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Advice to my 22 year old self: get it together, man!

Dear Graham,

I’ve just got time to write a few words before going in to rehearsal. This play I’m in - America Rex - it’s got me thinking about you.

Remember how you always wanted to be an architect? All you wanted was to create things that affected people. You drew and painted incredible scenes in great detail. And as a boy, even with six other siblings, you were always able to find a quiet space to be alone, to think, to create.

Now you’re 22, you’ve just finished your apprenticeship, you’re working at Hewlett Packard and you’ve even bought your first house with your girlfriend. Life’s pretty sweet. You can relax and enjoy the next seventeen years as you march through the corporate ranks. Good times.

Graham Vincent. Photo, Andi Crown.

But what about that dream? What happened to creating? Fortunately for you, you’ll be largely unaware of just how much you’re suppressing your inner self. Me? I feel it all too keenly. But don’t worry about me. This about you.

Well, that thing is called me. The electronics engineer who became an actor, on a good day.

So here’s how it goes. At the ripe old age of 39, you’ll arrive in New Zealand. For various reasons you’ll take a forced break in your career -  call it a mid-life crisis - whatever. You’ll find find it surprisingly refreshing, and you’ll look at things differently. You’ll drive past the Howick Little Theatre, day after day, each time becoming more aware of the growing urge to get in there, get involved and release that trapped and ageing ‘thing’ from inside you.

Well, that thing is called me. The electronics engineer who became an actor, on a good day. Welcome to your future self. Any questions? Typical. Don’t say I didn’t give you the chance.

Just kidding!

Hey, I want you to do something. Get some paper and write down your dreams. Do it now. Anything you like. Start with the blue-sky stuff and embellish all those dreams that we both know exist. Yeah, sure, the big bad world will do its best to quash your desires, but - trust me on this - these dreams are achievable. So just get them down.

Make sure you get the big picture: family, love, death, politics, health, wishes, hates and anything else that means anything to you at all. Once you’ve got a decent bunch, keep going.

Now you’ve got to boil it down to just one goal. Just one. Keep going until you’ve found that thing that binds it together, one thing you can fight for, cherish and defend. Just one thing. I know, it’s not easy. Never mind about easy. Mind about getting what you need.

Acting? Good choice! My thoughts exactly, and not a moment too soon. Seriously, whatever!

Once the goal is set, it’s time to get real: be elaborate, break things down, massage timelines; because this is a real plan with real feelings involved, and real milestones to reach.

Caution: as you age, time will not remain constant, but will speed up. This is a nasty trap for beginners, which turns out to be everyone: a harsh and inflexible reality that will punish your slovenliness with cruel glee at every turn. Time will pass faster, and it will also reduce in quantity. Not only that, but your body will move slower. It’s a triple whammy. Don’t worry: it’s the same for everyone - more or less.

What I said: get a plan. Thing is, you can always change it. But not having one almost guarantees that you’ll never achieve it.

So, Graham ... what’s it to be? This? Hewlett Packard, a house in the burbs and a life sized human animal locked up inside you? 

And don’t trivialise your vision. Remember when you wanted to be an architect? You’ll read a quote one day by Ludwig Mies van der Rhodes, who said: ‘Architecture begins when you carefully put two bricks together’. He’s not talking about buildings. You’ve got to wrangle those smaller goals along the way. Pick up whatever’s to hand and make use of it.

But always keep the big goal in mind, because you’ll need it at every junction you come to. It will guide your decisions, especially if your goal is to become an actor: truly, you should have done this already by now. Don’t delay it, like I did. Get started.

Things matter. Everything matters. Don’t think for a moment that you don’t matter.

There is a link between all this and the play which I’m rehearsing (the other actors are already starting their warm ups). Written way ahead of its time, but weirdly reflecting the world today and exposing fears of our future, America Rex asks us to examine ourselves and our values. It helps us to grasp that our actions today not only have a huge impact on our own lives, but on the lives of others, and on the world tomorrow.

Things matter. Everything matters. Don’t think for a moment that you don’t matter.

So, Graham, sitting there at age 22 in your new house with your new career and new girlfriend: what’s it to be? This? Hewlett Packard, a house in the burbs and a life sized human animal locked up inside you? Or creating something for others; changing the world; creating things that affect other people? It’s your call, for now. Think it over.

But right now, I’ve got to go. They’re waiting for me in the rehearsal studio. Talk soon, and let me know what you reckon. I’d love you to join me.



Graham Vincent performs in America Rex by Tom Minter. It’s been described as the ultimate political drama of our times, and runs at TAPAC 29 August - 1 September.