- musings from mum of two, Nicki Davy
The day that I told my head of Sixth Form that I was planning to go to Manchester University to do Theatre Studies (having loved it at both GCSE and A-Level), he smiled, shook his head, and said:
‘Oh Nicki, you’re better than that! You’re so academic! In your future, I see you in a nice suit sitting behind a big desk!’
The very image makes me shudder.
To be clear, the direction I took following this conversation certainly wasn’t my teacher’s fault – quite clearly, I just wasn’t confident enough to do what I really wanted to at that time – but this is still the moment that I come back to when I think about ditching my performing dreams in favour of ‘academic talent’.
In the 16 years that have passed since then, I’ve kept myself pretty busy. I studied for a very academic Philosophy degree (scraping a thoroughly undeserved 2.1 and hating every minute of it), worked in a variety of bland admin jobs, trained as a teacher, decided not to be a teacher, did an MA in Theatre (a fantastic year that offered a brief glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, before I got pulled back into teaching for the last time), got married, had 2 children, volunteered for some local Arts organisations, worked as a children’s performer, questioned my life’s purpose and my role in the world…
It was at this point that I reconnected with the wonderful Steph Morgan. We hadn’t seen each other since we worked on a project for WYTN some years previously, but when she popped up on my Facebook feed something prompted me to get in touch.
In July, I began training with Both Feet in both Manchester and Leeds – and it’s no exaggeration to say that it has changed my life.
Before I’d even finished the Introduction weekend, I had quit my job as a full-time children’s entertainer. By the time I’d finished the Core, I had booked a headshot shoot and begun applying for auditions.
The only way I can describe it is that I felt myself come alive.
I also began the daunting task of telling my nearest and dearest that I was giving up a full-time (albeit minimum wage) job in favour of pursuing my acting dreams. Predictably, responses ranged from ‘that’s nice, dear’ (what I like to refer to as the ‘pat-on-the-head’ response) to ‘what will you do for money?’ to ‘oh my god, this is perfect for you!’ with very little in-between. Thankfully, I’m learning more and more that other people’s opinions, whilst important, don’t matter as much as your own gut.
Now, all that remains is keep training and hope to find my way into the industry.
Piece of cake.
First thing’s first; I am taking every training opportunity that comes my way, whether that be with Both Feet or other local companies. Though scheduling is sometimes tricky with a hard-working husband and 2 small children to think about, thankfully I married an amazing man who supports me all the way.
Alongside training, I’m making a small amount of money as a freelance teacher, mumming with my two girls and, of course, spending an inordinate amount of time chatting with my inner critic – who likes to beat me round the head at any given opportunity with helpful phrases such as:
I could go on, but we might be here for some time…
So it was that, at a night out at the theatre last week (Red Ladder’s wonderful Mother Courage) I confessed to Steph that, as I was watching, I was struggling with my inner critic, who was in full ‘you’ll never be good enough’ mode.
Her response: ‘Everybody has that voice; you can either let it sink you or drive you.’
Thankfully, as it stands I’m choosing to let it drive me.
I still battle, of course. After all, my inner critic also likes to remind me that I have no formal actor training, no drama school qualification to bulk out my CV, no contacts with local companies and I’m horribly awkward at networking.
Instead, I come to the industry aged 34, my cap firmly in hand, armed with nothing but my enthusiasm, my dedication, my passion for performance and a burning fire in the pit of my stomach that tells me I have to do this.
The wonderful thing working with Steph and Adam is that I’m learning to accept my inner critic and overcome it. It’s all part of my progression. Every time I get up and do an exercise, I learn a little more. I’m not trying to be anything I’m not; I’m discovering new things about myself, working within my own reality and learning to trust in myself. It’s liberating, it’s exciting, and it’s very real.
All I can really say is a massive thank you to Steph (and Adam) for accepting me onto their training programme. When I started out, just a couple of months ago, I thought that this ‘might’ be the road that I was meant to take – now I’m absolutely certain, and I feel I’m building the right groundwork to help me progress professionally when opportunities – hopefully – present themselves.
Thanks for writing this blog for us Nicki. I'd imagine there are many other people out there, similar to you. Without sounding patronising, it takes real courage to make that jump, and most won't so make sure you tell your inner critic that. Adam and I love having you in class and I feel extraordinarily lucky to have watched you grow over the last few months. Watch out industry, Nicki is on a mission!
This is a wee blog from the totally stunning Alyce Liburd. She is a dream to work with and an incredible energy to have in any room. I would recommend her a thousand times over to any director and casting director. Not only is she a gorgeous actor, she's also a dancer, singer and a makeup artist. Thanks for taking the time to write this Alyce. Steph x
The day before and the day of my first day training with Both Feet I was beyond nervous. Like proper nervous!!!
What was I getting myself into?
What if everyone thinks I’m terrible? (I definitely used another word)
Do I even belong in a place like this?
Who am I to call myself an ‘Actor’? (I mean I have a headshot and professional credits so that counts right?)
And then all my worries and self deprecating thoughts kinda disappeared, if not just temporarily!
Throughout the first part of my training it was as if I’d finally found my ‘thing’. I haven’t been to drama school, to cut a long story short - I got in but just couldn’t afford to go which for awhile was harder than I imagine getting an actual no. This then meant I spent a lot of time wondering what type of training was out there and what would help me progress as an actor - Both Feet was everything I wanted and more.
I’d never felt as free before, to just ‘do’ and not expect an outcome or have any specific expectations.
Having had all kinds of exercises with emotions flying all over the place (one fiery and anger fueled exercise in particular sticks to mind) the thing I find the most cathartic is having the ability to sit back down to watch other fantastic actors work and not still ‘feel’ after, what I felt in those moments. I could leave it all behind in the work.
Another moment whilst training was in a technical gym class; I had another life altering/craft changing experience where I knew I was completely all in.
I shared such an emotional rollercoaster of an exercise with another actor; we had a given set of circumstances before entering the exercise, we knew who we were to each other and the situation we were in. In the middle of the exercise I had a revelation, just looking seeing him in that moment and reacting to what I saw and my impulses, it changed everything. You probably had the be there...
Another great exercise I had (the last one I’ll speak of.. promise) was during scene work with a wonderful Italian actress. Adam threw us a fantastic curve ball and asked her to speak all her lines in Italian. Can I speak Italian or understand it I hear you ask? NOPE!!
But by me knowing the context of our scene, having already ‘broken the back’ of it a couple of times and just responding to her - it was as if nothing had changed. CRAZY!!! I loved the curve ball (thanks Adam!).
I can also say that I have seen some of the most beautiful and stunning pieces of work whilst watching from the sidelines and feel that’s where I have done a hell of a lot of learning, as an outside eye.
I also don’t feel I would’ve had the opportunity to begin and continue this training had Steph not been so accommodating and BEYOND helpful to my financial situation.
It’s always something that has put me off training courses as it can be expensive and a lot of money to give away particularly when you’re unsure about a course to begin with. The pennies you have, you want to make sure it’s going to benefit you in every way possible.
I’d throw my money to any course Both Feet provided, as I know that I’d be letting myself in for a whole new discovery - every time.
In and amongst all the great things I have to say about Both Feet (and there is A LOT believe me) I have to say that I am proud of myself, what I have managed to achieve whilst training with them; but also taking the training with me to jobs and feeling confident. Which has been a mega step for me!!
And speaking of jobs, I am currently working at the Leeds Playhouse on ‘Airplays’ which was due to Steph recommending me to the director. I was and still am hugely grateful to Steph for putting her neck out for me as I believe recommendations are a big thing to live up to! And also the fact that Both Feet can potentially be a place for you to get work opportunities from is amazing.
I could describe my experience within an inch of my being but for you to really appreciate and experience the Meisner Technique with Both Feet, you have to be in it.
I’m so excited for what else training with Both Feet will unlock and if you have the opportunity to do so, don’t hesitate!!
~ Alyce x
Ps. I also promise to try and not ruin any more of Steph’s pictures... oops!! #seriousactor
AIRPLAYS is a BBC Radio Leeds and Leeds Playhouse co-production in association with Leeds College of Music.
Directed by Kash Arshad.
23-27th October 2018.
Buy tickets here
Recently, our teaching practice was questioned (via social media, the standard way to challenge people these days) over a photo which, to this individual didn’t look like “traditional Meisner”. It was a strange instance because I find it very hard to look at a photo and gain the exact context of when it was taken, what was happening, what stage of training it was etc. If you were to think of rehearsal photos in a theatrical programme, what may look like an actor deep in thought about their craft, or deep in thought within a scene may in fact have just been a great candid photo of an actor choosing between Pret or Nando’s for lunch. Without context, we’ll never know! In any case, the apparent misunderstanding was cleared up and on we all went with our lives, happily until I had the idea to write this blog, not based on challenging the person who questioned the photo, that’s irrelevant, more on the idea of “traditional Meisner”.
Nobody teaches The Meisner Technique
Whenever I teach this work, I make a very keen effort to stress that we do not teach “The Meisner Technique”, in fact, our website sub heading is ‘Meisner BASED training for professional actors’. To go further than that, I would suggest that only one person ever taught the Meisner Technique and that was Sanford Meisner himself. Those practicing today teach their interpretation of the work, probably based on how it was taught to them plus a refined process of their own experiences whilst teaching the work, wider reading and research. I have my own ways of explaining concepts, my own examples of exercises and acting/life circumstances. Whilst the sequence of exercises, the bricks we add in building up actors brick-by-brick to become truthful and authentic humans/actors is incredibly faithful to Meisner’s work, my teaching is my teaching, and that’s really how it should be. To call oneself a “purist” is a little tricky in that, if you were trained by Meisner himself and you’re a purist, that’s great, but are you regurgitating his words without really getting to grips with or grasping the concepts and the ideas of it? Or even further, if you are a purist to a teacher who isn’t Meisner himself, are you being pure to Meisner’s technique, or the technique taught to you by your own teacher, who in turn probably had their own interpretation of the work.
I believe that knowledge passed down through generations should not only be enriched by experience but also the current day needs of the actor, and what’s going on in the world today. For instance, there has been a ton more research in to the way in which the human brain and body respond to situations and trauma, the functions of various parts of the brain and so on. Knowledge and research which Meisner wouldn’t have had access to at the time. I’d be careless not to now include that in the work as I can give my students a different level of understanding. Thus enriching the work, rather than diluting it.
At Both Feet, our training stays faithful to the core principles of the technique. We feel we have a responsibility to the work, but also to actors coming to us to train in The Meisner Technique. We have a common teaching influence between all of us in Scott Williams. Scott trained with Meisner himself and successfully teaches the work in the UK and abroad with the Impulse Company. What makes Scott an exceptional teacher of the work is that he has taken what he learnt from Meisner and refined/synthesised the work in to a crystal clear, no nonsense form which is exactly what most actors need in today’s industry. He doesn’t simply regurgitate Meisner’s work verbatim, he is his own teacher. Our work is primarily influenced by Scott however, we all have a series of other influences to draw upon between us including working with Moment to Moment Acting, The William Esper Studio and The Neighbourhood Playhouse. Therefore to say we teach purely “Meisner’s way” is a falsehood, we have a load of influences, never mind our own journeys in teaching the work which shape how we do things today. I feel no shame in saying I was not trained by Meisner himself, in fact, I’m blessed to have such a wide pool of influences to draw upon so that, when a student has a problem one language can’t fix, I have something else in back up. Not only that, but I have training in other ways of working, beyond the Meisner Technique, which can become useful if a student is struggling. The wider your toolbox as a teacher, the more tools you can give your students.
Speaking of a widening toolbox, we are huge fans of collaboration. In the last year we have been working on integrating the practices of The Meisner Technique with Fitzmaurice Voicework, in collaboration with Fitz teacher Matthew Dudley and the results have been phenomenal. There are a load of other practices out there in the world with which I want to experience and attempt to twin up with this work. Meisner didn’t own the market on good and truthful acting, there are other ways, and I’m excited about all the things we can explore alongside our practice. Other things which can enrich and push the boundaries further, ‘to boldly go where no one has gone before’ to borrow a phrase. Whilst this might scare traditionalists, I am nothing but excited at the potential.
Meisner spent 55 years at the Neighbourhood Playhouse refining his work, in that time I’m sure he tried new exercises, failed a ton, tweaked, played, tinkered with all aspects of his work. If I am still regurgitating the teaching I am doing now in 55 years, I dread to think how bored I will be of myself saying the same words, our aim at Both Feet is to drive the work forward and that is what we are trying to do, consistently. It’s the search for perfection, that keeps the artist chasing, and we are as much artists as the actors we teach.
1+1 = 3
One of my teachers at drama school, Paul Barker, taught me an extremely valuable lesson on my fist day. 1+1 = 3. What he meant by that was that when you combine 2 elements, you can create something which has value greater than the sum of it’s parts. Music plus lyrics becomes a song, song plus story becomes a musical etc. I like to remind myself of this when I am teaching and looking for inspiration. I’m very confident that, in searching for something, I will make mistakes or an exercise won’t quite work. But it’s worth it for the moment something really clicks. I’m very fortunate that our students at Both Feet trust our teaching enough to try something fully, without fear. They are wonderful, open actors and human beings (hey industry, you should hire them and keep hiring them, they’re wonderful).
By Adam Stadius
About 8 months ago we decided to start a Both Feet blog, it's been a while in the making but it's finally here. Over the coming months we’ll have top tips, musings and discussions coming from us (me, Adam and Laura) and casting directors, theatre and film directors, agents, writers, photographers, actors and whoever else we can pull in. If you're in the industry or figuring out if there is a place for you, we'd also love to hear from you. If you have a blog relevant to our industry burning inside you, we'd love to read it, and if it feels right, we'll get it up. Perhaps it's a struggle you've faced or something positive that's happened that you want to share or a question you'd like to pose. If you’d like to get involved, we’d love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org
One thing at the forefront of our classes is “cutting through the bullsh*t”. In class we tend to be referring to acting and this concept of “performing” and the forcing of emotions. Actors trying to be interesting. But it resonates through everything for me. I really struggle being in places where everyone is putting on a show or working a room (you know what I’m talking about). I’d rather just cut through that bullsh*t and have a real and honest conversation with someone. Anyone who’s ever been to an “event” with me knows what I’m like. My mum used to say “but you’re an actor Stephanie, you should be better at this” when referring to my attempts at lying or my struggling in bizarre fake situations, so I know I’ve always been the same. I believe if we could just be honest with each other we’d have more energy, more time, people’s mental health would be better and we’d generally just be happier human beans.
SO the aim is to keep these blogs honest. Which may work against us, because people can tend to not like honesty, I don’t know (oop a song just started in my head, see below). We’ll see how we go. Hopefully some interesting conversations will start up. That would be ace.