The best advice I've had as an actor
I've been working with a lot of drama students lately and I'm excited to see this new generation of artists find their place in our ever expanding world.
I remember having some great teachers at Drama School but also great teachers within the industry itself. Inspiring Directors who encouraged me to try something new. Talented fellow actors who are forever generous during rehearsals. Outstanding Stage Managers who retain composure during the toughest of techs.
Here are five bits of advice I've learnt over the years which I thought were worth sharing:
Be You: Quite a sweeping statement, sure, but one that made a huge difference to me. I was understudying on a big London show and struggling with the rehearsals. I couldn't 'find the character.' Our amazing Assistant Director sat me down and 'stop trying to be him, be you. We hired you because we wanted YOU.' I found it liberating! Sure, all your performances come from 'you' but to have it spelled out so simply and encouragingly was like a curtain being lifted for me. It gave me confidence in my ability and license to allow more of 'me' to be seen. I ended up relishing the role and have done with every role since.
Be Humble: Hey, I love telling an anecdote as much as the next person (if you've ever worked with me you'll have heard my 'HOLD' story countless times), but there's a fine balance between confidence and cockiness. Don't be that person in the room who knows it all and has to chime into every conversation and decision (unless you are the director of course). It's an honour to be 'in the room where it happens,' so savour it. Respect everyone's voice and keep yourself grounded. This is a fickle industry.
Be Brave: One of my favourite memories/experiences of rehearsals was our first day at The National Theatre putting 'People, Places and Things' on its feet. The incredible Denise Gough stood up and said 'I hope you guys don't mind, but I really need to go for this right from the off. I need to push this to 100% straight away or we'll never get there.' We all nodded politely and WOW! She blew our minds (and the roof off) from the starting gun. Not only was her commitment and clarity as sharp as a knife, but she set the bar and tone for the entire process. Her performance in the rehearsal room demanded the rest of the production to match. Denise went on to win the Olivier Award for Best Actress for that performance.
You can learn from the shittest of jobs: We've all been in that show. The one that sucked and no-one came to see. The one at the back of a mouldy pub or the one in the one with the huge West End star that just tanked with the critics and closed early. Yup, we've all been there (and if you haven't, you will.) But there is always something to take from it. Wether you make a new best friend, work with a great choreographer who wouldn't hesitate to recommend you for her their next project, or even if you learn from watching that terrible company member how not behave in rehearsals, it's all good, and all experience that will help shape you.
Look after yourself physically AND mentally: It's easy to get swept up in this industry when things are going great. But it's also too easy to find yourself at the other end of spectrum when things aren't. It's simple to say 'stay positive,' 'do exercise,' 'eat your greens' but at times you need to remind yourself to do just that. This industry is demanding and exhausting. You'll push yourself to the limits at times and then have weeks where the phone doesn't ring and the auditions just dry up. Have a good group of friends or family (in and out of the industry) to unload onto. Socialise. Try and see inspirational theatre or take a class to learn something new. I'm no expert, but personally I find running works for me. It's keeping me fit (I hope) and it helps my mind stay focused and clear. I can run off that terrible audition I had or find a flash of inspiration for a character choice while I'm chewing up the miles on the hilly Hampshire highways.
Sometimes you just have to stop and take a breath and remember we're all in this together. We're here because we love it. We get to tell stories from every corner of the world, explore cultures and rich histories that have defined us for centuries. We get to play, every day. What a privilege.
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