eleven. character sketch

The theatre school’s Head of Acting. Reincarnation of Oscar Wilde. I’ll call him Sir. A mane of steel grey hair, leather waistcoat and Egyptian ankh hanging about his neck. A small pouch perpetually suspended from his belt. Utterly terrifying and infinitely knowledgeable about theatre history. His tiny office is at the back of the school. At your annual Christmas interview you perch on a small, velvet footstool and Sir peers at you over his half-glasses, resting in his ornate throne. Columns of books loom down at you, the hapless acting student. Sir gives everyone a D as a matter of principle; that principle being it is both unethical and impossible to grade Art. (His objection to  academic bureaucracy duly noted, none of us ever earn a GPA to high enough to qualify for a scholarship.) It is rumoured that if pressed, Sir will occasionally bestow D+ on an individual who demonstrates really exceptional talent – or at least exceptional aptitude for his class. We speculate through first year about who might earn it. It’s obvious to me: the one who has since turned out to indeed be a star of the Canadian stage. At my second year Christmas interview (dubious Christmas gift, being told what Sir actually thinks of you) he frowns into his ledger. “I gave you a D last year?” He sniffs. “Should have been a D+”. 

In second year we undertake Period Study under Sir’s tutelage: a term-long investigation into a given era of theatre history. All our classes contribute to the research, culminating in a showcase of scenes and songs. I have no recollection whatsoever of the period we investigated. All I remember is learning a Somerset dialect and playing country floozy. During our first read-through, Sir solemnly removes the pouch from his belt and loosens the knot. In it, we discover, is snuff. He passes it around the table and invites us all to “take a pinch”. I know that it is a teaching opportunity, referencing something mentioned in the script. But the ritual of passing around the pouch, which you discover is made of soft, fragrant leather, inhaling the snuff to the watchful eyes of the group, laughing together at the inevitably ridiculous reaction, is the stuff of Mysteries. You are actors now. You have earned The Snuff. Welcome to the club.

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