If nothing else, Drama School is a haven of brilliant plays. Chances are, your head of course wants the school to look credible, and therefore selects texts of a high quality for you to perform. Even when your role is small, you are can submerge yourself in your imagined world for about five weeks and then move on to the next one before it becomes boring.
When you graduate and you’re looking for jobs, you’ll find a lot of opportunities in Theatre in Education and Theatre for Young Audiences. These jobs are often a lot of fun and can be really rewarding, but chances are the texts you’re dealing with are a far cry from the Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams and Oscar Wilde you’ve been spoiled with for the last three years.
In fact, TIE has a reputation for using scripts that make you want to gouge your own eyes out when you first read them. So you need to find a way to enjoy them for the duration of your contract (which will probably be much, much longer than five weeks)
I’ve spoken before about how important it is for your own sanity, as well as the quality of the work you are producing, to keep playing. But now I want to talk a bit about how you can use a simple script to stretch yourself as an actor.
My tutors always used to call me an ‘intellectual actor’ – meaning that there was a lot of work going on in my head, but it didn’t necessarily translate physically. This made me suitable for roles that were really dense in language, and so a lot of my training was focused on the expression of that language.
Luckily for me, my current tour has a Shakespeare play on the programme, so I still get to flex those muscles every week. But the other two plays, which are aimed at students who are in their first few years of learning English, are of course very simple. So, in terms of the intellectual side of things – there isn’t a huge amount of work to put in. And because the text is so simple, I can reel it off without really thinking about it anymore.
These plays could very quickly have become a special kind of hell for me, as they don’t really provide me with an opportunity to use my skill set. However, what it does provide me with is a chance for me to develop other skills.
For me, physical transformation is something I never really explored in my training. I was always much more focused on the text. But now, the text being so easy to handle, I find I have more head space to turn my focus onto my body, and explore how I can create my characters physically. What I’ve always found really difficult is finding and maintaining subtle transformations. I find it very hard to play a healthy girl in my age bracket without just defaulting to my own physicality. I also find it hard to age up without going over the top.
In one of the plays I am currently performing, I have two roles. The first; a feisty, working-class seventeen year old who becomes a pop star. The second; an upper class, overbearing mother. It’s really important that these characters are totally different from each other. And if I want to make the most out of this learning opportunity, they have to be very different from me too.
Doing these plays from Monday to Friday gives me plenty of opportunity to experiment. The simple text is so second nature that I can put a lot of attention into the physical side of things whilst also maintaining the intellectual side. This is something I was never able to accomplish during my training.
What I’m hoping for is that by the end of this tour I will have developed skills that I can then carry forward into the rehearsal process for my next project, and even into the audition room. As actors, we must put as much effort as we can into developing our craft if we want to avoid stagnating. So if you step into a job with a text that doesn’t challenge you – find a way to make it challenge you. Otherwise, you’re in for a very unsatisfying ride.