Lessons Learned

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

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!

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

Dinner and No Show

12th of March 2020, it was a Thursday. I went into work as normal looking forward to date night when I got home. Rehearsals were great the previous weekend too, there’s still two scenes to be blocked but we had a show. I showcased a scene at an International Women’s Day event where people came up after saying ‘What are the show dates?’ and ‘I’ll definitely be checking it out’. Anyone I spoke to I said to tell their friends and follow us on socials. I went back to Sligo happy and looking forward to the following weekend already. 

Fast forward to Thursday, we were getting the kids ready for dinner when our manager came down. She informs us that Vradkar has made an announcement that all creches, schools and colleges were to close at 6pm that day until the 28th of March… My first thought, rehearsals. How will we manage? Will we find another location? Will I have to sit feet away from people on the bus? As I walked home that evening I rang Rena to devise a plan. We decided to postpone rehearsals that weekend, hold a virtual rehearsal the following weekend hoping for the best. This should be fine, I thought. Last weekend went well, no matter what we have a show.         

It’s Wednesday the 22nd of April 2020. Last week should have been show week for my one woman show ‘Uniform.’ The weekend before would’ve been our last rehearsal, ensuring all props and costumes were sourced, that I was off book, that the characters were nailed down and all was set for tech day on Wednesday.  We would’ve celebrated 3 years of Eva’s Echo amongst crew and friends on the Saturday sensibly ensuring fresh heads for the next morning. This week I should be in work with the kids daydreaming; ‘This day last week was our tech rehearsal. It has gone by so fast. I can’t believe I actually did a one woman show. When can I go back on stage?’ I’d then remind myself that rehearsals for Jungle Door are due to start in three weeks time and that I must get off book again. All of this is not so, with exception to the later which we still have to wait on.  

Although Uniform was postponed due to circumstances out of our control, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of worry, defeat, anger, loss and hard done by. I spent a whole weekend perfecting the final script, I’d started a diet to get into shape (cringing at photos from the production just gone) and ensured I was well rested after work each night. I went into 2020 full of ambition and anticipation; ‘2020 is my year’, ‘This is the year I get back into acting’, ‘I’m going to show everyone how good I am.’ Sometimes I feel all the above but then other times I feel ok. I know that it will be ok and the show will go on. Maybe there’s a reason. Maybe the world isn’t ready for ‘Uniform’ yet, as well as the global pandemic obviously but still.  

As an artist and producer all I know is that I want to give back to the community as much as I can  now and when all this is over. To start that blog, to teach drama like I’ve always wanted, to get that play published, to get new plays on stage, to get upcoming artists on board for future productions and so forth. As I’ve said to friends and family, if 2020 has taught me anything is that nothing is permanent. Life is too short to be worrying about things which is a lesson I’ve tried taking on for a long time, but it has fairly sunk in this time. You only have one body, one family and one chance. 

The Taming of the Blues

By Hazel Doolan

Post show blues, I’ve been aware of it since my youth theatre days but never really understood what it was. All I knew was that sinking feeling of sadness, fidgetiness and worry the day after closing night. Will our next show be as good? Will I get as good a role next year? Am I ever going to see my friends again? Would it be worth my time going back next year? Oh how little I had to worry about back then.

Hazel in The Way It Is

It was only when I stepped into the professional world that I grasped a real understanding of post show blues. After my first leading role in ‘The Way It Is’ (which didn’t get the best turn out), it hit me really hard. We ran for just one night and I put everything I had into that performance so it was a rapid high to low. The next day I went into work daydreaming of the show, wishing I was still in the theatre and not in the shop as my colleague snapped me out of it to attend to customers. This happened again after our most recent production of ‘Jungle Door.’ We went through such a roller coaster of a journey between intense week rehearsals, changes, line runs, script analysis, movement workshops, hilarious encounters and an all round great show. After our intense week of rehearsals I was back in work for only two days but I even found that hard. I was looking at the clock on the wall and thinking ‘*sigh* We’d be doing script work/warm ups right now…’ Two days later we were on the road to Naas which went by as quickly as it came around. 

Hazel in Jungle Door rehearsals

Given the amount of work that went into the production and the positive vibes from the team, this was the hardest production to walk away from. Those two weeks felt like I was living the life of my true authentic self, working with people who shared similar values and pursuing what I truly love. If you asked if I’d rather be grinding through paperwork or hot seating three times a week, I’d choose the latter any day. That is the hard truth as I would have said before being a working artist. You’re scrapping to pursue a life in two conflicting universes. Many weeks have gone by when I would breeze through it all like Samantha Jones, but then other weeks I’d be in a tissy like the White Rabbit. From talking to other artists I know that this is a common reality for many, which is a comfort all the same but doesn’t make it right. 

Going back to post Jungle Door, I just did what one would do after a major event. Be grateful that it happened and be proud of what we achieved. Now we do have Uniform coming up and it is advised to not jump into another show if you’re also working full time, but we had this booked since Christmas so that doesn’t count! Besides, we already have Jungle Door scheduled for June in Galway (Town Hall Studio 10th-13th of June!!!). While that it came as much excitement and relief that the experience won’t be quite over yet, a sense of anxiety and fear emerged… What if it won’t be as good? What if something bad happens? What if I get fat(ter)? What if-… This wasn’t good either. I realized that yes it’s nice to look back (now ironically Don’t Look Back in Anger is now playing on my laptop) on the experiences, the friendships, the wins, and the losses but it can’t define the next run. I even thought of ways to recreate the experience and rent an entire apartment in Galway, this was not smart and my pocket wouldn’t thank me for it. Instead, I choose to be present in everything I do while looking forward with hope and joy. As with artistic purpose and life it is meant to be experienced to the fullest.