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A Guide to Being an Actor Outside of London by Katie Burchett

There’s a general consensus that London isn’t just the capital of the UK, but that it’s also the capital of business, fashion and (hold your horses because this is where it becomes relevant) the arts. One of the biggest questions for anyone outside of the city who wants to act is this: Do I need to be in London?

I trained as an actor at the Birmingham School of Acting and moved to London after graduating. I moved out of it in 2016 determined to prove to myself that being there isn’t the be all and end all. Whatever any Southerner tries to tell you, the world still turns beyond the Watford Gap and opportunity can be found if you know where to look. No two people’s paths will be the same, but I’ve put together a survival guide for making it work as an actor outside of London.

Competitions and festivals

14/48 Festival

14/48 is ‘the world’s quickest theatre festival’ and quite frankly the most fun I’ve ever had as an actor. Seven writers, seven directors and twenty-five actors put on fourteen plays in 48 hours. The festival is held twice a year in Leicester and Wolverhampton (and Seattle, if your commitment to not being near London is that strong). 14/48 is a wonderful opportunity to network, challenge yourself and marvel at how creativity can thrive on very little sleep! For more information on 14/48, follow: http://1448uk.com/

Monologue Slam

Most people will have heard of Monologue Slam. Run by the TriForce Creative Network, Monologue Slam describes itself as ‘THE industry showcase for actors from all backgrounds and profiles.’ If you’ve never heard of it, http://monologueslamuk.com should tell you all you need to know, but, in a nutshell, actors go head to head with their monologues whilst being judged by industry professionals. Auditions and Slams are held in Manchester, Birmingham, Luton, Leeds and Leicester and are completely free. They also hold occasional masterclasses which aren’t free to attend but do offer an excellent opportunity to work with some top coaches.

Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Arguably the most famous arts festival of the year, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival runs for three weeks every August and quite literally has something for everyone. The Fringe is an open access performing arts festival, which means that anyone can apply to perform, and the festival has been the springboard for some of the biggest names in the industry today. If you can get the sufficient funding, (and various other requirements, all of which are detailed here: https://www.edfringe.com/take-part), the Edinburgh Fringe is the perfect opportunity to showcase your work to a humble crowd of 2.3 million (based on tickets sold in 2015 for the festival in its entirety).

Theatres

Email. Email until you’re sick of the sight of your own name and you know your spotlight pin better than you know your mobile number. There are so very many fantastic theatres and theatre companies outside of London. To name a few in no particular order:

  • Royal and Derngate, Northampton
  • The Mercury Theatre, Colchester
  • The Worcester Rep, Worcester
  • Birmingham Rep, Birmingham
  • Curve Theatre, Leicester
  • Nottingham Playhouse, Nottingham
  • Tread the Boards Theatre Company, Stratford-upon-Avon
  • Belgrade Theatre, Coventry
  • Theatre by the Lake, Keswick
  • The West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
  • Everyman Theatre, Liverpool
  • The Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch
  • The Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon
  • Hull Truck Theatre, Hull

Some will cast primarily through Spotlight, others have in-house casting directors, some have their own acting company and some even post casting breakdowns on their websites. If a particular venue doesn’t specify their casting process, find a contact and get in touch anyway.

TV

It’s refreshing to know that some of the biggest television and radio companies have studios situated outside of London, or are at least based in London but commission to multiple UK regions. Channel 4 film Hollyoaks in Liverpool, Emmerdale is made in Yorkshire, the BBC’s Doctors films in Birmingham and Manchester is home to ITV’s Coronation Street and, if it’s tenuous domestic advice you’re seeking, The Jeremy Kyle Show. BBC radio can also be found in the centre of Birmingham and ITV has a production office in Leeds. It’s nice to think that if you got a job at one of these places you’d be the one popping down the road to work while the Londoners make the commute for a change.

Training

Classes and workshops

With the Actors’ Centre and Spotlight being primarily based in London, keeping up your skills if you’ve moved away might seem difficult. The Actors’ Lab is based in Manchester and runs a variety of workshops, focussing on elements including screen acting, TV casting, accents, voice and classical text. Their tutors are made up of TV and theatre directors, actors and casting directors and as well as running classes in Liverpool, Manchester and Chester, the Actors’ Lab also offers qualification courses.

Drama school

If you’re reading this as someone who’s considering acting training, don’t limit yourself by just looking at places in London, as you’re spoilt for choice in terms of drama schools elsewhere too.  As someone that trained at the Birmingham School of Acting, I can safely say that I never once felt that my acting training was anything less than of an extremely high calibre. Amongst others, BSA (or the Birmingham Conservatoire as it’s now known), Bristol Old Vic, LIPA, Royal Welsh and the Scottish Conservatoire all rank highly in the drama school league tables. One of the most beneficial things about training outside of London was having two third year showcases, one in Birmingham and one in London, allowing double the opportunity to be seen by agents and casting directors. Royal Welsh and Bristol Old Vic are also schools that give their students two showcases.

Social Media

Disclaimer: This section doesn’t include Snapchat or Tinder. For all its flaws, social media really and truly is a valuable tool. There are groups on Facebook dedicated solely to actors and performers in certain parts of the country. Groups like ‘Midlands Actors and Extras’ and ‘The Actors’ Guild, North West’ amongst others are a mixture of casting calls, contacts and opportunities, as well as being great platforms to promote your own work. Of course, not every post is going to be useful for you, but I know plenty of people who’ve obtained showreel material from short films they’ve applied for through one of these groups.

Final thoughts

Having said all of that, don’t close your mind to London. Some of the regional theatres I’ve mentioned, despite their location, hold their auditions in London, so your career will invariably take you there from time to time. London is the hub of the industry and, undeniably, is where a lot of the action happens. However, for those looking to enjoy the rest of the country whilst following their acting ambitions (and let’s face it, save some money!), I hope that this guide has given you a bit more confidence to do it. Being an actor outside of London is more than possible.

By Katie Burchett

 

MA Acting at the Birmingham School of Acting Training Outside of London

At the beginning of March I interviewed acting coach and director Lise Olson for my article ‘What are Drama Schools Looking For?’ (If you haven’t read it yet you can find it here!)

I received some wonderful feedback from people currently auditioning for drama school and several were interested to find out more about the MA course at the Birmingham School of Acting, of which Lise is the course director.

For anyone considering an MA in Acting, I cannot recommend the Birmingham School of Acting highly enough. Having completed the BA Acting course at BSA, people often ask me ‘What was the training like?’ Well, as far as I can tell it’s like the training at all the other leading drama schools. Most actors I meet seem to have undergone something very similar to me. Yet amongst aspiring performers, the old-fashioned idea that London is the only place to become an actor continues to persevere. When interviewing Andrei Costin (BSA alumni, The Kite Runner, West End) for another article, he told me he didn’t know what the training at other drama schools was like but the lifestyle in London is certainly more expensive.

There are several great schools outside of London and BSA is one of them. The teachers that work there are amongst some of the best and most brilliant people I’ve met in the industry so far. My advice: you won’t know if somewhere is right for you until you go there. When it comes to picking where to audition, don’t limit yourself;  getting into drama school is difficult enough already.

MA Acting at BSA

BSA is currently accepting applications for its MA Acting course starting September 2017. If you want to find out any more information visit their website here: http://www.bcu.ac.uk/acting

Next month I have tickets to see Henry V at the Attic Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, and its cast includes Joanne Amaral and Dru Stephenson – BSA alumni from the MA course. I reached out to both to get their opinion on the training they received.

“Training at BSA was a thrilling and rewarding experience. The course is very complete and industry focused so you know exactly what to do when you complete your training. As a foreign actress, I was accepted in other Drama UK accredited schools but all of them wanted to label me as an ‘outsider’, suggesting me to their MA International courses or trying to persuade me to do a longer MA degree. At BSA I felt none of that. I was welcomed and respected and taught to play my strengths and particularities. Definitely a great place to grow as an artist and as a human being.”

Joanne AmaralBSA Alumni, MA Acting

“The BSA MA course was one of the most challenging and exhausting years of my life. But it taught me so much, mainly about myself, and it gave me the confidence to pursue acting with renewed self-belief and a whole heap of resources to draw upon.”

Dru StephensonBSA Alumni, MA Acting
The Marriage of Bette and Boo - BSA MA Acting

The Marriage of Bette and Boo – BSA MA Acting

What Are Drama Schools Looking For? An interview with acting coach and director Lise Olson

There’s no denying that getting into drama school can be an arduous affair. I often tell my students that there are a myriad of reasons why a school could ultimately decide not to offer them a place and many of those reasons may have absolutely nothing to do with ability. As true as this is, it still doesn’t quite numb the sting of getting rejected from somewhere you had your heart set on.

So what is it that a drama school is really looking for?

You don’t have to look very far to become overwhelmed by the plethora of contradictory information in circulation, which makes it very difficult to know who and what to listen to. I come across simple misconceptions and bad advice all the time and it never fails to surprise me. In an attempt to try and find some clarity, I reached out to acting coach and director Lise Olson.

Lise has been auditioning people internationally for UK drama schools for 17 years and currently leads the MA in Acting at the Birmingham School of Acting. She is the recipient of directing awards in both the US and UK, and her West End credits include The Witches of Eastwick, Coyote on a Fence and A View From The Bridge. Last year she directed the European Premiere of The Sins of Sor Juana for BSA.

I was very eager to get her opinion on some of the most common questions I receive.

Lise Olson

Lise Olson

What are you looking for in someone auditioning for drama school?

I would say that we are looking for someone with potential for training. This includes being available to new ideas and generosity to others (if there is any group work). Someone with an understanding of what they are saying in their speeches, not just reciting lines.

What are some common mistakes you see people make in auditions?

Trying too hard to ‘stand out’, making the audition about themselves rather than about the work they are doing, not trying hard enough to push themselves in something that they find difficult. Women not tying hair back for movement work or candidates not wearing appropriate clothing (if you have been told not to wear jeans, don’t wear jeans!). Choosing inappropriate audition material – if you are 18, don’t do King Lear. Don’t act to the side wall. Don’t hide – put your imaginary scene partner downstage. I personally don’t like people staring into my eyes when they are doing auditions. I need to be able to break away and take notes. I am not your scene partner! People on the panel have a job to do and you will be seen and assessed more clearly if you don’t ‘use’ us. Of course, this is a personal quibble. Some people don’t mind it.

What are you looking for in my monologue choices?

In the classical piece I am looking for understanding and making sense of the verse. Many classical monologues are written about the big moments and decisions in that character’s life. Let us know what the stakes are. Don’t just recite lines. Discover what that person wants and needs and use the monologue to share that with us. Figure out the problem. Contemporary monologues these days tend to be very televisual. That’s not a problem, as long as it’s not just showing us behaviour. I also (again, this is personal) don’t like speeches that use excessive bad language (learn the difference between some and excessive) or are about child abuse/rape victim trauma (male or female). You can show the same range with a piece about a close personal friend or family.

How important is being able to take direction?

Important. If you don’t open yourself up to new ideas, we will think that you’re inflexible and can only do one thing. I look for actors who are curious about exploration.

The Sins of Sor Juana

The Sins of Sor Juana – Directed by Lise Olson


What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give to someone hoping to get in to drama school?

BE YOURSELF!!! We need to see who you are as a person. Are you going to fit in with others? Remember, you’re auditioning the school as much as you’re auditioning for a place. If you don’t like a vibe, it’s probably not the place for you. Don’t be seduced by shiny studios; you can train in lousy facilities and get great training. Talk to current students, they will be the best people to tell you about the school. You are giving up three years (or one in the case of a postgrad) to work on yourself. It’s a luxury few people get. Embrace it. Make the choice that is right for you. If you are all about me, me, me you won’t be happy in a place that fosters ensemble. Every school is different. Do your research, don’t just stress about ‘getting into drama school’.

What should I do if I don’t get in?

If you don’t get in, use your year well. Audition for anything and everything to get more experience, take a foundation course, take part-time classes to up your skills. Sign up for an extras agency and work as an extra on films to see how the industry works. See as much theatre as possible. If this is what you were meant to do, a rejection from drama school won’t stop you. There are many ways into the industry but those who have trained have a solid foundation to begin their work. Try again (choose different pieces!), and then again. If you haven’t got a place after three years of attempts, the universe is perhaps telling you that drama school may not be for you. BUT that doesn’t mean you need to stop acting. Find a home and a place where you can perform if that is your goal. Perfect your craft. Keep the joy!

Life After Drama School An Interview with Andrei Costin

For an actor, life after drama school can be many things – turbulent, emotional and occasionally glorious are a few words that come to my mind. I recently got the chance to catch up with my good friend and actor Andrei Costin and he described life after drama school as ‘challenging’.

Andrei was born and raised in ‘newly democratic and peaceful Romania’ and moved to the UK six years ago to train at the Birmingham School of Acting. Since graduating, he has completed the UK Tour of ‘The Kite Runner’, playing the role of Hassan, and had his West End debut when it transferred to the Wyndham’s Theatre where it currently resides. He also recently completed filming for BBC’s Doctors and is now working on a Romanian-British feature film called ‘Memento Amare’.

Looking at his list of credits, there’s no doubt he’s had an impressive start to his career. So I was very interested to find out exactly what he meant by ‘challenging’ and ask him what advice he’d give to emerging actors.

What was it like after graduating from the Birmingham School of Acting?

It was quiet for quite a while, I had to understand how this whole thing works and the first step was to move to London. I made the mistake of getting a job that kept me in the house for most of the day and that stalled me physically and mentally. But I did start auditioning for various things through the agent I got from our showcase and kept looking for jobs on all the industry websites. Going to some workshops with casting directors helped me to gain knowledge and get my face seen. It took me a while to accommodate, but I do think that the possibilities are endless when you’re down here.

Did you ever question your decision to be an actor?

There are the odd times when I go all philosophical and question my purpose in life but the gut instinct of performing, expressing myself, learning and needing to create as part of a team has never gone away. It really is a strange thing to do and pretty selfish and narcissistic if you strip it all down but oh boy is it fun and it keeps you young and curious!

The Kite Runner - UK Productions

Andrei Costin in The Kite Runner

How important is it to keep up your skills whilst out-of-work?

If practising your skills, improving or learning new ones is something you think will make you feel better, do it. And it will. Speaking for myself, it’s most important to keep confidence up. Without confidence, you won’t do your best in an audition. So keep it up, one day at a time. Read something out loud every day, read plays, learn monologues and scenes, improvise with friends, write, practise the crap out of that favourite song, go and watch plays and films for inspiration and education, pick up an instrument. There is time for everything.

Is life as an actor how you imagined it would be before going to drama school?

No. Every day brings on a new challenge and adventure, whether you’re working or not. It’s a full on life and not the romanticised version that a college kid has in his mind. Although, at its best it really is the dream come true, when you get to do what you love with people that you love and admire.

Do you think it’s important to go to drama school?

I think it is important to have training of some sort, not necessarily because of the technical skills you acquire but more importantly to prepare you for life as an actor outside of performing; managing the lifestyle, how to work in a team/company/ensemble and for the discipline it can teach you. I guess those are also skills. It’s like learning the rules of a game in order to make it easier to play with others. Of course, you can be a fantastic team player and a gifted actor without going to drama school and just learn everything else from experience.

What advice would you give to an aspiring actor/actress?

Go for it. If you feel the urge to do it, something will happen for you and you won’t regret doing it. Read up on acting, on theatre, watch interviews with actors, watch shows, films, live performance, delve yourself into that world. If you’re aspiring, you’re probably already doing some of that… But also set yourself small and achievable goals. When it gets hard, keep at it.

What’s next for you?

Over April, I’ll be going up to Chester to play a Syrian refugee in a new piece of writing called ‘The Lost Boy’ and some stuff I’ve filmed recently will be coming out soon. I just want to keep working, learning and finding variety in my work.