You are now surveying the blodgings of James C. Swanton – twenty-one year old character actor and occasional writer. I am physically distinguished by my longishness of limb, hunchedness of back and mobility of face; vocally distinguished by my cavernous, death-rattle voice. Born, raised, schooled and now once more living in the city of York, I find myself too much in thought. I can scare tourists in the dark to my heart’s content – but I also need a subject to wrap my thoughts around, a digitized forum in which to publish those thoughts on a semi-weekly to intermittent basis. And, in my experience, nothing erases thought like more time at the computer. Bring on the blodgering, I say!
I’ve recently finished an English degree at Cambridge University. Or so I’ve been told – it’s felt rather more like a degree in high-pressure play-making. In my time at Cambridge, I appeared in twenty-four shows and played over eighty characters. I created a trilogy of one- and two-man shows based on the works of Dickens: Pickwick & Nickleby, Scrooge & Marley (alongside George Potts) and Sikes & Nancy. I became a favourite childhood monster (Quasimodo) in a one-man version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I did Shakespeare (Macbeth, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Much Ado About Nothing, Romeo and Juliet, a bit of Timon of Athens). I did Aristophanes (Lysistrata) and Jonson (The Alchemist); I did Webster (The Duchess of Malfi) and Vanbrugh (The Relapse). I did opera (Die Fledermaus) and musicals (A Children’s Guide to the Birth of Christ, Guido!) and panto (The Pied Piper). I did the world’s first ever completely silent pirate play (Silent Cannonfire). I had surreal run-ins with Stephen Fry, Simon Russell Beale, Ian McKellen, Simon Callow and Max Stafford-Clark. I developed a fetish for monotonous lists. And I established Bottled Lightning (more of that in the ‘About’ section). In short, I was a hatefully (and probably reductively) prolific dabbler in the arts dramatical. Had the unthinkably glorious Yankee system of ‘credits’ been in place, this sainted nonsense might have had some academic capital. Instead, I’ve left the institution with that common mixed feeling of thankfulness and betrayal – thankful for the wealth of opportunities that Cambridge opened up to me; betrayed by the stressful constraints in which my paradise flourished.
What with three summers spent ghouling at The York Dungeon (and another to come), I have reached dramatic saturation point over the last three years. But I’ve never really tired of it. My greatest fear, post-graduation, is that I’ll slide into an unproductive malaise. Certainly, I’ll never again be stimulated by such an instantaneous glut of projects. Not in the real world. The fall is natural. The way forward, then, if I’m to make a go at this crazed profession, is to treat acting as a vocation first, a career second. For acting is most definitely a way of life – and a good and healthy one at that.
‘But wait!’ I hear you cry. ‘Surely founding a life on acting is massively introverted! More than that, massively self-absorbed, self-obsessed, self-loving – a supreme narcissism, in truth, a vice to be abhorred!’ Well… no. That’s to complicate how passions work. To connect meaningfully with that which lies outside yourself, you must look inside yourself to discover what fires you. By looking in, you learn to look out – and you learn to regard the world with eyes that are alert and interested, rather than worn with disillusionment. Besides, I’ve always had affection for those who nail their passions triumphantly to their masts and allow others to share in the colours. Not those who stand sneering from the sidelines. Surely that’s the foundation of true narcissism – the idea that a person’s ego will absorb nothing unless that same ego deems it worthy. Basically, I’ll be up front with you if you’re willing to believe I’m being up front with you. Let’s discard any cynicism and second-guessing of motives and get down to an honest discussion of things that matter. To me, initially, and then, with any luck, to you. And let us try to have fun!
Until next time, then! I’ve kept numerous blodgerings since March 2006; most notably Pickwick & Nickleby, to promote my first one-man show. That died a death – and understandably. The basis of its existence was itself fleeting, but the main reason it stalled was the unseemly dual constraint of time and fatigue. I was too busy reading and rehearsing Dickens to do him justice in reflection. Nor was the (self-imposed) pressure to knock out a few entries each week conducive to good writing. Posts became interminable rambles instead of pointed, palatable rambles. Once Michaelmas 2010 kicked off, I gave up any illusion of sustaining it. There remain only a few husks of unfinished entries – hopelessly outdated now, hopelessly unpublishable. However, those inaugural blodgoogerings on acting did have a few benefits. I think it’s essential to think about acting in a constructive forum. It makes the brief candle a little less so; restores those flailings and shoutings that can seem so hopeless to their place as art. The bloodge also gave me a better taste for writing as a habit. Whilst my default prose style was never less than ultraviolet, it was a style that I found very comfortable. It’ll be a few months before I’m properly warmed up, but it’s going to be a real pleasure to pin down that elusive writer’s voice again.
I’ll be back soon – with Dungeony updates, I shouldn’t wonder! (I would say ‘comment!’ but nobody ever, ever comments on these things. So don’t be contrary; don’t comment.)