New actors

Working with people who’ve never performed before always throws up tricky questions around definitions, often these actors are called non-actors – even though they are acting! Or non-professional, amateurs, untrained, community actors, it’s a very difficult thing to grapple with.

At Common Wealth we’re really interested in how we continue to work with people who’ve never performed before so we have to develop our language for that too. We recently did a brilliant R&D with National Theatre Wales on a new show we’re developing, that week we worked with four ‘professional actors’ and one brilliant, talented natural performer Rhiannon Welsh who it just so happened has never acted professionally before. In our evaluation meeting Rhiannon described herself as a ‘new actor’ and we thought this a brilliant way of phrasing it.

The five young women we cast for No Guts, No Heart, No Glory had on the whole never performed before – one had done GCSE drama and one had been to weekly drama classes, from the first day of rehearsals on that play they were all actors. They were new to it and had to take immense risks and be incredibly brave and work very hard but to call them ‘non-actors’ or ‘amateurs’ would have been so insulting, so wrong. I suppose it helps that at Common Wealth we pay everyone who is working with us as a full-time actor at Equity rate so automatically they are getting paid, so in that sense it is their profession.

So many people are just natural performers, with a sense of timing, rhythm and pace – and often a lot of this talent goes unnoticed or uncelebrated because the terminology still refers to them as a ‘community actor’ or whatever and limits how we see and support people who are actually just new to it.

For us Rhiannon Welsh hit the nail on the head with the ‘new actor,’ everyone has the potential to be an incredible performer, we all tell stories and communicate every day and this can all be harnessed to create incredible performances. Of course this is not to deny the immense skill and talent of a lot of trained actors – I suppose they’ve just had more time to bring out all of that potential.

For us now about to embark on our next piece ‘The Deal Versus the People’ with eight people from Bradford who’ve never been paid to act before we’ll be championing this term ‘new actor’ and all that the word NEW implies, that we can be brave, take a risk and surprise ourselves.