As Frantic Assembly’s Beautiful Burnout transfers to Warwick Arts Centre, we caught up with Frantic’s co-director, Scott Graham, to talk about what he looks for in auditions, why working in Wales was a no-brainer and what it was like living on £30 a week…
What do you think made Frantic Assembly successful where so many young theatre companies have failed?
We were a group of people who were equally committed. Nothing about us coming together was convenient: myself, Steven and Vicky weren’t performers. We weren’t trained in dance or theatre – performing was just a necessity to make work, because we couldn’t afford to pay other actors.
Be honest with yourself: do you want to form a company? Will that best serve your thought and ideas, or do you actually just want to perform? If you’re setting up a company to facilitate yourself as a performer then you’re in for a long, hard slog.
Do you think it’s harder for young companies today? Or has starting out always been a struggle?
Possibly it’s harder now, but some young companies have an absolutely meteoric rise. We chose to start in Swansea and spend our first four years as a company based in Wales. We wanted to make a full-time commitment to the company straight away. It meant being unemployed and getting an enterprise allowance benefit, which actually gave us less money than going on the dole. To do that we needed to be somewhere where the cost of living was lower, like Swansea.
We also liked the idea of being outsiders – of doing things on our own terms. It was a no-brainer really. We only really moved to London when the touring options ran out in Wales.
As a director, is there a note that you often give to young actors?
There is a fundamental truth about acting: the audience will see who you are. So, when young actors and dancers try to be likeable, we tell them to stop trying.
Telling a dancer to stop dancing or an actor to stop acting can be a very strange note to give, but you’ve got to trust your audience and not bombard them with that “like me, like me” stuff.
What do you look for in performers?
It shifts from project to project, but what we’re looking for is truth. You don’t have to be the most technically gifted performer – you just have to have a truthful connection to the audience. We take actors out of their comfort zone. One of the reasons we use actors rather than dancers is because their movement often retains a sense of fragility and uncertainty, which makes the moment quite real. There’s something electric about that.
In rehearsals we put performers in a situation where they can be creative but don’t take responsibility for the show. A lot of the tasks we give them don’t even refer directly to show, because that can shut down the actor. Instead of opening their mind, they start to think, “What do they want?” That’s the opposite of what we want a performer to do.
Everybody’s mind is wired differently, and they move in different ways. We want performers who can come up with things that we wouldn’t think of.
What would you say to someone who wants to direct their own theatre company?
You have to work hard, but stay as open as possible.
Also, during our first year we were on £30 or £40 a week. The next year it was £70. In the fourth year it was about £110 a week. Those first four years we were working under extreme poverty. The reason we could do that was because we were in it together and resisted the temptation to get work elsewhere. We were committed to it, absolutely.
I remember the first time on tour we could afford a hot meal. It didn’t feel like a hardship; it was just exciting to realise that we could now afford a cooked dinner.
Beautiful Burnout will be at the Warwick Arts Centre from Tuesday 9 to Saturday 13 October, 2012. To find out more, visit the website.
For more information on Frantic Assembly, including their training and auditions, visit their website.