One-man theatre company takes us on a tour of his London-based show
Theatre actor Reuben Williams writes and stars in an outdoor tour show in London growing in popularity – that isn't a lie, but most of his tour is. Mandy News finds out more...
Reuben, tell us where you’re from and when you first decided you wanted to act professionally.
I grew up in a small village called Westoning in Bedfordshire, most notable for it’s proximity to the M1. Besides listening to the distant sounds of the motorway, learning to swear, and resenting people there wasn’t much to do, so my mum founded the youth branch of our local am-dram club to keep my sister and I out of trouble.
This was not entirely successful. I was a shy kid who discovered how much I loved to play. I became the dame in the local panto and co-directed my first show age 16. I think I wanted to be an actor even as child. I loved tv, films and plays. They gave me permission to feel, and filled me with hope for the adventures I’d have as an adult.
However due to a fantastic fear of life I actually spent a lot of time trying to do other more sensible things which I didn’t enjoy as much. IT, for example.
How did you go about learning your craft and making it into a career/income?
Initially I tried to study IT, but realized after my first year that I just wasn’t all that sensible, so decided to study a performing arts degree at Bretton Hall.
I graduated more than 10 years ago now. Since then I’ve done as much other training as I’ve been able to afford - workshops and classes on writing, improvisation, clowning and a few years of training in the Meisner technique at the Actor's Temple. Learning the craft can be the pursuit of a lifetime. As indeed can be making it into a career/income. In fact I’m not sure I’ve done either of them fully just yet.
I haven’t had a ‘big break’ but every year I earn more from my creativity. Currently my creative work (acting/writing/comedy) generates 60/70% of my income and as long as that figure keeps increasing I feel I’m winning. Making my own work is a big part of this. Things like Bullshit tours both generate income and keep me honing my skills. If I relied solely on other people giving me jobs I wouldn’t still be doing this.
What was your first job? How was it?
My first paying job was doing TIE with a company called CragRats. The company that The League of Gentlemen based ‘Legs Akimbo’ on. They were highly leveraged and employed a lot of actors all over the country doing bespoke scripts written to capitalise on whatever the curriculum's core learning points were that year. Our show encouraged children to be entrepreneurial. Ironically, due to their entrepreneurial approach to debt, the company themselves went bust in the credit crunch.
I enjoyed that job a lot. The show itself was pretty basic but I was lucky in that the actors I was teamed with were both brilliant performers and very good company.
How did you then go on to get further work?
Through auditions and people seeing my work, liking it and asking me to work for them. Plus I’ve got a magic cat who gives me jobs when I tickle its anus.
Tell us about your Bullshit London tours. When did you create it and how did you end up getting commissions? Tell us about those.
I started Bullshit London in 2013. I was booked to do a real walking tour of London at such short notice I had no time to do any research. In a bid to appear like I could do my job this led me to invent some London ‘history’. Which was less funny at the time than it was talking about it in the pub later that evening. In fact it seemed so funny in retrospect that a friend and I set out to answer the question, can you do a tour of totally made up facts? The answer it turns out is yes.
It snowballed from there. At the end of the first year I got my first commission to write a bespoke tour for an event called the Sunday Papers. I wrote it in 6 days and it went way better than it had any right to. The event was written up, I was mentioned as a highlight before Rahzel in the piece, and they’ve had me back to do that tour another 6 times since. My second commission, down in Falmouth, came out of someone seeing my tour at the Sunday Papers and asking me to work for them. Plus I’ve now done two commissions for the City of London who are improbably great champions of my work.
All in all, Bullshit London has become far more successful than I expected it to. I have written 6 tours to date and am one of the ‘Top 101 things to do in London’ according to Time Out.
I got involved in Mortified through a friend who was aware of the show from the states. They were looking to set up a chapter in London so we met them and I ended up getting involved. It’s a great project for me because it combines writing, producing and comedy so I’m continuing to expand my skillset. I’m also managing a team of people for the first time in my life so that’s an interesting challenge.
Other interesting productions you’ve worked on?
I was involved with a great show this year called Borderline. A satirical comedy about the refugee crisis devised by and starring refugees. It’s a really powerful piece, funny, moving, with a lot of heart. They haven’t got any funding but it has such an impact on people that they keep getting asked to play all over the place and they make it work through ticket sales and the tenacity of those involved. Much like the refugee crisis itself, the show shows no signs of stopping.
What have been your most interesting and challenging productions? Any interesting stories? Travelled much for work?
I was in a London based production of ‘The Three Sisters’ two years ago and we rehearsed in the snowy mountains of Poland. That was pretty special. Travelling down to Falmouth to write and perform my tour there was loads of fun. Falmouth is such a great town, the people were friendly and it was a lot of fun to explore. I’ve also performed characters in lots of generic hotels and conference centres around the home counties for various events. Those kinds of places are pretty much all the same. Unspace. Conference centres. Interdimensionally linked to airport departure lounges or 24 hour supermarkets. They’re usually less fun.
As far as interesting stories go, I was in a show once where the director was so uptight and pedantic, he made the cast so uncomfortable that he was actually a detriment to his own show and in the end the cast got together, approached the theatre and said ‘either he goes or we go.’ Of course once a play is underway it can’t go on without the cast, and the theatre didn’t want to refund the tickets so he ended up getting banned from his own show. He refused to accept it, turned up anyway and had to be dragged out by security mid-production. That was pretty dramatic!
Oh yeah and once I dislocated my own shoulder on stage with the power of my acting! I wasn’t doing stage combat or anything cool like that. Just vigorous angry gesticulating. Always warm up people!
Are there any acting myths that people believe starting out that you can reveal aren’t true?
‘You’ve either got it or you haven’t.’ This idea that some people are natural performers, naturally funny, or charming, or watchable and others aren’t. It’s utterly untrue and a horribly unhelpful attitude. The truth is far more subtle. Things like being funny or charming or emotionally open are skills that can be honed just like kicking a ball. It’s all about the amount of hours of practise you put in.
What advice can you give to somebody wanting to be a professional actor?
The best thing you could do would be to be born the incredibly good looking son of rich, white parents. Go to Eton, Cambridge, then Rada. If you can’t do that, maybe do something else other than acting. If you can’t do anything else then be prepared to be poor, be prepared to be heartbroken and be prepared to slog your guts out.
Tell us what you’ve got coming up and what you’re up to at the moment.
I’m currently doing some workshops on a Caryl Churchill play at the Actor's Temple. It feels great to come back as an alumni and help out. I’ve got a short film coming up in December and I’m in the middle of writing a feature film.
This is alongside auditioning of course, I try to maintain an attitude of being open to possibilities without needing them too badly. Desperation has never worked in my favour.
Fancy experiencing one of Reuben's tours? Check out Bullshit London online.Tags: