As an actor, the ground beneath you is ever-shifting. Jobs come and go, you’re constantly moving around and your financial situation is often precarious. Spending three months focused solely on my creative practice has taught me that I need to be able to find stability within my turbulent career path for longevity’s sake.
Thankfully, the ideas I developed while travelling will soon turn into projects that I will be inextricably attached to and have creative control over. The BBM Youth Support Award has given me the agency to take charge of my own future. I hope that sharing what I’ve learned with others will go some way towards expressing my gratitude for that.
My application for the BBM Youth Support Award was motivated by my dissatisfaction with the lack of dynamic, nuanced roles for women in the Western theatrical cannon, and a desire to make a positive contribution to the push for gender equality in the Australian arts industry. Specifically, I wanted to use the award to explore methods of refreshing the representation of women in canonical works, and to learn about the process of achieving gender equality in the arts from specialists in the field. Additionally, I was hoping to contextualize and improve my understanding of the defining features of Australian art by exposing myself to a wide array of artistic mediums and movements internationally.
What I hoped to gain:
- A process for creating and producing theatre that speaks to the social and intellectual ideas of current-day feminism, and celebrates Australian storytelling practices.
- A manifesto outlining how to practically combat gender inequality both within content and the industry.
- A thorough understanding of a wide array of artistic mediums, movements and styles.
- An international network.
- A refined acting process.
Preparation before leaving
Before leaving, the most crucial aspect of my preparation was organizing and preparing for my activities and engagements. This process included:
- ‘cold emailing’ writers, directors, theatre companies, artistic directors, actors and gender equality specialists to request meetings. I got in contact directly and through agents.
- Thoroughly researching the artists and companies who agreed to engage with me. I read/watched their work, listened to podcasts they featured in, scoured Google and their websites, and watched interviews.
- Finding classes and teachers who I believed would help me to improve my craft. After organizing to work with them, I had to prepare a variety of scenes and monologues for class.
- Working with my Australian acting agent to set up meetings with U.K casting directors and agents.
- Meeting with Australian arts practitioners to get their recommendations on top main stage and independent theatre companies, great art galleries and must-do classes. These meetings also often resulted in them putting me in touch with their U.K-based contacts.
- Creating a detailed timeline and budget for my trip. I knew exactly how many days I planned to stay in each location, and how much I would spend on accommodation, transport, food and activities. However, with the exception of my flight to London, and accommodation in London and Edinburgh, I didn’t book anything in advance. I wanted the freedom to be spontaneous and shift my plans, if the need arose. I would highly recommend this approach to planning- unexpected opportunities do pop up. I ended up staying an extra week in London to continue training with a fantastic teacher I met there.
Where I went and what I did
The majority of my time in the U.K was spent in London. I was interested in visiting London because the gender equality specialists and arts practitioners I wanted to meet with were primarily based there, and because London is a thriving hub for innovative and subversive theatre. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who is interested in new writing that is of an exceptionally high standard, contributing to the push for diversity in the arts, and anyone looking to submerge themselves in an incredible breadth and volume of live performance.
The rest of my travels through Europe were spent exploring, seeing theatre, taking meetings and going to art galleries. The cities I was fortunate enough to visit included Stratford upon Avon, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, Galway, Killarney, Dublin, Vienna, Salzburg, Munich, Dresden, Berlin and Amsterdam.
While in London, I stayed at Nutford House in Marylebone. Nutford House is a residence attached to the University of London. As it was summer while I was visiting, the students were all away on break and I was able to lease out a private room at a discounted rate. For the rest of my travels though, I stayed in hostels, AirBnBs and ‘couchsurfed’ using the website counchsurfing.com.
While away, I was hoping to fill in any gaps in my actor training. Two of my weeks in London were spent participating in an intensive masterclass with world-renowned acting coach Giles Foreman. Giles spends most of his time coaching high profile actors on film sets, but I was privileged enough to spend two weeks learning from him at his studio in Soho. Under his tutelage, I was introduced to the work of Yat Malmgren, and I also continued my Meisner and Method training. The acting processes we explored helped me to unlock new ways in to emotional authenticity and gave me the tools and vocabulary to create hyper-detailed character work. Giles also made me aware of my current strengths, habits and weaknesses as an actor, which I will endeavor to keep improving upon. At the close of the course, he encouraged me to return to continue our work together and even told me that he’d like to train me to teach these acting methodologies in Australia.
In addition to this training, I also audited a Meisner class at The Salon Collective and went to John Schwabb’s networking seminar that was hosted by the Theatre Royal Haymarket as a part of their Masterclass program. At the former, I was surprised to find Lawrence Carmichael, an Australian actor and fight director, teaching. Auditing his class was a fantastic opportunity to observe just how effectively and instantaneously the Meisner repetition technique gets actors to work ‘moment to moment’. I will definitely implement this technique in my own process when building relationships with new scene partners and before going on stage to combat self-consciousness. Meeting Lawrence turned out to be such a serendipitous gift. As an Australian artist who had worked at NIDA in the past, he understood where I was coming from and was perfectly positioned to offer me some insight into what it’s like to be an Australian actor working internationally.
The networking seminar I attended provided me with great tips on attracting work as actor. Some of the key takeaways were:
- The key to networking doesn’t lie in talking about oneself; it lies in asking questions and listening.
- Go to the theatre when the show you’re interested in seeing is in previews. This is when the creatives are still milling about and means that, if you wish, you have an opportunity to speak with them about their work.
- Always ask a good question in an audition or networking scenario. It suggests that you’re engaged.
- Enter an audition with the mentality ‘I’m going to try to be the solution to someone’s problem’. They need to cast the right actor, how can I be that for them?
- Keep a professional diary. When you meet someone new, write down their name, where and when you met them, and the details of your conversation.
- Always send a follow-up ‘thank you’ email after an audition.
The conversations I had with practitioners I admire helped me to determine my next step as an actor and arts activist. I am proud to be an Australian artist and fully intend to contribute to the local industry. I have always been interested in working internationally too though, and as an Irish citizen, this is fortunately a viable option for me. The casting directors, agents and U.K-based Australian artists I met with offered me valuable advice on topics such as cracking the international market as an actor, working in the independent sector in London, how to land a U.K agent and the dialects actors are commonly asked to work in. The casting directors and agents that I built relationships with told me to keep in touch and update them on my plans. This trip helped me to get my foot in the door.
The gender equality advocates I met with were also infinitely helpful and generous. After hearing about their experiences, researching their work and accessing their resources, I am pleased to say that I have returned to Australia with a practicable and adaptable step-by-step methodology for reaching and maintaining gender parity in arts organisations, and techniques that I can use to refresh the representation of women in canonical works. Essentially, I discovered that, thanks to the work of people like Lucy Kerbel, Sue Parrish and Lian Bell, the answer to ‘how do we fix gender inequality in the arts industry?’ has already been answered thoroughly. However, I am concerned that it took me (someone already keenly interested in this issue) three months abroad to learn where to look for the answers and how to understand them. I am determined to find ways to make this information more easily accessible to everyone. I am now in the process of publishing the specifics of my findings and links to resources on a website I am building.
For now though, if you’re interested in reading more about strategies for reaching gender parity in the arts, check out:
All Change Please by Lucy Kerbel
People I met with:
Lucy Kerbel (Founder of Tonic Theatre), Sue Parrish (Artistic Director of Sphinx Theatre), Dawn Green (Agent at CAM), Mark Jermin (Agent at Mark Jermin Management), Lynne Williams (CEO at Guildhall), Victor Jenkins (Casting Director), Gary Davy (Casting Director), Phillip Rouse (Australian director based in London), Lawrence Carmichael (Australian actor and fight director based in London), Davey Seagle (Australian actor and recent Central graduate based in London), Julian Starr (Australian sound designer based in London), Lian Bell (Irish Designer and Campaign Director of Waking the Feminists) Alanah Guiry (Australian director based in Berlin).
I was pleased to discover that the standard of acting in the U.K and Europe was comparable to what you’d find on stage in Australia. The main difference I noticed between the theatre culture in Europe and Australia was that, in the former, theatre companies are deeply invested in grooming the next generation of local theatre makers, with companies such as the Royal Court, National Theatre and Theatre Royal Haymarket (to name a few) all providing stunningly extensive opportunities for emerging artists to engage with them, and access mentorship and resources to assist in the development of new works. I truly believe this makes a sizeable difference to the caliber of work young artists are able to produce, and I am now inspired to collaborate with local independent theatre companies in Sydney to develop more opportunities for writers to workshop new scripts with the assistance of actors and directors. I believe that consistently developing new Australian works collaboratively and rigorously will result in the articulate and precise capturing of the Australian identity in our art, and also in the emergence of refined and inherently Australian theatre practices.
Spending a week in Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival was heavenly. A must-do for any theatre lover. I was able to attend three or four performances daily that each varied greatly in style and scale. Observing these productions was a masterclass in how to make ‘something out of nothing’. They were confined by the parameters of unconventional spaces, time limits of 50 mins, shoestring budgets and short bump in/out times. As a result, the responsibility fell to the actors to effectively transport the audience and hold their attention. Performers were supported by the most basic design elements only. My week in Edinburgh was confirmation that this style of ‘barebones’ theatre is very much the type of work that I prefer to watch, and that it’s the type of work I want to make- the story can’t be obfuscated by elaborate design choices. It was also a comforting reminder that it is actors and writers that are essential to storytelling. Added design elements, while important, can be foregone if you’re an emerging artist with next to no funding (me).
I asked the gender equality specialists I spoke with in London whether it’s even worthwhile returning to the classics and hoping we can better the representation of women in them. Many of the specialists spoke in favour of the arts industry temporarily shifting their focus away from these well-loved works and towards creating new works by and for women, until the balance is redressed. The volume of female-led projects that depicted complicated, flawed and empowered female characters at the Edinburgh Fringe was an encouraging sign that we are moving in the right direction.
Theatre I saw in London:
Julie by Polly Stenham, after August Strinberg (National Theatre)
Consent by Nina Raine (National Theatre & Sonia Friedman Productions)
The Lieutenant of Inishmore by Martin McDonagh (Michael Grandage Company- West End)
One for Sorrow by Cordelia Lynn (Royal Court)
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (The Old Vic)
The Jungle by Joe Robertson and Joe Murphy (The Young Vic- West End Transfer)
Exit the King by Eugene Ionesco (National Theatre)
The Lehman Trilogy by Stefano Massini (National Theatre)
Kinky Boots by Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein (West End)
Home, I’m Darling by Laura Wade (National Theatre)
Pity by Rory Mullarkey (The Royal Court)
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (West End)
Othello by William Shakespeare (RSC)
Translations by Brian Friel (National Theatre)
Aristocrats by Brian Friel (Donmar Warehouse)
Theatre I saw in Edinburgh:
La Maladie de la Morte (Bouffes du Nord)
The Approach (Landmark Productions)
Build A Rocket (Stephen Joseph Theatre)
Pussy Riot (One Inch Badge)
Aphrodite and the Invisible Consumer Gods (Sam Donvito and Ellen Graham)
One Life Stand (Paines Plough)
Megadate: Tim Key (Bush Theatre)
Premiere Neige (National Theatre of Scotland)
Trojan Horse (Lung Theatre)
Valerie (Last Tapes Theatre Company)
All We Ever Wanted Was Everything (Paines Plough)
Sticks and Stones (Paines Plough)
Sitting (BBC Arts and Avalon)
Circus ‘Cision (Head Forst Acrobatics)
The Prisoner (Bouffes du Nord)
Other theatre I saw:
Sharmanka Mechanical Theatre (Glasgow)
The Diary of Maynard Perdu (Smock Alley Theatre. Dublin)
A Holy Show (Mermaid Arts Centre. Dublin Fringe)
Unwoman Part III (The Rabble. Dublin Fringe)
Ariadne Auf Naxos (Vienna State Opera. Vienna)
Die Parallelwelt (Berliner Ensemble. Berlin
Over the course of my trip, I was able to visit many of Europe’s finest art galleries. I was interested in learning as much art history as possible, as trends in visual and performing arts often inform one another. Furthermore, I believe it is important to learn about the work that existed before your own creative practice so that you’re able to break the mould instead of reinventing the wheel. After cramming my brain full of art history, I feel that I am much more adept at making stylistic allusions in my own work.
The Albertinum (Dresden)
Grunes Gewolbe (Dresden)
Brecht Haus (Berlin)
Hamburger Bahnof (Berlin)
East Side Gallery (Berlin)
DDR Museum (Berlin)
Helmut Newton Foundation (Berlin)
National Gallery of Scotland (Edinburgh)
National Museum of Scotland (Edinburgh)
National Portrait Gallery (Edinburgh)
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Edinburgh)
While in Europe, I was fortunate to be able to travel to Ireland for the first time to meet the family my Dad left behind when he emigrated to Australia. Though not directly connected to the goals I had set for my BBM trip, I wanted to mention how formative this experience was. Visiting Ireland provided a context and explanation for much of my upbringing. It immediately felt like a second home, as I grew up immersed in Irish culture. Visiting Ireland made me realise that I should be reflecting and expressing my whole cultural context in the art I make. I have always had an affinity for Irish storytelling practices, and I am excited to reflect my recently strengthened connection to my cultural heritage in my creative practice.
- Keep a diary. I am so glad I took the time to sit down and write mindfully about my experiences every day. Upon returning, I’ve often referred to my travel diary to consolidate my learning and to help me process the past three months.
- In addition to the above, record any important meetings you have, if it’s okay with the person you’re talking to. I was often nervous going in to my meetings, and the human brain misremembers things. Being able to listen back when I wasn’t nervous allowed me to really pick apart the wise words people had shared with me.
- The only thing that assuaged the feelings of self-doubt that occasionally cropped before my meetings was preparation. In order to put my best foot forward, I made sure to have thoroughly researched the person I was meeting with, along with their work. I prepared questions that I wanted to ask in advance and decided upon what I needed to let them know about me beforehand. For example, I am an Irish citizen and am able to work in the U.K. This is an important piece of information to relay to a casting director.
- Back yourself and ask for what you want. I was surprised to find that many of the people I ‘cold emailed’ were open to meeting with me. I had been under the misapprehension that people wouldn’t want to take time out of their day to meet with a random Australian woman. But it’s amazing what sending an articulate email that compliments someone’s work can do.
- Living in student accommodation is an excellent way to stay in central London and get some privacy at an affordable price. Many places also offer a complimentary full English breakfast. I’d highly recommend this option for anyone who plans on studying- you’ll need your own space to rehearse, so a hostel is not ideal.
- Many theatre companies in the U.K have great initiatives set up to support emerging artists and ensure that young people can access theatre. If you’re interested in a specific company’s work, check on their website to see whether they offer internships/engagement opportunities… it’s likely that they do. When seeing a show, always check if they have an under 30s discount or concession prices. Also, use the TodayTix app to access discounted last minute tickets for plays and musicals.
- Many theatre companies shut down in London for the summer. There is still a lot to see, but many of the independent theatre companies and smaller spaces are likely to be dark. If you are interested in the independent sector, perhaps reconsider the timing of your trip.
I would like to thank BBM Youth Support again for investing in my future. I’m so grateful to have had the luxury of thinking solely about my creative practice for almost three months. It enabled me to reset and refocus after three long years at drama school. The practical education I received helped me to formulate a plan for the next step of my career. Where before I only had generalized ideas and questions, I now have specific plans and answers.
Travelling alone was often challenging for me, the discomfort I felt without my support network and the familiarity of home made me realise that, while these things are important, I had perhaps been relying too heavily on them to help me feel stable and well-adjusted. As an actor, the ground beneath you is ever-shifting. Jobs come and go, you’re constantly moving around and your financial situation is often precarious. Spending three months focused solely on my creative practice has taught me that I need to be able to find stability within my turbulent career path too, for longevity’s sake. The ideas I developed while travelling will soon turn into projects that I will be inextricably attached to and have creative control over. The BBM Youth Support Award has given me the agency to take charge of my own future.
I hope that sharing what I’ve learned with others will go some way towards expressing my gratitude for that.Update Your Details