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