An Introduction to Ellie Piercy and her character Helena - Ellie discusses her initial reactions to the play and how she felt on the first day meeting the cast and creatives.
Time: 5 minutes, 15 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
Okay, my name’s Hayley Bartley and these are the 'Adopt An Actor Podcasts' for 2011. I’m here with Ellie Piercy, who plays Helena in this year’s All’s Well That Ends Well. So, my first question is what was your experience with Shakespeare at school?
I studied Shakespeare at school. We did Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Much Ado About Nothing in which I played Benedict, and had a beard and a fake beard. And I once took it off with white spirit by accident, so my face was burning as I went on to play the other scene. So yes, I played them within the school and if you got to a certain level of age you were able to have a more significant part. And then also studied them at GCSE, before GCSE, and then I went on to do a degree in English where I studied them more.
And so when was your first experience of acting then?
My first experience of acting was quite young because I used to, as a little child, do child modelling so that was quite performative in its nature. I remember to degree being told what to do and having to kind of follow it through, so I think that was quite performative. When I was nine I joined a company called the Double Eleven Children’s Opera and it was more sort of musical productions. I did that from when I was nine to fifteen and they were quite professional. In fact, one year Sophie Ellis-Bextor was my grass hopper husband and Jemima Roper was also in the cast. Yeah, it was just very professional but I learned a lot.
When did you move into the Shakespeare?
Shakespeare would have been eleven, I was eleven when I was Maria in Twelfth Night.
So, if we move on now to the play itself. What were your impressions of the play coming into rehearsals, any initial thoughts on it?
My initial thought was “Wow! I’ve never read this play. Why haven’t I read this play before because it’s brilliant!" It struck me that the female parts were very, very strong and sometimes there aren’t enough strong female parts in a Shakespeare play. I found that the areas that are covered - emotionally the experiences that the characters have, particularly Helena, I can really understand. When I find in me an overtly feminine reaction to things, which can also be quite courageous maybe, but not really very well thought through. Also, the main plot of the story line, it’s just very true that you can sometimes really fall in love with someone whose actually not the nicest to you and you can see the best in people when sometimes they’re not actually always acting in the way that the treatment of them deserves. So, there’s a lot of stuff in the play that I thought, “Oh my goodness! This really rings true or I’ve seen this in real life.” And it’s a really good story and it’s a kind of fairy tale story if things happening that come true and it all becomes all well in the end. But it’s got a funny middle bit and I think it’s considered to be a problem play quite often, but I don’t find it that problematic. There’s a lot of stuff that I think logically makes sense and Shakespeare’s really got grips with a lot of instincts. And I think this play is about instincts that people do stuff before they really think it through because of responding to a situation and I think that’s a really good place for a story to start.
Definitely, I agree. And did you do any particular research for your character or of the play before?
I did start and then I didn’t. The National [Theatre] just did a really good production of it, dear Michelle Terry playing her and because I think she’s so brilliant, I had a little look and then I was too terrified to look any further because I thought, “Oh, my goodness, she’s done this, what am I going to do?” So I didn’t and I stopped. And I also thought it’s quite important that you don’t really think about what you’re doing too much at this stage, that it’s for you to have an initial reaction to something, for the director to hone in your thoughts and to guide them. I really like research. I love the excuse of doing these plays to look historically at stuff and I tend to get a bit distracted with it, so I’ve held back from doing that this time to make myself too decided.
So just finally, just to talk a little bit about the first day of rehearsal, for people who don’t know, what do you do on that day?
Well, you have what’s called a 'Meet and Greet' on the first day of rehearsal, when you feel really nervous, and you arrive and you think, “Who else is going to be there? Is there going to be anyone else I know?” And you all sit and you kind of introduce yourselves to each other, which is bizarrely one of the most terrifying aspects of doing the play. I don’t know why, as if you forget what your name is, you forget what you’re doing. After that, everyone is a bit overexcited, I mean I was very overexcited, and you sit down. You have a box set, which is like a little mini version of the stage, in a model, and you all look at that because the designer has done a version of the ideas he’s got. So, you look at that and he describes what’s going to happen, and then you might talk a bit about costume, and then normally you have a bit of a chat about the world of the place. So you kind of bring in your thoughts and your research and mainly it’s sort of director and designer led. And so you do that for a bit and then in the afternoon you have lunch and you chat to people, probably a bit too much because you’re over excited, and then you sit down and in the second half you read through the play. And sometimes people do it in different ways, that everyone reads a line or you read your own part, but it’s just to get the play out and to time its length. But it’s really terrifying because you do think now everyone can really hear what I actually sound like and to decide whether they’ve made the wrong, or to think they might have made the wrong decision. But it’s good and once that’s gone, once that’s got out of the way, it feels really exciting and then the next big hurdle is to actually stand up on the stage and try and work out what your arms and legs are meant to be doing.
And that’s exciting stuff which we will hear about next time.