This is Frances' first blog post. This week she discusses becoming an actor and preparing for her role.
Transcript of Podcast
First experiences of performing
I just love the stage! When I was about eight or nine I went to a local drama group and did The Wizard of Oz and stories by Hans Christian Anderson and other musical type things and I just loved all of it. I’ve been a dancer since the age of 6 and I love singing and playing the piano, so my whole world was kind of performance or music or arts orientated. I was a pretty ordinary child though, not extraordinary in any way!
I did a school show of South Pacific when I was 14 and that was when I started to think a bit more seriously about doing drama permanently and not just as a hobby. I was advised to do youth groups and youth theatre as a stepping stone to drama college, so I got into Scottish Youth Theatre and did a season there. And then I was in the Junior Academy which is part of the Royal Academy in Glasgow.
Music or drama?
I was either going to go to music college or drama college. I play the piano and I’m a singer so I had to make a big decision, and I decided to do drama. I knew that I didn’t want to be a classical singer or a classical musician and I didn’t want to be a concerto player either because I don’t think I was good enough. Being a pianist is quite an introspective thing and I wanted the relationship with other people. I wanted to get the kind of conversation you get in theatre with the audience. And here I am now!
I graduated in the July of 2001 and I got a job in the February of that year - so I kind of left college before I finished, although I still graduated and got my honours degree which was brilliant. I left to be in a production of Tis A Pity She's a Whore with a company called Theatre Babel and I played Annabella which was my first big part. I hadn’t really done a lot of big leading roles before because I was one of those people who didn’t really make a big dent at drama college so it was a big challenge for me.
Initially, I had been thinking that I would try acting for a couple of months and see how it went and since that big part I haven’t looked back! I went on tour to Jersey and then in Glasgow and it was a great gig, and then I got a year's apprenticeship in acting in rep, so I did that for a year so I did lots of different theatre pieces. I moved down to London about three years ago because I’d done a lot of different stuff in Scotland but I decided I wanted to spread myself a bit further, looking for bigger and more interesting jobs. Not necessarily more interesting jobs because there is interesting stuff in Scotland but I just wanted a bit more of a challenge.
Every job I do I find more people that I admire. I’m not one of these people who thinks ‘I would love to be like Julia Roberts’. Obviously, someone like Dame Judi Dench is terrific but I don’t have an iconic focus of any one particular actor. I get inspired by working with lots of different people and doing different types of work. I’m especially excited about being here; I think I can learn so much at the Globe. I’m just a bit of a sponge like that. I just go into a room and take from different things.
There is an actress who I worked with quite a while ago called Gerda Stevenson who is very inspirational to me. She's not necessarily a big name in England but she does theatre and television and stuff and she is quite well known in Scotland and she has been inspirational to me as an actor and she was particularly great when I worked with her as a director as well. But you work with different people all the time who inspire you in some way.
Being an actor
In every job you do there is always going to be stuff that you haven’t done before. Having said that, it's great that now after 5 years that I finally feel like I’ve got a bit of experience under my belt and that means that when unforeseen things happen out there on stage I can handle it. With acting, every job is different; I think that is part of the joy of doing it. If you have the kind of mind that wants to search and find out things all the time, to progress and be prepared to change how you think about things then it's the perfect job because you can never have all the answers. You have to go searching for them within yourself and the audience and the other actors.
Preparing for a role
I’ve been told before that I’m quite instinctive and an ‘earthy’ actor. I don’t know exactly what that means! Maybe it means in some ways it is just in my body. But before I start rehearsals I do some research and I do look carefully at the script. In preparation for playing Charmian, I went to the research department in Globe Education to find out about young Egyptian women to get a kind of idea of the time. I’ve got quite a few things to read!
I assumed that being a servant, Charmian would have been of a much lower class and have a pretty bad life. But of course, being Cleopatra's servant, the research department was saying that she would actually have a pretty lovely life and be well looked after. I need to find out more about that, and just what sort of status I would have had, whether I perceive myself as higher than a messenger for example. I don’t know whether that is a personal thing that I can play or whether it is an strict social hierarchy that I have to work within.
Perceptions of Rome and Egypt
On the first day we had a lecture on the impressions people in Shakespeare's day would have had of Rome and what appeared Roman to them and also about their attitude to Egypt. We explored this idea further in a movement workshop and what I understood from that was the idea that the Romans are very much tight lipped and have lots of straight lines and right angles whereas the Egyptians are all curves and curvy and flowing in movement as well as looks. We were just working with how that makes your body feel quite different. Another aspect we explored was the four elements and thinking about whether you are connected to the earth, fire, air or water. I think Charmian probably has bits of all of the elements in her. I haven’t gone through the script and identified earthy sections or fiery sections but I think that might be something that could be helpful to look at in the play.
We also had a linguist, Professor David Crystal, who came in and told us how to pronounce different words and the Latin pronunciation which was terrific - and fascinating to hear about the different accents the actors would have had in Shakespeare's time. I was particularly interested to find out that all accents would have been regional because Received Pronunciation only emerged about 200 years ago and I didn’t know this. I was amazed to hear that. I’m Scottish and because I’ve not actually done Shakespeare professionally I was nervous that I would be in a room with lots of well pronounced actors who really knew what they were doing and I kind of felt, not inferior, but nervous about that. But that talk made me actually come out and think that he was writing for people like me which is brilliant because that is the way the Globe looks at Shakespeare, not as something purely for academia.
Approaching the text
Dominic, the director, wanted to look at Antony & Cleopatra as if it were a new script that we’ve just received and that we are doing something that is fresh and doesn’t have 400 years of differing opinions about it on top of it. It's great to feel that we don’t have that baggage before going into the rehearsal room, to not feel a pressure to ‘get it right’ or to treat it well and all that. I still feel nervous to some extent, but not as a sort of pressure, but because I want to do that.
These comments are the actor's thoughts and ideas about the part as s / he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his / her own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsals progress.