Performer's Perspective

It’s push, not posh that makes an actor  

Victoria Atkin, 'The Stage' 10th October 2012


Having read Julie Walters' recent interview in The Daily Telegraph, I began to ponder on Walters’ Working Class Warning. Is a career in acting becoming more and more difficult for the working class to access? Does a silver spoon fast track you, and more importantly sustain your career in the acting world?

Julie Walters is a heroine of mine. I have grown up in awe of this lady’s capability to stop me in my tracks with her power to share emotional truth on stage and screen. Her autobiography is also a must read for any actor.

My first reaction to Walters’ warning was “where there’s a will, there’s a way”.

Before reading the article I had never considered Walter’s class, only her talent. And, as I thought further, I found myself tipping Walters’ concerns on their head. Perhaps a working-class background is actually a gift to performers.

Having experienced struggle, having weathered hardship, will this not deepen an actor’s emotional depth? Doesn’t the best writing regularly explore these life conflicts? 

We are all aware of the benefits drama school training can provide to its students – often it can be crucial to an actor’s progression. But life experience can be just as valuable as any training that drama schools can offer.

So what will happen if financial assistance for drama school places is stopped altogether?

Will Walters’ warning, of a future where only the ‘posh’ can afford to act, materialise? Or will new barriers only serve to ignite the burning desires of budding working class actors, making us work harder to rise to the challenge, to get, what we know, is deserved to all.

Drama school fees may be raising but with this we must rise to the challenge. I might be being overly optimistic, but if we decide to unite or find our own way to fund our acting success, the results we will get in return will only taste sweeter.

I may be young, but one thing I do know is that with £7 left in my overdraft with mounting debt, my prayers were answered before I gave up. The cards you have been dealt are the ones you play. How you play is up to you – and I am a firm believer that it is the individual who counts and not the class they come from.



My athletic approach to life as an actor

Victoria Atkin, 'The Stage' 3rd May 2012 

Maintaining a neat and nimble figure (or perfecting that heavenly six pack) may take time, effort and a great deal of energy but it can be crucial for a performer.

You might think you are getting on and worry about the new kids on the block coming through. And even if you don't, exercise provides you with a relief that is necessary for your sanity, drive and healthy ambition. I consider myself to be an athletic actress, having competed in a number of sports professionally prior to entering the industry and I've often found there are a number of similarities between actors and athletes.

With the Olympics approaching, I have begun to think about a statement I spotted on a recent visit to Los Angeles, while attending a masterclass over there: 'Train like an Olympic actor'.

Suddenly words such as motivation, determination, competition and agility spring to my mind, as well as the necessity for physical strength and endurance. You have to be in it to win it.

So why is it important that an actor must maintain their physical and physiological suppleness?

Having experienced first hand the busy schedule of a soap opera, it's obvious that sustaining physical fitness is key for any progressing actor. Whether you are a West End performer 'breaking a leg' eight times a week or a screen star maintaining 12 to 14-hour days, you need stamina.

Recently, after a particularly hectic week riding the rollercoster of an actor's emotions, I found myself in the gym. As I began my stretches, a polite gentleman approached me asking what I was doing. After a short discussion he suggested I joined his hatha yoga class that was due to begin. Opting for what I thought would be a lot easier than pounding the treadmill again, I joined the class and what I experienced was phenomenal, as my mind and body united for the first time in a week. I couldn't believe how unaware I had become.

I realised that while you need a high level of physical fitness to be an actor, this can all be for nothing if one vital ingredient is missing - peace of mind. Whether you are filming in an idyllic location or out of work bouncing from one casting to the next, no matter how hard you work (and you could be Halle Berry or Arnold Schwarzenegger), without peace of mind you are likely to wear yourself down at a rapid rate.

I will have to see how my experimentation with hatha yoga goes, but for now my conclusion is this - as an actor, it's important to realise that mind and body are one.

As you train, be aware of the effects a hectic life can have on your instrument - it's the only one you have, so try not to damage it. Be mindful of tension and how it affects your uniqueness as a performer. Maintaining peace of mind will allow your creativity to flow effortlessly once more.

Choose physical and physiological suppleness - I can't prove it yet, but I suspect it might be a stepping stone towards longevity - both in life in general and in a successful and varied career in our fantastic industry. And, by all means, if Dame Judi has anything to add to this, I should love to hear from her.  

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