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.
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 :-)
Wonderful couple of days in Manchester running Tech Gym: a damn good work out for these fabulous actors continuing to discover and trust their simplicity and truth. We had a tonne of fun. Thanks so much for hosting us Studio Bee! Next up, Scene Study!
And that marks Steph's last Core 6 Day Intensive in Manchester before she tootles off to have that baby she's been busy growing.
What a delicious group of actors, all on their own journey discovering how to be the best actor they can be.
We've also been treated to some wonderful drop ins by familiar faces too - many of our actors understand that they need to keep working and flexing their muscles so they're ready for anything and we love it. We had Leanne Rowley with 12week old Nia swing by after a casting call (does she ever stop?!). Laura Lindsay drop in just before heading off to Turkey. Tyler Cameron work out for a couple of days before his LAMDA recall, Nicki Davy before heading of to Scene Study with Play With Fire's Daniel Bradford and John Jones drop in after a play read/study at Theatre in the Mill. Chloe Massey join for Scene work between Voice Over jobs and Abdul Chunara for the weekend to continue his development. We even had writer, comedian and actor Sam Brady with us on Friday who trialed some ideas for his new play with the actors too. Exciting times!!
Part of our work lends itself so perfectly to the development of new writing so was a real treat to combine a learning process with a work in progress.
B U S Y W E E K ! ! !
Thank you all of you who have been a part of the last 6 days, you have been generous and open and an absolute treat. Now, remember to check in with yourself. Trust yourself. Then... J U M P.
In December 2016 I began the journey of starting a new actor training company. We decided on a name, I built a website and landed on a logo and began marketing the courses we’d designed. In January 2017 I found out I was pregnant - we hadn’t even ran our first course yet. I figured there’s never really a “perfect” time to fall pregnant or have a baby so I cracked on. Sadly, the pregnancy was really bloody difficult and nothing like I’d seen in films - I had horrific nausea, the hormones rushing around my body meant I could hardly walk most days and I was diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes which knocked me for six. The running and growth of the company was on my shoulders so I did what I could but I was physically limited in the amount I could teach which naturally had a knock on effect to making the mark we’d hoped for. Luckily my husband Iain had a full time job as a kitchen manager and chef so there wasn’t a huge amount of pressure on me to bring in too much money plus I had a few other jobs on the side.
I ran my last course in August and a couple of weeks later my waters broke whilst I was writing a blog for casting director Nicci Topping. Instead of telling Iain and zooming to the hospital I shoved a towel between my legs in the hope that I could finish it in time. I ate my last childless meal and headed into the hospital. No contractions yet so I sent Iain and best pal Evie home to sleep and, donning my sexy hospital gown and compression socks, I continued with the blog and a spot of admin.
Fox was born 2nd September via emergency C Section and we were all home 5 or 6 days later after some complications.
Iain had decided to leave his job and get something closer to home which meant we had a good chunk of time just the three of us. It was a rather productive work time for me - I couldn’t teach yet but I redesigned the entire website and booking system when Fox was sleeping or attached to a boob and continued the day to day running of the company and future courses. Iain and I had a plan: that when we eventually moved to Wales (it wasn’t looking iminent) we would co-parent so I didn’t have to give up my work. However, things changed when Iain’s new job just wasn’t what it had cracked up to be so, together, we decided to move out of rented accommodation in South Yorkshire into my mum’s house in Derbyshire (which was sat empty waiting to sell since she died), Iain would be Fox’s main carer and I would throw myself into Both Feet.
I have to admit, this is quite new to me. I’ve worked in the industry for bugger all, struggling to pay my bills for many years so for me to be the breadwinner is completely alien. But the fact is, I couldn’t give up my work, I love it too much and Iain had reached a point where he was ready for change. This meant slashing our incomings by more than half but when it’s happiness vs money, there was no question for us, so long as we had enough coming in to pay the bills and keep us bobbing along, we’d be ok.
So for the last few months Bump and I have been traveling a lot: to and from Wigan to teach at ALRA twice a week and then running back to back courses in Manchester which has meant staying away from home for 6-12 days at a time and returning for a day or two before leaving again. I Facetime Fox and Iain every morning and whenever I can. Fox actually thinks I live inside the phone. If I’m away teaching I still have to run the company so in the evenings I make myself dinner (I have Gestational Diabetes again so I have to do serious food planning, no takeaways or grab n go meals!) and then I tend to work until 10-11pm doing the more urgent admin. I try and do enough admin at night so when I have some days at home I don’t have to be locked away in a room missing even more. But it often doesn’t work out that way because we live in a world now where people expect you to respond immediately and if you don’t you lose them.
Iain and I, however, try to implement strict boundaries when I’m home: we all eat together, no phones at the table. I block in the diary days off so I can have guilt free time with Foxlet and Iain (usually spent unboxing/decorating the house!!). I leave my phone downstairs at night. I don’t do any work after our evening meal (usually around 7.30pm) because otherwise I can’t sleep (though sometimes I stupidly break this rule and then pay the consequences). I never have the sound or vibrate on my phone so when I’m with Fox I actually get to be with him. I can’t train actors to be in the moment if I’m not willing to do it myself, can I?
I’m away teaching in Manchester (and London) every other week until the week before I’m due to be induced. Don’t think it’s just about money - it really, really isn’t. I love what I do. Immensely. I must do. I’m working with some stunning actors who are either only just starting their journey with me or have been with me for a while and I don’t want to leave them or lose them. Which means I’m building in as many courses as humanly possible so we can squeeze in as much as we can together before I head off to have this baby I’ve been busy growing.
Every day Fox learns a new word. Every day Fox get’s more steady on his feet. Every day Fox learns a new trick or a new expression or a new animal noise. Everyday he becomes more sure of his place in the world. And every day I ask Iain when did he start doing that?
Yep, I can honestly say I feel like a part time mum.
Even though it’s hard, I am deliriously lucky to have Iain support me every step of the way, without him none of this would be possible. He never makes me feel guilty, even though I’m constantly abandoning him. And all he asks for in return is the odd day when I’m home to go and play a bit of golf. Even on the days I’ve promised no work and end up working he doesn’t give me a hard time. His patience and generosity as a husband and a father is something I never knew existed.
At the beginning of July it will all change as another baby Morgan makes an appearance. I can’t comprehend how that will work yet, but no doubt we will find a way, ay? Coz that’s what we do.
I wonder how other mums in the arts manage this juggling act.
I hope I can find (and keeping refining) the balance so Fox and new baby Morgs don’t grow up always feeling second best. I hope that they will grow up understanding that I love them so deeply and in order for me to be the best mum I can be I need to do the work that makes me happy too.