Performing in Rep Theatre

Rep Theatre used to be the textbook training ground for newly graduated actors to earn their professional stripes. Learning and performing a huge range of plays and musicals and performing them in rotation over a season. Rep seasons have since faded from our theatrical landscape, but there are a few making a comeback across the UK. We spoke to some of the performers that have are performing in the Paul Taylor Mills Summer Rep Season this year and learned a bit more about their experiences!

Chris Kiely

Chris Kiely

Tell us a bit about the Rep Season have you been performing with.
I’ve been performing as part of Paul Taylor Mills Summer Weekly Rep Company this season. The season is split between The Theatre Royal Windsor and The Manor Pavilion Theatre in Sidmouth Devon.

What plays/roles have you had to undertake this season?
So far I’ve played Freddy Eynsford-Hill in Pygmalion, Louis Harvey in The Ladykillers. At the moment I’m playing Sam Stone in Stone Cold Murder and I’m learning four more scripts at the same time!

What do you think are the main challenges of performing in a Rep Season?
I think the biggest challenge is really time management. I’ve never been this organised. It’s planning your week one show in advance, making sure you’re off book for the upcoming show while learning lines for the one after.

And what are the best bits about it?
The best bit about rep is the challenge. It’s exciting for both performers and audiences alike. You know as an audience member that these actors are flying by the seat of their pants, saying lines to a show they didn’t know this time last week. And for us it’s the challenge of remembering these lines whilst also giving a detailed believable performance. That and being able to play a whole range of brilliant characters and getting to read so many fantastic scripts.

Also our technical department are incredible. Every week we have a brand new set for each show. This week we’ve gone from a shabby town house in Kings Cross to a log cabin in the Lake District. The sets are honestly incredible, so detailed and an absolute playground for a performer.

What do you think are the advantages being part of a Rep Company?
One advantage is really being able to stretch yourself as a performer. Three weeks ago I was playing and inept socialite scoffing down scones at a tea party, the next week I was a Romanian bank robber. Another is getting to work with really fantastic directors, this season has some incredible creatives involved and it’s brilliant to get to meet and work with them this summer.

What’s been your most memorable moment during this season?
There have been a few memorable moments. During one performance of The Ladykillers the parrot sound effects from the bird cage that we use decided not to work. So one of the other actors gallantly stepped in and squawked from the wings for the entire show. Three years training paid off right there.

Do you think Rep Theatre is due a comeback?
It absolutely is. It’s honestly one of the most creative processes I’ve been involved in. Especially weekly rep, there’s something amazing about an actor managing to keep all these plates spinning and still turning in a great performance. Having read articles and interviews with some of our best loved actors talking about how, in the past, rep was where an actor’s real training began I can whole heartedly agree. There are so many great plays, so many incredible stories to tell, from the classics to new writing and rep provides an excellent platform.

What would be your advice for anyone wanting to get involved with a Rep Company?
I think the best advice is DO IT. It’s not easy work but it is one of the most rewarding jobs I have ever done.

 

Nicky Cross

Nikki Cross

What plays/roles have you had to undertake this season?
This season I have undertaken the following roles -Sarah Radford in Francis Durbridge’s Deadly Nightcap, Christine Patterson in Richard Bean’s One Man Two Guv’nors, Ida the Maid in Philip King’s Pool’s Paradise and Miss Mabel Chiltern in Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband.

What do you think are the main challenges of performing in a Rep Season?
The main challenge of being in a rep company is the time constraint. As a company, we have 5 rehearsals in which to put on each play so if you don’t start the rehearsal process with a very good grasp of your lines and everything your character achieves in the play, you will be very behind. It’s unusual for an actor to have to do so much work outside the rehearsal room and it’s certainly a very interesting process.

And what are the best bits about it?
The best part is the sense of achievement you feel. To put on complex and ambitious texts in 5 days seems like an impossible task at the beginning of the process but this makes the first performance all the more satisfactory.

What do you think are the advantages being part of a Rep Company?
The variety. As actors, we’re very used to being put into ‘brackets’ and being told we’re too tall/fat/thin/short/blonde for this or that part. If we’re lucky enough to work in the industry, we tend to play similar parts because it’s our ‘casting.’ However, in a rep company you are given the opportunity to play roles that you would never have been given the chance to in a different situation. (I’m playing a foolish maid, an audience stooge, a murderous housewife and a bratty posh girl in four consecutive shows!)

What’s been your most memorable moment during this season?
My most memorable moment is when during our first performance of our first show of One Man, Two Guv’nors at Theatre Royal Windsor, there was a thunder storm. The cast and I thought a sound effect had gone off at the wrong time but within a minute the stalls of the theatre were flooding. The show was stopped and we were all dramatically evacuated! Who knew the drama of the evening would come from the audience side!

Do you think Rep Theatre is due a comeback?
Absolutely. All the great actors of our time honed their craft doing rep. In the 70s and 80s, almost every city had a rep company. Actors as great as Judi Dench have famously spoken about how they learnt ‘how to act’ doing rep. It’s a great learning curve for any actor and it’s a shame there isn’t more of it.

What would be your advice for anyone wanting to get involved with a Rep Company?
Make clear to the company you’re applying to that you are a team player. Aside from the dazzling audition that you need, you also have to prove that you’re a real work horse. Long, late nights and heavy lifting are the norm within rep so there’s no room for divas! Everyone does everything as a team (and in my experience with a smile.) The word ‘company’ has never meant so much to me.

by Katie Brennan
www.bloodyhellbrennan.com
@katie_brennan

© 2021 Casting Connections | All rights reserved