Who would have thought that spending four days 'acting up' would be so enriching to your everyday life? Finding your inner toddler, putting yourself in a big pink bubble and humming loudly with a bunch of strangers might sound like I have finally lost the plot (I did this years ago...) yet this latest experience has been a great leveller.
I have wanted to go on The Poor School's four day summer school for the last five years or so. This year, having made a few life-changing decisions about how to run my business and where to focus my efforts, I finally took the plunge. I know a few women from the comedy scene whose first forays on to the stage were encouraged by their time at the Poor School so, as far I was concerned, it had a good track record for unleashing some talent.
That said, unleashing any latent talent of my own was not the main reason for heading there, although if somebody had suggested that I take up a career as a body double for Brenda Blethyn I would have fulfilled a secret ambition! My purpose was more perfunctory.
As somebody who runs workshops, coaches and unleashes a lot of brand new female comedy talent via Funny Women, I was keen to get a different perspective. Being on the receiving end of being taught reveals a lot about yourself. It should also make you a better student because you know what it is like to be on the teacher's side of the desk.
The ability to communicate core acting and performance skills - like how to use your voice to speak or sing, move your body, recite Shakespeare and learn a simple jazz dance routine - is not in the daily run of things, particularly if you are dealing with an age span of 44 years, (our youngest classmate was 14 and I was one of the oldest), multiple nationalities and a female bias.
And yet, it works. I think that the school's success is driven by the diversity of its student base. I enjoyed listening to Shakespeare and American plays performed in a range of accents including German, Polish, Finnish and Indian. I also applaud the tutors who were largely patient and kind with us. My biggest love being reserved for musical theatre supremo, Grantley Buck, whose blind faith that my disparate group would sing and act as an ensemble before the week was out knew no bounds!
Once we had got over the uniqueness of being exposed to a hugely diverse group of people, all with varying reasons for attending and some auditioning for a place on the two-year drama course, we evolved into a temporary 'family unit' willing each other to do well and prepared to listen to discordant singing and poorly learned lines. None of that actually matters.
What does matter is what you take away from it. Four days away from emails and social media banter made for a very welcome break and to spend an hour working out where my diaphragm exists in my body, or sing about 'Clambake' surrounded by assorted foreign accents puts a whole new perspective on life.
"It was a wonderful experience and in most ways gave me much more than I thought it would. Also, it was a fine demonstration of how different approaches to teaching a mixed group like ours gave completely different results," says my fellow student Maija, who lives in the south of France. She meets her friend Anne, who travels to London from their native Finland every summer and they take part in some sort of cultural activity together.
Talking about the course, Maija continues: "In their good humoured, gentle and attentive way some teachers managed, in just a few hours, to turn a bunch of strangers into a trusting group. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, and to be able to recognise creative force and anarchy behind appearances shaped by everyday life, is truly fulfilling. I would definitely recommend this course to those looking for a different and interesting way of spending a few days."
I concur and the added bonus of making some new friends, however temporary and fragile these new relationships may be, has served a very important role in restoring a little bit of my self-worth and esteem which gets trampled under the onslaught of everyday life. Running a business, juggling between grown up kids and elderly relatives, deciding where to live and what our pensions will be worth is exhausting.
We all deserve a few hours of escapism to nourish our souls and if that is what I got out of 'acting up' for four days, it was money well spent.
The next four day course at the Poor School takes place from 12th to 15th August. Fees are £295. For more information visit the website at www.thepoorschool.com