Learning to Fly

Submitted into Contest #89 in response to: Start your story with a character taking a leap of faith.... view prompt

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Drama Coming of Age Fiction

It's been a dream of hers; to be an actress. Millicent Rake didn't hesitate to attend a performance or even audition for one. Grade school productions were a learning experience for the girl; she studied from playwrights like Shakespeare and Wilde; she studied films, actors, screenwriters, and even musicians. Millie wanted to be a fine actress, one of the best in England.

She got accepted into the University of Birmingham, south of her home in Leeds, setting out to gain a theatre degree. In between her usual studies -- maths, science, history, projects, grammar, etc. -- she kept up with her university's productions, and attended as many as she could. She saved as many notes as was necessary and practised as hard as she could. Millie made friends with many drama students who helped her perfect her acting skills enough to star in the university's next big play: Hamlet.

A famous, if divisive, play penned by the Bard himself, Millie successfully auditioned for the role of Ophelia, daughter of the character Polonius and the titular Hamlet's potential wife. Millie studied the character of Ophelia whilst reading the play for herself. Her notes and annotations helped her visualise Ophelia's movements, arc, and personality down to T. It was important that she get the part right.

Then it came. The night of the play on 26 April at 16:00. Millicent Rake unbound herself and became Ophelia, daughter of Polonius that night. She invited her family to come see her perform. They were proud that their daughter landed a vital role and, like the rest of the audience, was impressed that she had perfectly imitated the character of Ophelia. Her hard work studying and rehearsing paid off very well. The audience praised her performance as the tragic character. Millie and her castmates brought life into the play, so much so that the drama professor, Claudius Burnside, recommended her and some other students for some larger productions in Birmingham.

In Prof. Burnside's 17 years as a drama professor, many students came to perform on his stage and only a handful have gone on to greener pastures, some of whom are world-known actors. The next production in question that Burnside was referring to was a local infomercial for a product set to release later in June. This infomercial required two unknown actors, Millicent Rake, and a castmate that appeared in Hamlet as the titular character, a young man from Edinburgh, Truman Gaul. The product being advertised was a snack food. The world famous Empire Crisps had unveiled a brand new flavour in their lineup -- BBQ crisps -- and wanted fresh faces to advertise the snack.

Gaul and Millie agreed to co-star in the television ad, since they had such a great chemistry in Prof. Burnside's class during the play and both wanted to expand into small screen roles. They went over the script several times; its premise was that a young boy (in this case, Gaul) is picking through a line of his favourite snacks, moving on until he finds a variant he hasn't tried yet. A girl (Millie) walks past the boy to the counter with a bag of BBQ crisps; the brand new flavour that is certain to spice up any activity or simply kill the hunger until dinner or compliment a lunch.

A simple enough role, and not one with much speaking. Merely mimic the movements of a customer in a store examining their favourite brand of crisps while another customer goes to pay for the newest flavour recently released. Filming began on 3 May; both students alerted their respective families to keep their eyes on the telly for an Emperor Crisps commercial they'll soon star in. The guests of honor were prepped for their roles. The director began with Gaul's part. He picked through the bags of crisps as instructed in the script. Deciding to improvise, he added further expressions of frustration as he waded through the bags. Meanwhile, the camera panned over to a dark-skinned girl who walked up to the counter to pay for two bags of BBQ crisps and a can of soda. She paid the three pounds and was on her way and that was the end of the ad.

Editing in post, a graphic of a bag of Emperor-brand BBQ crisps faded into view on the screen while an announcer said, "Try our new BBQ potato crisps today." Filming and editing the infomercial took at least 2.5 weeks, but when it was finally finished on 20 May, Millie's parents called her to say they saw her in the ad and were delighted that their daughter made it onto television, even if it was an ad for crisps. Gaul's parents said much the same for him, but both of them had the same question for the children. They recognised their respective children's talents and ambition and wanted to know what else they would star in.

For Millie, the suggestion to star in an ad was a spur-of-the-moment occurrence. Neither she nor Gaul was in charge of anything since it was the professor of their university what made the arrangements. They needed connections of their own if they desired a breakthrough. Gaul's parents decided to drop by his university and help him search for new up and coming opportunities for thespians. Millie's parents, however, were unable to aid her directly, but they did in other ways. Her father emailed local auditions in Birmingham, as well as in cities in a five-kilometre radius in case she was travelling. Her mother texted her hyperlinks to web pages where auditions for acting roles were being hosted.

This was the crossroads Millie had walked toward. One of these roles could potentially kickstart an acting career, but it would also mean visiting multiple locales, exotic places that would cost an ordinary traveller six arms, four legs, and a kidney, and tight scheduling would severely restrain vacation time with her family back in Leeds, but in the event that she lands an exceptionally noticeable role, her career will have found its right track and she could land consistently starring and supporting roles in major productions.

With her parent's consent, she took the leap and accepted the next project that interested her the most. The next commercial was a PSA, the role after that was as an extra on a soap, an extra on a comedy series, another commercial but for sweets; by the time Gaul and Millie graduated university, they'd starred in so many roles in and around Birmingham that on the campus, they were known as the Acting Titans for their progressively prominent roles.

Millie's leap of faith had given her the wings to fly. She was a Princess in the Acting World and people were beginning to notice. She used the money from her savings to pay for an agent and she started appearing in uncredited roles in television, not just in Birmingham. Her work took her on a tour of England and Wales; Swansea, Bristol, Oxford, London, neighbouring Liverpool--England liked the cut of Millie's jib. They couldn't get enough of her. Long after she and Truman Gaul starred in Hamlet in university, they'd become the talk of the town; Britain's newest batch of fresh baked actors and still they had healthy ambitions. Gaul's roles overlapped sometimes with Millie's out of coincidence. Gaul was a Scot up, down and sideways and hoped to launch a series of projects focused on Scotland as a country, and ideally put many stereotypes to bed.

Millie, on the other hand, wanted to see the world. She thought she'd land more international roles and the most she'd seen of the world was France and Portugal, two countries that made the bulk of most British school trips. Although most of her favourite actors were British like her, they became household names across the world and Millie, ever the ambitious Titaness, sought to achieve the same level of greatness as her heroes and heroines. She said a tearful goodbye to her parents before setting for a famous stage, nestled in a city that never sleeps. Her next stop: Broadway, New York City, in the United States.

April 15, 2021 04:46

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