How Not to be a Polymath. By Rose Lewenstein

I have enormous admiration for polymaths who make it work, because I have to admit that juggling art forms has caused me nothing but trouble.

As a child, my parents were always supportive and I never felt pressured into pursuing a Real Job* – in fact, my mother always said I should be a writer.  But when I was six, I decided I was going to be an actress.  10 years later, I started training in Musical Theatre, confident I’d be a West End star by the time I turned 20.  When in one of my tutorials I was asked whether I had a Plan B, I answered quite confidently that yes, I did have a Plan B.  If things didn’t work out, I would to move to Paris and become a jazz singer.  (Later that year I received a Rough Guides book as a birthday present from my father.  I told you my parents were supportive).

Somewhere between my diploma in Musical Theatre and my degree in Performance Arts, I decided that what I really wanted to be was a theatre director.  So I set up a theatre company with a friend and we put on a couple of plays and it was great fun and I learnt a lot and I think the main thing I learnt was that I didn’t really want to be a theatre director.

And so, having crossed West End Star and Theatre Director off my list, I was accepted by the (now Royal) Central School of Speech & Drama.  Over the three years we studied Acting, Voice, Movement, Directing, Dramaturgy, Writing, Text Analysis, Creative Producing, Contemporary Theatre Making, Interdisciplinary Theatre Practice and of course Performance Art (I briefly thought it might be the path for me when my friend Julia and I attempted to conduct a civil partnership in front of the class – our backdrop a porn film and our soundtrack Rachmaninoff – to illustrate, um, something about stereotypes and attitudes towards same sex marriage) – so pretty much most things that relate to most jobs in theatre. Continue reading

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Pamela Banks: Taking Control

Copyright Garnon Davies

Pamela Banks is an actor, singer & co-founder of Vital Signs Theatre. They recently toured a production of Laura Wade’s play ‘Other Hands’.

“If I could just act, and play the parts that excited me, then I would”. Like many actors, Pamela Banks has occasionally felt frustrated with the range of opportunities the industry throws her way, ‘I’ve done a lot of comedies…farces, which are great fun but the female characters in them can often be quite one-dimensional’. Taking on more meaty roles often involved working for little pay, for small and sometimes rather disorganised set-ups. Whilst appearing in one such production, Pamela got chatting to fellow cast member and friend, Lucy Lill, and they decided to have a go at producing a show. ‘The idea was born out of frustration really…we felt we might be able to do a little better ourselves’.

The girls found themselves a play with two strong female characters, and booked a week at a London fringe venue to stage their experiment. They raised the money through singing at fundraising concerts in Pam’s native Oxfordshire and the production went down a storm, selling out every night. With one under their belt, the pair decided to keep the company alive and have since gone on to produce several more plays, each more ambitious than the last.

Pam describes her feelings towards producing as ‘mixed’, enjoying the challenge and satisfaction of the end result, but not the ‘endless fundraising and funding application forms’. Luckily for her, whilst she looks after the company books, her collaborator Lucy is a natural at that sort of thing, so the division of labour seems pretty harmonious. Continue reading

Conversation with Emily Dobbs: Actor & Founder of Jagged Fence Theatre Company

Copyright Charlie Carter

After training at Central School of Speech & Drama, Emily went on to found Jagged Fence Theatre Company. Their most recent production was a critically acclaimed adaptation of ‘The Seagull’ by Anya Reiss.

How did Jagged Fence come about? Did you always aspire to be a producer?

Well no, at first it was a vehicle for me to act really, me and a couple of other girls who I trained with at Central. But then I realised that I had a certain aptitude for producing and I began to enjoy that side of it more and more. After a couple of years of producing and acting in Jagged Fence productions, I then produced the first play that I wasn’t in, ‘Lizzie Finn’ at Southwark Playhouse.

How did you find taking a step back from acting for ‘Lizzie Finn’?

It completely changed my whole outlook, and actually I didn’t really enjoy that first process very much! But it was good in a sense, because it made me really differentiate between my job roles in different productions. Now, the ones that I exclusively produce, I can enjoy and focus on producing, and the ones I’m going to be in…I’m very clear about that from the beginning with both myself and the creative team.

Is producing something that’s grown on you then?

Yes. I feel now….that I don’t think I could be just an actress. I’d hate the life….I think if I hadn’t started producing, I’d probably still be trying to make a career in acting, but there’s no way I’d have done the plays that I’ve done, or have the agent that I’ve got, if I hadn’t started the company. I love the fact that now I have the freedom to create something from nothing. Continue reading