We are family: sharing the theatre with young and old

We talk to the cast of Much Ado About Nothing

We’ve been the proud sponsors of the PwC Under 25s Club for over a year now. In that first year, we’ve made over 19,000 tickets available to anyone under 25, making sure that young theatre-goers have access to subsidised tickets to shows at The Old Vic theatre.

Our support of The Old Vic will continue throughout 2013 and beyond, bringing theatre to an ever-wider audience. With this in mind, we decided to catch up with some of the younger generation of acting talent to hear their views on the future of the theatre and the arts.

We sat down with Lloyd Everitt and Beth Cooke, both currently starring in Mark Rylance’s production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, to talk about the need for sponsorship of the arts, the importance of theatre for all and the feeling of family that comes from being part of a cast of like-minded actors.

Do you think corporate sponsorship of the arts a good thing? Is it something we should see more of?

Lloyd (LE): “Anything that can help more theatre be revived and keep the arts vibrant is good – it doesn’t matter where it’s coming from, in my opinion, as long as theatre is happening.”

Beth (BC): “I think it’s very important for everyone to see the value in the arts. Big businesses have the money and they can do a lot to help: most artists don’t have a lot of money.”

So would you agree that the theatre should be open to everyone, regardless of age, class and background?

LE: “Yes, and the Under 25s scheme really helps to blend that out. I’d much prefer it if people from all types of background were able to come to the theatre.”

BC: “That’s the whole point of storytelling. Everyone has a story. Everyone needs to hear stories to help them make sense of their life. It’s nothing to do with where you’ve come from, or how much money you have.

Theatre, when it’s at its best, should be an emotional experience – it shouldn’t be an intellectual experience. So it’s nothing to do with how many books you’ve read or what background you come from. Everyone has the ability to feel, so when we come out of the theatre we should feel something.”

LE: “Hopefully, when you’re on the stage you’re representing the people that are watching you in some way. You can see moments of your own self in one or two of the characters. We’re all human beings, really, and it’s about identifying those qualities in each other.”

Do you think it’s important that everyone has this kind of access to Shakespeare’s work?

LE: “His work is timeless. When I was at school, I didn’t like it because I didn’t think I’d be able to understand the language. And I thought it was just for ‘posh’ people who could talk in a certain way. And then I saw an amateur production of Titus Andronicus and I understood it. Even if I didn’t completely understand what I was hearing, I understood what was happening. It was a barrier that I’d put up in my brain. I think a lot of children in school can have that problem with Shakespeare.”

BC: “They do. But he’s arguably the greatest writer that’s has ever written and those stories are accessible. He wouldn’t be the best writer in the English language if his plays weren’t for everyone.”

When you start rehearsing a play like Much Ado About Nothing, how long does it take for the language to click and for it to become natural?

BC: “I think it’s easy to understand the simple story and the journey of the character intellectually from the beginning. But the more you explore, the more you understand that emotional journey of that human being; of a soul. It’s a soul that you’re trying to grasp at. And that is an ongoing journey – it doesn’t stop.”

How did you both start your careers? What drew you to acting as a profession?

LE: “I didn’t start until pretty late. I was on a film studies class and one of the girls was part of an improvisational group and I went along. That’s where it started; that was just playful acting with no scripts. That’s just one way of acting, and it wasn’t the purest way of improvising. It was more about who was the funniest, or who could keep the straightest face when you’re shouting at them. But I guess those were the foundations. Then I decided to go to drama school.”

Was it very different going to drama school?

LE: “Oh yeah, completely different. I went there at the perfect time and I was ready to take it very seriously. I was blessed with having a really lovely class of people and two wonderful teachers who were like family to me at the time.

So I don’t have any bad experiences from drama school. There was competitiveness but everyone was very different – you couldn’t say that one person might go for the same role as you. So it was a very organic class to learn from and appreciate what other people could do.”

Was your experience of getting into acting different, Beth?

BC: “I’ve loved Shakespeare since I was a child. I used to condense the plays and make them my own little plays but with the same story. My dad has a really wonderful knowledge and understanding of Shakespeare, so it was a big thing for me.

Then I went to drama school. I was always quite a daydreamer at school so there was something about drama school that didn’t quite click with me. I learnt lots of things, but I didn’t hold it as a gospel. I didn’t go ‘Oh, this is the answer!’.

I’m constantly unsure about things, and I don’t think you can ever have the one answer to acting. For me, acting is a personal journey. But I did learn a lot about your voice and about your body.

When you’re part of a cast that includes such stage greats as Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones, are you a little in awe of them?

LE: “It took me a good week to catch my breath. From the age of five I’ve watched James Earl Jones in films. I knew Vanessa Redgrave, but because I’d be round at my nan’s house watching movies I knew more of James Earl Jones. That voice: he’s in The Lion King, he’s Darth Vader!

But you become normalised to it. At the end of the day, they’re amazing people who have achieved great things, but they’re people. They’re kind and they want to get to know you – and that relaxes you.”

BC: “They’re an absolute inspiration; as are everyone in the cast. But the statures that they have, the experience they bring and the age that they are: they are totally inspirational in the way they continue to search for stories and expression. And they’re not old, they’re so young at heart. I think that’s a thing with actors … “

LE: “It keeps your soul young.”

Did the age of the cast have an impact on Mark Rylance’s production?

LE: “There are a lot of older actors on the stage. But it’s split down the middle between young and old – it’s a really lovely blend of experience and people who are just starting out.

BC: “We’re playing the young lovers and James and Vanessa are the older couple. They’re in the autumn of their life and we’re in the summer of ours. And it’s like a cycle of life with a baton being passed on. Within the play, I think that adds a real richness to the relationship between Beatrice and Hero and between Claudio and Benedick.”

How have you found working with Mark?

BC: “Working with Mark Rylance has been such a wonderful learning curve. He doesn’t have a pre-conceived idea of what he wants the production to look like or how he wants you to express certain things.

He enjoys the uncertainty, yet it seems to me that he has a clear idea of his own vision. He’s irreverent and he doesn’t conform to conventional staging”

LE: “We’ve learnt so much from Mark. He’s a wonderful man and very much a ‘people person’. He’s an actor himself, which helps.”

What is it that drives actors on, do you think?

LE: “As an actor, you’re always chasing moments. You’re always on the edge of your seat and I think the most successful actors never lose that; there’s always that feeling of ‘What’s next?’.

BC: “You have to keep your appetite alive. Mark talks about appetites a lot.”

LE: “You’ve got to find the pleasure in what you’re doing. As you get older that doesn’t change. James is 82 years old, but you see him grow every night. And that’s because he gets so much pleasure from what he’s doing.”

BC: “He does. He loves it. I said to him the other day. ‘You know, James, you’re just an inspiration’ and he said, ‘No, you’re an inspiration!’. That’s it. It’s an exchange. And that’s what acting is really; an exchange.

LE: “He’s a very funny guy, and Vanessa too. They’re very unique people.”

BC: “Vanessa is profoundly loving and generous."

Is there a positive future ahead for British theatre?

LE: “I think there is. It’s amazing that so much theatre is being produced, at the level that it is, especially with the cuts to arts funding. This kind of sponsorship is really helping and it would be terrible if it were taken away. So we really need to maintain things like the Under 25s scheme and keep it going.

BC: “London is the heart of theatre in the world. It’s so important that we keep that alive for people – for the people that live in London and the people that visit London.  I don’t think the theatre will ever die, I don’t think there’s a chance of that.”

You can see Lloyd and Beth performing in Much Ado About Nothing at The Old Vic until 30 November 2013.

You can find out more about the PwC Under 25s Club here.

The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect those of PwC LLP.

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Naomi Harrison

Head of Corporate Hospitality and Sponsorship

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