Emma Fraser: A Generation on the Line
Playing struggling, seasoned dancer Sheila in A Chorus Line has resonated with Emma Fraser. In her third role with Glasgow Music Theatre, she has found that the parallels between her character's situation (being one of hundreds who have all been vying for a handful of jobs) and the current state of employment in Scotland are inescapable. As part of the generation who graduated from university at precisely the wrong time --just as the market crashed-- Emma is one of thousands of 20-somethings who don't have the place in the world that they always expected...
This year is my 23rd anniversary. It hasn’t always been easy - there have been
tears, tantrums, blood and sweat - but through everything we’ve always had each other. No, I’m not talking about a relationship with a petulant rottweiler, I’m talking about my relationship with dancing. My mum took me to ballet classes at the age of three to help me become more confident and to make friends. I still remember my first ever performance on stage, playing a rose in The Snow Queen at the local community centre. It was only an old dusty stage in an old dusty building, but I thought it was the best thing I’d ever experienced in my whole life. To this day the smell of stage make-up makes my stomach do somersaults of anticipation and joy. I never intended to be a professional dancer. I didn’t want to leave home at the age of 11 to attend dance school, which was really the only option for me at the time. I had aspirations to do other things - though I wasn’t sure exactly what - so I studied English at university and kept dancing for pleasure, hoping that eventually I’d have a flash of inspiration. Six and a half years, an MA and a masters later, and I’m back at the beginning again - hoping for a career to jump out and grab me by the throat, to imbue me with that feeling that I got backstage at the local community centre, something that made me so sure I wanted it that I was prepared to go the extra mile to get it. Just like the dancers in A Chorus Line. Spending my afternoons sifting through recruitment sites, skimming over advert after advert of bland, generic specifications for the sort of job I know I don’t want, I can’t help but feel an unsettling case of art-imitating-life - or in this case, life-imitating-art. While the characters that we are bringing to life in A Chorus Line were based on dancers working in the mid-70’s, it is hard to ignore the similarities to the lives of many professionals and would-be professionals in 2013. Just today, the BBC reported that the number of young people out of work in Scotland alone has doubled to 90,000 in the last five years*. Thousands of these young people are undoubtedly just like me, educated and motivated and just looking for a chance - any chance - to prove ourselves to the world and start making our way in it. Every time I fill out an application form or send off my CV I feel like I’m standing on the chorus line. I am presenting myself and all my skills to someone who has the power to make or break my career. I am vulnerable and nervous and - even though I’m not wearing a leotard - exposed. It takes a lot of effort not to get depressed when I think of how many other people are applying for the same jobs as me, and what the odds are that I’m going to be the successful one. It’s a horrible double-edged sword; there is an element of comfort in the knowledge that you’re not alone, but a constant underlying tension as you remember that your dole-buddies are also your rival job-hunters - if it came down to it, you’d rather be the one signing the contract than them. As selfish and cut-throat as it may sound, this sort of economic climate brings out our base animal instincts, the will to prove that we are the strongest, smartest, most desirable candidate. It truly is Darwinian out there. While I may not be dancing and singing for my life, I empathise entirely with the characters of A Chorus Line. I know the desperation, the urgency, the emotion that goes into trying to prove yourself time and time again. I know how frustrating it is when you know you are capable of great things, but just haven’t found the opportunity to prove it yet. I know how hard it is to apply for job after job, knowing that the rejections are going to outweigh the acceptances 10-1. I know. And so do thousands of others. The original production of A Chorus Line was dedicated ‘to anyone who has ever danced in a chorus or marched in step...anywhere.’ But I would like to add my own dedication: for anyone who has ever put themselves on the line - on any line - because you will understand more than anyone what this show is about. It’s about you.