As an actor have you ever gone back into a rehearsal room after an extended period of not working and felt that all your skills are rusty as hell? Intincts are out of step with what you want to produce? Your voice feels weak, or raspy? You have an unexercised, sluggish mind, body and voice? You sit down at your first table read of the play you’ve been cast in, open your mouth to start reading and feel as if you are the biggest fake and are about to be found out? This in turn leads to those voices in your head to pipe up in louder, urgent and vociferous criticisms of your every move? And on the last page you are left wrung out, convinced that the producers and directors are about to recast your role with someone infinitely more suited to the role?
Ah…the joys of the first day of rehearsals…
As we slowly come out of lockdown and have some dates to move towards when theatres will open I have been thinking of this hyper-critical phenomenon that almost every actor goes through on the first day of rehearsals. This phenomenon happened whenever there had been a large gap between my acting jobs. And I am obviously thinking of this in relation to how so many actors have been without work for almost a year now.
The 16th March marks the day I lost my job on the West End, the day SOLT closed all theatres in London. It was a surreal day. And it’s strange to think that we are approaching the one year anniversary of an entire industry being shut down. Not all theatres were able to open in the brief moments that lockdowns eased. And soon we will have many actors going back to work and I wonder how this year off will have affected them.
When I was working constantly in the good three years between 2016 to 2018 I really noticed a significant difference in my acting skills. Daily voice and body warm ups led to my voice feeling stronger and more confident. My body was ready to accept any challenge. I am not the most confident mover but when dances came up in the shows they were easier to do with all the practice. Acting daily, in show after show, with only one day off a week, honed instincts and also made you look out for a plethora of solutions because you couldn’t keep on doing the same thing over and over again. Practising my skills everyday made me recall how I felt after drama school. Intense classes and working all the time over an equally intense year, being consumed by the work of an actor, led to a feeling that I was ready for anything. You feel that your whole being serves you and is ready to be used.
It’s not an easy feeling to maintain. Once drama school ended, once that amazing period of work ended it was difficult for me to keep my skills honed. No matter what exercises I did there was always the feeling that the work was what helped deepen my skills. Not the sometimes dipping into exercise but the constant relentless work of performing. And I wonder, now, how this period of little to no work will affect actors as we slowly enter rehearsal rooms again.
I still feel that there is a difference between actors of a generation that grew up in the repertory theatre system. They practised there skills daily, weekly, in a season by rehearsing new plays every week. At night they performed the play rehearsed the previous week. This system gave us so many well respected actors. This rarely happens any more and I wonder if these large gaps that so many actors have between jobs creates a profession of actors trying to reconnect with rusty skills rather than dealing with the work of the play itself? I know that there are many skills workshops offered and these do help to an extent. But like I said, just my opinion, but for me it is the WORK that deepens and hones your skills. Nothing can replace working.
I am thinking of all those creatives going back into rehearsals soon. I wish you a fast tune-up of your skills, I wish you a critisicm free first read through, I wish you only joy as you get back to the craft of acting. The practice does make perfect.
And I know that that first moment back in a rehearsal room will be…well…