Why Am I Doing This?

It feels like some way of working out what it might all be about. Often it largely seems to be about shifting piles of washing from one part of my house to another. So if nothing else I have written this show to escape from the administration of laundry. In the mid-90s when I had the opportunity to compere on the comedy circuit I found that I had little to say about my life. Instead I ran silly competitions and games, which people loved. I was using my Pontins Bluecoat skills, not speaking as me, not really. My own life felt way too untroubled. I had no subject matter. Twenty years later and with my own kids reaching adolescence I see that I actually have much to say, both about my own childhood and my own parenting, and indeed the world in which my own parenting takes place. (That’ll just be,‘the world’). Sometimes as an actor you are in a play you don’t think is very good or very well written, but you are in it anyway because you are an actor and somebody cast you out of many other people, and that is validation of a sort and there is no actor not in some way desperate for that. If I am in Ibsen or Chekhov then ok. I accept that if I screw this up it is not because the writing is rubbish. But we have all seen enough bad sitcom and bad theatre to know that sometimes the writing is terrible. I speak in the voice of others on stage. I am a pantomime Dame who speaks pure Bargoed, even though I grew up in well-spoken Cyncoed, in suburban Cardiff. I was the first child of four born to a public school – educated mother and my Dad, a West Walian grammar school boy made good in the big city. I did a fringe play a few years ago where the values and the system of belief that supported the words, (this system is always there, if you look.it is how we know that the Daily Mail is owned by profoundly conservative racists), were so counter to my own experience that I was embarrassed to have said yes (actors hate to say no). And I thought what am I doing?. I write. I have always written. I like my words. Because they are mine. And agree with myself on many if not all the key issues of the day. And my values and beliefs as expressed in my writing are likely to be entirely congruent with my values and beliefs as expressed by me. So why not get on with it? So I wrote some stuff. Some of it won prizes. I intensely dislike prizes as measures of artistic worth: Oscars and all the rest. But if they are going to exist I don’t mind winning them. It’s a bit like the public school thing. I believe that until in one glorious sweep we raze the public schools and indeed private and indeed faith (especially faith) schools of the UK to the ground we cannot even begin a conversation about true equality of opportunity. And that to pretend otherwise is an act of gross self-deception. And that the true socialist knows this in their heart. But I have friends who went to public schools. And I have good friends, even, who pay much money to privately educate their children. And I do not blame them. It is the system that is at fault. It is the system that deliberately perpetuates (and believe me it is deliberate) and sustains inequality. So don’t have awards, but if you are going to have them don’t blame me for winning them. Anyway winning was just another form of validation. I attended two revelatory residential writers courses with the Arvon foundation in the Shropshire hills. I found space and time. Stories emerged. Actually they poured out of me. I had repressed it all a long time, you see. So out it all came. My subject matter. The challenges of looking after three children under four. The tedium of that and the joy of escape from it, too. What else? Being a single parent. I see that all around me. What is that experience? How does it differ? What happens when your kids start to leave home but are still connected, somehow reliant? Crowds, and their behaviour when confronted by a disturbing incident. This fascinates me. We film on our cameraphones, but do we intervene? There is a story about that. There is a story about communicating with adolescents. Funny but disturbing, too. I find my own children reaching adolescence to be that. Funny. Uplifting. They are, all three, great kids and I like them a lot. There is something about them reaching a maturity that forces self-appraisal, though.

There is a story about domestic violence, and indeed marital rape. So perhaps not so light after all. But important. Ever since I read Nick Hornby in his first and best book, in 1991, the memoir Fever Pitch, write that 98% of men at a football match had never hit anyone, even at school, I realised that I was in the majority not the minority. I fear physical violence and will do anything to avoid it.My male friends are not fighters. Neither do they want to be. So those of us who are non-violent need to speak up when we see bullying. When we are at drop-in groups with our small children and the aggressive behaviour of young male toddlers is condoned with the phrase ‘What you can expect they are boys?’ You can expect better than that. But if you don’t expect better, you will not get better.There is no scientific proof whatsoever that in this age we need men to be aggressive and violent. We who have sons need to challenge physical violence at all turns. And we who have daughters need to teach them never to accept it. We create the future. And we create it in our children.

There are six stories in total. They are about things I care about. They are my voice. I am giving you me. Those that know me possibly think of me as being quite funny, quite amusing, quite good company. If you want good company come to this show. We will share, you will chat to people a bit, there will be communality, there will be no judgement, and it will be warm and fun. I will be engaging. I have set myself the goal of not feeling I have to be funny, though. Because this is not stand up. I love stand up. I love Stewart Lee and Josh Widdecombe and many of the others, though not the violent misogynist ones who just take us back to before 1980 when the alternative movement began. This is not that, though. This is me telling stories, in my voice. In fact in the process of writing and rehearsing the show (I have way too much material) I have dropped bits that are funny but not helping the whole. It is interesting, too, how people come to you with what they might do if they were doing this show and tell you that is what you ought to do. ‘You could just do a rant about being a man who feels like this’ or ‘You could just talk about the time when we’. I have avoided this. These shows are my words. My voice. My journey. My story. Me ,me,me. I make no apology. I would love you to join me.

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About the Author

Dick is an actor and a writer. His acting credits in a career spanning 25 years include Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth for the English Shakespeare Company and Malvolio in Twelfth Night for York Theatre Royal. Television includes The Office, My Hero, High Hopes and Belonging (BBCTV) and Caerdydd (S4C). He has appeared in many Radio Dramas for Radios 3 and 4, and was for several years a compere on the comedy circuit. In 2016 his one-man show Dick Johns What Midlife Crisis? played to sell-out houses at Chapter, Cardiff; and the sequel Let’s Talk About Death, Baby will play at the same venue in September 2018. Dick is Lead Tutor at Young Actors Studio, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. He is a veteran pantomime Dame, most recently in Jack and the Beanstalk at Blackwood Miners Institute. Dick lives in Penarth with his wife and three children. As the writer Dick Johns he won the 2015 Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook Short Story Award for his story ‘Joy’. His short story collection Dignity and Other Stories is available to buy at www.dickjohns.co.uk