You are a performer, agent, coach and writer, that is a lot of hats, what do you love doing the most?
I think for anybody working in the arts, having to juggle a number of jobs has always been an issue-although, due to both technology the current economy it has now become something people in all walks of life have to do. For me the common factor in all the things I do is using my communication skills to help people to break through the barriers that might be holding their own artistic development back, whether that’s a kid in one of my shows who thinks he can’t draw, or an actor at one of my workshops who thinks they can’t plan their business.
When you were growing up what influenced you towards the arts?
I was always keen on books, comics, stage and screen, but I think the book which really ‘flipped the switch’ for was a book I read when I was about 13 on the making of the original Star Trek TV series. It had interviews with actors, writers, set designers…all very commonplace in books these days but a revelation back then….and I suddenly realised that a) real people made these productions and b) I could be one of those people. I’ve been involved in many and various radio, TV and stage productions since then but I sometimes still feel like that 13 year old who is in wonderment that he is now behind the scenes like the people I used to read about.
What excites you about theatre?
Even with all the advantages of new technology, there are still a lot of practical hoops to jump through to get work on screen, whereas not only is there something very collaborative and ‘instant’ about theatre-even when it has been in rehearsals for weeks!-but it has the magic that it is different every time you do it.
What do you feel is a real and current issue within the industry right now? You have been supporting Actor awareness, firstly thank you and secondly what do you feel about Actor Awareness as a campaign?
For me, inclusivity is the biggest issue in the industry right now… but to be honest I think it has always been an issue, it is just that the internet and new media has given it a voice. As Lucille Ball (who most people remember as a comedian but who was also the first woman to ever head up a major American production company) said ‘Ability without Opportunity doesn’t amount to much.’ I don’t think it is an ‘anti-posh’ or ‘anti-men’ or ‘anti-white’ issue I can think of many ‘posh white male’ actors who are deservedly successful because they are undeniably talented, who work hard and who give back, and fair play to them-the problem is more that the initial opportunities to get going in the industry aren’t as easily available to some as to others, and I think this is the area where we all need to work towards a positive expansion. For me one of the most encouraging developments of the Actors Awareness campaign are initiatives like the scratch nights, so that as well as raising the issue of opportunity, the campaign is actively creating opportunity.
When you coach actors what’s your top tip?
Every actor is different but one of the really important steps for all of us is to work out what in our careers is inside our control and what is outside and making the commitment to work consistently on the stuff we have control over, while forming positive alliances and relationships to help get some leverage on the rest.
What do you feel about drama schools, the inequality (in some peoples opinion) in uni trained and drama school trained students? Drama school fees? Drama school showcases? The fact more and more drama school want to drop out of the accredited system, meaning finance will be available to less?
I always say that while training of any sort never guarantees success in this business, and there have always been successful ‘self taught’ actors, it’s a hard enough business at the best of times that proper training is big advantage-so not having access to training is by implication a disadvantage. Talent is obviously an accident of birth, which actors don’t have control over, as indeed is the social and financial situation they are born into. Hard work is something they do have control over, and in the movies that should be enough in itself to achieve their goals, but in real life , we still need to work towards a more level playing field to enable every actor to have an equal chance of benefitting from their hard work in both the training and career situations.
Thank you John for you time, here John has given us lots of words of wisdom and food for thought.