I meet Dominic for coffee at the RSC Cafe. He brings his young son along in his pushchair and tells me that their second child, a daughter, is due the day before the show opens. So it’s a busy, exciting time, just ten days before his first performance as Flute in A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the main stage of the RSC. 

So how did a young local architect find his way here? Dominic is a member of the Bear Pitone of the amateur companies that are joining professional actors on stages around the country to play the Mechanicals in A Midsummer Night's Dream. He reckons that because his dad was an English Literature teacher he was Shakespeare-aware at an early age, encouraged to watch The Animated Tales and the family went to the theatre in Birmingham for Christmas shows.

Dominic is reprising the role. As an 11-year-old at St Benedict’s school in Alcester he was really keen to be in the school play and fancied the role of Puck. He was given Flute, and remembers the 1970s style wedding dress he wore, the  balletic steps he cultivated and the lipstick (yuk!).

Dominic Skinner as Flute in Dream, wearing a bright striped t-shirt and suspended brown trousers, sitting on a piano stool
Dominic Skinner as Flute on the Royal Shakespeare Theatre stage

He went to the Betty Fox Stage School and was involved in various Drama work until  he was about 15 when rugby became his passion and main hobby. He did A Level Theatre Studies and remembers writing about a wonderful Comedy of Errors he had seen at the RSC in his exam.

And then he was off to university to study architecture. His return to drama he owes to his partner who herself, passionate about theatre, introduced him to the Bear Pit group. He loves its inclusiveness, a nice mixture of people from different walks of life and different ages.

About a year ago the Bear Pit applied to the RSC to be involved in A Midsummer Night's Dream. A series of auditions followed. These were sheer fun, Dominic says, concentrating on acting, movement and text approached in a dynamic way. The Bear Pit was chosen as one of the 14 groups who would be acting with the professionals.

He says that everyone he has met from the RSC has been friendly throughout the process. He has never felt an amateur and it has been a delight to visit the professionals' rehearsal room to view work in progress. Is there anything that he is apprehensive about? He is aware that in the finale there are some 43 actors on stage dancing together and 10 of them are child fairies so he has to take care in his use of space.

An eventful first night

We arranged to meet again after the show was up and running to discuss his experience. The baby decided to arrive on the opening night. It was "surreal", Dominic says. Lily, his partner, was aware that things were happening in the early evening but reckoned  the process might go on a bit and they could text each other between scenes.

About half way through his daughter created her own drama as a taxi was summonsed and dad raced through town just in time to witness her arrival on the lounge sofa! Flute from The Nonentities (the other Stratford amateur group) replaced Dominic after the interval, and the Director Erica Whyman announced the birth to the audience at the end of the show. What a first night!

The way The Nonentities helped out here is Dominic says typical of the collaborative process of the whole project. Professionals, amateurs and children have worked together under Erica, whom he likens to a project manager in the architecture world always open to ideas.

One of his great discoveries has been the importance of the audience. They are an essential ingredient of performance, that changes nightly: they laugh at different things and nothing can be taken for granted. In the ebb and flow of performance you must be ready to adjust sail. In performance I found him strong on interaction and focus in a group that was just as good if not better than professional versions I have seen. Each group is different and that's one of the joys of this Play for the Nation.

Dominic calls it his Midwinter Night’s Dream and his daughter, one of two Dream babies born during this production already, arrives with the blessing of the child fairies who hope that they  'ever shall be fortunate'.

Viv Graver

Viv Graver is a retired teacher, who taught Shakespeare for more than 30 years in the north of England. Her present interest is introducing Shakespeare into primary schools. Viv's blog is a series of interviews with RSC cast and creatives about their path to Shakespeare and how they first came to it, at school and elsewhere.

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