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The Green Room: What did you learn the hard way?

In a recent interview in The Stage, director Christopher Haydon, pictured, says he tells young directors that “the icing of success sits on top of a cake of rejection letters and failure”. Photo: Aenne Pallasca In a recent interview in The Stage, director Christopher Haydon, pictured, says he tells young directors that “the icing of success sits on top of a cake of rejection letters and failure”. Photo: Aenne Pallasca

Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…


Albert Parker is 58 and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA award winning sitcoms, theatre and TV

Rosemary Crackers is 50 and has worked extensively in TV, film and theatre for nearly 30 years

John Pepper is 31, and for the past 10 years has worked extensively as an actor in various regional theatres, the National Theatre and in radio, television and feature film


Peter Quince is a 71-year-old actor working in theatre and television

Annie Walker is 25. Since graduating from drama school, Annie has worked predominantly in regional theatres and is also a writer and street performer

Ros Clifford is 30. Currently a deputy stage manager, she has worked extensively in London and regional theatre for nine years


Rosemary That if you indulge an actor who wants to go into minute detail about their character at the beginning of rehearsal, they will do it all the fucking way through.

Ros That you can’t be perfect all the time.

Peter That I can’t sing. Mind you, I knew that from an early age.

Rosemary That you shouldn’t fight a battle for someone else.

Albert That I’m not George Clooney.

Peter That you should get the train before the one you think you need to take.

Jon Mine is that directors don’t like it when you don’t write the notes down.

Ros That people won’t always appreciate you.

Peter That I wasn’t sexy.

Albert: How not to corpse. I was made to laugh by an older actor at the Royal Shakespeare Company who then ripped me up every night off stage for doing it.

Peter That when you see black crumbs in the toaster in your digs they are actually mouse droppings.

Rosemary If possible, no wig. If possible, no corset. If possible, no make-up.

Peter No body make-up.

Jon No pre-show.

John But get into costume before beginners, it might not all be there or be broken.

Rosemary Don’t suggest a song you love for a play you are in. You will hate it by the end.

Ros Accept that some actors and directors have no clue what a deputy stage manager really does.

Jon You’re the ones with the earphones, right?

Ros Yes, exactly.

Albert What’s a DSM?

Rosemary DSM is the one you shout ‘Line’ at, I think?

Ros You joke, but that’s more of a clue than some actors I’ve worked with have had about what I do.

Rosemary Don’t eat on stage, on film, or on TV. Eating is a terrible lesson to learn.

Jon Shout out to anyone who’s played Trotter in Journey’s End. Bacon, coffee and toast in the space of about a page, while talking lots.

Peter I once had to eat a meal in a scene in which I had a lot of lines. The actor next to me would eat his own meal and then start on mine.

Rosemary I was going to eat a whole roast chicken in a show recently. We laughed at the thought. I changed my mind just in time.

John Oh God, I had to eat three raw hamburgers (corned beef) and down a litre of milk once. Wish I’d cut that idea.

Jon On a slightly tangential note, is there anything we wish we’d learned sooner?

Ros That you can’t be perfect all the time. I’ve spent too long beating myself up.

Peter Don’t take decisions on a role too early. It’s okay to say no if you don’t want to do it. Although turning a job down is a guarantee that you won’t work for the next six months.

Albert Saying ‘No’ is very powerful. Too many actors saying ‘Yes’ whatever the money is the reason producers can get away with low fees.

John Learn your lines for auditions so well you could do them backwards, hopping down the centre of the M4.

Rosemary I don’t agree about learning lines for auditions, John.

John Really? I’ve started getting so many more jobs since doing that.

Jon ‘Learn for telly, don’t learn for stage’ was what I was always told. Admittedly that was 20 years ago.

John If the director wants you to be off book before you start rehearsal, he’s not joking.

Rosemary John, I am roaring!

John It was horrible. I was 24, standing in a room of very good actors, asking the DSM for a line every time I had to speak.

Jon I learned that when you’re covering, you have to learn it properly even if you don’t get any rehearsal. I learned this one night when someone didn’t turn up and I didn’t know it.

Ros Oh, my God.

John Yes Jon, I’m dreading learning that one.

Jon Don’t worry, the actor I was covering arrived by the five-minute call. But for a good half-hour, aged 25, I was thinking: ‘I’m about to play a very wordy lead in a West End show and I don’t know it.’

Ros Thanks for the reassurance. My little DSM heart was racing!

John I bet the next day’s line-learning was fun.

Jon Next day? Try overnight!

Annie Money management is a massive thing to learn. It’s kind of scrunched up at the end of your training: you’ve trained your voice and body daily for three years, now here’s lots of other excellent habits to get into right now that you’ve never practised before. I found that tricky, especially coming from a working-class background. Money was a touchy subject.

Albert Always save for tax. I’ve had bailiff letters and had to borrow money from friends because I hadn’t put enough away. The next day I got a bloody big commercial – mercifully.

Jon So many actors have horror stories about tax, me included.

Annie A weekly accounts class at drama school could have been good, just to get us into the habit of saving receipts and thinking more like an entrepreneur. I know a lot of people who would have appreciated that.

Albert You do have to learn things the hard way. You offer advice to graduates at drama school, and you can see half of them smiling and saying in their minds: “Yes, but that doesn’t apply to me.” They’ll learn.

Look for training opportunities on The Stage website