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Riad Richie on his season with the RSC

Riad Richie debuted at the RSC for their 2018-19 season, performing in Tamburlaine (Michael Boyd), Timon of Athens (Simon Godwin) and Tartuffe (Iqbal Khan). His previous credits include Macbeth, Mark and the Marked, Frankenstein, Romeo and Juliet (Box Clever Theatre) and The Scarlet Pimpernel (Tower of London). Riad has also been lead fencer and combat specialist for films including Cinderella, iBoy and Accident Man.

Say one thing for Richie, he knows how to make an entrance. From abseiling onto the stage in Timon of Athens to beatboxing against the backdrop of Iqbal Khan’s concert lighting in Tartuffe, he commands attention, and with a stage presence that fills the theatre, Richie is the kind of actor you just can’t take your eyes off. Throughout the RSC’s winter season, his performances have been captivating, effervescent and delivered with a touch of class. His portrayal of the fiercely loyal Usumcasane in Tamburlaine being particularly memorable for precisely those qualities.

As he now enters the final week of the season and looks ahead to the future, he is certainly an actor I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of. I sat down with him to reflect on his time with the RSC.

What’s it like working with the RSC?

Quite surreal. You really get a sense of community from day one. It’s like going back to uni. When you move to stratford, you are in this campus-like bubble where everyone is friendly and knows you and it’s a little bit magical.

As an actor, what challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

Being in three shows can really put a strain on your daily life. Understudy rehearsals pretty much take up your free time, so it’s all about managing your day so you don’t feel overloaded. You usually rehearse two shows at the same time, meaning you can be in one room for the first two hours then whisked into another room for the next. Getting into the right mindset for the needs of each room took some getting used to.

What did you enjoy most about working with the RSC?

The freedom to be bold. In all three shows, I’ve been so grateful that I was always able to make an offer in the rehearsal room, no matter how absurd, and the company gave you the vibe that you could do that and take leaps. So now I beatbox in one show, abseil in another and I’m an ultra-violent killing machine in the other.

Was there anything you didn’t expect?

The hospitality. The RSC don’t just support you on stage, they ensure you are well looked after physically and mentally, even if you just need to talk to someone. If you’re up in Stratford by yourself, things can get lonely at times. The RSC became like a surrogate family for those days. Something else I didn’t expect was the ‘Shakespeare Gym’: workshops for company members in which you get to explore and break down texts of the Bard.

What was it like working with Michael Boyd?

He was like Yoda of the theatre world. You could really feel the weight of his presence in the room and all you wanted to do was listen. He’s incredibly generous and receptive to everyone whilst steering the ship towards his vision. Working with Michael was my first experience at the RSC and it was an undeniable pleasure.

What’s next for you?

Being on stage for the past three and a half years means that my showreel has become stale. I think I’ll be getting that updated to cater for film/TV work. I’m also currently in talks with the team at Ragdoll but I can’t say too much about that right now. Who knows, maybe I’ll be back on the Swan stage sooner than I thought! ;)

Riad L Richie in rehearsal for Tamburlaine (RSC) – Photo by Ellie Kurttz

Acting Notes from Curve’s Artistic Director Nikolai Foster

As well as being the artistic director of Leicester’s Curve, Nikolai Foster has directed countless acclaimed productions at leading theatres all over the UK. Born in Copenhagen and raised in North Yorkshire, he went on to train at Drama Centre, London and the Crucible in Sheffield. It was in 2015 that Nikolai took on his current position at Curve Theatre where he’s directed productions such as ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, ‘Legally Blonde’ and ‘Grease’.

With Leicester being my hometown, I was eager to chat with the man behind the curtain of so many powerhouse productions. I asked Nikolai whether he’d share a few notes from the rehearsal room and give me an insight into his work. He kindly agreed to answer my questions. Here’s what he said:

 

What is the most common note you give to actors?

Increasingly, the note that I am finding myself giving more and more to actors is about diction and volume. I think often people confuse being real, trying to achieve a contemporary feel or being cool with being inaudible. As a theatre which celebrates the English language and produces plays written in that language (whether it’s Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, Oscar Wilde or Joe Orton) and even though sometimes these plays require actors to be intimate or to be very detailed and finite, we also need to hear everything that the actor is saying. This is regardless of whether they are performing in our 900 seat theatre, 300 seat studio or our rehearsal rooms. If you can’t hear every single word then the actor is not able to communicate action, emotion or what they’re objectively playing. Although you can still be detailed and real, it is important for the actors to be heard and to feel empowered through language.

 

What makes an actor good to work with?

The principal quality that makes an actor good to work with is an active imagination. I think that is always the thing I am interested in when an actor comes into an audition or comes to a meeting to discuss a play: having an imaginative response to the world of the play, the period in which it is written in, the character and how they exist in that world is vital. You may have all of the acting tricks and vocal acrobatics in the world but if you can’t imaginatively inhabit that world then it’s not going to be stimulating or engaging for the audience. Having imagination, being collaborative and hard-working in the space; and being somebody who has an open, can-do attitude is so important.  I think some actors’ default setting is to think the Director is trying to wrong-foot them or steer them in a way that is intuitively against where they want to go. Whenever I am working with people, I always want to get the best out of them so if I am suggesting something that is too complex for them or that they don’t feel is right, that’s fine, because collaboration is key.

 

Do you have any rehearsal room rules?

I think any Director or creative person (whether a Producer, Designer or Director) who says “these are my rules” is misunderstanding their role in the arts ecology. Our job is to break down boundaries and ensure that thought and imagination can flow. Of course we need a stable working environment where we feel secure and where we can play, take risks and be vulnerable but I don’t think rules or boundaries are very helpful. Of course there are the unspoken rules such as turn your phone off and don’t talk when someone else is speaking but these aren’t rules specific to theatre, these are rules specific to life, good grace and politeness.

 

What holds an actor back?

I think fear is often the thing that holds all of us back. There are a lot of things that actors do intuitively and with ease; sometimes when they’re asked by a Playwright or Director to push beyond what comes naturally and easily to them, it can be a scary point. When you push beyond that, you can often find great things which are really beautiful and electrifying; and that you never knew you could do. You have to push beyond that fear and put yourself in a very vulnerable place before you come out the other end and feel secure with something new that you had never realised you had the capacity to do.

 

Some of your previous shows such as ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ and ‘Grease’ have featured colour-blind casting. For me, this is refreshing and inspiring to see. What motivates you to transcend the traditional casting of productions such as these?

I wouldn’t want us to be known for colour-blind casting. Without being glib, I have always had the belief that theatre should reflect the world around us, the society or the communities we are making that theatre for and therefore it is just natural. It’s something we don’t really think about here, we just cast the best actors and ensure those coming into the audition room are reflective of the world we live in. Therefore, if you are having a casting process which has a broad range of actors from different cultural backgrounds then you are going to have actors in leading roles that are not considered the traditional casting and that is just what we do. It’s not really a choice; it’s just being alive and being in the contemporary world.

 

Headshot Hunter’s Guide to Headshots by Philip Duguid-McQuillan (founder of Headshot Hunters)

As an actor and agent, I know how essential it is to have a good headshot. When I started my search as a young aspiring actor to get my own headshots done, it was a big financial investment I was anxious to get right. I knew good headshots would be vital to get auditions and, ultimately, paid work.

It was difficult to choose a photographer who would suit me and give me the best results from the sea of professional photographers out there. It was extremely time-consuming trawling through photographer listings, then visiting their individual websites to find out what they offered. Photographers emphasised different aspects of their services so comparison was really tricky. All my drama school peers were experiencing the same problems.

My ideal would have been to have the details of all photographers on one website, but that didn’t exist, so I decided to develop a website service myself, and Headshot Hunter is the result!

 

Headshot Hunter

Headshot Hunter is a photographer search, comparison and review website that holds the details of around 70 headshot photographers from all over the UK. The website allows you to search for and compare photographers’ packages. You can refine your search and Headshot Hunter will identify photographers that fit your requirements in areas such as budget, location, style and turnaround time. You can also browse headshots for photographs that you like or feel would match your own style and create a shortlist, identifying suitable photographers.

There is plenty of advice on the website about what makes a good headshot and the factors you need to consider when deciding which photographer best suits your needs. Here is my guide to help you get started.

 

What style of photograph do you want?

Style is the most important aspect – if you like the photographer’s style of headshot, you are more likely to be happy with the end result from that photographer. Remember, you may have to live with it for several years.  The style needs to reflect the sort of castings you are looking for, eg classical theatre, aspirational commercial, urban, gritty TV etc.

Studio or natural lighting? Indoor or outdoor?

It really depends on your preferred style, there is no rule. I would say outside and the use of natural light can be more urban or natural, and studio is generally more dramatic or theatrical.

How much time do I need?

Frankly, the more time the better, especially if it’s your first time. You need at least one hour, but if you’re after a range of looks, you should be looking at at least one to two hours. If you’re comfortable with the photographer already or are only looking for one particular shot then less time is obviously fine.

What do professional headshots cost?

Prices range from £50 to £580. £150 is about standard price, for anything over £300 you are usually paying for the photographer’s reputation, which can be a good thing. Price does not necessarily mean quality or results, but if you find a photographer that you think can give you the results you need, then it may well be worth the money in the long run.

How should I prepare for a session?

Firstly, decide how you want your headshots to represent you – remember they are a marketing tool. Try to arrive with an idea of what you want from the session: what roles do you usually go up for? What roles do you want to go up for? If you already have headshots, do they need completely updating or do you just need a few new looks?  The more preparation you do the easier it will be.

Secondly, make sure you are physically and mentally ready for the shoot. Drink plenty of water the week prior to the shoot and don’t go out drinking the night before or this will show in your photos! It is helpful for the photographer to see any of your previous headshots. If you have any general headshots that you like, they can also be a good reference for the photographer. Go in prepared then just relax and enjoy the session. Any little blemishes on the day can be edited out so no need to panic!

What should I wear?

There are no set rules, but remember to wear something you feel good in and relaxed in. Being comfortable will show through in your photos. However, if you stuff your shirts in a bag they will look like they were stuffed in a bag for the shoot! Take a few tops. Generally, darker, solid colours tend to work best. Avoid bold patterns and logos as they are distracting. Bring a few options, with varied necklines, but not too wide or low, allowing the top to frame your face. If you wear glasses, bring them, although sometimes they can distract away from your eyes, so take contact lenses as well if you have them. Try to avoid accessories such as necklaces and earrings, they will take the focus away from your face.

What about hair and makeup?

Less is more. It’s always easier for people to imagine you with more makeup on, not so easy to imagine you with less. Unique features are what make you stand out and make others sit up and take notice so don’t hide those freckles or scars!

Wear your hair how you normally would, but do experiment with a few different styles before your shoot. For women, it’s always worth trying a few looks with your hair up, as it can affect your age range and can look very ‘period’ or ‘classical’. Don’t cut your hair the day before your shoot! Give your hair a few days to relax after a cut. Think about what your hairstyle says about you, your image and, ultimately, your casting. You want to look like you will when you turn up to the audition!

Black and white or colour?

Most agents and casting directors will want to see colour headshots as close to what you look like as possible. Very rarely, a black & white headshot may work for a very particular casting but colour headshots are now the norm and to not have them will go against you. If the photographer is shooting using a digital camera, then you should be able to have both at no extra cost, as turning an image to black and white is literally a click of a button. Saying this, if you do require black and white shots, many photographers can spend a lot of time converting images into black & white to give them the same quality of shooting with film.  Check this with the photographer first, it does make a difference.

How many headshots do I need?

You need one ‘main shot’: this is your best shot that should be engaging and says a bit of everything. However, it is worth having a couple of others to show your acting range. On your online actor profile, such as Spotlight, you can have around five or six different shots. Any more than this is too many.

Do I need prints?

Prints are very rarely used as part of the casting process anymore, so you don’t need them to be included in the package. A photographer is likely to set a higher fee if they are included. You can get prints as and when you need them from reproduction companies.

How should I put my portfolio together?

Whether looking at your contact sheet (often up to 200 shots) or looking at a selection of final touched images, don’t be afraid to ask for people’s opinions. They will help you get perspective as it is difficult to view your own shots objectively. Saying this, they are your headshots, you have

to live with them, so make sure you pick the shots that you are happy with. Unless, of course, your agent picks them for you, in which case, as long as you are happy with your agent, your work is done until the next time they need updating.

Choosing shots

You probably only need six or so photos to cover your range. More than that and they may be too similar. Two or three different shots are fine. Remember, a range is a subtle difference in look, not the same look in different tops. A mid-shot (ie from the waist up) is often a useful addition. One or two production stills, if they are good and interesting, can add to the mix nicely. In America it’s standard to have a full body shot which makes sense but that hasn’t kicked off here yet.

There is no exact science in choosing a headshot photographer, nor is there a formula for creating a killer headshot. It is an incredibly subjective process. Different photographers work in different ways and process different styles; what will work for some will not work for others. You can argue about what is in fashion, but a great headshot should always look like you when you walk through the audition room door and show you in your best light. You on a good day. Honest & Engaging. My hope is that www.headshothunter.co.uk will help all performers simplify the process of finding the right photographer for them and achieving great headshots.

 

Headshot Hunter User guide 2017: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BEqCi6XOkB0

Headshot Hunter

What Are Drama Schools Looking For? With Lise Olson. 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!