Written by Gary Plunkett
There is a little festival taking place in Liverpool at the moment. Most of you probably will not have heard of it. Others (like myself) know it very well… I should hope I do anyway, I took part in it for two years. It is the John Moores University Drama festival. This blog is a little heads up as to what that festival is and what life is like after the dust settles and you wake up dressed in a cap & gown. With a plastic tube in your hand and a cameraman insisting that it’s a graduation scroll and for you to stop complaining that it isn’t and to just smile at the bloody camera.
For those of you who do not know, basically this festival is a chance for the third year Drama students to showcase their skills in acting, writing, directing and bar management. Yes, bar management. You read that right. You can pass one of the biggest Drama showcases on my old course by running a makeshift bar for a bit. Swear down. Yes I definitely would have done that if it meant a first in my degree. No, I don’t have any self-respect. If it means a first, I’ll do it.
Anyway, that’s beside the point. For a 2-3 week period JMU third years basically take total control of the entire Joe H. Makin drama building (our solitary campus away from the hustle and bustle of the other JMU courses) to create a festival that showcases a number of full productions as well as a fringe festival that has ran alongside the larger scale festival for many years. And it’s all dead exciting. There’s original work and imaginative adaptations of established performances. And £1 pints. 100% serious. You’re missing out on good theatre at a cheap price and a chance to get hammered on a tenner without having to go to The Raz.
This year it is known as ‘Makin’ Theatre Festival.’ Last year it was something along the lines of ‘Outta The Box Festival’ or something like that. Personally I think the name shouldn’t change and it should be the same every year. This isn’t because I thought last years was better than this years (I don’t. It was a cliché of a name) I just think that if this festival is to gain any sort of reputation with anyone outside of JMU Drama then it needs to keep the same name so people remember it. It’s like when Matthew Street Festival changed its name to Liverpool International Music Festival (LIMF). The first year was terrible, everyone I knew had no idea what that festival was about and automatically thought it was terrible because it had never happened before – also they didn’t have the Antarctic Monkeys on and anyone who went to Matthew Street knows how boss they are – it’s only now that the festival is gaining some serious traction and getting some big names and crowds in.
ANYWAY, back to where I was going with this blog. I got lost for a little bit with the whole name thing and the bar being as good as it is, soz. Last year saw four full scale productions in the main festival and a massive array of different things in the fringe. This year is very similar, the fringe is as popular as it has ever been and the main festival has five productions, with four of them being pieces of original writing. My final year in JMU Drama was last year. It was also (probably) the most acting I’ve done in such a small space of time. In one week I performed in three separate pieces (two main show and one fringe) and in the space of 5 days did something close to 6/7 performances of three different scripts. Now, I’m not one to boast but I was bloody well proud of that!
I performed in a short extract of Stags & Hens in which I completely learnt the lines on the day (Sorry Meg & Ellie) along with two pieces of original writing named Fruit Salad in a Glass Lampshade and the much shorter named: Kev! I had a lot of fun in all three performances. Mainly because every one of them were so different in character. Stags and Hens was a laugh because it put me alongside actors I had never worked with before (1st and 2nd years) as well as giving me a character that was drunk and moody… which is essentially me only with a hangover instead of drunk.
Fruit Salad in a Glass Lampshade was a completely different kettle of fish. I played an absolute bastard in that. Harry his name was. And completely shafting pensioners was the game in which he played. He was a total opposite to every other character in the play and so it gave me license to have a bit of freedom and view the play from an entirely different perspective.
And then there was Kev! In this production I played Ringo Starr. Yes, you heard me, I played The Beatle that nobody wanted to play… And actually I had an absolute scream in doing so (in more ways than one). Firstly, I was an imaginary character, so I could literally do whatever I felt like. In some rehearsals my director: Alex Medlicott, would just start a scene up with some actors and then tell me to go in and wreak havoc. Obviously the havoc I wreaked was very little because I could only be seen by one other character and… well… I was imaginary so I couldn’t actually do anything. But the fun that could be had was boundless. Secondly, I had a scream doing this because I tore some ligaments in my foot and ankle in the first five minutes of the second performance (see picture below) and had to do the rest of the performance through a lot of pain and half a limp.
Those three productions were honestly some of the biggest learning curves I’ve ever had as an actor. I look back at those and now completely think about the process of acting in a very different way. Which nicely leads me on to what I have done after graduation.
Here’s what I had done between leaving University in May 2015 and December of that year… Ready? Ok, here it is:
In seven months I did absolutely bugger all. It’s not that I no longer wanted to do anything, I just had absolutely no idea how to get started in a world where I had just been tossed into with nothing but a pat on the back and someone telling me ‘You’re a graduate now. Go on, go and automatically know how to go and make a living in an incredibly hard industry.’ Now I’m not saying that the University didn’t do a good job at telling me what to do. Nor am I saying that I expected to just walk into a job. My problem is that I when applying for things every company I read up on wanted experience as well as a degree. Now I can’t speak for everyone in this industry, but what I can say is that when I was in school, if someone would have told me that I needed more experience in the arts for when I graduate and that most places don’t accept University work and/or placements as experience then I might be running the Royal Court down in London by now. But I’m not. So here we are.
But something has changed in Liverpool recently. Something happened on the 8th March that has the potential to alter the way people develop experience and become part of the industry. Rather than just looking in through a tiny window and waving that god-awful pretend plastic graduation scroll with a wrecked cap and gown that is well worn and out of condition after being paraded around for so long.
The Liverpool Arts Society held its first networking event on Tuesday. And it united a whole host of people working in the arts industry looking to create new work and meet new people with very similar interests. I myself was amazed and inspired by some of the people I met. People which I may never have met – never mind as equals – all looking for the same thing: Help and betterment through each other.
Furthermore, if it were not for this club, I would very possibly still be out of work. This club has helped me gain my first professional acting job for which I will be paid. It has given me the chance to network with people who I wouldn’t usually know existed. It has given me the opportunity when people ask ‘what do you do for a living?’ I can reply proudly, ‘I’m an actor.’ Instead of telling people ‘I’m a graduate who currently has no leads on his degree and as a result works in a restaurant.’
Yes the above is all a matter of perspective. But why can’t that perspective be a positive one? Why can’t we all just work together to forget about our ego’s and make some outstanding pieces of work? I think I might be onto something there you know. And I think that’s what this club is about isn’t it? Putting your own ego of wanting to do well for yourself to one side and putting the agenda of making top-class work to the front of the pile. Because surely, when we all work together to make the arts industry better, we not only better the industry, but we better ourselves and our own reputations… Thus giving our ego’s something to have a little nibble on.