When Siubhan Harrison was invited to take part in Presence Theatres's Reading Group, she found it to be a great liberation from the actor's past-time of waiting for the phone to ring.
As an actor I'd say one of the biggest challenges you can face, beyond the stage fright and the emotional turmoil of playing out extreme or personal experiences eight times a week on stage in front of twenty-three people in a 1000 seat auditorium, beyond the cruel and vicious fight of auditions, the imagining of a loved one dead ten times a day to achieve tears on demand, appearance alterations and the like; the toughest challenge is how to keep afloat in between jobs. How to keep your soul alive when the phone doesn't ring no matter how often you check it, when the part goes to someone younger/more attractive/off the telly instead of you. There are various routines I go through in order to keep myself 'in shape' for when the phone does ring, I exercise, as an outlet for frustration as much as the physical maintenance, I work every hour I can in various jobs in order to pay the rent and prevent too many moments of dark self analysis, I watch plays as often as I can (but as Juliet Stevenson will vouch this is an expensive hobby.) When the auditions come I'm more than happy to spend hours learning, writing in note books, talking to myself whilst walking around, learning accents, but it's so rare that I allow myself the time or opportunity to read plays, scripts that I have no direct relationship with. It felt slightly indulgent to turn up to the Presence Theatre Reading Group with other actors to just 'read' scripts.
No need for audition nerves, no need to prove your worth against someone who looks like another version of you, just a group of actors reading plays for the first time in a room. Casting is gender blind, colour blind, parts are allocated for a number of pages before being passed along to someone else, stage directions are read aloud. Discoveries are made as a group, you set of off on a journey together not knowing whether it will be funny, surreal, heartbreaking, hard to follow, whether your character for the next 20 pages is likeable, an arsehole, the comedy challenge you never get the opportunity to play or someone you'd love a proper go at in another situation. Inhibitions are quickly cast aside, it doesn't feel anything like that awful first table read as you're silently judged by everyone. The plays vary hugely, geographically, stylistically, and occasionally in quality, but all have something to learn from! It's a wonderful way to keep your mind active, keep those muscles working, read scripts you would never normally think of to pick up, read characters you'd never get cast as and so feel totally liberated from any need to do your normal 'tricks'.
I left feeling invigorated, excited at having had an opportunity to do something for myself, for my brain, by learning a huge amount by watching a group of incredibly talented actors relish the opportunity to play, the joy of watching peoples faces as they read, listening to the different voices, the choices conscious and unconscious. It is without a doubt one of the best things you can do as an actor, whether you're working or not. A wonderful chance to do something to exercise your brain and a way to a take the fear out of sight-reading. To hang out with a group of like minded people and learn with a wonderful theatre group who currently have many fingers in many festivals and pies, last weekend Backwell, the Northern Green Gathering in a few weeks time! Please give it a go! Or give it a try ... there's a waiting list it's that good!