Retirement living: everyone has a story
Following his dreams, homeowner Wyllie Longmore travelled 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to pursue an acting career.
At the age of six when he stood up in public to read a poem about what was in his pocket, Jamaican-born Wyllie didn't know that would be the start of his story. Today he looks back over a 60-year career combining his two loves: acting and teaching.
"When I was a boy, I was a very good speaker, even winning competitions. At school, we did wonderful things in drama where I played all sorts of lovely parts, but my father couldn't bear it! He had the typical Jamaican attitude of wanting his children to be doctors and lawyers, becoming famous in the field. But I knew acting was all I wanted to do."
Wyllie secured his first job as a teaching assistant when he was 19 years old. It was here, as if by fate, he discovered a prospectus for Rose Burford College in Kent where he could study a dual course in Acting & Teaching. In 1961, with only hope in his pocket, he followed his instinct, telling his father he was going to England to become a teacher. He tactically left the acting part out!
Alone, Wyllie journeyed from Kingston in Jamaica to Southampton. He patiently waited four years to qualify for a bursary for the course he had previously dreamt of. His time at the College, both as a student and years later a lecturer, were the foundation to a lifelong career.
"I didn't start earning my living as an actor until I was 41. But I discovered I could teach and I really enjoyed it - it's been the real bonus of my life.
"For 11 and a half year, I ran an acting course here in Manchester at the Arden School of Theatre and it was one of the most interesting and creative times because you're balancing both disciplines - they work side by side. You can't reach people acting, unless you're actor yourself.
"I teach because I have something to say to a student, which they in turn want to hear. Especially black students, because when I was starting out, there were very few theatre opportunities for us."
Wyllie has an evident, vocal passion for diversity and equality in the arts, explaining his aim has always been to encourage all manner of people who wanted to act to come in and do so. He actively campaigns for the industry, looking for answers to many questions: who can work, who should work, who is the theatre for, who should have access to the industry, to name a few.
"The 1980s were very fruitful time for me. I was playing roles the black actors were not playing. I was being Antony in Anthony and Cleopatra, I played Torvald in A Doll's House by Ibsen and Astrov in Uncle Vanya by Chekhov, both of which were revolutionary castings! But at the time, I was simply earning a living.
"It's only recently during lockdown, since writing my memoir, that I realised how revolutionary these times were, forging the future of theatre, and challenging the notion of the English repertoire that only certain people can play these parts.
"In my profession, I always wanted to be the best actor I can be. I don't carry the tag 'black actor', I carry the tag 'actor'. When I meet a role that requires me to be my Jamaican self, I'm happy to star as that but other times, it's based on where I can do the role and if I can make it credible."
Wyllie has played roles in film, TV and radio, appearing in Coronation Street and the Christmas favourite, Love Actually. But his heart lies on stage, as it's here he feels connection with the audience.
"Being on the stage is the most satisfying of the jobs in the sense that it's the most challenging. You are in a live situation and it's up to you and the audience. The theatre functions off human contact, making you laugh, making you cry - it should be an interaction. Together we should share these great truths that play writers have given us or share our experiences of life and living which they relate to."
With a wealth of experience in the industry, Wyllie is perfectly places to share and educate the next generation of actors.
"To be famous for a week, is not where it's at today. It's about developing a craft that is going to sustain you for your whole working life. Instead of being about a quick buzz of fame you get from certain pieces of work, it's about earning a living. Most of us work solidly to earn a living and to raise our family. As an actor, you go from one job to the other and focus on doing only the very best work you can."
The world of theatre has been one of the hardest hit during the pandemic. Wyllie himself had put together a series of Shakespeare pieces around the theme of the seven ages of man from childhood to end of life, and was due to perform these during the first lockdown. He has since decided that this year may not be the right time for him to retire.
"It's very resilient industry and in many respects, actors didn't arrive here in the digital age. They have been around since time began, and always been the buildings shut down as they did in the Cromwell time, actors adapt and take to the street. Over the past few months, they have gone back to creating work for themselves. We have to all think, not just our industry, but every industry, how we can find new and creative ways to keep on doing the things we love."
Now with more time on his hands, Wyllie has used lockdown to start writing his memoir, documenting his Jamaican childhood, journeying to England at 20 years old by banana boat, falling in love with his wife Estelle within months of arriving, and his personal story of life as an actor.
"My grandchildren will ask me questions about my work, so it just came to me that I should write these things down so that there was a record of what had happened. I'm not the only person who's travelled 3,000 miles across the sea, nor the only black person who would get strange looks in the 60s. I'm not spectacularly different to anybody else but these are things that happened to me that I thought my grandchildren should know about.
"I feel that as a race, we're notorious for being written out of history. When I was a child, I learnt about English and European history, and never anything about Caribbean history. So for me, my memoir is part of my history. Here at McCarthy Stone, we're all highly individual people with highly important stories to tell. And the one conduit for that could be our future generations, who at some point turn a page and say: 'Ah, members of my family were here and did this.'"
"Just because someone is retired, they're not invisible. We have memories, moments to share and most importantly a voice. Let's not allow our stories to disappear." Wyllie Longmore, homeowner at Cosgrove Hall Court, Manchester
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