11 May, 2009

Ask Al: Valuable Lesons

Dear Al,

Since making your West End debut you have worked with many theatre greats.

What was the most valuable lesson you learned and from whom?


* * *

Great question. I don’t really believe you can learn “life experience” type lessons from anyone but yourself. However, there have been a few things I have picked up along the way from incredible people that I have found endlessly helpful.

1) Ladies. Always. Curtsy. (Sir T Nunn)

When we were first staging the curtain calls for WiW, I came out and automatically curtsy-ed (years of ballet, thankyouverymuch), and he called out from the stalls, a hearty and congratulatory "GOOD GIRL!" before giving me the little tidbit above after we were done. I'll never forget it.

2) Being gracious to everyone you work with is the most important thing about being an actor-- showing appreciation, respect, and courtesy; and above all, using good manners. Courtesy costs nothing. (A Andrews)

And believe me when I tell you that he is indeed a man who lives his life by this principle. A kinder, more gracious man in this business you would be hard pressed to find. His generosity knows no bounds, and extends from the leading lady right down to the cleaners. Everyone matters, everyone is a part of the experience, and everyone benefits from his attentions and attitude.

3) Leaving the stage door after a show is “Act 3” of your job. (R Henshall)

She's right. If you are going to be a performer, you have to accept that being gracious to those who take the time to thank you for your performance, to get your autograph, perhaps a photo; that those people are what keep you where you are, and they deserve a piece of your attention. If you don't feel like it, too bad. It is as much a part of your job as Act 1 and Act 2. It is Act 3. She's a smart woman.

4) You only have 100% of what you have today. Don’t beat yourself up , use what you have to be 100% truthful TODAY.

Oh my goodness this is the best piece of acting advice I have ever been given.
Within the given circumstances of the piece, and within the limitations of your character's breakdown, use what 100% of what you as an actor possess TODAY and your work will be constantly truthful. Feeling vulnerable today? Then, within reason, so is your character. Are you feeling strong today? Then so is your character.

To use Fiddler as an example: there were days when I was feeling very tenderhearted or exhausted, so I utilised all I had available to me that day and Hodel was therefore more broken up and outwardly moved by the events of her life that day. There were days when I was feeling strong, and thus, Hodel was better able to keep her emotions under control. See? Both situations were truthful to the way Al the actress was feeling in that moment. This prevents so much pressure to hit your "best ever 100%." Give all you have today, and that is all you can give.

5. IT'S ALL ALLOWED. (Adrian Howells)
This pearl comes from a teacher/director/performance artist/all around incredible human being whose sole philosophy in working with people, is keeping their "love tanks" full. He believe you get the best out of people when they feel great about themselves, and what they are doing. Questions, mistakes, experiments, failures, celebrations, successes; ALL of it, IS ALLOWED. And this permission, this exquisite freedom paves the way for a truly safe and beautiful creative environment indeed. There is nothing that you can do that will be wrong or incorrect, it is all a part of the process of creation, part of the journey, of the experience. It's all allowed.

6. "When you come across an onstage experience as incredible as the one we share everyday, hold on to it. Remember it. Cherish it. It doesn't happen very often. And it's GOLD-DUST GIRL." (H Goodman)

This man keeps his cards close to his chest. And not only was this one of the greatest compliments of my life from one of the most reserved (offstage!) actors I've ever worked with, but incredible advice. Those glowing moments keep us afloat when we feel defeated, deflated, uninspired, misunderstood. When we lose sight of why we do what we do. Why we love it. That moment I shared with Henry was magical, inspiring, and good every day, and he was right, when I lose track of my inner fire I remember it, and I feel heartened.

And the best part of all this advice? It's not just true of the theatre...


  1. AnonymousMay 11, 2009


  2. I can't BELIEVE Henry said that to you. What an honour!

  3. Wow, a very detailed and thoughtful response to a simple question. You're really generous with your fans Alex, thank you.

  4. AnonymousMay 12, 2009

    It's all allowed... ahhhhhh.... amazing. That was my favourite.

  5. I should mention that there are SO many tidbits of beautiful things I have learned from people along the way, but these are the highlights, if you will. I have had the honour of working with such incredible greats: Simon Callow, ALW, Lindsay Posner, John Cusack, Adam Cooper, Jeremy Sams; not to mention a tidal wave of ordinary folk like myself who are as talented and wise as they come. I am inexplicably grateful.

  6. And don't forget the many, many years ago, when a wise (well I thought I was wise) director said to a young talented lady - "Have Fun". I hope you are still having fun.

  7. Ohhhh ED! I remember those wise words. Babes in Toyland was the beginning of it all! And, yes, still having fun. I hope you are too. Much love x



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