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My first job: Joan Iyiola – ‘I learnt the value of asking for help when I need it’

Joan Iyiola. Photo: Lucy Barriball Joan Iyiola. Photo: Lucy Barriball
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My first job was in the 2012/13 winter season at the Royal Shakespeare Company. The shows were Boris Godunov, The Orphan of Zhao and A Life of Galileo. I trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, where every Friday in the final year agents and casting directors would descend on the ‘White Palace’. There I first met Hannah Miller, the RSC’s head of casting.

London post-drama school was sprint-in-style, with no finish line. In Bristol, I had felt an element of calm in my creativity. Now that I was back, my Nigerian father was sending me Times Law supplements to sway me back to my degree, so I dug deep. And I was ready, right? Every time I went into an audition room it felt enormous. I was a nervous wreck and unsurprisingly couldn’t quite land the part.

After one blurry meeting, a director called my agent and offered to help me conquer these nerves. When I plucked up the courage to meet with this director, she asked me to say the following to myself: ‘I am beautiful’, ‘Somebody loves me’, and to remind myself of a hilarious secret. “Eh? I’m so sorry that’s not my jam. Can we perhaps look at the text again please?”, I hesitated, edging closer and closer to the door.

My audition the next day was for the RSC, with Miller and [then artistic director] Michael Boyd. I raced from my part-time tutoring job, beads of sweat on my forehead – but I had a new exercise to try out. Who knows, maybe it was because I was laughing inside at my ‘hilarious’ secret, but I got the job.

This early experience taught me the value of asking for help when I need it. The Mono Box, a company co-founded with my friend Polly Bennett, is embodied with this ethos. By our nature we are great collaborators, and sometimes we can unlock our potential to make great art by simply sharing.

CV: Joan Iyiola

Age: Undisclosed
Training: Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, National Youth Theatre, Cambridge University
TV and film include: The Forgiving Earth, New Blood, Yonderland, Denial, The Dead Sea, Words
Theatre includes: Boudica, Omeros (Shakespeare’s Globe); The Convert, Eclipsed, The Rise and Shine of Comrade Fiasco (Gate Theatre); They Drink It in the Congo (Almeida); A Season in the Congo (Young Vic); A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The White Devil, Arden of Faversham, The Roaring Girl, A Life of Galileo, Boris Godunov, The Orphan of Zhao (RSC) Other credits: Co-founder of the Mono Box

Agent: Independent Talent

Joan Iyiola was talking to John Byrne

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