Acting and stage careers, along with rejections and financial constraints, make this profession a challenging one. It’s not easy to support yourself as an acting professional while you’re waiting for a phone call from the theatre or an agent, and for this reason you should invest in continuous training and professional development.
Training and practice are key factors in any performing arts career, as explained by a few people we recently spoke to who are producing their own work, partially as a result of Brian Astbury's guidance but mostly as a result of their own talent.
Jessica Beck, an American-born theatre artist who specialises in new writing, has been working with Brian for over a decade and tells us about her experience:
Brian introduced us to the idea that actors and directors are capable of making their own work. Why wait for a theatre to give you a job, or to find the perfect play (a very rare phenomenon), when you can just go ahead and make your own work? So I did. I still do. I make my own work; taking ideas from inception to production in collaboration with actors and writers.
Beck’s productions of ‘Terrorist! The Musical’ (pictured above), ‘Up the Gary’, ‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’ and more have ventured all over the UK, and some have even played in New York“.
In 2005, "Terrorist! The Musical" was born. It was a political musical that a cast of seven (myself included) devised on Brian’s course at East 15, which we further developed and took to the Edinburgh Festival. In addition to selling out, we found ourselves in the New York Times and featured in many TV news reports. The contacts made from that experience, and the notoriety of the production, was a great kick-start for my career.
Up the Gary, our story about the rise and fall of a Gary Glitter tribute artist, explored what happens when you believe in something so much you base your entire life on it, and what happens when that belief turns out not to be true or different from what you thought. Co-written with performer Andrew Barron, it premiered in Edinburgh in 2006 but lived on until 2010, touring all over the UK and even heading as far as New York.
In a co-production with my company Viva Voce and The Bike Shed Theatre, we created The Exeter Blitz Project, a verbatim play developed to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Exeter blitz in 2012. Playwright Helena Enright and I partnered with The Imperial War Museum to include our material in their sound archive. The production was funded by ACE, Exeter Arts & Culture, Devon Country Council and Exeter City Council.
Jessica Beck sums up the philosophy of the course and it’s teachings:
My most recent production, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, is an autobiographical show written and performed by Rebecca Crookshank, about her time in the Royal Air Force. Signing up at just 17, Crookshank recounts her experiences in the forces (the good times and the bad), a particularly harrowing experience in the Falklands, and her emergence from this darkness and her creative awakening.
After premiering at the Edinburgh Festival in 2015, Channel 4 approached Rebecca about sharing her story (and footage) for a news feature on harassment in the forces. The show is currently touring the UK and heading to New York in November 2016.
These are just a few examples of many. I consider myself to be an independent, thinking artist, with control over my career. And that’s a testament to the training I had with Brian Astbury, absolutely.
The success of The Forge Initiative can be seen through the achievements of the productions students have produced. Thank you Jessica for such a lovely testimony of your experience.
The Forge Initiative is designed for experienced artists who want to set up their own theatre company and devise their own work, concluding with a production to take on tour.