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My Experience With Acting

Having been in the ‘business’ nearly 20 years (working in different areas), I thought I would write about some of my personal experiences and knowledge to offer support and advice to actors both professional and aspiring.

This first blog details my own personal views which some may not agree with, but I hope there is something that helps. The following is aimed at aspiring actors, but professionals may appreciate the content.

When I expressed my desire to become a professional actor, my teacher said to me

‘If you cannot imagine doing anything else, then you must absolutely go for it’

Helen Gormally

I think it is important, as in any career, to embark on training and therefore it’s vital to find the right programme for you. Some will enter the profession by enrolling into full-time at drama school for 1 -3 years however this is not viable for everyone. Others will find their way in through regular shorter courses, so they can hold down a job and keep other commitments. Everyone has their own path into the profession. There is plenty of information online about different acting training on offer.  You can also join a group called Actors UK on Facebook. Their many members will happily recommend training that they have undertaken.

I talked to Casting Director Ben Cogan and asked him about his views on actor training. He agreed on the importance of good training in such a competitive industry and understood that not everyone can take a long term full-time course. He felt taking regular short courses was also a great option.

For the record, if anyone thought CD’s were scary, Ben is a lovely person and really champions actors. He is very passionate about the industry, and if you are lucky enough to audition for him in the future, you will have a wonderful enriching meeting. Check out our recent article on Casting Directors and how you can build a successful relationship with them to support your career. 

I believe acting training offered in the UK is the best in the world and requires incredibly hard work and sacrifice due to the commitment required. You are being prepared to enter a tough profession – it is no walk in the park.  You need passion and unfaltering drive. Like many of you, as a child, all I wanted to do was become an actor. I belonged to a local drama club in my hometown of Hastings and I was also a member at an Amateur Dramatics Society. My school promoted the performing arts and I was in every school show! Getting involved with drama at school or joining an Amateur Dramatics group is so invaluable; look at this as the start of your training.

Many Am-Dram groups produce high-quality shows and have ex-pro actors as members; I learnt a great deal about stage craft from performing in Am-Dram.

At 18, I was lucky enough to win a place at Redroofs Theatre School where I spent 2 years full time acting training. I was only 18, and in all honesty, I think I was too young and wish I could have waited a few more years where I would have had a bit more life experience and maturity. 

My Theatre school excluded students for the day if they were late. I can admit I was guilty a few times of being late and was therefore quite rightly excluded for the day. It still makes me cringe to think about it, as the first rule of being a professional actor is never to be late.

On my first day of training, the Principal told us 

There is absolutely no excuse not being in class unless you are 1. In Hospital 2. In Jail  3.You are dead.  If you are not any of those, you must be here!

Most professional actors rarely generate regular income. I would recommend that newcomers also pursue an additional skill/career that can offer a constant income to run alongside their acting work which can support investments you make into your acting career, such as training and marketing tools.

Professional actors have to be available at short notice for auditions and acting work, so a 2nd career needs to be able to accommodate this. I once met an actor who was also a cab driver. It was perfect! When he got the call for an audition, he could easily organise his cabby work around it. I have another friend who studied as a freelance hairdresser at the same time as training as an actor which meant he could easily book hair appointments around auditions. Even actors that you see on tv all the time will spend long periods out of work and they will have other business interests/careers outside of acting to pay the bills.

Recently, some media outlets mocked a well-known actress who had taken work in a shop to earn a living between acting jobs. Thankfully, many high profile actors jumped to her defence and also confirmed they too had other careers to earn between acting jobs. If leaving the acting profession, a second career offers something to fall back on. Actors leave the profession for various reasons. A working actor can spend considerable time away from home on jobs and it may come to a point where they have other priorities in life. 

After graduating from drama school, I was a jobbing actor for a few years. By my late 20’s, I felt I needed to retrain and I applied to all the top drama schools for their 3 year BA acting programmes. I remember going to an audition for a school that is regarded by some as the best. I had heard rumours that this particular school was ‘snotty and stuck up’ so I was naturally apprehensive. When I attended my audition the experience was very pleasant.  They were so welcoming and supportive and nothing like I had heard.

I spent 5 years trying to get a place at a top drama school, during this period I was still auditioning and working as a professional actor. It was really heart-breaking getting so far through the drama school audition process and then being rejected at the final hurdle. I finally decided that retraining was not the path for me. I don’t regret any of this though, as I learnt a lot from the experience. I refreshed my training by doing short courses and that is how I came across Actors Studio. I attended different courses with them which I found very beneficial for my career.

When embarking on training, make sure you follow the guidance given by the institute you are applying to. Application requirements can vary from each school, so make sure you follow them. It is important that you can demonstrate that you can adhere to basic instruction.

For instance,  if you are required to prepare a 2-minute monologue they mean 2 minutes and no longer. Don’t try and cram a 3 minute monologue in to 2 minutes either! Now is a good time to be reading plays and exploring potential monologues if you are thinking of applying in the future. There are plenty of social media groups online where pro actors will kindly give advice.

Drama school auditions are the most nerve-racking things you will ever do. I often got told to just enjoy the experience – that is really hard to do when your hopes and dreams are on the line! But do try and be relaxed, be yourself and be prepared. Oh, and don’t be late!

The experience of auditioning for drama school is useful and sometimes daunting. I believe the process does set you up when auditioning for roles during your impending professional career. I remember thinking –  I had the guts to perform a Shakespearean monologue in front of the most well respected acting teachers in the world – I can do anything now!

Don’t try and guess what the person/s auditioning you are looking for and don’t analyse every second of your audition after – you will drive yourself bonkers. Go in, do your thing, leave and forget about it. 

One mistake I made in a drama school audition was to do with water!

I entered the audition room and was so nervous. As I got up to do my first monologue, my mouth was so dry and my legs were shaking with nerves. Instead of asking if I could get some water and have a moment to compose myself,  I just carried on. I could hardly speak so I don’t think they could understand a word I was saying. It was mortifying, so I learnt to always have water with you.

Don’t be in a rush or feel you are imposing.  This is your moment, they do want you to do well.

If you don’t get offered a place on the course you want, please don’t worry and don’t take it personally. Rejection is part of the job, and sometimes it really bloomin’ hurts, but you do get used to it.

It is important to work on your fitness. Being an actor requires stamina, you need to keep fit and healthy. Your body and voice are the tools of your trade and you need to keep them in tip-top working order. I remember once going for a theatre job and I was not really looking after myself.  The rehearsal period was gruelling. I became quite poorly and ended up at Maidstone General Hosptial. I could not deal with the pace, but if my fitness and health had been better, I would have been able to handle it.

Anita Albrecht (a student at Actors Studio) is a professional actress alongside her other career as a Personal Trainer.  I saw she had posted some of her fitness classes online which you can easily do whilst self- isolating.  Anita is really positive and radiates boundless energy.  It is just what you need if you are understandably feeling a bit down.  Please check out her link below.

In this time of staying in, read scripts, discover Shakespeare, there are also many fantastic acting resources online. Skype a friend and read a script together. For those of you who have Sky Arts, they recently aired a great interview with Sam Mendes. He spoke about his career and how he works with actors. It is definitely worth a watch. Some of our tutors at Actors Studio will be doing some online classes in the coming days to help keep your skills sharp.

The beauty of this business is that you never know what opportunities will come along. I have known many actors who have been close to throwing in the towel and then an amazing opportunity comes from nowhere and they are back in the game!

If this blog is useful, I hope to write more about my experiences in the industry with a few tips along the way.

1 thought on “My Experience With Acting

  1. Hi Helen,
    Thank you for this wonderful insight.
    I think this article will be a great resource for many aspiring actors.
    You certainly know your stuff.

    Best wishes

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