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12 December 2019updated 24 Jul 2021 4:20am

The road not taken: Bernardine Evaristo on her career in theatre

By Bernardine Evaristo

My first career was as an actor in the 1980s. I’d spent my teenage years acting at Greenwich Young People’s Theatre and loved performing and being in a creative space. At the age of 14 I starred as Captain Cat in a school production of Under Milk Wood, which was a big success. Here, at last, was the approval I’d been craving. I set my heart on a career in theatre, went to Rose Bruford Training College of Speech and Drama and left to co-found a theatre company, Theatre of Black Women: because there was such a paucity of roles for us, good or otherwise, it made sense to create our own theatre.

So far so good, except the stresses of running an underfunded theatre company 24/7 and writing and performing in my own plays proved too much and I stopped enjoying acting in front of an audience. What had begun as a vocation became an ordeal. Four years after I began acting professionally, I gave it up.

To be honest, I didn’t feel that I was a great actor, and my range was, shall we say, limited. With hindsight I can see that I didn’t do it long enough to develop my skills. When you’re young, you think that either you have a special talent or you don’t. Life has taught me that talent has to be nurtured over a long period and then it’s incredible what can be achieved.

I don’t regret leaving the acting world. Actors have it so tough and unless they generate their own productions, they are constantly at the mercy of others – waiting to be chosen. My temperament is much more suited to being a writer. I’m not an introvert but I have a strong interior world, and as a writer I’m always presenting myself at events to the public, which is a kind of performance.

This article is from our “Road not taken” series

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