James Issitt: ‘We need to develop the offer to students so that more northern and working-class actors can train’

James Issitt. Photo: Simon Moss James Issitt. Photo: Simon Moss
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James Issitt is a senior lecturer in drama at the University of Cumbria. He tells John Byrne about his work…

How did you start off in theatre?

I wasn’t interested in much outside of school. My parents tried everything but drama stuck.

What is the best piece of advice you have for acting students today?

See as much professional and amateur theatre as you can. See shows you wouldn’t normally see. Read and listen to as much as possible: from reviews to articles, podcasts and plays. Having a large virtual library in your head of plays you have read can give you the edge.

What would you change about drama training in the UK?

The accessibility of training for young adults and the huge costs incurred. This is improving but we need to develop the offer to students so that more northern and working-class actors can train. Also, more appreciation that university can offer education and training as well as drama schools.

What is the best part of your job?

The ‘lightbulb’ moment. Seeing the sudden understanding of a concept in the student’s eyes is priceless. Also, having the privilege of seeing their first professional role.

And your least favourite?

Paperwork. It is a necessary evil but can be so time consuming.

Who are the practitioners you admire the most that students should look up to?

Imelda Staunton, due to her versatility. She can perform in anything from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to Gypsy. And Ian McKellen – his King Lear will stay with me for the rest of my life. Both of these actors give so much back to the industry. From a director’s point of view, I would happily watch anything Gregory Doran helmed – he’s a genius.

What is the one skill that every successful actor should have?

Bravery. A successful actor is brave enough to make bold choices in the rehearsal room and on stage. There is an element of risk associated with this level of bravery, but the rewards are h