This month Robert returns to blogging duties:
Thirty plus years ago I set out to become an actor. I had little experience and no training, but I knew it was what I had to do. A couple of years later I was in a Fringe First winning play HOOLIGANS (30th anniversary this year) which went on to The Donmar Warehouse Pick of The Fringe, A Yorkshire TV production and toured for over three years. Neither of the other two actors in this shot from the show, Paul Nolan and Tom Magill, had training from an accredited Drama School; Paul came to Tic Toc Theatre Company as a YOP (A government youth training scheme) and Tom having previously been detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, was a drama grad from Birmingham Uni. We learned our trade on the job.
[It] made me think more widely about the snobbery and utter nonsense that accompanies training for actors
Dan Ford, a lecturer on the BA Acting Course at Northampton University, recently invited me to carry out a couple of days of “Industry Ready” interviews. It’s a really good idea; if you are paying £9,000 a year for your course fees, and ending up on average £44,000.00 in debt (recent figures) by the end of your course, you’d like to think that you have a package that people would potentially buy.
The final year students were subjected to a fifteen minute agent audition and interview. It was a joyous and enlightening experience, and made me think more widely about the snobbery and utter nonsense that accompanies training for actors, and indeed the stigma attached to those who have either attended courses which are not accredited, or learned their craft without any formal training , Sir Ian McKellen for example.
This course, like many other university and non-accredited Drama Schools, auditions potential actors, and then takes them through a structured programme of training, with the aim of creating “Industry Ready Actors”.
In my short career as an agent I have already seen quite a few showcases, from the fully accredited schools, through universities, local theatre schools and commercial events like Reduced Circumstances, and the brilliant Monologue Slam UK. In each case I’ve seen plenty of actors who can act (you’d hope so), who at least on the surface are industry ready. And of course there are stand out individuals who bring something a bit special to their performance; but honestly, if you put them all in a bag, mixed them all up, tipped them out on stage, I wouldn’t be able to tell you which was from a ‘Top Drama School’, or which might be from Northampton Uni, or Bournemouth, or Birmingham Theatre School.
Maybe that says something about my lack of experience. Perhaps a more experienced agent, producer or director would point out qualities in a speech that could only come from RADA or Central. But to me, if it’s truthful, tells the story and is performed well, I’m half way there. There were half a dozen stand out individuals across these two days at Northampton, that went well beyond half way and a couple that deeply moved me, and raised the hairs on the back of my neck.
Can they hold a conversation; are they good in a room?
So they can act, but it’s not everything. Can they hold a conversation; are they good in a room? Are they proactive? Have they got a plan or if not that what are their next steps? Are they realistic? How will they cope with not working and support themselves? How will they deal with rejection? Who do they know , who have they worked with and where do they see themselves in five or ten years time?
30 years ago I don’t know if I was “Industry Ready” but I learned quickly. Northampton University have done a great job on the 2016 cohort and I wish them all every success. My hope for them, and all the graduating, industry ready actors out there, is that the industry is ready for them, and is really waking up to diversity: not only to the BAME, disabled and working class actors out there, still dramatically under represented, but to all the talent that is being nurtured outside the accredited schools. It should not be about your background or where you’ve been trained, it should be about the actor that you are.
Photo JIM BOTTON- HOOLIGANS Cast Robert Wilkinson, Paul Nolan, Tom Magill