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Performer and writer Naomi Paxton: ‘My first job taught me not to shut moments down before they happen’

Naomi Paxton in Ada Campe. Photo: Catrin Arwel Naomi Paxton in Ada Campe. Photo: Catrin Arwel
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My first professional job was as an angel in Deborah Warner’s The Tower Project, produced as part of London International Festival of Theatre in 1999. I was a drama student and auditioned by chance – having popped into the Old Vic stage door for a chat as I used to cover some shifts there while working front of house. They said there was an open audition, so I signed up.

Deborah Warner came to greet us – I had seen her productions, admired her work and was now shaking her hand. She auditioned us as a group and we were asked to sit or stand somewhere in the auditorium and to look into the space. She and her team walked among us, watching us. I breathed into the nervousness and excitement and went with the flow – not trying to do or show anything, or make meaningful poses, but to relax and be content.

Getting the job felt amazing – they phoned while I was in Covent Garden and asked for measurements, and I ran into a nearby shop to borrow a tape measure. It was incredible to not only be part of an immersive, site-specific piece that was layered, clever and meaningful, but to see it come together through the passion and skill of the director and her creative teams. I will never forget the encounters with audience members who were deeply moved. I learned to be with their energy and emotions without judging them – to let moments hang and develop. That stays with me today.

In terms of advice from that job: firstly, don’t get drunk on the last night and do cartwheels – you’ll end up with an ankle injury that will plague you for the rest of your life – and don’t shut moments down before they happen.

CV: Naomi Paxton

Age: 40
Training: Goldsmiths College; University of London; Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama
Theatre includes: Shadowlands, Wyndham’s and Novello Theatres (2007); The Vagina Monologues, UK tour (2009); Stick Man, UK and international tour (2010)
Books includes: Stage Rights! The Actresses’ Franchise League, Activism and Politics 1908-1958 (2018); The Methuen Drama Book of Suffrage Plays (2013); The Methuen Drama Book of Suffrage Plays: Taking the Stage (2018)
Other credits: Votes for Women – Yours for a Penny! (BBC Arts), Suffragettes on Stage (National Theatre)

Naomi Paxton was talking to John Byrne. Ada Campe and the Psychic Duck runs at the Stand’s New Town Theatre, Edinburgh, August 2-26. Full dates: naomipaxton.co.uk

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