Toby Clarke is the Head of Youth Arts at Ovalhouse Theatre in London. He tells us why he quit medicine for theatre, and shares some sage advice: “Don’t be a dick”...
Full name/age/job title:
Toby Clarke, 32, Head of Youth Arts at Ovalhouse Theatre.
Please give us an overview of your average day.
My four-year-old will invariably wake me up each morning demanding spaghetti bolognaise or some other inappropriate breakfast item.
After spending too long in the shower (where I get most of my good ideas but am always without pen and paper to record them), I head to the theatre and arrive at my desk usually around 9.30am. This is followed by the obligatory email/Facebook check in.
My day varies, which is what makes it pretty exciting. Usually I’ll get a text off a young aspiring actor asking me for help on an audition monologue (even though I no longer have ANY idea what drama schools are looking for now). I’ll have the odd marketing meet, chew over budgets and my evenings (the best part of my working day) are always spent working and rehearsing with young actors, writers and directors.
Then I get home too late and eat spaghetti bolognaise with my family.
What is the most common misconception about your job?
That it’s a job, because in my mind it’s not. Making theatre is my passion. I get to play for a living and I share that with the most inspiring group of individuals on a daily basis. I’m fortunate, after years freelancing for a handshake and a “thanks”, that I now get paid to do what I love. But I’d still be doing it for the thank you’s even if it wasn’t for Ovalhouse.
What is the hardest thing about your role?
A massive part of my role is to convince our “Big Society” that young people have a right to be heard and to express themselves. All the work I do with Truth about Youth (my largest program of work) challenges negative perceptions of youngsters in London. The most challenging aspect of it is that we are up against enormous bodies who are set on branding young people as no good, feral and violent. These include the tabloid press, films like Kidulthood and even celebrities endorsing gun crime with the choices they make. Angelina Jolie is a mother of 25 [sic!] and is still content with a large poster of herself looking sexy with a fire-arm. Though we’re trying, we can’t compete with the scale of influence these all have.
When did you decide what you wanted to do with your life and how did you set out to achieve it?
I was sat in St George’s Hospital waiting for an interview to enroll on their medical course. As I waited, it occurred to me that, though I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, I knew I didn’t want to be a doctor. So I walked. I walked so long and far that I reached the Strand where I was faced with a ticket tout asking if I wanted a ticket for The Lion King a the Lyceum Theatre. It cost me £22 to realise that my passion was and had always been for theatre. Two months later I was enrolled in drama school where I met fellow artists who supported me and got me to this chair and this interview.
What can you do to get a head start?
Get your work on and out there. I’m not interested in seeing aspiring artists’ flashy business cards and websites. If you’re good, get out there and prove it. Hit the fringe theatres, get a naff bar job to support yourself and spend the rest of your time being creative.
Surround yourself in the arts and other artists, as you will validate each other’s work.
Could you describe the creative element to your job?
I devise with so many young actors, writers, designers, stage managers that I struggle to remember all their names.
They provide the most creative element of my day and I look forward to being in a creative environment with them. When they conjure up an idea/thought/line you’d never even considered I get this tingly feeling over my left arm (and I’m right-handed!).
What’s the one thing you wish you had known at the start of your career that you know now?
To be honest. Don’t play the director, don’t pretend to be an actor, and don’t act like a writer. Your genuine nature will get you a head. For three years I was a dick and I missed out on some amazing opportunities and nearly even lost a good friend. So don’t be a dick.
Which organisations/websites/resources do you think would be useful for people entering your industry?
I’ve got a lot of time for East 15 Drama School, where I used to do a lot of teaching. They offer a Contemporary Theatre Course that is pumping out real actors with ideas on what it is to make decent theatre.
If you’re an actor you need to be on Spotlight, but think everybody knows that so no pearls of wisdom there.
For music, check out the Roundhouse in Camden. Had a recent tour and that place is alive!
I guess I should plug Ovalhouse. In all seriousness, if you are under 25 and want to learn from professionals and be treated like one then please get down here. As far as youth theatre goes, we’re it.
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