This is Margot's first blog post. This week she discusses becoming an actor, her experiences of being a working actor, and her approach to playing her character.
Transcript of Podcast
Becoming an actor
Most actors just say the same thing - they all wanted to be an actor from a very early age. They can’t think of it as a career move, they just decide ‘Oh I want to act’. However, when I was little, being a vet ran a close second to being an actor because I loved animals until I found out you had that to become a vet you had to go to university for 7 years and I thought ‘perhaps not’, as much as I loved horses.
I knew I wanted to act because I loved saying things out loud. I loved being in plays in school and things like that. What made me consider acting as a career was seeing Shakespeare for the first time at Stratford by the Royal Shakespeare Company when I was 14 on a school trip. I’m from Manchester and was from a girls school and we went down to Stratford for a week which seemed very formal really. The first play we went to see (and remember I was only 14!) was Timon of Athens with Paul Schofield in and I can remember writing in the programme ‘I have no idea what is plays about so if I come away enjoying it, it will be a true test of Shakespeare’ and it is a complete tribute to Paul Schofield and the RSC of 1963 or 64 that the production was as clear as day and totally extraordinary. We were riveted with Shakespeare and we loved it.
It was Shakespeare that tipped me into thinking that acting was what I want to do. In becoming an actor, I think the only concession my parents made was that I instead of going to drama school I should do an English and Drama degree at university which in that time (the late 1960s) there were just four universities in the whole country that did drama at all. What is interesting from an educational historical point of view is that the idea that drama was as an academic subject you could do degrees in was only just beginning to materialise. It was Bristol, Birmingham, Hull, and Manchester. Now when you think of creative writing and media studies and all that, it's a burgeoning academic area that you just never had before. Of course I had to get 3 As to get into any of those universities and I managed to get an A, a B and an F. I failed my French so spectacularly that I went into the clearing process and ended up doing a very old fashioned English degree at Leicester University. So I knew lots of Anglo Saxon! But, of course, like lots of students I acted all the time and the Sunday Times Student Drama Festivals were a godsend because you could get spotted there and get offers of work.
Working as an actor
I started work the day after my finals. I got offered a job in rep - the full term is repertory and it means that you work for the theatre and perform in a number of plays - for the Northcott Theatre in Exeter. I suppose I worked in that for most of my 20s and in community theatre and theatre in education. The 70s was the time when alternative ‘fringe’ theatre was suddenly flowering.
All of the theatres had a theatre in education team attached to them and you’d be doing things like a lunchtime show, the show in the evening, maybe a show in the pub after that: any venue was possible. Theatre was suddenly not confined to this proscenium arch. The Young Vic was the best example of that which was the first custom built fringe theatre. The National Theatre was at the Old Vic and down the road was this butcher's shop front transformed into this theatre in the round. At the time, the idea of theatre in the round was shocking. Some people thought ‘My gosh, how can you act?’ because of that age old rule of never turning your back on the audience and, of course, in the round you would have your back to some of the audience. There was a whole variety of ways to act and places to act in.
Acting in Shakespeare's plays
I think when I was younger I found acting in all plays very similar. I didn’t notice the distinction between Shakespeare plays and other plays that I seem to be noticing now. Modern naturalistic plays seem so easy in comparison to what I’m rehearsing at the moment, but it maybe because I haven’t worked on a Shakespeare play that's as late as this and it may be because the language is so complicated and holding such complicated ideas. I’ve played Lady Macbeth twice and Gertrude in Hamlet and they seemed very straight forward to me, so did Tennessee Williams, so did Arthur Miller, huge sets of feelings but relatively straight forward. What is interesting about Coriolanus is that it is working on a political, emotional, psychological level.
Giles Block, the wonderful text director here, said to me ‘if you get the ideas right the verse will follow’ and then he said ‘Volumnia probably has 120 brilliant ideas. That's what her part is, and they’re all packaged up in a very particular set of words. You just have to get those 120 ideas in your head and you’ll speak the verse clearly and compellingly.’ Which is true but the ideas aren’t straight forward. She has the most complicated relationship with her son that means that six or seven things are going on in your head at any one time as you are saying the lines. So the short answer is yes I’m finding it very different and much more taxing this time doing Shakespeare than I have found doing contemporary or at least 20th century drama.
These comments are the actor's thoughts or ideas about the part as she goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply her own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsal process progresses.