(RE)PRESENTED - From Ground Up Theatre Company

Kieran Knowles - Bottom - Midsummer Nights Dream - LAMDA

In 2010, I graduated from LAMDA without representation. I was 25. I had met with agents, but I'd bottled it. I didn't have confidence in who I was as an artist, I had no idea of my casting, and the 'industry' was a word that struck fear into my very core.

I'm not even exaggerating, I was once shivering with fear as I left a meeting with an agent.

I wouldn't have taken me on as a client. 

It was somewhat disappointing though.

When you get the letter to say you got into drama school, theres a complacent side of your brain which goes 'job done, I'm an actor.' It seems impossible that you'll get into these institutions when you apply, so when you do, it feels amazing and the confidence only grows as you feel yourself getting better as a performer during your training.

Then you meet the real world, and its even more selective, even more formal, corporate and intimidating than drama school auditions.

And like with any new job it feels insurmountable, at least it did to me.

But it isn't. It just appears that way. The first day at high school you feel like you could get lost at any moment, but by the time you leave sixth form you have memories of every nook and cranny in every building and you know every side passage and sneaky short cut.

In an acting sense, the 32 year old me would give a little re-assuring whisper to the 25 year old me and say, don't apologise for being you. Embrace it, its the only unique thing you have. Don't worry about representation, it will come, don't worry about your voice in interviews, meetings or on stage, you'll find it, focus on the work and the opportunities in front of you. Take your time, don't try to have it all from day one, you'll be setting yourself up to fail.

The phone will not ring off the hook with or without an agent, unless you make it.

Work begets work. 

And the 25 year old me would look at me now and go "you smug bastard, what gives you the right to be so preachy", and I'd probably baulk at that, take my patronising hand off little me's shoulder, nod and walk away, shivering like I did when I left that agent's office, still unsure of my voice, still scared of being 'found out'.

But I guess I would look more convincing when telling people 'it'll all be alright', when they don't have access to my brain or my bank account, and so instead of whispering into the ear of a quantum version of myself, I came up with an idea along with Jamie and Salvatore who I run From Ground Up Theatre Company with - its called Represented and it is a project which will give graduates a bit of time and experience to transition into the industry.

Applications are now open, and we are looking for graduates from UK drama schools from the last two years (2016/2017) who do not have representation. If you apply, you will get an audition, and if you audition you will receive feedback.

From the applicants we will build a company of 5 actors with whom we will develop a new play which will be performed at the Pleasance theatre in Islington for 3 weeks Feb-March 2018. We're hoping the project may even tour!

And the best bit, everyone will be paid. It'll be a professional job. And it'll be a role written just for you in a brand new play, so it'll be another chance to showcase your skills.

But its more than that. We hope that the project will show people how easy, and rewarding creating and producing work can be, and with the help of Pleasance Futures we are going to provide workshops on forming companies, getting work programmed, networking and a lot of other really useful advice for young artists.

If this sounds like a project that you'd be interested in, or if you know someone who might. Please go to:

http://www.fromgrounduptheatre.com/represented

K

Gravesend - Anniversaries

Kew Steam Museum sits about 50 yards from the Thames, near to what was Brentford Wharf in the days of Pocahontas. She reputedly departed from very nearby here on her ill fated return to Virginia. It was therefore quite prudent that we should be performing in the building two days before the 400th anniversary of her death. Perhaps, theoretically, 400 years to the day since she last set foot on British soil before her untimely death. 

It was incredible.

We performed for three Native American Chiefs from Algonquian Tribes, and many natives of Virginia, US, as well as 120 others who were there as invited guests. We were nervous, but Kew Steam Museum kindly offered their facilities to us for the whole day allowing us to acclimatise and to gain a little confidence.

Then, we travelled up river, (not literally) in the footsteps of our heroine and we found ourselves in Gravesend on the anniversary of Pocahontas' death.

Gravesham Council had pulled out all the stops, they poured water from the James River into the Thames to show unity and peace, while a flag flapped in the wind, half designed by kids in Virginia and half by kids in Kent. There were speeches, dignitaries, and a service at St George's Church with an incredible sermon from the Bishope of Rochester about friendship and peace. As an Athiest, I was shocked that his words struck such a chord with me.

Then it was our turn. We spent the late afternoon working with the Woodville Theatre for Youth group who had created a ten minute prologue to our play, and it was great, filled with energy and set the night up perfectly. What wasn't as useful were the creaking floorboards and indecisive whisperings of their parents as they decided whether having now seen their kids they should head home. Many of them chose in-opportune moments throughout the play to depart, which again, was not ideal.

But those that stayed seemed to love the play and though the actors suffered a little from the distraction of an unfocused audience they enjoyed the opportunity to tell the story on such an historical night. We did two further performances in Gravesend to modest audiences who again seemed to follow the story and the character shifts and had nothing but lovely things to say on the feedback form.

For me the end of this week marks the end of the project being a commemorative vessel and instead launches it as a stand alone artistic project. This weeks activities were about commemorating an incredible anniversary in US/UK relations, next week is about trying to find an artistic partner to allow the story and the history to have a wider audience.

Gravesend - Origins

Bryony Shanahan Leading Workshop on Gravesend

Bryony Shanahan Leading Workshop on Gravesend

Yasmine Hassabu as Matoaka/ Pocahontas

Yasmine Hassabu as Matoaka/ Pocahontas

Daniel Foxsmith (John Rolfe) and Salvatore D'Aquilla (John Smith)

Daniel Foxsmith (John Rolfe) and Salvatore D'Aquilla (John Smith)

Kieran Knowles and Bryony Shanahan

Kieran Knowles and Bryony Shanahan

Daniel Foxsmith (John Rolfe), Yasmine Hassabu (Pocahontas) and Salvatore D'Aquilla (John Smith)

Daniel Foxsmith (John Rolfe), Yasmine Hassabu (Pocahontas) and Salvatore D'Aquilla (John Smith)

Yasmine Hassabu as Pocahontas and Daniel Foxsmith as John Rolfe

Yasmine Hassabu as Pocahontas and Daniel Foxsmith as John Rolfe

Salvatore D'Aquilla as John Smith

Salvatore D'Aquilla as John Smith

Four years ago, I had the idea to write a play about the life of Pocahontas. She died in Gravesend, Kent. I did not know this until I saw the statue of her there. I had no idea who she was, what she had done or how she had found herself in Kent. 

So I started reading. 

And reading, and reading.

Until I forgot that I was going to write a play and it appeared I was merely going to research one.

Then in Mid 2015 I got a kick of inspiration and got in touch with Mandy Hare at Gravesend Woodville and discussed my idea. She was brilliant, so positive and supportive, and we hatched a plan to get something together for the 400th commemorations, which was just beginning to be mooted by Gravesham council.

I spent the next 6 month wrestling with the play, hating it, liking it, hating it some more, I could never settle on scenes. It was too long, too short, too historical, too breezy. It was the hardest thing I had written. In fact I kept taking myself off and doing other things, avoiding the confrontation with Matoaka. Conveniently I then got the chance to go to New York, and whilst there I took myself off to cafes and devoted my mornings to writing the play. And it worked. I go to a draft (115 pages) which I could tolerate though I was aware it needed work.

In December I sent in an Arts Council Application for the project, knowing that without the funding our plans could not go ahead. By this time, I had spoken with other venues who might be interested in the story. Lincoln Drill Hall (Birthplace of John Smith), Norwich Arts Centre (Birth county of John Rolfe (originally from Heacham)) and Syon Park (Where the Rolfe's took rest whilst in London). London Theatre Workshop also very kindly offered their space to us for two readings for invited guests. It was all coming together.

In Mid January I found out that the application had been accepted and the ball started hurtling towards March. One week later I was in auditions with potential actresses. All of whom were brilliant, but best of all was Yasmine Hassabu who accepted the part and was in the rehearsal room five days later with Salvatore D'Aquilla, Daniel Foxsmith and Bryony Shanahan.

We read, re-read and cut to bits the play taking 20 pages of dead weight off it and then I set about re-writing/ moulding and working what we had into a cohesive narrative. We met again at the beginning of March at the Pleasance in London who kindly offered their space to us for two days rehearsing the script and working how we were going to stage this very simple reading of the play.

It is amazing to me how quickly good actors and directors can make something look so slick and defined.

And thats where we are. The first show takes place on Sunday evening at Kew Steam Museum an incredible place, with towering engines and cavenous rooms. We will perform the play to an invited audience of about 100 organised through Syon Park's Jason Debney, who again, has been so supportive of the work and I am eternally grateful that he took this chance off the back of an hurried email I sent him in summer 2016.

It has been amazing to develop the play with funding from Arts Council England which allowed me to have resources and people in rooms, a luxury I have not had before and something which made the writing/ re-wroking process so much easier.