July last year Nicki Davy cautiously made contact with me (we knew each from another life time) saying she thought she wanted to be an actor. She'd had zero training, just a suppressed hunch that this is what she should be doing.
After discussions she signed up to our Foundation training and by the end, despite being terrified of this giant leap she had quit her job, booked headshots and started to apply for roles. Lucky for us she's done almost every course we’ve ran since and been mentored by me along the way. She has not floated into this industry, she has bulldozed her way in. She has worked hard. She knows the development of her instrument and craft is essential to her success. Alongside our training she’s gone to dance classes, voice 1:1s, Play With Fire Productions’ Scene Studies and probably more.
Over the last 18 months she's done loads of script in hand nights, research and development projects, Slung Low Shorts, done student films, worked with Northern Film School, the bread and butter school theatre work and no doubt loads more that my baby brain has forgotten. Over the last couple of weeks she's been in her first two full length plays.
I managed to drag my sleep deprived self to King John by Cream Faced Loons on Sunday night in Manchester to see how she was getting on and I'm so glad I did.
I have a funny relationship with the word "proud" because it rings of ownership, maybe that's just a weird hang up I have. But it is the only word I can use to how I felt driving back home to Wales. She was unapologetic for taking up space in the room. She watched attentively. Listened acutely. Her huge chunks of text were powerful and human. She was present and honest and raw and unafraid.
Is she at The National being reviewed by Time Out? No. Not Yet. But she will finally be on Spotlight in the new year and then she can get an agent so she can be taken seriously as an actor (don't get me started on that entire statement).
I put this in a blog because she's an incredible example of what actors should be doing. I see far too many actors floundering and/or waiting or being too scared of failure to be all in. Be all in. No excuses. You might just be brilliant.
I am not taking ownership of her "exceptional" performance, as I said above, she's jumped into other training over the last 18months but I do feel like Adam and I have had a decent amount of input into the tenacious and open actor she has been developing (and continues to develop).
Recently I've had a few students who have now started at some of the top Drama Schools in the UK/world get in touch to thank me for the training we provided them and how thrilled they are that Meisner is being taught where they now are. This makes my heart sing.
For as long as I've been training in and teaching this work it has felt quite underground. The majority of actors I met along the way (The North being more behind than London) either saying they'd never heard of it or they'd heard the name but didn't know what it was. But recently there's been a shift which is seriously exciting.
There could be many reasons for this but my reckoning is based on the rise of mental health awareness.
Everyone teaches this work differently, of course they do, because no one is Sanford Meisner apart from Sandy himself but there are some key principles that I'd like to believe go wherever the training is:
Until I discovered The Meisner Technique I believed the only way to be truthful as an actor was by experience, therefore I relied heavily on emotional recall - because that'd what I'd been taught, even from a very young age. But here's the thing, if you've not had the training and grounding to trust yourself and be safe in the knowledge of all those beautiful emotions you're full of, how could recalling the most traumatic event of your life (for example) for the good of your role be good for your mental health? My mum died in 2014. The last week, the last day, the last hour, the last breath was horrific, I had nightmares for months. Is it a good idea to replay that over and over again in order to bring sadness or rage or guilt or relief to my character? I don't think so.
The fact is, I am made up of hundreds of thousands of experiences and memories and they fill me. Someone could stroke my face how mum once did and that feeling would rush through my veins like lightning. Because it's always in me, it'll never go away. I don't need to go digging for it, it's all there, available to me, if I let it.
My priority when I'm training actors is for them to be safe. That's why I love using The Meisner Technique as the basis of my coaching because we're exploring what it feels like to trust ourselves implicitly, to know that emotions never stop moving. That in a single moment sadness can turn to laughter because as an actor you've put your attention away from yourself and you're responding to the person in front of you with all the ease and availability of a child.
The Meisner Technique teaches you how to work in the moment. Once you discover the power of the moment you'll discover what it really is to be free. Free of expectations. Free of your inner critic. Free of your fear of failure. Free of your fear of judgement. Because as quickly as the moment arises, it's gone and we're into another moment.
Discovering this technique can also have a profound affect on how you view yourself and the world around you. When I discovered it I was also training in Neuro Linguistic Programming, something I was doing purely because I'm fascinated by the human being. During that time I learnt about me, about how I learn, how I am programmed. The more I learnt about me, the more I learnt about other people. Meisner trains you to see deeper, to listen closer, which in turn, I believe, makes you a better human and therefore a better actor. Surely if you're an attentive and open actor you're going to be far more employable than someone whose ego or fear stops them from being present?
Statistics from Arts and Minds 2015 research show that one in five people in the arts sector actively sought help for their mental health. There's also evidence that people in this industry experience symptoms of anxiety ten times higher than the general population and depression five times higher. Actors are often expected to expose themselves emotionally, often with little regard for how it affects their mental health. Add this to the overwhelming lack of self worth thanks to the financial insecurity, often poor working conditions and crazy high expectations set by themselves, the critics and the media it's easy to understand why actors are so vulnerable.
Actors need the strongest of foundations to base their work on so they can live truthfully under their given set of circumstances safely in the rehearsal room, on stage or in front of the camera and then go home at the end of the day leaving work at work. Drama schools owe it to their students to give them the tools to do this. That is why I believe every actor should get a firm grasp of this training. Once they have it, they'll be set for life.
Money is tight. Headshots are important, an investment, your marketing material. Yet for some reason I see so many actors be unprepared when it comes to choosing photographers and attending their shoot. Here are a few thoughts from me on making every penny count.
Just a wee update for those who have entered the website and are new to us.
You may have gone to the Dates page to see we don't have any courses in the diary at the moment apart from our weekly classes in Leeds. There's a simple explanation for it...
I (Steph) had my second baby, Pip, in July (yay! Zzzz!) so I'm just figuring out life with two small people and how I can gradually build running my courses back into it. Pip and I have already co taught the Voice, Movement and Meisner Intensive together in Leeds in August so I know we can do it, I just need to make sure I can still be the acting coach I want to be whilst also being the mum I want to be. Ah life, it's a constant balancing act ay?
As for Adam, he's spent the last year designing the brand spanking new Musical Theatre course at Leeds College of Music which opens it's doors to the first ensemble of students in a matter of days. This has meant he has also had to divert his attention temporarily as this part of journey reaches its crescendo. He's worked his backside off forging relationships across the country and beyond, researching, innovating and pulling incredible people to Leeds so I know each of those students will be in the best of hands - good luck Mr Stadius, you are bloomin' brilliant.
Fear not, when (if) my 8week old baby sleeps I am behind the scenes making some very exciting plans for the next year, tweaking our current training programme and building some fabulous new courses based on the feedback we've collected over the last year including the return of Barbara Houseman, Scott Williams, Camera work, BSL combined Scene Study, Auditions, Monologues, voice, movement and sooooo much more. It's very important to Adam and I to never get complaisant with the training we offer so we are always being inspired by, and adjusting to, the ever changing needs of the industry and the modern day actor.
Please make sure to sign up to our mailing list and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram so you don't miss the new additions - we'd hate to miss the opportunity to work with you just because we're quieter than normal.
Stay in touch and let's start our journey together soon.
Side note: We're also on the hunt for a space to call home in Leeds City Centre so if you know of anywhere affordable we'd love to hear from you.
You can’t do a don’t – so you might as well just do.
On Tuesday I packed my bags and headed off for (the not so sunny) Leeds for a 4 day Vocal Intensive with the wonderful Barbara Houseman, completely unaware that I’d leave feeling like I’d found another part of me. It was so brilliant that I have to write about it.
Over 10 months ago, I embarked on my Both Feet journey which has been a blessing (and sometimes a curse) in itself. I’ve become more self – aware, and I’m starting to trust myself. Or that is what I thought, before these four days, but little did I know I’d been deceiving myself into thinking I was trusting myself whilst still allowing my not so nice, bit of a dick, inner critic to take the front seat. One thing I didn’t think I’d take from the week was realising how much I let my inner critic take over and to allow (that’s a word I’ll now use a lot) myself to be kinder. But it is by far the most valuable thing I learnt. I have always been so so cruel to myself, as I’m sure other people can relate. Everyday I’d be telling myself something so negative and horrible, and then wondering why I feel so shit all the time. Barbara had a way of talking to her own inner critic as well as everyone else’s that slowly started to give it less and less power as the week went on, and by the end of the week, I’d somewhat shifted my mindset of letting it take over. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still there, it’s just not sat in the front seat anymore – it’s just in the back having a gaze out the window.
We learnt the intricacies of our bodies and how every little thing is connected to your voice, from bad experiences to where you hold your head. On Tuesday, we started with the basics of how to breathe, which was a biggie for me as I tend to hold my breath for stupidly long periods. On Wednesday, we moved onto resonance and taking up space, which is something I’d never want to do in any situations so I’d hide behind my voice, or lack of. There’s something about hearing yourself speak so freely and clearly whilst everyone is listening to you. On Thursday we began looking at our texts and using different vocal exercises that we’d learnt to feel connected to them. And then Friday rolled around quicker than ever and we watched how much everyone had changed. I was (and still am) so full up with emotion by the time Friday was coming to an end with how much I’d learnt and allowed myself to know that it is okay to not care so much. It was such a pleasure sharing the room with such beautiful people and watching everyone on their own journey in discovering, you learn so much from other people and everyone was so so open.
All the while we had a very special guest in the room, little Pip. I am so amazed at the wonderful woman, Stephanie Morgan, who introduced us all to Barbara and made it all possible. There’s not a lot of people who can say they’ve given birth to a human in the space of 6 weeks and was still so present and invested in the process. I think everyone in the room can agree that Pip brought a sense of joy and freedom to the week as he is truly the pinnacle of not giving a single fuck. And I got to have a cuddle for a which was bloomin lovely (and I usually don’t like babies). There’s not a lot of teachers out there that I’ve met who trust the people they work with so much, and makes such a safe environment to learn and fuck up.
I wanted to write this post to remember how I felt yesterday on the journey home from Leeds. And how I still feel now the day after. And hopefully, how I can continue to feel for as long as I can. I never knew that when I started acting that this would be the journey I’d be going on, or the journey I didn’t know I needed to go on. Especially as someone who hasn’t yet done and might not do their 3 years training at drama school, there’s always this feeling of not being good enough or worthy enough to be in this industry. But when it comes down to it, we’re all as fucked up and clueless as eachother – some are just better at admitting that than others. This training, and my training with both feet is definitely shaping me into the actor (and the person) that I want to be.
Loving yourself isn’t easy. As Barbara had said, just start by being kinder to yourself. The rest won’t be far behind.
Pinched (with permission) from Rhia's personal website.
What a phenomenal week it has been - not many pics as I've had a baby on me a *lot* plus I was far too busy soaking up all the learnings but grateful I got a few :-)
Thank you Barbara Houseman for being such a generous, knowledgeable, practical, funny, inspirational lady - I'll hedge my bets and say I reckon every actor will have left today full of gratitude for what you've gifted them this week sprinkled with deep sadness that they won't be in your company tomorrow.
Actors - thank you for being ready and open and willing to dive into the unknown whilst supporting each other in the process. What beautiful work you all did.
Remember, look back on your notes. Choose the exercises which worked for you and find a routine.
Be kind to yourselves. It's not selfish, it's self compassion. You deserve it.
You can't Do a Don't. So... you might as well just Do. Receive your breath, don't take it.
**Don't be afraid to take up space. You are a gift.**
See you all soon we hope, at the next one?
Steph (& Pip) x
Ps thanks so much for welcoming Pip into the space with such openness. What a lucky little boy :-)
Wow, what an incredible week: Voice and movement classes intertwined with our Meisner teaching.
Two groups of actors discovering and exploring what it is to be present, physically,vocally & mentally. Newbies learning from regulars and regulars learning from newbies.
Thank you for such generosity and openness to our process, to each other and for the ever changing dynamic a 5 week old baby brings to the space.
Thank you Patricia and Bella for your inspirational teaching. We have loved working with you.
You are who you are, you have what you have, right *now*.
Be kind to yourself.
Now, go and find an ice cream, a cold beer or a [insert cold item of your choice] you deserve it!!!
Steph & Adam x
When I run Tech Gyms I tend to start the day with "what do you need?". I'd rather mold a day around the needs of my students at that moment in time rather than predeciding how it's going to go. This course ended up being about split attention and honing different given circumstances including specific directorial notes and character traits and impediments. A LOT of fun continuing to explore simplicity even when we think it's more complicated than it needs to be. An *actors* job (in my opinion) is *not* to show/convey/explain to an audience, it's to live truthfully under those given circumstances and the audience will follow. For now, that's my last Tech Gym for a while, oh how I'll miss it and these beautiful actors. Don't worry folks, me and baby will be back as soon as we can ;-) Steph x
End of two days with this small yet perfectly formed group of actors at different stages of their journey with us, all who have pushed some boundaries, jumped into the unknown, flexed new and old muscles and worked with new texts in a slightly different way. Thanks you fab lot for being open to discovering. Please continue to trust yourselves, learn the rules to break the rules, and jump in irrespective of how silly you feel inside, the commitment to the unknown will feel soooo much better than the feeling of regret. Steph x
Wonderful 2 days working on 4 great scripts with 8 delicious actors continuing their journey with us. So much beautiful work from first reads and text analysis through to free-writing, exploring given circumstances and taking direction. As always, simplicity is key. But to be simple we need to learn to trust ourselves fully. Which is an ongoing journey :-)