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Acting teacher Robert Marsden: ‘My advice to students? Play the long-term game’

Robert Marsden. Photo: Andrew Billington Robert Marsden. Photo: Andrew Billington
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How did you start off in theatre?

I realised in my undergraduate years that I didn’t quite have the skills to become a professional actor, but still adored the acting process and the workings of the rehearsal room. I began assistant-directing and was lucky to work in repertory theatres across the UK. That was my training ground.

What is your best advice for students?

You don’t have to ‘get everything’ straight away. Students (particularly UK-based) come to me from a results-driven educational system. My advice is to cultivate a love of learning for learning’s sake and play the long-term game.

What would you change about UK training?

The UK training ground houses some of the best learning experiences in the world, but I would advocate a less ‘split’ approach. Voice, acting and movement are often separated too soon.

What is the best part of your job?

When students make breakthroughs and have their ‘aha moments’ in a rehearsal or workshop. I relish seeing students piece the jigsaw together and create new meanings. Also, graduation day: celebrating their three years of hard work.

And your least favourite?

The enormous pile of admin that sits on my desk.

Who should students be looking up to?

Bella Merlin, for her tangible, lucid and pragmatic ways of writing and thinking about the acting process; Michael Chekhov, for his encouragement of the creative imagination and psychophysical approaches; and Nikolai Demidov (one of Stanislavski’s students). His work is now translated into English and should be in every training institution’s library.

Bella Merlin: How to trick yourself into trivialising stage terror

What is the one skill that every successful theatre/dance professional should have?

Openness, whether to ideas, concepts or ways of working.

What is your advice for fellow lecturers and actor-trainers?

Teach for the students you have, rather than the ones you think you should have, and teach for the current creative industries, rather than those of a previous age.

Robert Marsden is associate professor of acting and directing at Staffordshire University and a freelance theatre director. He was talking to John Byrne

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