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Kieran Vyas: Artistic Director of Urban Young Actors

Urban Young Actors has had a special place in my heart since I started leading workshops there in 2016. I teach professional actors, drama school students and youth theatre all over the UK but there is an incomparable electricity and a certain homeliness to this drama school for young people in Leicester. It’s for this reason that I couldn’t be happier to announce that I’ve now taken over the company as owner and artistic director. Alongside me at the Urban helm is my partner – award-winning actor and practitioner Katie Burchett – who joins me as co-owner and director to steer Urban into the new chapter of its life.

What is Urban Young Actors?

Urban provides weekly acting workshops for young people in Leicester as well as producing multiple theatre and film projects every year. Our alumni include Mahalia (Brit & Grammy Award-Nominated Artist), Jurell Carter (Emmerdale, ITV), Owen Warner (Hollyoaks, Channel 4), Dilan Raithatha (West End playwright) and Devesh Sodha (award-winning composer).

We run several groups in Leicester City Centre and Barkby that are split by age: 8-11, 12-16 and 16-21. In the past our larger projects have included stage productions, short films, festivals, competitions and a feature film that premiered at the Odeon cinema.

Looking to the future

We’re taking over Urban at a time when all of us are desperate to return to normal life and the arts will play a crucial role in repairing some of the damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. We have big plans, we’re very excited for the future, and development for a film project in late 2021 has already begun.

Get involved

If you want to find out more information about Urban Young Actors or apply for a free trial session then head over to urbanyoungactors.com

On Set at Urban Young Actors

A Modern Guide to Auditioning for Drama School

When I auditioned for drama school I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Retrospectively, I can identify the choices I made that led to me being accepted, however, I can’t quite remember which of those choices were intentional, instinctual, or just good luck. Since then I’ve spent many years working as an actor, director and coach, and now have experience on both sides of the panel. What I’ve realised is that there are many variables when considering an applicant for drama school (some of them you can control and others you can’t), but there are far fewer reasons for rejection. Here are some of what I consider to be the most important aspects of an audition that the panel are looking for.

Differentiation

Most applicants are aware that it’s important to choose two contrasting pieces when selecting a classical and contemporary monologue for auditions, but what does that actually mean? Selecting two different genres – a tragic Shakespeare and comedic contemporary for example – doesn’t cut it if you then play yourself in both roles. Your pieces need to demonstrate two very different characters, offering the panel two sides to you as an actor. Whether it’s a shift in power, status, temperament, energy, physicality or all of the above, the difference between your characters should go beyond the genres of the pieces and be clearly discernible. Often I see actors presenting two similar versions of themselves, regardless of what the roles demand. To quote Andrew Potter (Royal Birmingham Conservatoire acting tutor and director): ‘It’s your job to move you to the character. Don’t pull the character to you.’

Given Circumstances

In order to fully understand the context surrounding your pieces, you need to question everything. Why are you saying these words? Where have you come from? What’s just happened? Who’s in the room? What’s your relationship to the other person? Where are you? Every detail that there is to unpick, unpick it. Read the whole play and understand everything you can about what led your character to this moment, especially, the moments leading up to your monologue. A character doesn’t usually know what they’re going to say, they discover it in the moment, and every nuanced thought is a response shaped by a (fictional) lifetime of three-dimensional backstory.

Connection (Who are you speaking to?)

A monologue is still a dialogue. You are in conversation with another person, entity, or even the audience, and it’s usually this second party that holds the key to your advancement in the scene. That shouldn’t change just because the other person happens to be imaginary. In some ways it gives you more freedom; being able to explore their reactions within your imagination and respond as you will.

Connecting with the other character in the scene is vital. Every line you deliver should affect them and prompt (imagined) responses, which you, in turn, must respond to. Not only does this give your performance life and purpose, but it also demonstrates the power of your imagination – one of the actor’s greatest and most necessary tools. Know who you’re speaking to, what you want from them, and then listen. Does the other character laugh, blush, frown, try to interject, walk away? Is what you’re trying to do working or not?

This doesn’t change if you’re addressing the audience, the same principle applies.

Stakes

The panel wants to be excited. I frequently work with actors who fall into the trap of playing it safe, undermining the true stakes of the piece. The very basis of drama is people in extreme circumstances facing some sort of conflict, crisis, or dilemma. The chances are that your character has a lot to lose; if it wasn’t important, they wouldn’t say it, let alone speak for two minutes straight.

Often I hear, ‘I don’t want to overact’. In my experience, when an actor is afraid of overacting there is a high probability that they’re not acting at all but simply reciting lines. Ask yourself, what has this character got to lose? Connect with the text and let it inspire a passionate performance. The panel will commend you for throwing yourself in. One caveat to this is to make sure you don’t wash out the detail from your speech. They want to see that your heart’s in it but playing anger from start to finish or crying through every line won’t get you very far. The specificity and variety in your performance are just as important – seek it out, consider the stakes and commit to your choices wholeheartedly.

Personality

Last but not least…How you come across in an audition does have an effect on the panel’s decision. They want to know if you’re suited to the programme, whether you’ll fit in with the other students and if you have a natural spark about you. The best advice I can give is to be yourself. Don’t try and show them what you think they’re looking for…you don’t know what they’re looking for. Despite nerves, take a deep breath and just be you.

By Kieran Vyas

Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Audition Panel

In April and May of 2018 I joined the panel at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire during the initial and recall auditions, and in January 2019 I became an official member of the panel.

It’s extremely rewarding being present at the start of an actor’s journey when they have bags of potential and their whole career ahead of them. But for the actors, auditioning for drama school can be a scary experience. Nerves are natural, they exist because we’re invested, passionate and hungry to do what we love. Let them energise your performance. You have (hopefully) done the hard work, now you just need to trust in yourself. Even after training and working in the industry I still get terribly nervous in a variety of situations. One thing to remember if you’re auditioning for drama school is that the panel needn’t be intimidating; we’re genuinely willing you to do well. What’s more, auditioning for drama school is expensive! Don’t forget to enjoy it.

You can check out my guide to auditioning for drama school here.

A Guide to Being an Actor Outside of London

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