The way of the beard: what I'd do for a role in the school play

Late last year, when I heard about the upcoming school production Almost, Maine, I quickly printed off all the parts that intrigued me. That just so happened to be half of the parts; nine roles, or forty-nine pages of the script, to be exact.

I was completely baffled. I had to pick one but they were all so enticing. So rather than restrict my options, I decided to prepare for all of them. Where to start?

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Should I audition for one of the romantic roles? Or perhaps a comic character? Maybe I should stretch myself and try out for a dramatic lead? The play has roles in each of these styles. Then I started thinking about the lines. Should I go for the largest role, or the one that’s the smallest? I know that some people count the number of lines that a character speaks and use that to decide. I didn’t want to have to say too much, but then again, I didn’t want to spend the majority of the play either off-stage or standing silent in a crowd scene.

As I read through the different parts, I realised that there were other factors that might come into play. Some roles required stage falls, some involved crying and some roles might require me to kiss someone. (After all, it is a play all about love, and there are kisses dotted all the way through play.) I read and re-read the script to look for inspiration, and I practiced and practiced every role that intrigued me (which, to be fair, was almost all of them).

Auditions came and went. I won’t do a plot spoiler by telling you which role I was finally given. You’ll have to come to the play to make that discovery! Suffice it to say, I liked the role I was given, and started to learn my lines. But then the cast were thrown a curve ball. We were asked (and I quote) “Can anyone grow a decent amount of facial hair?”

My eyes widened. THIS WAS MY MOMENT! I instantly said “YES!”

You may think growing a beard would require no effort on my part, but over the past few months I’ve been massaging my face regularly, playing my facial hair classical music (it’s a fan of Beethoven’s ‘Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 27 No. 2 “Moonlight Sonata”: I. Adagio) and I have repeated hairy affirmations daily while studying the way of the beard.

I also knew the only way I could test its power would be if I were to take it on a treacherous journey, so I brought it to Hattah with me. There my beard fought the sun and heat and hiked with me for 7 long days. After all, the hair had to be tough, brave and know its true self, so it looked less like it belonged to a 15-year, 9-month and 12-day-old private school boy, and helped me embody the jaded adult bloke that is the essence of the role.

Other cast members also took up the facial hair challenge. Al Jones has faced the same journey as me and has sprouted a rough beard perfect for his role. Patrick Cummin has set out to grow a very distinguished ‘mo’. He has worked tirelessly to ‘tame the beast’, trimming the edges when it became too fierce. He too has come out of this challenge with some beautiful and impressive facial hair perfect for our roles.

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Only after all this preparation have we realised the true power of facial hair. We are ready. We will not stop these practices, for we now understand that its journey has only just begun. And it grows stronger every day, literally and figuratively.

Thanks to Maya for filming and capturing my facial hair trajectory.

BEN IRELAND Y10 & HIS FACIAL HAIR – 7 months old