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