Getting into acting

 16 December 2011

TV and theatre actor Geff Francis talks about how acting workshops helped him find success, and what to bear in mind when thinking about going to drama school.

Getting started as an actor

"How did I get started in this business? Well, I was a draftsman for two years. I found an agent who would take me on without an Equity card, which is quite hard. I didn't have an Equity card so he couldn't send me for professional work.

"Do non-professional work, go to public open castings. Any way in is a way in"

"So he sent me to workshops. Basically friends of his who were actors who were doing workshops in the evenings in a disused classroom in a school after hours.

"We'd go there and work on improvs and try to devise plays and whatever. And what that did, it kept you in some modicum of contact with the business. Because every once in a while his friends would come in, who we'd recognize from TV, and talk to us."

Moving into Theatre in Education

"This workshop was really great, because a lot of black actors of my generation started off there. I moved on from that, I managed to get a contract in Theatre in Education.

"In those days what would happen is that you'd work for six months slogging your guts out, devising the play, building the set, writing it, coming up with the music, almost guerilla-style.

"The idea behind that was to take it into schools and Youth Training Schemes, and hopefully have a positive impact because you're talking about socially relevant issues with people not much younger than myself.

"So did that, that was great. At the end of it got an Equity card and from there, obviously, I was able to go do professional work."

Options for young aspiring actors

The drama school route

"What you learn in drama school in three years will take you  six years to learn on the street."

"I would definitely suggest that if you can, go to drama school, because that instantly keeps you in touch with the business.

"What you would learn in drama school in three years will take you maybe six years to learn on the street, because obviously you have to work in order to learn.

"So I'd say there's definitely a place for drama school. It just kind of compounds all the stuff you need to know to prepare you for what you're going to come across in the outside world.

"It'll give you a chance to try Shakespeare, whereas I had to learn at the RSC [Royal Shakespeare Company]. So it gives you a chance to try all these different genres of theatre and acting.

The non-drama school route

"But if you don't have that option, or can't afford to go into drama school, then you have to do what I did, which is go to theatres, wait behind the bar, talk to actors, tug peoples' trouser legs, find workshops, find your way in.

"Do non-professional work, go to public open castings. Any way in is a way in. And if you're determined, you'll do it."

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