So Elaine you graduated from Guildhall, that is an amazing school to go to, how did you feel when you graduated?
I felt very proud! There were points I thought I would never make it to the end! It was also overwhelmingly odd and sad to leave the place I had spent so much time in for the past 3 years. I’d learnt things about myself there I never knew existed, I was challenged and encouraged every day and I’d made friends I believe I’ll still love when I’m 100 years old and totally mad. I thought I would be scared to leave but actually I felt excited and ready to see what was next.
Did you always want to be an actor?
Pretty much yes! When my mum first took me to stage coach I was most looking forward to the singing and dancing (I wanted to be a back up dancer for spice girls) and I thought the drama would be boring but right from the start I loved it. I also wanted to be an author when I was younger so I guess being an actor that writes is quite apt!
What do you love about theatre?
It’s the one of the few times that a group of people come together, put away their phones and focus on something outside themselves. A good piece of theatre can make you forget all the crap you’ve been carrying around with you all day. Equally it can open up something inside you you’ve been avoiding and help you understand it better. I just love that something as traditional as telling a story is still so powerful. We have more technology than ever, more knowledge then we know what to do with and yet still someone just standing and speaking truthfully on stage is listened to and wondered at.
How do you find juggling earning your rent and auditioning/working in London?
It was really tough at first and I still find myself in my overdraft more often than I’d like but you find a way to balance, you have to! I’m lucky I’ve found two other jobs I really enjoy that offer extremely flexible hours and good pay so if some weeks I think “I really need a couple of days to do something creative or prepare for an audition” I can take it. Dog walking and pet sitting has been a saviour because I can earn money whilst writing emails/learning lines/drafting a script. Some months it’s tough because the flexibility means you aren’t guaranteed a set amount of work or pay a week, but if you can take a step back and not panic and try to budget yourself if becomes very possible.
You have a show at the Camden fringe? Tell us loads about this please?
When I was in my third year at Guildhall I wrote a solo piece. I had no idea why I wanted to do it, I just knew I was excited by writing a part for myself and being able to share a story I wanted to tell. The piece was called “Decibels” and was about 20 minutes in length. I had 4 performances at Guildhall and, to my surprise, received a positive and warm reception to the piece. I was then fortunate enough to be asked to perform it at The Royal Theatre in The Hague with a company called STET. Four of us went to The Netherlands to perform our pieces in September 2015 for a week and it was amazing to share work with an audience of people who didn’t know us and that had paid to come. These 2 experiences taught me a lot about writing and performing a solo piece, 20 minutes alone on stage is a long time if you don’t get their attention from the start and they can immediately tell if you’re not being truthful and won’t respond to you. When I came back I knew I wanted to have another go so I began writing a new piece. What I’ve ended up with is a new solo show derived from that first piece. It has elements and, in some places, bits of text taken from the first piece but is, in my mind at least, a totally new story with a different message. It’s called “Today, Life, the Universe and the Little Blue Bowl” and is about 40 minutes long. My mum actually gave me the title totally by accident! It’s about a young girl in her 20s who’s reached crisis point. We meet her at a “well, what now?!” moment. We’ve all had those moments where we have no idea where we are going which is why I think it’s so interesting to explore as an idea. It’s a universal feeling of “oh fuck.” It’s a comic piece (hopefully) because it fascinates me how close laughter is to crying and pain is to pleasure.
How do you feel about audition fees at drama school, Guildhall is £63 now and they only just really brought in fee waivers for low income students?
When I auditioned for Guildhall it was £50 so I didn’t actually realise it had gone up that much! I’m torn because I know what it’s like auditioning for schools. When I was trying in 2012 I went pretty much everywhere and it was always £50/55 a time plus the train down and back home as I lived in the north of England at the time. If you get to the last round of somewhere then you feel like you at least “got your money’s worth” but if you get chucked out first round then that’s an expensive 3 minutes! I had to save for a year beforehand to be able to do it and luckily my parents also helped as well. It’s super expensive and means some people who would love to audition simply can’t and that’s so sad. However, having been to a school now, I also know how much they have to spend to fund their audition days. Guildhall is 3 rounds to get in. They hold weeks and weeks of first round auditions, a few more weeks second round and then a week of third round. They also hire alumni to steward the auditions to give actors who aren’t working at the moment a hand with income. That’s a lot of people to pay for a lot of days. I really have no experience with organising this kind of thing or budgeting large scale event, so I have no idea if it needs to be as expensive as it is now but I know the money isn’t wasted. I would love it to be able to be free so that everyone had a chance but it’s a difficult balancing act I think.
In drama school , how were people supported who struggled financially?
Guildhall were extremely generous. In my second year I was given a scholarship from the school to help me financially as I was far away from family and there’s no time to work while training. I was given this money every term until I left and without it I would really have struggled. I know many of my year that needed help were given as much as possible and if anyone was really stuck there was always someone to talk to and emergency funds. We were very lucky that scholarships and grants were made accessible to us and we were helped with applying for them.
People often comment how actors shouldn’t complain about the cost of drama school, but most degrees people can maintain part time jobs as lectures are a few times a week, drama school is a full on 45 hour week with work on top. What do you think about the current situation of maintenance grants being cut, do you think it’ll be harder for more and more low income applicants to get through 3 years training?
Yes it’s almost impossible to have a part time job while training, I know a couple of people who did it but they were exhausted and barely earned enough to to make a difference. It’s a big obstacle for a lot of people about the maintenance grants and sadly I do think it will deter some talented low income applicants even attempting to train. But what’s important to know is there is support out there! Trawl through the books of supporters of theatre, there are people out there willing and able to help and if you don’t ask you don’t get. If a school wants you they will try to help as much as they can so if you’re struggling you should talk to them as they might have a solution. I would love for there to be more financial support for drama school students from the government, especially those living in London where the rent and transport costs are high, but for now it looks like we have to find our own paths and solutions as best we can!
What do you think is the most important asset for an actor to have in todays industry?
Belief! In yourself. In your craft. In your skill set. In your career. In your path. In the text. In the play. Just believe you can and you will. Sounds so cliche but the moment you doubt yourself people will use that as an excuse to write you off. You can never guarantee anyone is going to be on your side so be your biggest fan and your biggest support and you’ll never feel alone. Yes, everyone has down days and times you think you can’t act and maybe you don’t work for a year and start to think “I should be a zoo keeper instead” but those are moments you experience and then you let go. Also be able to make a good cup of tea, just because a cup of tea always helps.
What advise would you give to your younger self, all the way back when the idea of being an actor popped into your head?
Remember this moment when you’re older! Younger me was confident and sure of herself, she knew what she wanted and how she was going to get it. To quote little Elaine “I’m going to go to acting school in London when I grow up, they do drama all day there!” As children we have the perfect amount of assurance without being too cocky. Its passion and determination and drive and we aren’t afraid to tell people! I wish I could go back and tell myself to hold on to that and never forget how it felt to be certain.
Can you give us a few words on why you support Actor Awareness?
It’s just such a good family for actors! As we have already discussed it can be a lonely place acting. Financially and emotionally it’s draining. It’s great to have a platform where actors can speak out, find support, have help with new work, get advice and not feel alone. It’s being part of a community who all want the same thing and that’s something special.