Sunday, January 30, 2011

Looking Back Birthday Michael Jayston Terrence Kern and me

Michael Jayston
Another year, another birthday and at my age a time to look back. On the whole I have been very contented with my life . I have set out what I wanted to do and I think I have done exceedingly well but then I was reminded this week of two of my peers at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London in the early 1960's.

There were three of us sitting on gilt chairs at the Mansion House awaiting our prizes for top students of our year. These were the most prestigious prizes the college had to offer and were the passport to success and indeed they were. The Acting Prize had been won by Michael Jayston, The Conductor's Prize by Terence Kern and the very prestigious Production Prize judged by the BBC no less was mine.

At eighteen and a woman I had beaten every other male competitor  to win this prize. No that's not quite true as I had to share it with another female student Angela Lawlor. She was meant to win it and did but my bid was just so strong the GSM&D had to share it. No matter.

Terrence Kern
We collected our prizes and went our own ways. Jayston and Kern have reached the pinnacles of their careers. Jayston is considered one of the finest actors of his age and he is and Kern at 72 is still considered one of the finest ballet conductors going. Nothing could stop them. They had the talent and the credentials. So had I except for one tiny little thing that has worked against me becoming the major success that they enjoyed!

Neither of them would give me a thought as they worked the way up the ladder of success. I was just a 'silly little thing'.  Today if you asked both men my name and what I had done they would both have to think hard and yet at the time I was their equal and I still am.  Even at college they needed me to produce events for them to shine . I have as large a YouTube audience today as they have. In fact at the moment my anon IT profile is probably better known  than either of them now and yet they men would have thought I had done nothing of worth.

I  have done well  but in retrospect not as well as them. I was as good as both of them and by rights I should be up there with them but I am not. Why? The answer is I am a woman.  With my talent and ability, and I am very very talented, I can dance Swan Lake, sing Erwartung, that's Schoenberg, and produce opera and ballet and make it pay. If I had been a man with a GSM&D prize and the same opportunities, like the BBC Production Course which usually went with the Prize but was denied me because of BBC policies of NO women directors  I could have been artistic director at The Royal Opera House. Royal Shakespeare or  Head of BBC and I am not joking.

That I have achieved what I have  as a woman is the  confidence that I was as good as any man and sheer determination. The times I have been told 'Our boys won't take orders from you' says it all. I was allowed to employ Royal Ballet dancers and use the Opera House to promote my ballet but never asked to direct there.

The other question that crossed my mind was what would have happened if Kern and Jayston had been women?  It seems almost churlish to point it out. Kern would never have got off first base as for years no  professional orchestra would employ a woman conductor. Some European Orchestras would not even have women players. That would have been it.  Jayston was a competent actor but not good looking so if he had been a woman  with not very attractive looks he too would have had it hard as in my day women that got employed were either raving beauties or bimbos or terribly 'left wing'.. Also cast lists are 80% male so the competition for parts for women is intense. I had to do the 'bimbo' category and hated it could have been in the left wing category with my background but looked too middle class. Fortunately for Kern and Jayston they were men in a man's world.

We shall never know how far I should have got if I had been a man but I do know how far my peers got... to the top. I am not bitter but I would have fared better career wise if I had been born a man. I am proud of my work. It is not what I was capable of producing just what I could produce with the opportunities open to me at the time. Very minimal. I ran an opera company on nothing.  I never received one grant from any Arts Council.

I am proud that women are at last accepted as man's equal and  I hope if I won the GSM&D Production Prize today things would have been very different and my peers would remember me.

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