely free to play Mary Warren. Why didn’t they ask me?’ that I went to see the community cast director to tell him that a few of the cast seemed rather unhappy.

His words were: ‘Don’t let this get to your head, but in our first rehearsal, Guy Hollands said that you were the best thing on this stage.’ I won’t. I didn’t, but I held on to this esteemed director’s words and allowed them to carry me through any negativity.

The manager of the Universal Hall announced to the audience that, due to a cast member being ill, tonight Mary Warren would be played by Glynis Wozniak. Two friends in the audience gasped!

The professional cast were wholly supportive, as were the crew and at one stage, I could see the Lighting Director beaming from ear to ear as, let me tell you, I was doing a mighty fine job with my quick changes from Mary Warren to Goody Putnam and back again.

During the interval, the actor playing Abigail said, ‘How can you do that?’ Yet no one knew how much I had watched Sally Reid in rehearsal. As a result, I knew her every move.

And thus I learned Rule number 2 ~ just as my tutor had advised in college: You learn more from watching other actors than you do from being on stage.

Goody Putnam is only in Act 1 and 2, so after the interval for Act 3, I could wholly focus on Mary Warren in the powerful and emotional courtroom scene.

At the end of the scene, I lay down on the ground backstage and had an energy field 3 feet high all around me as, filled with gratitude, I said over and over, ‘Thank you God; thank you God.’

As a student actor, it was an absolute dream come true.

Shortly before the curtain call, the stage manager said that he was going to change the walk down and I would no longer be walking with the community cast, but walking down with Abigail.

‘At least I’m not walking down on my own,’ I thought.

She took my hand and led me down stage. We took a bow together, then she held me there whilst she walked to the side so I was on my own.

The audience burst into rapturous applause and were on their feet in a huge standing ovation. I could not have smiled any wider. What an honour and a privilege.

I went home being congratulated by audience and cast members alike. I even had two greeting cards mailed to me about the excellent job I had done. I still have them for inspiration. It was a total gift of an experience and I was convinced that that would be it now.

Rule number 3 ~ Success does not mean it will bring you instant work. Even, I am told, for Oscar winners.

In 2009, I gained a BA (Hons) Performance from the University of the West of Scotland and have since been in short films, several stage pieces, a feature film, a commercial, musical theatre tours, Theatre in Education in primary and secondary schools and performed beautiful plays in care homes that had residents crying at the memories alongside myself.

It has not always been easy and there can be prolonged periods of no work and a lot of ‘rejection’.

Rule number 4 ~ Don’t become an actor for the money in case it’s a long time coming. Do it because nothing else makes your soul sing.

By far the most important tool you have as an actor is the ability to write. I have recently discovered this and written several children’s plays and am currently working on a screenplay as well as a stage play.

In a huge moment of self doubt once when I thought I would have to give up, college tutor Alan Watters said, ‘You have a way of moving across the stage that the others can only dream of.’

He went to explain that it was probably because of my dance background and it may be my dance background that gave me my eye for detail and how to tell a story. As a result, I have now directed several plays, including the mesmerising Lanes and Doorways about homelessness by young Glasgow theatre company, Geez a Break Productions.

This background also led to my choreographing a fashion show. When I arrived, the producer asked if I would model too.

‘Me? Model?’

She was adamant. ‘Yes!’

On the day of the show, I turned up and approached all the designers in abject misery.

‘Um; I’ve been asked to model. I’m really sorry because I’m really short and a size 10, so you might not have anything that fits me. It’s okay if you don’t...’

They did and I was brilliant. I say it myself with complete clarity. It was like being on a stage dancing and moving with the costume that was the character.

I was by far the oldest model there, but the MC approached me afterwards and said, ‘Now there’s a performer!’ Another designer gave me a silk dress for ‘being the best thing on the stage’ and the one for whom I modelled as a forlorn ghost said she would lend me her outfits for any production I wanted to undertake. What an honour.

Rule number 5 ~ Creativity has roots that branch to other avenues.

A few weeks later, the same producer, Eris Events, recommended me for a modelling job for George of Asda in Livingston and Perth. Again I asked if she was sure. Again I felt like a fake.

But Debbie Buirds, a Make Up Artist that I had met from the fashion show kindly accompanied me and worked her magic to make me feel beautiful and I confidently walked down the catwalk at the Asda stores and connected with shoppers of every age and size with a smile. Both times, I went home as high as a kite and by doing this little by little, self-doubt is chiselled away.

It was at another modelling job for Asda in Glasgow that the project manager suggested I apply to the modelling agency she's with.

I could not quite believe what I was hearing, but I was very happy about it, so along to Superior Elect Modelling Agency I went where I was subsequently signed as a commercial model. I have a casting tomorrow for an ad as a dentist through them.

So, there I was a few weeks ago, thinking about what I’d share in a talk for the Hamilton Rotary Club when I thought on how far I had come.

As a very spotty teenager looking at models in magazines to being signed as a commercial model.

From inwardly yearning to join the confident ones in drama class to being an actor in actor’s directory Spotlight, with full Equity membership and wonderful acting agent Van Rensburg Artist Management who believes in me and encourages me to do the same.

I recently read, ‘Fear’s number one job is to guard us against any negative feelings that would confirm our worst fear ... that we’re not good enough. This perpetuates our inability to accept ourselves. Yet deep down, we want to own our power and strength and courage and in order to do that, we must embrace the fullness of who we are.’ (Fearless Living, by Rhonda Britten)

I graduated 7 years ago, but I’m only just beginning to discover myself and let go my fear. By connecting with people, I am more in touch with myself and absolutely believe that it is never too late to find yourself; learn to love life and do something that you always secretly wanted to ... and I got my horse :)

Oh little Glynis, if you could see me now.

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