Hello Ladies & Gents,
I hope you’re all well and good. I write this to you during the interval of As You Like It. We’ve just come back after a few weeks off as The Taming of the Shrew opened (to much success) last week. Massive congrats to that company. They’ve worked their tails off, especially those who were in As You Like It too – in the space of a month they’ve tech’ed, opened, press’ed and often understudied two shows, working 12/13 hour days, 6 days per week. It’s hard going, but they will have a break… in June!
This company is a true ‘rep’ company in the sense that all 27 actors are in two of the three Shakespeares each. Up until June, we will be running As You & Shrew in rotation, then we add Measure for Measure. Come September we're even touring in rep, so if you’re not going to be able to get to Stratford this summer, check out our tour schedule – it’ll give you the chance to see all three of our Royal Shakespeare Theatre shows at venues around the country.
Learning the craft...
I love hearing stories about old rep theatre. I was reading that in Liverpool you once had Tony Sher, Bernard Hill, Julie Walters, Alison Steadman, Pete Postlethwaite, Bill Nighy, Jonathan Pryce, Matthew Kelly… all in one company. That’s outrageous, especially with writers like John McGrath and Willy Russell.
When I first started acting back in 2005, I was told by an old actor that I should try my best to ‘get in with a rep company’ because ‘that’s how you learn the craft’. You learn from being around actors that are better than you, braver than you and more experienced than you or with more youthful exuberance than you. Just like anything in life, to be fair. Be brave but be humble enough to learn from everyone. After all, you need all the help you can get when you’re learning and rehearsing one play during the day, performing another at night and getting ready for a third play the following week.
I really wanted that. Back in my day (I say with a pipe and a monocle) there were a few rep companies across the UK and most didn’t pay you anywhere near a living wage. There is a famous rep system in Pitlochry and there was another at Colchester Mercury. Luckily, after three years of writing four times per year, the Artistic Director Dee Evans took a chance on me (‘You can stop writing to me so much now!’). I subsequently worked at the Mercury for around two and a half years.
It was brilliant for me, five years into my career, working alongside actors who had experience at the RSC, West End, National and more. I learned so much from watching their processes: how they broke down a script, found a character, commanded a stage and the attention of the audience. Knowing I could ‘hold my own’ working alongside those actors did wonders for my confidence. It’s so sad that it isn’t common practice these days.
And relearning the craft
Now I’m relearning the craft as part of another proper rep company. It’s brilliant to have such a wide range of actors, with all sorts of experiences, amazing knowledge bases and a unique set of skills (I feel I am the first RSC blogger to quote Liam Neeson in Taken). For example, we have Tony Byrne and Amanda Harris who’re RSC associate artists and know how best to play these stages, but we also have very talented newcomers like Alexander Mushore, who makes his professional stage debut in The Taming of the Shrew. A few times in the As You rehearsal room, I just sat and watched how the actors all worked. Each one is so unique that it would be impossible not to learn from them. I’m looking forward to Measure just to do it all over again with a whole bunch of different actors. As Nelson Mandela said, “I either win or learn” – what a great way to think about life.
On Sunday 28 April, I am running the London Marathon for ACT – The Actors Children’s Trust. Sadly, for actors, having families is VERY difficult and most will quit for prolonged periods of time, or even permanently. ACT supports actors in multiple ways, such as helping with nursery fees, school trips and uniforms. You can read all about it on my donation page. If you could bring yourself to donate a wee bit, it would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks so much. Blog soon. Take care.