How did you start in theatre?
I attended Langley Theatre Workshop in Middleton, Manchester, where I’m from, for weekly classes in acting and dance. They cost 50p for three hours – can you imagine? I moved to London to go to drama school when I was 18.
What’s the best piece of advice you have for students today?
You are not like anyone else, so don’t try to be. Your individuality is your best asset. See as many performances as you can. Not just in the West End or at ‘big’ theatres. See fringe work – in pubs, in unconventional spaces and on a shoestring budget. It’s here that you really learn. You find out what gets your brain ticking and it can light a fire under you. Read as much as you can – aim for a play a week.
What would you change about training in the UK?
It’s important to learn the craft of performance, but we also have a duty to prepare students for the business side. Let’s talk about how to write invoices (and chase them up), about taxes, how to write a strong email and live healthily (physically and mentally) between jobs.
What is the best part of your job?
Working with the next generation of talent. Everyone is so enthusiastic – it’s contagious.
And your least favourite?
The politics of institutions.
Who are the practitioners you admire the most/who should students look up to?
I love Chris Goode’s work. His version of Jubilee changed my artistic practice. Also, DV8 Physical Theatre, Yoshi Oida and Tobi Kyeremateng – she’s a game changer in this industry. As a friend, she inspires me every day and makes me up my game.
What is the one skill that every successful theatre/dance professional should have?
What’s the biggest lesson you learned from drama school?
To listen, to be kind. That theatre isn’t the be-all and end-all – your well-being is, so look after it.
Alistair Wilkinson was talking to John Byrne. He is artistic director of WoLab and teaches at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, National Youth Theatre, Identity School of Acting and RADA