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Guest blog: Reflections of a drama school graduate

Posted by Eleanor Barr-Sim on 2 Aug, 2018

Last month we invited Curtain Call members to send us their blogs about life in the industry. In the first of a series we are publishing, new drama school graduate Eleanor Barr-Sim reflects on her three years at East 15 in London.

Eleanor Barr-Sim with her class at East 15

So it's farewell to drama school! Three years of study have come to an end, a momentous chapter in my life gone in a blink of the eye.

In some ways it’s just like leaving secondary school. You’re run ragged revising for exams, you go through the pain of doing them and all of a sudden you’re free and you’re in this no man’s land of time.  All of that but instead of exams it's productions and instead of a degree ahead of you, now it’s the real world. No more excuses, no more elaborate ploys to put it off. The future is nigh, and it’s at this point an MA starts to sound like a really good idea.

Still, while the dregs of the student loan are still in evidence there’s a bit of time to wind down before it all kicks off. There’s a moment to reflect on the past three years of this mad life we’ve lived here at East 15 Acting School.

I have learnt so much more than I give myself or the school credit for. The simple hours in a room can teach you so much about the industry and what hard work means; about professional conduct and working out where your limits lie. And even when exercises or projects seemed naff or pointless there was always something to learn from them.

In fact it’s the things I didn’t go for and I didn’t throw myself into that show how much more I could have learnt. It was the movement piece I could have taken more seriously and actually tried to explore in more depth. I could have discovered new things about myself and about my capabilities and instead I brushed it off as another assessment to get over and done with.

Eleanor Barr Sim in Blue Stockings at East 15

There are numerous other lessons I scoffed at, or took a back seat, closed myself off to the learning experience, watched the clock tick by. Looking back, who was I to say that this particular process wasn’t good enough for me? I was being taught by experts in their field, why would I know more than them?

These experiences may not have seemed the perfect fit for me at the time, but by not being open to what was in front of me I lost the ability to explore more options. It might not have worked but it might also have been golden. Alas, youthful arrogance. Over the course of three years I shredded that attitude bit by bit and began to take more things on board, adding more to my toolkit. If only I’d changed sooner.

To follow on from that I discovered that once I began to be open there was a new challenge; not to judge yourself. You get up to some pretty wacky things at drama school: rolling around the floor pretending to be a membrane, walking around campus as a deer with tree branches for front legs, pretending to be a prisoner in a concentration camp, talking in gibberish, even a onstage family orgy (!).

Once you begin to be open to all these things you end up delving far deeper than before which often means you risk looking a lot sillier, a lot further away from the ‘proper’ English girl you thought you were. And you have a weird out of body experience where you see yourself behaving like a twat and then that little voice creeps in, we all know it. The voice that tells you you look stupid, that people will laugh at you, you’ll be judged, best to step back and leave it to the others when in fact it’s only you who’s passing judgement.

Watching yourself is the most detrimental thing. I found I’d worked so hard to be open in lessons and then found this extra challenge. And boy does it stop you. There’s a mental block and it reduces your chances of having spontaneity and playfulness. You can’t just grasp the moment and run with it. You’re always outside of yourself and blocking your intuitive impulses.

"I don’t have an agent but I’m choosing for that not to affect me. I’m going to attack with everything I’ve got and I will make sure I can show that it's possible to work as a self-represented actor." 

So it came to my final production at East 15. We’d been through it all - showreels, a showcase, dreaming of acceptance into the industry, having those dreams crushed, building yourself back up, learning to not care about it anymore, to not compare yourself to others, to be the bigger person, to be you no matter what. 

I had even done some of my best work that I was and still am incredibly proud of, but that final performance was the most freeing. It was the end. What did I have to lose? It was my last opportunity to soak up this training experience. I was in the safety of a room within drama school, my career wasn’t on the line and I was in the maddest play in the entire world. The Family That Could Talk About Anything (pictured below) by Christian Lollike, directed by Oscar Toeman. It had killings, it had affairs, an orgy, Jesus’ resurrection and pig-masked carols. It was bonkers. But it was so freeing.Eleanor Barr-Sim with the cast of The Family That Could Talk About Anything

In a production like that you stick out a hell of a lot more if you’re self-conscious. You have to commit. And without the cares and constraints that I had in the past I felt like I could commit with all my heart and still be completely unselfconscious. I think it showed. I hope it did.

Crucially, I learned that if you fell flat on your face then it didn’t matter; on to the next thing. That was my final lesson and I’m so glad I had it. Now the big wide world is ahead of me. I don’t have an agent but I’m choosing for that not to affect me. I’m going to attack with everything I’ve got and I will make sure I can show that it's possible to work as a self-represented actor.

I will email Nina Gold as many times as it takes because I know I am damn well perfect to be in The Crown. I know to be open to whatever comes my way. I will never judge myself and I will carry this  freedom in all my actions. Every impulse I get on stage, I’ll follow it through. I’ll wait to be told to bring it down a few notches. Without it you’re not bringing people options for where it could go. Without it you’re doing the production and yourself a disservice.

So I have a lot to thank East 15 for. I hope after these three years I can go into the industry and keep the legacy of this school going, to be one of the big and bold actors that they see. It’s an extremely unique school with beautiful grounds and some incredible teachers. The dear friends around me who I hope will continue also to be my colleagues and collaborators. And now I’m feeling blooming sentimental so I think it’s best that this is wrapped up.

Thank you all for the past three years, let’s go out and smash it!

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