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Maria Hildebrand: 5 tips for acting in unusual spaces

Maria Hildebrand
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Bilingual actor Maria Hildebrand trained at Drama Studio London. She has played roles as diverse as Mother Theresa and the mother of a mermaid. Most recently she played Nina in The Seagull at the Hemar Theatre, in the Ognisko Polskie in South Kensington. Hildebrand is currently in rehearsals as Decima in MacBeth 360, directed by Leana H Ganem. Finding that the venues she performs in are increasingly untraditional theatre spaces – town halls, redesigned offices, churches – she offers her tips for making the most of them…

1. See it as an opportunity

Rather than getting anxious about not being in a purpose-built theatre, see the venue as a theatrical springboard. Use the space to your advantage.

2. Get to know the space well

Familiarise yourself with possibilities offered by, for instance, long aisles, corridors or narrow paths when entering and exiting. Stairs, curtains, hangers, chandeliers, light switches – these are all gifts to be used, not obstacles that you need to fear or ignore. In The Seagull, for example, walls became trees to hide behind in the outdoor scenes.

3. Stay calm

Sometimes a performance venue is simultaneously a restaurant, bar or club. Accept that their business will continue unapologetically while you bare your soul in the next room. You may not have the luxury of a dressing room or even wings. You may be disturbed by late-arriving audience members having to use the same entrance as the cast. Be prepared for these situations, take a deep breath and get on with the show.

4. Be prepared

Audience members’ legs might protrude into the aisle. Bottles or glasses could be in your way. Be continually alert. In an immersive promenade production of Wastwater (Simon Stephens) at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2014, I had just finished my scene as Frieda, had transformed our greenhouse scene into the third warehouse location and was waiting for the next audience group to be shepherded through. Then I noticed a girl was close to fainting. My duty as a performer in this sort of show went beyond acting. I had to take her outside quickly and efficiently and provide her with water, without disturbing the progress of our show.

5. Adapt to the lighting

Many unusual spaces do not have custom-fitted lighting. Don’t take the existing lighting for granted. Watch your colleagues in rehearsal, see what works and what doesn’t when they are navigating the space. That way you can determine how you’ll best move about in your scenes in order to keep your face lit and out of the shadows.

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