Actor, singer and coach Debra Michaels gives her advice to those training for careers in the performing arts
How did you start in theatre?
Through my neighbours and their guests, who would give me money for sweets if I sang for them. But it all really began at the Askew Road Theatre Workshop, which was led by an inspirational actor called Peter Flannery.
What is the best piece of advice you have for students and graduates today?
Be disciplined and remain passionate, inquisitive and dangerous.
What would you change about the industry?
More creative thinking when casting or selecting plays. Also, more emphasis on making sure technique, both vocal and physical, is strong.
What is the best part of your job?
Always striving to do better, embracing new challenges and adapting. Often, as singers we can be seduced by the beauty of our sound and become slightly detached. By connecting the tapestry of skills at our disposal, such as vocal command, presence and interpretation, we become the complete performer, igniting a dynamic relationship with our audiences.
And your least favourite?
Who are the practitioners you admire the most/who should students look up to?
I love the methodology of Augusto Boal, founder of Theatre of the Oppressed. I’m also inspired by the work of Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett of Frantic Assembly.
What is the one skill every theatre professional should have?
A solid technique that enables them to live, body and soul, in the moment
How can an actor or singer remain relevant in a changing artistic landscape?
Arm yourself with knowledge, new skills and be adaptable. As Boal says: “The permanent condition of change is the only unchangeable thing.” That is what fuels our lifelong commitment to learning and improving.
Debra Michaels has taught at Hammersmith and West London College. She was talking to John Byrne