After joining the National Youth Theatre in 2016, I successfully auditioned to become a member of this year’s REP Company, which has been an incredible training opportunity thus far.
I’m now at the midpoint of my REP Company experience, in many ways, so I’m sure these opinions will change. Personally, I think much of my growth so far has been during the last few weeks; our rehearsal period for the REP West End Season at the Ambassadors Theatre. My greatest aim coming into the REP was to leave with more integrity as an actor, and more confidence in my ability to make bold, meaningful, character choices. You might think that much of that would come during the training phase, but the effects of those ten weeks of training really kick in once you become more active in applying those tools to a longer working process.
Acting is, after all, about doing. You absolutely cannot over intellectualise what you’re doing. The more instinctual and close to yourself ‘in the moment’ it feels, the better. That being said, you do also have to put the work in outside of the rehearsal room, so that you can fully let go once you’re in the room. It’s a contradiction in many ways but the difference between doing the work and not doing the work, I’ve found, is really noticeable.
Throughout these last few weeks, the practicalities of being engaged, available and ready to work even when you’re not the primary focus of a scene have taken their toll. It’s a challenging task. But in these moments, I feel I have learnt some of my most important lessons about rehearsal etiquette, stamina, focus and the language I can use to discuss my craft. I’m learning a lot from watching the director work with the other actors in the company.
The rehearsal room needs to be a safe environment, within which we can explore the world of our play in depth and with commitment, so that discoveries can be made. For me, that comes mostly out of giving those around you a space with respect, quiet and focus. Knowing your lines, as soon as possible, also helps move this process forward because then you can really begin to play around and experiment with your whole body, without the physical and in many ways psychological limitations of a script in your hand.
I always try to be pro-active and positive in rehearsals, and that doesn’t just mean learning lines in advance, but also taking and making notes. It’s our job to serve the work and serve the director’s vision so, swallow your pride and try what they say (usually, it’s what the scene needs!) and then make sure to write it down. But don’t be afraid to come with offers, just be prepared to let them go if the director says no. A good place to start is by asking yourself such questions as: What does this play mean to you? What is the purpose of the scene you’re looking at? What does your character contribute to the overall play or scene? From these points of reference you can make decisions on how it should be played, what intentions and emotional arc you might want to hit, and what the important beats of the scene are for you and other characters.
If I had to give a few tips, I’d say (and perhaps I haven’t adopted this one too well throughout this blog, but I’ll say it anyway) be as concise and specific as possible. Specificity in storytelling means clarity and ultimately understanding for an audience. Everything you say, every action you play to the characters opposite you, has to be specific and for a reason that you could articulate if you were asked to do so. Everything has a subtext. Know it. If you know the subtext you can play the thought process to full effect. Secondly, look after your voice and body. They’re your tools and if they let you down, if an audience can’t hear or understand you clearly, then there’s no point in doing the performance. The importance of a good vocal and physical warm up can never be stressed enough. And thirdly, love your stage managers, they’re the real MVPs.
NYT’s REP Company West End Season runs until 8th December at Ambassadors Theatre. For more information and to book tickets, visit https://www.theambassadorstheatre.co.uk/