Actor and Playwright Rena Bryson

Life outside of the arts

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“As soon as you’re not a human be-ing, you’re a human do-ing. Then what comes next?” – The Simpsons

Sometimes working in the arts can feel more like a vocation than a career. Artists rarely switch off after a day of work, ideas, schedules and creative ambitions are always percolating under the surface. Opportunities can be scarce which drives artists to feel grateful to work, no matter how draining or far from their niche the work is. For these reasons and many others artists can often feel their work is a strong part of their identity. This is not the only career in which this happens. But due to the lack of stability, financial stresses and scarcity of respect it is more dangerous to blend your identity with your work as an artist than as a doctor. 

Photo Credit – Levi Regan

Due to the erratic nature of arts work it is also very difficult to work another job while building your arts career. I’ve missed so many auditions because I was working a job to pay the bills so I wasn’t available. This forces many talented artists to stop pursuing their arts careers all together and others to feel they must sacrifice their own wellbeing/ financial stability for the cause. I’ve fallen into both of these traps.

When I first moved to Galway I worked a retail job that only let me know if I was working the next day when I left, making it impossible to book meetings or auditions. After building my identity around my work as an actor for 4 years of college this was devastating. I felt totally stripped of the essence of who I was. Unfortunately although this was a particularly bad work environment this is not uncommon in the service industry. I persevered and developed my skills in arts marketing and drama teaching in order to earn an income connected to my qualifications and interests. This career path has given me the flexibility to work around auditions, opportunities and the managing of Eva’s Echo. However I am aware that I am incredibly lucky to have this flexibility that many other artists don’t. The most frustrating part of working a “regular” job while pursuing an arts career is that either side views you as one or the other. Employers don’t respect your art and view it as a frivolous hobby and other artists will sometimes not understand why you can’t call in sick on show week. Hazel worked in a creche during many Eva’s Echo shows and wrote a great blog about her experiences titled Working 9 to Art

Rena performing from her sitting room during lockdown 1.0

After the shock and stress of cancelled shows settled in March I and many other artists had an opportunity to reflect. Personally, I felt lost, the theatre was my home and the doors were shut. I choose to do what I always did and persevered making theatre through digital means. This led to live play readings, singing from our sitting rooms, zoom rehearsals and a fantastic creative writing night. I loved each of these projects but if I’m being totally honest it’s just not the same. I still crave the magical discoveries of the rehearsal room, the adrenaline rush that accompanies a Get In and the thrill of opening night. So I took some time to reflect and ask “What do I do now?” “Who am I outside of the theatre?” And most importantly “Why have I dedicated my life to this?” I’ve been so busy creating I have not asked why I’m creating in years! 

The answers to these questions were complicated but freeing. The end result is: Yes I have dedicated my life to theatre and will continue to but I am also a full person outside of my art. That sentence took a long time to reach and believe. This is not to say that aspects of my work are not tied to my identity and vise versa. Especially when it comes to the portrayal of mental health and queer characters on stage. It would be impossible (and I don’t want to) separate these themes from my own experiences and passions. The acceptance of this sentence also offers me the freedom to explore my interests outside of the theatre more fully. I hope others may relate to this and I am not the only one who has at times a toxic relationship with the theatre. Sometimes when contemplating exploring another career path or even another project I feel as though I am cheating on my one true love: the theatre. This insecurity most likely stems from the societal view that artists will grow up and give up on their arts careers. This mixed with my stubbornness, I am a Taurus after all! 

The take away from this rant is to encourage artists to look outside of their art and see what makes you you. I’m an artist but I’m also a sister, a daughter, a partner, a friend, a bad painter, a lover of horror flicks (good and bad), a comic reader, a yogi, a girly girl, someone who’s always cold and a proud fur baby parent. 

Acting Off Stage

Blog, Monthly Blog, Uncategorized

By Rena Bryson

As an actor I’ve performed shows in many unusual spots Prison, (The Big Wall) The Park (Alice In Wonderland) and an old factory (Halal Daddy). But the most fun I’ve had performing in unusual spots has been when not part of a traditional show. This month I’d like to share some non traditional jobs for actors that can help build your performance skills while paying your rent. 

Discover your Elf Self

Best suited for: Expressive, physical actors who like children. 

Each year I celebrate my Christmas cheer by working as an Elf in the lead up to Christmas. I’m fortunate to live in Galway where Elf Town shares a full interactive Christmas Adventure with their young audiences. But in every county at this time of year many shopping centres, family fun day organisers and Elf Town variations are looking for Elfs, Santa’s, Mrs Claus etc. It’s a lot of fun and seeing young audiences experiencing the magic of Christmas can really melt your heart. 

Step Back In Time

Best suited for: Actors interested in history with strong improvisational skills. 

Photo Credit – Catriona Bonner Photography

One of my favorite non traditional acting jobs was working as a nanny / housekeeper at Glenveagh Castle. The project was produced by Dark Daughter so all of the costumes were beautiful, authentic and vintage. As tourists were guided through the castle they would encounter actors in the rooms. I would greet them in the dining room and describe my life in a beautifully written monologue by Maura Logue. I would also wander the grounds in character and interact with the visitors I encountered. The role really strengthened my improvisational skills as well as my stamina as an actor. There are many similar acting roles out there, especially during the summer months. Many companies look for actors for national parks, historical buildings and for tour guides that can add an extra dramatic flare. I’ve even performed as Lily Yates at her 100th birthday party, there is an eager audience out there for everything!

Faking Sick

Best suited for: Actors with stamina and strong emotional range.

Every year many medical students must pass their OSCE (Objective structured clinical examination) to continue their studies. This exam is extremely important as the students must interact with patients and utilise their interpersonal skills as well as their medical knowledge. The staff outsource and have their students interact with professional actors to make the experience as authentic as possible. This role really tests your acting chops depending on what ailment you’re assigned. I’ve had a fairly easy going day as a student suffering from skin irritation caused by anxiety and a very draining day as a patient receiving the news they have TB. Strong stamina is essential as I had to give each student an authentic reaction to receiving devastating news, a process that repeated itself every 20 mins or so. It was a fantastic exercise for my improvisation and acting skills. 

Special Birthday Guest

Best suited for: Actors who love kids and are patient, singing is a bonus! 

This is one I’ve never done but would love to someday! I know actors who

Snow Queen Character For Birthday Parties | Party Princess Productions
Image from Princess Party Productions

have that really enjoy their work. This job is usually suited to the self employed and can be quite lucrative if you invest in a few high quality costumes for popular characters. Starting out I’d definitely get an Elsa costume. As a drama teacher for 4 – 6 year olds I can confirm little boys and girls alike are crazy about all things Frozen. A good knowledge of children’s interests and popular games to keep them entertained is a must.

Murder Mystery Fun

Best suited for: Actors who have strong organisational skills

This is another role I haven’t experienced myself but my good friend and fellow artist Elizabeth Flaherty has lots of experience so I’ll let her take it from here. 

I’ve had lots of fun working on murder mystery parties. The company I’ve worked with the most is ‘Murder on the Menu’ and we host the deadliest parties. 

Elizabeth Flaherty (@elizflaherty) | Twitter
Elizabeth Flaherty

For this job I play the host, organizer and the most important role the detective. Parties can vary from birthdays to corporate events to hen parties. Everyone in the party has a role to play so you could say I also play the role of a director by helping the guests to get and stay in character. There’s a murderer, a victim and lots more. 

It’s a fun job for an actor because you get to work on your improvisation throughout the night, you learn to project well when speaking to a large group of people and sometimes there are themed parties which gives you the opportunities to practice various accents and get dressed up. The parties may not always go to plan but it’s always a killer night.

There are so many other jobs actors can excel at when off stage / set Drama Teacher, Arts Administrators, Script Readers and no one’s better at pretending to care about difficult customers than actors!

Lessons Learned

Blog, Monthly Blog, Uncategorized

We all learn from our mistakes, but this is especially true for those beginning a career in the arts. These are a just a few of the lessons I’ve learned throughout my career in the arts.

There is no Right Way

A piece of art whether it be a performance, a painting or a piece of music can be created in many different ways and none of them are wrong as the piece’s value is up to interpretation. This makes studying to become an actor a complicated task, how do you know what’s right when there are supposedly no wrong answers. Several times during my early career I choose to believe mentors opinions on acting as facts as this made it easier to learn. This became a detriment to my performance as I placed un necessary restrictions on myself.

Studying Performing Arts at I.T Sligo

Learn from as many teachers, experienced professionals, mentors and friends as you can but don’t take advice as a fact, it will stilt your creativity. Over the years I have combined many techniques from my training and now I use a method that works best for me. I’ve learned that what works best for me may not work for another and vise versa and that is the beautiful thing about creating art, there is no one size fits all because artists are unique.

Get a Contract

When I began my acting career I completed several shows (paid and unpaid) without mention of a contract. I was fresh out of drama school and eager to work. Paperwork had crossed my mind but I was so grateful for the opportunity’s I was given I didn’t want to rock the boat. In those early productions there was a great sense of community and friendship. I feel this contributed to a lack of professional paperwork. It would be awkward to ask someone you considered a friend to provide a contract, it could somehow imply you didn’t trust them.

I can not speak for the entire community but I know these were my concerns at the time. This led to me being underpaid and having no leg to stand on when wanting to dispute it. When feeling awkward about asking for a contract or even asking about money I remind myself how much worse it felt to be underpaid and I suck it up. Contracts can also insure you are fully credited for your work, protect you against bullying, guarantee a safe working environment and make sure you receive adequate breaks.

Learn to Say No

At the beginning of my career (and for an embarrassing number of years after) I was terrified of missing out on opportunity’s. This led to me saying yes to absolutely everything, without considering;

  • Will this further my career?
  • Do I have time for this? / Can I give this my all?
  • Is this worth the money?
  • Is the work environment safe?
  • Will this role negatively affect my physical or mental health?
  • Will this bring me happiness? / Do I want to do this?

On several occasions I stretched myself too thin, ended up exhausted and therefore unable to enjoy the work I was doing. Working on several projects at once also meant I was unable to live in the moment, I always had the next task in the back of my mind. The fear of missing out also meant I took on roles which in hindsight I didn’t have much interest in. The job could have been done with much more passion by another artist.

Eventually I burnt out physically and mentally after working on a total of seven different jobs at once for several weeks (from day jobs to shows). Since then I’ve prioritized my health and the work I feel the most passionate about. I still work several projects at once as I enjoy each day being different but I now make sure I have the time and energy before agreeing to taking on another role. This was the hardest lesson to learn and I still have to fight the twinge of “but what if it’s a great opportunity” when I turn down a project due to time or prior commitments. But it’s not good for you or the project if you can’t give it your all.

Don’t Be Intimidated

At the beginning of my career I was so nervous when it came to interacting with other artists, especially when I moved to Galway and knew no one (except Hazel). Looking back I had a very bad habit of putting other artists on pedestal rather than viewing them simply as other humans that made art. Through my eyes anyone working was a big shot and I’d be pestering them if I reached. I’ve been very fortunate to have learned this lesson through working with those I was originally so intimidated by. I’ve discovered that often the further toward the top you go the more down to earth the people are, at the top there is nothing to prove.

18 year old me (bottom right) training in Cavan with Aaron Monaghan

Story time example ; When I was 18 I went to see a live talk with Gary Hynes in Cavan and was in absolute awe, I then became obsessed with Druid wanting to learn everything about the company and focused both my undergraduate and postgraduate dissertations on their work. Many years later I ended up interning at Druid and discovered all of these award winning artists (including the fabulous Garry Hynes) were some of the soundest, down to earth people I’d met and not so scary at all.

So don’t be afraid to introduce yourself at an event, send an email or ask a mutual friend to introduce you to another artist. The majority of my work in the arts has been secured through networking. Gaining connections through mutual friends, theatre events or through Theatre 57. Unfortunately it’s the world’s worst kept secret that it’s “who you know not what you know” when it comes to the arts in Ireland.

Every Production is Different

My first show out of college Welcome to Wonderland by The Rabbits Riot

This was a bizarre but important lesson I had to learn quickly after drama school. It was drilled into our heads to always be professional and take the production seriously. Some rules that are always consistent; always be on time, treat everyone with respect, have your phone on silent and meet your deadlines. However every production is different and will therefore have a different atmosphere. Some directors have a very strict and quiet rehearsal room while others are relaxed and encourage laughter and improv throughout rehearsal. The later was confusing to me when I was straight out of college, I viewed the behavior as messing rather than actors having fun at rehearsal. I was confused about how to act myself, I had been trained to take everything super seriously at rehearsal for years. I had to learn to relax very quickly as not to stick out like a sore thumb. I learned to gage the atmosphere at a first rehearsal and meet the director/producers expectations going forward. It’s been quite fun working on such different productions in such different ways and I’ve learned no two directors will want to same rehearsal.

Echo Acting

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We are so excited to offically announce the launch of Echo Acting!

In September classes in both Galway and Athlone will begin. Through each eight week programme you will explore different acting methods, experiment with different genres, build confidence and have lots of laughs along the way.

Find out more

Acting Tips for Complete Beginners!

Blog, Monthly Blog, Uncategorized

By Rena Bryson

This month I thought it would be fun to give some acting tips for complete beginners. As well as being a theatre maker I’ve been a drama teacher for over ten years and I’ve noticed a lot of habits repeating over the years. Here are some of the first bad habits I correct in class.

  1. Projecting

Projecting is a difficult skill that is developed over time. When new to acting it is totally normal to have difficulty with volume. Often actors have difficulty remaining natural and in character while projecting as at first it can feel very unnatural. This skill can be developed through warm us and vocal exercises. For example I find the Radio Exercise very useful, you simply repeat a sentence over and over changing the volume from mute, to low (stage whisper), to medium (this is your ideal projection) to high (a stage shout). It’s important to learn how to warm up the voice and project correctly as to low the audience can’t hear you and shouting damages your voice. 

  1. Blocking

Blocking is another skill that will become second nature over time but feels completely unnatural at first. On stage actors will be positioned as not to block one another from the audience’s view and they will turn their bodys in a way to show the most of their physicality. On screen actors will often have to stand much closer to each other than feels natural for close up shots, this however looks completely natural on screen. During filming actors must always precisely note their blocking to maintain consistency. 

  1. Expressing

Sometimes new actors can feel totally engaged with the text, feel connected to their character and feel as though they are truly experiencing the scene but they aren’t showing us that. This again relates to feeling unnatural. Although it may feel as though we are acting un-naturally and exaggerating our expressions or physicality it reads as natural to an audience who are viewing you from a distance or framed on a screen. A common myth is that film actors act more subtly, it is a completely different style of acting but it is not subtle. Next time you’re viewing a great actor on screen, mute it and examine how often the actors change their expression and you’ll see how much they are communicating in their ‘subtle’ performance. 

  1. Dressing The Part

This is a very practical and simple tip that repeatedly pops up, dress appropriately for class or rehearsal. In my rehearsal room or class the following are no gos for actors; Jewellery that makes noise, high heels, skirts, very tight clothing and hair or hats covering your face. Basically anything that could restrict your movement or distract you or other actors is out. I suggest comfortable, breathable clothing that you can move freely in. It seems like a small thing but being unable to move freely limits the range of physicality for your characters and makes it difficult to warm up / cool down, hindering your progress. 

  1. Don’t be afraid to fail

This is the most important tip for any actor beginner or experienced. The rehearsal room or classroom is a space in which you can be totally creative, try anything you’d like, so don’t be afraid to grab that opportunity! It can be really difficult to come out of our comfort zones, especially for those new to acting. It’s important to remember you won’t look silly for trying, everyone else in the room has the same goal and is looking equally ‘silly’ together.  

I hope you’ve enjoyed my top five tips for complete beginners. I’d like to take the opportunity at the end of this blog to make a special announcement. As you know we have postponed all Eva’s Echo production’s until a time when it is safe for us and our audiences. During this time we have decided to start a new adventure and launch Echo Acting and provide professional acting classes in Galway and Athlone. 

To learn new skills, make discoveries, gain confidence, and dive into the world of acting! Simply click on the link below. 

Echo Acting