I’d come across Barbara Houseman’s work before in my acting training, so when a dear friend and voice teacher nudged me about a scholarship for Steph’s vocal retreat with Barbara, of course I applied - but didn’t actually think I had a chance of getting it. That was probably one of the signs that a post-pandemic reset was just what I needed.
On the train down to Wales, I wondered if I’d made the right decision - could I take a break that long from work, blah blah blah. But it ended up being one of the best things I’ve done all year.
We spent seven days working in Steph’s beautiful studio, surrounded by stone walls, wooden panelling, and floor-to-ceiling windows and skylights which filled the space with sunlight, and a view of the Autumn trees on the opposite hillside, which I watched change colour throughout the week.
I loved Barbara’s holistic approach to voice work, which saw us working on just about everything, starting with movement, then voice and finally, text.
We talk a lot about creating safe spaces in acting, but this truly felt like the safest learning environment I’d ever been in. That’s probably down to the thought and skill Steph put in to organising the course - from building the most beautiful studio I’ve ever worked in, to designing an environment for some pretty luxurious communal living, giving us spaces to gather in the evenings, as well as privacy, in rooms with curtained-off bunk-beds.
Most important of all was the wonderful and supportive group of people Steph had gathered and who I felt very lucky to get to know - Steph herself, Barbara of course, and six other actors with their different backgrounds, and training, and skills.
It took only a short time of working and living together for us to bond to the point where we felt comfortable being open and trying things out in front of each other, without any fear of judgement, or pressure to perform.
In the evenings we cooked together and discussed the day. Or went for a hike as the sun set, or built a bonfire and toasted marshmallows. One morning we went wild swimming. We laughed a lot together, and we cried. We also sang a lot of show tunes.
Part of what I love about acting is that you’re always learning. I didn’t go to a full-time drama school, so over the years I’ve sought training in different places. In my experience, the best learning I’ve had isn’t the kind that feels neatly tied up at the end, where you’ve ticked a box on a skill or a module, but rather the kind that opens new doors, and makes you aware of new paths you’d like to explore.
‘Retreat’, to me, suggests some kind of emotional or physical withdrawal, except that this felt like a week of exactly the opposite. Bonding and connecting so quickly with new people requires a kind of emotional energy, openness, and presentness I feel hadn’t been asked of me since pre-pandemic. And physically, we were moving constantly, which was exactly what I need as a reset from the last year.
I don’t know that ‘retreat’ encapsulates everything that the week was: too active to feel like a rest, too much work to feel like a holiday, too much fun to feel like work, too much learning to just be hanging out with friends.
On the last day we talked about what we’d learned. Everyone had some combination of things that are easy to measure - new voice exercises, tools for tackling text, a deeper understanding of your own voice. And then there were less tangible things - confidence, freedom, ease, peace. In short, it was a lot more than what you might expect to get from just 7 days.
A part of me worried that it was the environment Steph had created which supported those less tangible things. So I was happy to find that when I got home, that enthusiasm, energy, and sense of peace I’d found, had come home with me.
Thank you so much to Barbara and Steph for the scholarship and a week of training that has opened so many doors. I can’t wait to come back.
By Alexandra Boulton
See her Spotlight
In 2019, a year after taking the plunge into the world of professional acting, I had the pleasure of doing Both Feet's 4-day voice course with Barbara Houseman in Leeds. Having never been to drama school, I was totally new to the world of ‘voicework’. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I already talk – a lot. Why would I need to pay someone to teach me to use my voice?
I’m not one to easily admit that I’m wrong, but I hold my hands up to this one. I came away from that week with a wealth of knowledge about my voice – not just the way I speak, but the way I speak to myself. Barbara’s holistic approach to voice work struck a chord with me instantly, and I found myself tapping into parts of myself that I didn’t even know existed. More importantly, I began to listen to them with kindness. It never even occurred to me that my inner voice would have an impact on my outer voice – but of course it would. It’s all connected.
Of course, then 2 years pass and things get busy and the Tories get in again and we have an international pandemic and the world grinds to a halt and all of that wonderful insight, growth and knowledge fades through despondence and lack of use.
So, when I saw that Steph was collaborating with Bodlondeb Studio and Retreat on a training retreat with Barbara this year, I was one of the first people to book on. I’d already been to Bodlondeb Studio and Retreat for the brilliant Acting and Action Adventure actor training course in August – in an attempt to hit the reset button after ‘the year that never was’ – and I couldn’t think of anything better than spending some more time in the wonderful Welsh countryside with these wonderful women. My only slight concern was that I might end up repeating material from the 2019 course – was there a possibility that I could feel short changed?
Firstly, returning to Bodlondeb was always going to be special in itself. I may have only been there twice but it already holds a very special place in my heart and gut. The space is warm, welcoming and full of light – it pours into the studio whatever the weather. The sight of the rolling Welsh hills during the daytime is as beautiful as the stars that literally cover the sky during the night.
The curtains round the individual beds in the bedrooms provide a level of privacy and space – which several people made use of as they needed it – while the sitting room provides a gorgeously snug space to get to know each other. I really enjoy communal living, and one of my favourite things about staying at the retreat is the chance to eat round a table with a group of adults every night (a treat I’m sure any parent will identify with…).
Then, as the training started, any doubts that I might have had about repeating material were put to bed straight away.
Over the week, the 7 of us (plus Barbara and Steph, who was student-ing this week along with us) lived together, worked together, played together.
Inside the studio, we did tai chi, danced 5 rhythms, breathed, praised each other’s backs (don’t knock it til you’ve tried it), acknowledged our inner critics, explored our vagal responses, played with resonance and range, brrr-ed and walked our way through texts and watched each other work.
Outside the studio, we toasted marshmallows, ate chocolate and drank wine with one of the world’s leading voice coaches. We listened to her incredible, hilarious stories about her experience in this crazy industry that we all love so much, and we laughed along with her. We built fire on a hillside and sang together in harmony, swam in a lake and warmed each other up, climbed a literal mountain together and watched the sun go down, rafted down white water rapids and worked as a team.
We laughed until we couldn’t stand up straight, cried until the floodgates opened, danced into our rage, our joy, our compassion. We sang Queen and Hamilton round the piano, skipped over a skipping rope, bathed in sound, released, opened, connected and held each other (literally and metaphorically).
Ultimately, we watched each other change.
Did we repeat some of the same exercises from the 2019 course? Yep.
Did I care? Nope. Not for one second.
While I’m sure that we have all come away with technical skills and a deeper knowledge of vocal technique, when Barbara asked us on the last day what our learnings were, we were all saying the same things: trust, acceptance, allowing, grounding. All of which seem like a pretty solid base upon which to build our craft.
My husband said to me last night, ‘you seem very alive since coming home’. He’s not wrong. And, most excitingly, I feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface. The phrase ‘life-changing’ gets bandied around a lot, but it doesn’t feel like an exaggeration in this case.
Huge, huge thanks to both Barbara and Steph for welcoming our whole selves into the space every day with such openness and compassion.
I already can’t wait to go back.
Nicki Davy is an actor, musician and writer. She attended the Voice Retreat with Barbara Houseman in November 2021.
Find Nicki on Spotlight
If you haven’t been able to join us at a Both Feet training retreat in Wales in 2021, keep your eyes peeled for updates on our calendar and sign up to our mailing list to be the first to know about our upcoming actor training!
There’s nothing quite like stepping into the training room with Both Feet for the very first time, completely unaware of what’s to come and a little bit terrified at the same time. Ironically, that’s just life, isn’t it? After years of hard-work, a lot of tears and discovering who I actually am, I received the email that I’ve wanted for so long offering me a place at drama school. I’d wanted it since being that little eight-teen year old that jumped on a train to Sheffield after a google search of ‘Meisner, Manchester’ in the hopes of keeping up acting classes after leaving sixth form. Out of the sea of links and websites, I was drawn to Both Feet. Either good marketing or just trusting my gut, whatever it was, it was the best decision I could’ve made. I laugh now because I just had no idea of the journey that was in front of me and the friendships and connections that I would form throughout the next few years. And if I could sum it up, I would. But there’s actually not a way to do that. All I know right now, is that Both Feet has made me a better human before anything else. The acting is just a bonus.
It’s taken me ages to think of a way to reflect on my journey to this point now, how can I summarise almost four years with Both Feet without turning it into a novel? Something that changed for me, and is a huge reason why I feel like I got into drama school this year, is that I took ownership of my journey and who I was. That included those years of rejection that I’d put so much shame on. Fuck that. So, let me talk you through all those years of ‘rejections’.
2018. I’d left college with my A-Levels and I’d began working a full time job to appease my parents and I honestly had no idea what I was doing. After searching on google for ‘acting classes in Manchester’ ‘Meisner Manchester’, Both Feet appeared and I signed myself up. I walked into the room at 18, no idea what Meisner actually was, and was met by Steph. A smiley, bold and lovely woman who told me all about her morning poo within five minutes of meeting her. Sitting around with a handful of other actors of all ages and personalities, I felt like such an imposter. I’d been rejected from drama school and I had no professional credits to my name. When I was told to sit opposite another actor, my mind went into overdrive telling me how to get it right, how to beat the game, how to be the best. And Steph soon stopped me and told me not to bullshit and fuck being polite. At 18, I can’t tell you how terrifying that was. I turned up everyday scared shitless, but each time I got up, sometimes I’d have a breakthrough and sometimes I wanted to throw a chair through the window. I kept wanting to get to ‘the acting’ because I now realise I just wanted to hide. But slowly, and I mean slowly, I let my guard down. After the intensive week, I was hooked on Steph’s nurturing style and began to work with more ease rather than fighting it.
2019. I attended almost every both feet class and course I could. From tech gyms to audition workshops to movement and voice training, I really threw myself in. I completely and utterly trusted Steph. Because I saw how other actors in the room connected to others, how easily they found truth by just being themselves and cutting the bullshit. I discovered new techniques like Laban and had the most transformative week with Barbara Houseman in Leeds where I found my love for mindfulness. I was even writing my own work and being supported by actors from Both Feet in producing this and developing it further. All the while, I was working a full-time job that I hated whilst being involved with youth theatre productions so that I was fully immersed in acting and performance. The only thing I wasn’t working hard on, was my own well-being and making space for me. But we’ll come to that in a bit. With only two full days off a week and filling my days to the brim, it doesn’t come to much surprise that I was rejected from drama school auditions again.
2020. The year my life changed. We all know what happened this year. And in a way I’m grateful for it. Because I was forced to stop, and as you could read from 2019, I was not giving myself any space to breathe at all. Steph started creating classes and courses that we could do on Zoom so I got involved with as much as I could at the time. If you haven’t noticed already, Steph will go above and beyond to innovate and make valuable courses for the community of Both Feet. I was involved in a digital scene study where she invited a casting agent to give feedback and aid our professional development as well as free-writing sessions and more. But I owe such a big BIG thank you and it changed my life to Steph’s New Pathways course. I was at a low point, a really low point. I was depressed, I didn’t know who I was or what I enjoyed anymore, but the one good thing about hitting rock bottom, the only way to go was forward. With a group of beautifully open and down-right amazing humans, I embarked on changing my thoughts and inturn, changing my life. I owe so much to those 12 weeks and more, because for the first time ever, I wasn’t just thinking about how to get into drama school, I was truly focused on myself. I got far with auditions but not quite close enough, so I took Steph’s recommendation to check out a course called Year Out Drama which I successfully got into. My new found freedom and confidence, combined with moving to a new city for the first time ever was a successful ending. I went into the course with courage and being open to whatever was thrown my way, working 10-5 and sometimes 10-9 five to six days a week. I absolutely loved it. For the first time in a very long time, I was solely focused on performing and myself, and not on drama school auditions.
2021. Although this isn’t a year of rejection, it’s brings us to now. It’s the first year that I haven’t been directly involved with Both Feet for a very long time. And now that I think of it, it’s almost like the Nanny McPhee effect. When you don’t want it, it’s there for you but when you think you need it, it isn’t. And when it isn’t directly there, you naturally put into practice everything it ever taught you. I went into those drama school auditions cutting every bit of bullshit I could and I was the most prepared I have ever been. And I had the most success, final recalls almost everywhere I applied and an offer. I hope you can see that from 2018 to now, those rejections that I got were not failures. Because I was not ready, I wouldn’t have been able to fully take what I need from a three year course because other shit needed to happen first. And it made me who I am right now, warts and all.
So, in a couple months time, I start my three year training and I am so unbelievably excited for it, but terrified. But I know deep down that no matter what, I am ready, because of my training and my experiences with Both Feet as well as a hell of a lot of life experience. And just like Steph always says, we are all a work in progress. So, to every single person who’s supported me a long the way, the Both Feet community, my wonderful 8 humans, Steph - thank you for believing in me every step of the way. And for sharing this beautiful journey with me. I know I’ll always have a home to come back to.
Yes! You heard that statement Both Feet changed my acting but, most importantly, myself and my attitude towards everything. But before I start raving on about Both Feet and how thankful I was for my scholarship, let me take you through my journey.
2018...I was leaving LIPA Sixth form. I had just had my first round of Drama School auditions. In all honesty, it wasn't a bad first try at 18. I got two recalls, three foundations courses offer. The only slight problem, I couldn't afford them. That was a hard pill to swallow. I left LIPA with no clue where my next place would be and was ready to go back to my bar work.
Then one night, while flicking through Facebook, I found Steph's post about a scholarship for a year's worth of Meisner training with Both Feet. I applied, not expecting anything. But to my absolute surprise and pleasure, I got the scholarship. I screamed on the bus when the email came through. I was super, super excited to start and booked onto the intro course. I was on my train to Manchester when it hit me (maybe a bit late). WHAT THE F*CK IS MEISNER.
I walked into my first class at 18 years old and super nervous. This curly-haired lady greeted me with the biggest and warmest smile, Steph. We all settled into class, and then we were invited to sit in these two chairs opposite each other and state what we see in the other actor. I rolled my eyes, thinking, what has this got to do with acting! Telling someone what they look like what is that going to achieve?! Then it was my turn to sit in the chair. I swaggered up, thinking, "I got this". I was looking at this person, and my mind went blank. Then the voice in my head started panicking, "DO SOMETHING". So I started "acting". Steph stopped the exercise then said, "Cut the bullshit". I was stunned, but she was right. I didn't have to do anything apart from just be, which for us actors is a terrifying thing.
I continued the intro weekend, and I am not going to lie, it was hard! Then something shifted in the group. On the second day, a pair of actors in front of my eyes were falling in love. It looked effortless. They finished the exercise then said they just felt so connected. In my head, something clicked. I wanted to do that. To be in the scene so connected with another human and to work with ease, not effort.
After that, I did every class I could do. I was hooked. It was a challenging year I felt constantly pushed. Sometimes I got it, and things just made so much sense. Other days I was ready to walk out but what made me want to stay was because when I acted in Both Feet class, the work that I saw and created was the best work I had ever done in my life. To work with ease and truth. I even went back and did the intro course three times! Because there is always something new to learn.
Before I knew it, the dreaded drama school auditions came back, but instead of going into the room trying to guess what they wanted, through my training with Steph, I went and was me. For the first time, I was comfortable just being me. Because guess what, that is more than enough. And if you wouldn't believe it, I got into Drama School!
I have been training with Steph for over three years now, and I still go back whenever I can. Because of the magical atmosphere in that room, the groundedness it gave me. Because of the actor it made me but most importantly, the person. But also, Steph continuously checks in and says her famous quote, "What do you need?", to the lovely little community that Both Feet has. So when we all said we didn't like our headshots, BAM Steph organised a headshot day with Shift Focus. And guess what, it was the most pleasurable experience but most importantly the best headshots because Steph made us bring us to the headshots just like our training. Our work with Steph is always transferable. That's why when she announced her creation of Bodlondeb Studio, the collision of outdoor actives and Meisner, we all jumped to the opportunity. Because the most crucial thing, especially after this weird year of zoom, is reconnecting to our bodies as actors because that's our instrument. So why not have a Meisner class where we have to jump into work then feel the sensation of actually jumping off a cliff in the afternoon! Because I can put money on it, it will make every actor who takes part in that course more connected with their bodies and themselves plus their work.
I am about to head into my third and final year of Drama School training, which terrifies me. But I know I will be okay because of my training with Both Feet to find calmness in my acting work and personal life. Finally, proof what Steph does work. In my most recent scene study at school, I got this comment from the director, which makes me think of Steph and her training "Emily is always ready and open, and easy to work with. She is always ready to jump in with both feet."
So to Steph, Adam, every single amazing visiting tutor and actor I got to meet during my training. THANK YOU! Plus to all the people I am yet to meet through this amazing community of Both Feet and Bodlondeb Studios. See ya soon
While we're here...
It would be daft not to share Emily's awesome business venture whilst we're here:
Your Little Theatre
A small business focused on bringing a little theatrical magic and new experiences directly into the homes of professional thespians, art-lovers and amateurs alike!
We are based in Yorkshire, and part of our mission is to bring our customers into contact with new play texts, without increasing their carbon footprint, and while also uplifting other small businesses to create the perfect ‘ensemble’ of sustainable, enriching, and above all, enjoyable products.
Our product ranges are all diverse and affordable, perfect for creativity on a budget. Whether you’re a student simply trying to survive a round of Drama School auditions, or just seeking that perfect gift for the thespian in your life, Your Little Theatre has got you covered.
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.
We have many different actors come through our (Both Feet's) doors. Some who have been in the business for years, some who have just finished drama school and are wanting to continue their training, some who are gaining experience before applying to drama school, some who have been trying to live a life without acting/theatre and can no longer suppress the burning fire inside of them and have decided sod it, life is too short. Nicki Davy falls into the latter category (you can read her previous blog here).
Nicki contacted me in July 2018 asking if she would be eligible to train with us. My question was... do you fit into our criteria of professional actor or seriously working towards an acting career? She said she thought so but she was terrified and could she try it, just to see. At this point, I have to listen to my gut - our class sizes are small and so I need to make sure that each person in our space is a good fit which means not everyone is invited to train with us. I trusted my gut told her to get signed up.
By the time she had completed the initial 2 day Intro to Meisner in August she had quit her full time job and signed up to the next part of the training. By the time she had finished The Core 6 day course in September she had booked a hair appointment to help with her "castability", booked headshots, gotten her CV together and started to look for opportunities. She has attended every class we've ran since then including intensives and weekly classes, she's also completed a month of Scene Study with the lubbly Daniel Bradford over at Play with Fire, Manchester, gotten Christmas acting work, gone to several auditions, and been cast in several roles and done a couple of ADP Scripts Aloud nights (and probably much more!). Some "actors" don't to that amount in 2 years let alone a few months. She is a sponge when it comes to learning/honing her craft and it's awesome.
I've spoken with Nicki a lot throughout and about her journey so far, in particular the plight with Spotlight. So I asked (seen as she's so wonderful at writing!) if she'd do a blog about it. Perhaps you've been/are in the same boat? Perhaps you've got a solution/an idea? Perhaps you'd like to take a punt on her? Perhaps you are Spotlight and would like to change your mind? We'd love to hear from you.
Everyone has to start somewhere. Give a determined, hardworking, talented lady a break, eh?
When I quit my full-time job to pursue a career in acting, I knew that it would be hard in lots of different ways. After all, even if an actor is lucky enough to get to auditions, there may just be someone more suitable, more qualified or better prepared that you are up against on that day. This is the business and I’ve learnt pretty quickly that a rejection for a role is not as simple as a rejection; it’s just part of the game. What would be the point in wasting energy fretting about it?
Having said that, what I wasn’t prepared for was rejection before I’ve even got started. Rejection before I even get into the room. A Whole New World of rejection, if you’ll allow me a spurious Disney reference.
As anyone in a similar position will know, this type of rejection is not a lot of fun.
Over the last 4 months, I have applied twice for a Spotlight account and received the same ‘Unsuccessful Application’ email both times.
Quite frankly, I don’t blame them at all for turning me down the first-time round; I would have laughed in my own face had I been sent my own application. But since then I have trained non-stop, been to auditions, secured roles across different types of media, worked for Equity minimum rates on 2 jobs. So, when my second application was turned down with the same template email that I got the first time round, it left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.
On the basis that I have very little to lose, I rang them to plead my case.
During the conversation with the poor woman who was unlucky enough to pick up my call (she still didn’t accept my application, just FYI) I was told 3 things that really stuck in my throat:
1.‘If you were under 25 or you had been to drama school, we would accept you without any experience’
It’s hard to know what to say to this. As I’m nearly 10 years past this arbitrary cut-off point, there’s very little I can do to change the year that I was born. It turns out that the fact I didn’t have the insight to start my career 15 years ago is an instant mark against my name. Talk about kicking me when I’m down.
2.‘We can see that you are working, but we can’t accept any of your credits’
For me (ie. middle-aged, non-drama school alumni) it turns out that to be accepted onto Spotlight, I need to have 4 professional credits in ‘named, speaking roles in full-length theatre, film or television’. As such, the paid promenade work I did before Christmas doesn’t count; neither does the web series that is an ongoing project over the next year; nor does the full-length but unpaid play that I’ve been cast in for later this year. Apparently, not all work is created equal, and the irony of this eligibility criteria hasn’t escaped me: I can’t get access to ‘worthy’ castings without already having had access to ‘worthy’ castings and secured ‘worthy’ jobs – probably via Spotlight – which I can’t get access to because I haven’t had any ‘worthy’ castings… Crikey. Ultimately, if I was being cast in ‘professional, full-length theatre, film or television’ productions then I wouldn’t be tearing my hair out to get access to castings, no…?
3.‘Sorry, but we do have to keep a certain level of eligibility criteria. Everyone is in the same boat’
I was already on the edge by this point; this just pushed me over it.
Because by virtue of the conversation I had just had, quite clearly not everyone is in the same boat.
Did I go to drama school? No, so I’m not in the same boat as everyone who did.
Am I under 25? No, so I’m not in the same boat as anyone who is.
Am I working? Yes, absolutely. And I’m getting castings off my own back, without an agent.
Oh, you mean am I working in the things that Spotlight deems worthy? Erm… no. Sorry.
Don’t get me wrong: in no way am I suggesting that I am somehow more worthy of getting auditions than any other actor. On the contrary, I know and work with dozens of wonderful actors who are so deserving of all their success. I know that everyone out there has worked ridiculously hard to get to where they are, whatever their path has been, and I would never begrudge another actor for getting a job over me.
But the frustrating thing is that me and all the other people ‘in my boat’ (ie. the boat full of over 25s who haven’t been to drama school and are working but not working in the ‘right things’) are starting at a disadvantage. Despite working hard, securing paid work, throwing myself at this industry with everything I’ve got, I’m still not deemed ‘eligible’ to pay for the same service and be put up for the same castings as other actors.
So, what to do? Clearly everyone in my ‘boat’ just needs to continue doing what we can, making connections where we can, hoping that someone somewhere will give us a punt and lets us into an audition room when they can. Because I’d like to think that once through the door I can prove that I’m worthy of doing this, that I am wholly committed, that I will be a positive energy in a rehearsal room. Let’s just hope someone takes that punt one day, eh?
In the meantime, at least I’ve saved myself 154 quid of my hard-earned money in membership fees. Beers are on me.
- 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