What Came After Acting School Finished

When I graduated from Acting School, there was an unspoken pressure around being represented. I had never been a part of an acting agency before. I also didn't see it as an immediate path for me.  On graduation, I felt as though I now knew how much I didn't know about craft.

I felt what Patsy referred to as "consciously incompetent" I knew enough craft now to know that I needed to work on myself and felt utterly inadequate to submit myself to agencies.

I kept taking class.  I couldn't afford fancy money for lessons so I worked for my acting studio in exchange for classes - I filmed for them, post produced videos, did tasks and worked on branding.  My casual job was performance based in hospitals so I was staying creative but it was casual work. To not spend so much and because I had no refrigeration, I ate a lot of rice and laid low. I remember having a Google Map with location markers showing free fruit trees in the neighbourhoods; the permaculture community made me resourceful. The few outings I did go on were because my friends got comps or I went to their houses. I didn't see many plays because I couldn't afford the tickets and instead audited classes for free at the studio. I talked to my mum a lot about my experiences and kept my head grounded.

During acting school, everything is roses. Someone tells you where to be, what you'll be learning and what homework you need to do. You spend a minimum 10hrs a day in acting land honing your craft. It feels amazing. Everyone is discovering themselves, what you're capable of and the lights feel bright. This is where I'm meant to be: in a cocoon.

One night at The Courthouse, towards the end of the year while I was doing homework on a play with my friend Melisa Visca, there happened to be a Launch Party for Shakespeare Republic, a series created by Sally McLean whom I had seen in Masterclasses. A whole bunch of people were there to celebrate. I asked if we could come and Sally said yes. We watched the launch and I thought, “Wow, I might be able to do something like this one day”.

Then graduation happens. And you enter the world just before Christmas and dream about where you might end up. Christmas comes and goes and then the new kids are arriving at the studio and you feel a little replaced. I remember looking at the cohort for 2016 and thinking, “they're young and pretty” their faces were wide eyed and shining and I wanted to be there with them.

Me? I had been living in my van for the last 6 months of school and continued to do so, balancing the romance of being “free to go anywhere” with the loneliness of wanting a sharehouse. I was mostly broke.  In the winter months, I would take some of the clothes out of my suitcase and heat them up in the laundromat for $2 and curl up to sleep with them smooshed around me. I wore my beanie and three layers and slept like a baby every night. The key to living in a van was go to bed after everyone else and then wake up before everyone else. I had no WiFi in my van, so I would spend my nights at the Courthouse Hotel where it was warm and my early mornings at a 24 hour Roadhouse where the taxi drivers of Melbourne all stop for wee early morning coffee.  I met a lot of people at that roadhouse. They all got to know me. One taxi driver wanted us to get married, to which I politely declined. But he was just having a laugh. I learned about their lives and their kids and who they want to be. I never told them I lived in a van, but they all knew. And they often checked that I was okay by sitting down and having breakfast with me and asking what play I was working on. I had the best security in Melbourne looking out for me. A bunch of unexpected friends. Everyone had an accent, Italian, European, Greek and they all pronounced my name differently...I liked the sound of my name spoken in different accents.

At night, at the courthouse, the wooden walls were cosy and there always seemed to be someone on a first date. I used to sit with my play and work slowly and order a cappuccino so that I never outstayed my welcome.

I got my first job in a charity entertaining children in hospitals. Casual but rewarding and an environment designed to make you fail until you succeed. I played and studied and lived in the gym and munched on steamed rice, visited friends and spent a lot of time driving long distances thinking about my future. I got to know the teachers really well because I was at the studio late every night because I wanted to be around it all.

I co-directed a fashion show in Ballarat with Lisa Laine for “Gran” who had a dream to put on a grand fashion show concept. I helped cast it, film it, post produce and direct it. It was exciting, I was in the world of it and I have a love of the Chanel Haute Couture fashion runway shows.

For the rest of the year I audited, worked at the studio in exchange for class and built up my skills at the hospital. I spent most of my time figuring out what was working in classes and what wasn't.  In that year, I was experiencing something closer to authenticity in my work and reducing my pressure to be “perfect”. I was slow. My rhythm is slow by nature. I felt myself slowing right down in my script analysis but also that my personalisation and attention to detail was growing keener.

I watched my peers get recommended to agencies by friends and noted I was not one of them. I watched friends do plays, get new headshots, I shot some of their showreel scenes, watched them go on tv shows, and grow all while I stayed in class.  Although I was being left behind, it never felt that way. Mostly, I didn't feel comfortable in my working level and stayed focused on class and figuring out a daily practice that I could get onto autopilot. Everytime we caught up, the first question I was always asked was, "How's the van?” and a part of me wished they had never known.  I was being seen as someone who could shoot showreels but was not being invited to be in showreels. I don't blame them, it's interesting having a friend who lives in a van. It's different from, “how's the cat?” or talking about the weather.

I stopped saying yes to shooting showreels and “catching up for coffee” but what would become my best move was, I stopped paying too much attention to what they were doing. The problem with comparing is that you stop running and your own race and start watching theirs. I refocused on figuring out how to be authentic. I took voice classes but got dropped from them after my van broke down and I missed the second class in a row. It wasn't a bad decision to drop me. I was actually unreliable. And being dropped forced me to seek out free alternatives.  I learned that I didn't need to be accountable to another person out of necessity. I have no teacher now, little money and need to learn another way. Being broke makes you incredible resourceful. My mum called it: “Kid, you can run on the smell of an oily rag.” It meant I learned how to read books and work out of my own volition. My new focus was on growth before the first Masterclass I can afford. I couldn't afford a teacher on-going but I could save enough to get feedback on a culmination of a year's worth of effort.

In November 2016, I did my first Masterclass with Howard. I had worked with him in Full Time but I had never been in Masterclass with him.  The play he assigned was ‘Night, Mother’ by Marsha Norman and played Jessie Cates. I was cast with Actress, Mardi Edge. We rehearsed a lot at her apartment. Mardi is someone who has known success her whole life.  And she was already making a name for herself in Acting. It was a fascinating experience for me to pull up in my van outside her incredible apartment building with both city and ocean views, ride in the elevator wearing clothes bought for $3 each from Savers and walk into her apartment. I grew up in a caravan park when I was little (one of the greatest experiences for a 90s kid) so everyone seemed richer than me as a kid.  My family never tolerated anything less than perfect manners and it made me confident, so I learned how to speak to people well no matter what they do or where they are in life. I grew up with a loving mother and had dirt on my feet, but I've learned that people don't see the dirt when you have sweet words coming out of your mouth. I still feel as though my toes are firmly in the dirt but I've learned much better words.

That Masterclass experience was wonderful.  When Mardi complimented me saying, “you really do 110%” I felt as though I was floating.  But the greatest feedback was from Howard's mouth. He said, “you have really taken on everything you have been taught and it makes me proud.”  When your teachers can see how much you've grown in a year...all the pressure about where you're headed fades for a while. Afterwards, a colleague and friend told me that my work in that Masterclass had helped her understand a close relative's actions that had hurt her deeply. There are no words for that kind of feeling.

Later, in 2018 I would see a play and the director I respect remembered my work from that Masterclass.  You never know which work will touch people; I had learned that from this masterclass and every kid in the hospital.  

I was thrilled. I told my therapist and they said, “Okay, that's great but you need a house because it's unsafe.”  I went to a festival with two friends I was becoming close to, Shane Savage and Jessica Martin. When an opportunity came up a week later, I moved in with Shane.

The most incredible things happen out of the blue. One cold June evening, I received a call from Sally McLean, whom I had seen in Masterclasses and who had created a Shakespeare series called Shakespeare Republic.  It had a cast of wonderful people; all actors we all recognise from their work and I remembered thinking how cool it would be to be a part of something modern, classical and family-like. I was craving connection and a chance at making art and wanted to apply these new abilities in a challenging context. The series was being produced by Sally McLean and Shane Savage. Later when I told Shane he said, “Sally asked me my thoughts on you and I said, ‘You will not be disappointed” I owe the first professional job in acting outside of the hospital to that little conversation.  Now, I was a modern Patch Adams and doing Shakespeare. After all of the Shakespeare Republic work had been filmed and done, I remember saying to Sally one night at the Courthouse, “At the end of my year at school, I sat at that table during your launch doing my homework and now I'm in the Ensemble.” The best part came next when she looked me firmly in the eye and said, “you earned it my darling”. Later that night when I was alone, I would cry a little with gratitude that anyone should give me a shot.

Shakespeare Republic is brilliant. They take a bunch of artists, give them Shakespeare and build the world around them. I got to choose who I played within reason and chose Edmund. I had the most extraordinary time in that world on that project. I stayed as an extra pair of hands on every production that I was able to for my ensemble cast members and I felt so much love.  There were sleepovers and late night chats, shared dinners and breakfasts and lots of learning. What a gift.

I continued my work at the hospitals getting better and better at working with kids, becoming a musician, working on my Voice, my daily practice. I culminated my notes into what I call my “Craft Bible” and shared it with my closest peers.  I later revoked this when I received a request for access from an unexpected person who I did not want to have access to my document. Always take precautions and keep swimming. I learned from the hospital work that I began to understand what play really was, was celebrating failure meant and what ‘failing forward’ can do: Freedom to authentic. At the hospital, we are not clowns.  We are clowns, singers, painters, improv artists, tv hosts and musicians, dancers, gamers and mischief makers. That leaves a lot of room for learning through failure and not taking yourself so seriously. You cannot be ‘fake’ with a kid. You can live in a fantasy, but if you aren't present with them, or real when you do it, you'll lose them. It's a shortcut to understanding the importance of really being present. It comes with an emotional toll too. To work with children in hospitals has it's heartbreak. And when you put trained, open, vulnerable, sensitive artists in front of a child with illness and ask them to cheer them up, that results in the most rewarding, soulful work that requires solid therapy afterwards.  The colors of the human condition are vivid against the white canvas of a hospital. I have seen much, felt much and spent hours in therapy to understand my role in it.

I have to leave the house now.

To be continued.

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