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Becoming An Actor: Branching out

By • West End
My Aunty Mary has never been involved in the world of theatre, but she didn’t let that stop her from issuing the following piece of advice to me on most major public holidays, which was, because of the distance between our homes and our lives, almost every time I saw her: “You can never have too many strings to your bow, James”.

The enthusiastic sentiment, even without experience induced knowledge, does hold some truth; as in any industry, the more you can do, the more jobs you can potentially get. Even things only indirectly linked to acting can prove helpful.

So, with Aunty Mary in mind, I’ve recently been having a go at directing. I’ve been directing my friends in one of Shakespeare’s popular tragedies; and it’s not been as easy as I thought.

The main difficulty is that it is, for everyone involved, an extra-curricular project – this means that it’s not always everyone’s top priority. Though in the real world of directing there is automatically a certain gravitas assigned to the director, when working with your friends it’s much more difficult to find the balance of the new relationship. We’re all, of course, collaborating on the same project, and everyone’s been very eager to be involved, but I’ve felt the need to excuse hung-over actors, or even actors who’ve fallen asleep in the rehearsal room, because I’m aware that Monday to Friday it’s not my job to address their behaviour. You also feel the need to allow for absenteeism when working with pals.

…I do hope that the sleepy ones aren’t a reflection on the work we’re creating!

Directing is also much more time consuming than I had imagined. I assumed, or perhaps hoped, it would be lots of interesting reading, research, and thought – but it’s mostly been administrative chores, or jobs as my producer bills them to me as. If you’re Trevor Nunn you probably don’t have to do lots of admin, but if you’re trying to be Trevor Nunn then it appears you do. Obviously I’m not trying to be Trevor Nunn; I’m trying to be one of Trevor Nunn’s actors because I want to act and because I didn’t read any of the reviews from Trevor Nunn’s Haymarket season, but the image of Trevor Nun served the point I wanted to make. I’ve written Trevor Nunn seven times.

The plus side to it all is that it’s wonderful being on the other side of the desk, seeing how behaviours and attitudes come across. And it’s liberating having such creatively free reign. It’s challenging. It’s tiring.

It’s an art form on it’s own. But, because it’s so far removed from the real world of directing, I’m struggling to work out if I’ve any capability at it, or even if I enjoy it.

Though drama school is a time for trying out new things, and for failure, I don’t feel like I’m getting the best chance to try out this string on my bow. But then again, who cares? I don’t know enough about string instruments to know if Aunty Mary’s musical analogy is even accurate, and I reckon Aunty Mary doesn’t either.

I suspect that there will eventually become a point when the bow, laden with helpful strings, will become awkward to use or even too heavy to pick up. In which case, Aunty Mary, you might be wrong; maybe you can have too many strings to your bow. I would just like a better opportunity to find out.


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