Top acting tips from Totally-Lit

We interviewed Paul David-Gough and Anthony Lewis from Totally-Lit! Theatre Arts Training

Is it possible to be both natural and professional as an actor?

Paul David-Gough: I think it’s essential to be natural in a casting. If you think about it from the point of view of the person who is running the session, they have a really short amount of time to make a lot of decisions about you.

Did you look like your photo? Did you understand the role that we’ve asked you to look at? Were you able to show me something of the character?

And probably, quite the most important thing, for some people, have I got to know a little bit about this person. Have they relaxed a little bit and got past the nerves. Are they holding it all in, are they really uptight and hating every moment of this experience, because they’re nervous?

It’s that essential combination- “natural and professional”.

I want to feel that I know a little bit about the person that’s just walked into the room, but I also want to see someone who has prepared properly. If I’ve sent a script out, that they have made an effort to attempt to learn in, at least enough to be able to look up from the script.

I notice that Totally-Lit! introduces young performers to successful and famous actors. What can be gained from working with actors who are well-established in the industry?

Anthony Lewis: I think it is quite common for people without any experience to have a pre-conception that the industry is all glamour, fame and money. The reality is obviously far different and it's quite refreshing to hear about the reality of starting out in the industry from people who have been there and done it. A couple of us were child actors ourselves so we can totally relate to their journey and hopefully we can inspire the students to follow their dream.

(PDG): We are always learning from each other. When we train, or when we are being taught a skill, we are learning as much about acting from the feedback of others, as we are from the feedback that we receive about ourselves.

We are constantly adapting and evolving as actors and not because it’s growing inside us naturally. Our knowledge is being fed by the experience that we absorb from those who have experienced the things that we haven’t. We also grow as actors, when someone allows us to see how we can channel our own life experiences, into a character that we will be reading/playing.

Actors are extremely generous when it comes to passing on their knowledge and expertise. So, we have actors, willing to work with ‘beginners’, under professional conditions, to give them something to act against. To see that artist working, to observe their rituals and their methods. To discuss their approach to a scene. To learn how to take direction. To ask, when relevant, for a clarification on something. To see how certain things become innate, yet still relevant.

What should a young person expect when embarking on a career in performance?

(AL): Any young person starting out in the industry should have a solid work ethic to help them deal with the competitive nature of the game. You will experience rejection and disappointment but if you have a solid work ethic and you take on board all the tools that you have learnt in our classes, then you will walk in to that room an inch taller and in any industry where the margins are so tight, any little edge can make you stand out from the competition.

(PDG): I think you should expect to have to work hard.

Expect to have to put into each task, job, project 100% commitment.

Expect to be chastised, if your time-keeping is not very good.

Expect people that you are competing to against to be as good, if not better than you and more organized and better prepared.

Expect people to suggest that you should find an alternative career, if you want to be able to feed yourself.

But it is also important that you anticipate an overwhelming sense of goodwill, thrown in your direction, when you enter a casting session.

Don’t expect them to be hostile towards you. Expect them to be happy that you are there, that you are the one that they want to be perfect for the job. Expect that they will want to ask you stuff about things that you like, or that make you “tick”.

Expect that they are going to want to see a good, well prepared audition.

Expect rejection, sometimes. Sometimes it happens a lot, before you get an offer of a job, but that’s because there’s a lot of people out there who, it would appear, want it as much as you.

Expect all of those things, but keep your eyes on your goal. Enjoy the process. The fact that you are going into a room, a casting, a job, a training, where your life ‘could’ change forever.

Expect to enjoy a lot of it.

Someone once told me that it's impossible to become an actor without experience. So where do I start??!

(AL): Nothing is impossible. If you believe in what you want to do and you are prepared to put the work in, then you can do whatever you want. Attend as many classes as you can and never stop learning. Not only will we prepare the students for life as a working actor, we will be sending each of our students away with a professionally made showreel demonstrating what they have learnt as well as head-shots to help them gain representation.

(PDG): Every single time I hold workshops, or auditions, particularly with young people, I am more than happy to see someone with absolutely no experience. Primarily, because they don’t quite know what to expect, and are, therefore, usually quite relaxed and just being themselves.

It is true that acting is a technical art-form and that you would need to know certain things, but it is not too unusual for someone with Zero experience to be offered a brilliant film, or TV role.

It’s not going to happen for everyone, however, so I do genuinely think that anyone with an interest in acting, should try and gain as much experience as possible. You should watch lots of movies and see a diverse range of plays-and not just musicals. Join a youth theatre – even reading an actor’s autobiography. It is also important to remember that every single actor who has ever lived, started off with no experience.

Am I right to be nervous around casting directors?

(AL): There is nothing wrong with nerves. It's how you use them that counts! If you can channel that pent up energy in to your performance, great things can happen. If you allow it to put up a wall between you and your best work, then that's something to work on. Find yourself a happy space in your head, even if it means listening to your favourite music just before you go in. If you can put yourself there and you have prepared to the best of your ability, then there is nothing stopping you.

(PDG): I don’t think I know one actor who isn’t nervous in a casting. Certainly before they walk in to the casting. It is worth remembering, however, that those auditioning you aren’t sitting there wanting you to fail. They want you to be good. They want you to be ‘the one’, so from the second you walk in the room, they are on your side!!!

George Clooney mentioned that it’s useful for us to remember, you don’t have the job the before you enter the room and that they aren’t likely to offer it to you when you’re in the room with them. In which case, when you walk out of the room, you’ve not lost anything. May as well go in and enjoy the meeting.

How much room is there for individuality in the performing arts - should I strive to fit a mould?

(AL): Individuality can be very useful. In an industry where the competition is so intense, finding any level of originality can only be a good thing. But it is not the be all and end all, there will always be roles for people of all types. Mums, Dads, Sons, Daughters, Firemen, Shopkeepers, whatever it is there is a role out there that suits everybody. It is important to know your own type and what roles suit you but it's also important to research the parts you are going for and try to adapt your look where possible.

(PDG): Personally, I like individuality. It’s important to be yourself, whenever possible. It’s also important to get a good understanding of how others see you, because from a casting point of view, we need to be realistic about where we ‘fit in’.

There are numerous times that we hear people complain that she got casting for this role, but I didn’t. The truth of the matter is, she looks dead right for it and you don’t. That is, irrespective of how much you wanted to play it, if you don’t fit the image of that of the people deciding on who gets seen, you just don’t fit.

That’s why no one gets the job sometimes and breakdowns go out again. ‘They’ have had to re-think.

I think with regards to fitting a mould, then it’s quite straightforward. You are either male or female, tall or small, old or young etc…

Our individuality may not shine through until we are given a platform to present it. Therefore, I think, just be yourself. Look at what is required of you in a casting and try your best to let the “you” be enough to convince them that you’re right for the role.

Even if I don't continue to be a professional actor, what can I learn from courses such as yours?

(AL): The core skills that we plan to teach can apply to all walks of life. Students will learn to be confident and assured, taking challenges and problems and solving them by utilising creative thought and teamwork. Tackling nerves and learning to deal with disappointment and rejection will also serve the students in whatever they choose to do with their life. And most importantly it is learning that hard work and fun should not be seen as strangers!

(PDG): It’s an obvious thing, for me to say that you will learn about co-operation, or you will learn to be more confident, or to be able to speak more clearly. It seems less obvious to say that you will learn to take some responsibility. If you don’t know your lines, it’s not your mom’s fault. She can’t apologise on your behalf.

If you’re late for a rehearsal, because you were dilly-dallying, you’re letting lots of people down. If you notify someone you’re running late, it’s not going to help you get there earlier, but you’re taking responsibility and showing those that you are working with some respect.

At a time that really matters in your life, you may decide that you don’t wish to continue acting. You may choose to study to do something else instead. What a great story to be able to tell at your university, or job interview, that you used to act. It’s not all about hugging trees. It’s about doing something creative, co-operatively, as an important part of a team. About dealing with the “ups and downs”, rejection and success, however large or small. Accepting each as part of life’s lessons.

Totally-Lit is a collaboration between a group of professional TV/Film /Stage actors and an independent film company (iGun).

Totally Lit’s main aim is to produce a rich new crop of acting talent, amongst young people, aged 11-18 years (pre drama school age), giving them the opportunity to work with/alongside established actors, directors, agents, casting directors and television presenters.

Through weekly classes, the students will be given the opportunity to develop a full range of skills, which will enable them to deal with the demands of a professional environment, but enable them to retain their own personality.

For more information about the company, and audition information, please visit totally-lit.co.uk