10 Nov, 2016
10 : 00
Primary School students at the Yew Chung International School of Beijing (YCIS Beijing) were treated to a pair of performances from the White Horse Theatre Group. Returning for another year after last year’s scintillating performances for Secondary School, this year’s performances of Jack and the Beanstalk and Spot the Dog had the students on the edge of their seats. Following their full morning of performances, we spoke with Samantha and Joe about their acting backgrounds and received some expert advice for our own budding young actors at YCIS Beijing.
Please introduce the White Horse Theatre Group.
The White Horse Theatre Group is a German company set up by UK citizen 30+ years ago. It’s now the biggest performing group for education institutions in the world, reaching over 400,000 students worldwide per year and featuring both classical plays and works written independently by the company.
When did you first start acting?
Both: 6 years ago we started acting professionally when we graduated from university. We both studied at Bath University in England and graduated from a 3 year course majoring in acting and the performing arts.
Samantha: I started doing performances at my local theater when I was about 12 years old. I loved it and wanted to carry on with it as a career. Thankfully I had parents that supported me in pursuing it in university.
Joe: I started my first performances when I was 12 as well, performing mostly in musicals. I didn’t do any plays or Shakespeare until college.
How do you think acting helped you develop as a person?
Sam: The biggest thing for me is probably the people skills I’ve learned and, especially during my tenure with White Horse, to have confidence when entering new environments and cultures.
Joe: I think the great thing about working professionally in foreign countries is it has helped us to develop our communication skills as well as how to make English accessible to non-native speakers. It’s made me realize that the language itself can be really fun in how it’s used in stories, especially when entertaining kids.
Sam: We’ve also developed the perseverance to keep doing what we love. Acting is a tough industry to be in. If you’re in London, it’s even tougher; something like 94% of actors are unemployed. We’ve been really lucky that we’ve been able to jump from one job to the next without many breaks.
To be a successful actor, you can’t wait for your next opportunity. I’ve learned that impatience is a really good thing. I’m already thinking ahead to how we can make our own work rather than waiting for someone to come to us. Most actors are content to play the waiting game, but for us we are always looking ahead.
What kind of plays or theater performances do you enjoy the most?
Joe: I grew up watching musicals and such in London. Les Miserables in particular had a very profound impact on my desire to be an actor.
Sam: I quite enjoy when I actually get a true Shakespeare performance. Despite being a native English speaker and an actor, I still find Shakespeare very difficult. It’s a whole different world of its own. There’s so much depth! For me, I find it really satisfying when I go to a great Shakespearian performance and the actors are able to really bring me into that world.
What kinds of benefits do you think theater brings to students?
Both: There are so many skills that you can gain from acting! Public speaking, presenting oneself, memorization, time management, characterization, body language, vocal control: these are all skills that the craft and the process of preparing for productions can impart on students.
One great example of how these skills benefit someone would be an interview situation. As soon as you step into the room, you’re being judged straight-away. If you have that background of knowing how to present yourself, you can act your way through even if you don’t know the answers to the questions!
For students who want to try acting but are nervous onstage, what are some tips for them to get over stage fright?
Joe: Breathe! Find a happy place to help you meditate. A counting ritual with your breath also helps you relax.
Sam: A big thing with nerves is remembering the lines. I really struggle with lines, especially if I’m on a tight deadline. What really helps for me is saying the lines 10 times before going to bed, just before I shut down. Then, in the morning, the lines are still there! That really helps for me.
A big warm-up is great too. If I’m in a big ensemble cast, doing a group focus exercises help to calm me down.
Joe: Ultimately, while people worry about making mistakes, it’s really not a big deal. We’re only human at the end of the day. Even as professional actors, we’ve made plenty of mistakes. We’re always able to fix it and the audience almost never notices. The beauty of theatre is that it’s real. Allow yourself to make your mistakes and learn from them to become a better actor.
Sam: Better things often come out of what were originally mistakes! Oftentimes our greatest improvements will be the results of what was a mistake.
What are some other tips, practices, or preparation methods that you’ve found to improve one’s acting ability?
Joe: Read more and listen to other people. Don’t drown yourself in your own method; allow others to share and learn from them. Don’t think you’re the only one doing something a specific way; there are certainly thousands of people doing something similar so observe their methods and learn from them to improve.
Sam: Do your research in everyday life. Create your characters from people-watching; pull various pieces and behaviors from others that you’d like to imitate rather than from a Google search on a character.
During the rehearsal process, try to start wearing as much costume as possible from very early on. It can change so much of how you physicalize yourself depending on if you’re wearing costume or not. For instance, a scarf can make you more feminine or a walking stick can make you an old person; try to use those props from day one so that you can get comfortable with them immediately.
Joe: Go to the extreme and then draw it back. Don’t step by step try to figure your character out. It’s best if you can broaden yourself as a character as much as possible and then narrow it down, e.g. if you’re an eccentric character, be very eccentric, then tone it down to the degree that is needed by the play.
Sam: Be unique and be yourself, and you’ll do your character justice!