Introducing our MA Professional Acting Course Leaders
We say hello to our new Course Leader for the MA Professional Acting degree at ALRA North, Lucy Curtis, and Co-Course Leader at ALRA South, Brandon Lee Sears. Paloma Oakenfold, who has been teaching at ALRA South for years, has teamed up with Brandon as South Co-Course Leader. We asked them some questions to get to know them and see what they have in store for the new academic year.
Tell us about the other work you have done and what led you to this point at ALRA. Can you share some of the highlights?
Lucy: I’ve spent the past 7 years as a theatre director working in buildings across Europe and Asia as well as directing actors in training in the UK and France. During this time, I trained and was resident as a director at the Manchester Royal Exchange and got to know the city this way. When I graduated as an actor, I wanted to make my own work. I saw theatre and storytelling as a deeply empowering political tool to connect people and our experiences in a time that felt – and continues to feel - very rigid. A true highlight for me was becoming the Artistic Director of political theatre company, Changing Face, and being supported by the Arts Council to make work with different communities in South East London. I got to work with wicked artists to create Where Will We Live? For the Southwark Playhouse in 2015, interrogating the hyper-regeneration of Brixton’s Atlantic Road with over 200 residents. It was a massive celebration of spirit in a time where spirit felt uncared for and under-valued. I love working with actors in training to create new stories and to encourage them to view themselves as artists. Seeing graduates and their companies make original and unapologetic work is always the highlight.
Brandon: I’m excited to co-lead the MA course at ALRA. All of the work from my past has led me to this point. I have acted in many different genres including ballets, musicals, Shakespeare, contemporary theatre, television and film. All of that professional work, as well as my lived experience, has led me to this point at ALRA, and I am delighted to be here. Highlights of my professional career would be acting in Come From Away which won 4 Olivier Awards last year.
Paloma: I am the director and co-founder of Bareface, a company of disabled and neuro-divergent actors. We are currently working on a web series and taking our show Fix Us to the Soho Theatre next year. Our autobiographical stories aim to challenge the preconceptions and stigma that surround disability and show the world how capable and talented our actors are. I am a member of the Fringe Wives Club, and our multi award-winning cabaret show continues to tour the UK promoting feminism and femme empowerment. I am also an actor, most notably starring in E4’s Chewing Gum and ShowTime series The Borgias. Prior to my new role, I was Head of Foundation at ALRA for a couple of years, which has been a joy! I am wholeheartedly committed to nurturing the confidence, happiness and talents of our students.
How has your own acting experience informed your teaching?
Lucy: I remember feeling frustrated by my drama school training. There were so many rules and boundaries to casting, a lack of empowerment in our own voices, and very few opportunities to explore ourselves as theatre-makers. One of my first ever opportunities out of drama school was to collaborate with the North Wall in Oxford, which at the time was run by the brilliant Lucy Maycock. We were introduced to the power of ensemble by her and Artistic Director of the Awake Project, Chris Sivertson, and all of a sudden theatre felt joyful! They taught me a lot about how to carve a career out for myself, the power of collaboration, and the importance of not apologising for the stories you want to tell. I landed a gig at the RSC which further inspired my interest in ensemble, and after that I decided to part ways with acting and focus solely on making and directing. Working as an actor was the best thing I could have ever done to become a director and tutor – it’s informed the way I communicate and empathise with actors but most importantly, it’s encouraged me to give more artistic license to the actor and to facilitate opportunities for the actor to see themselves as an artist through their training; one that doesn’t have to wait for someone else to kickstart their career for them.
Brandon: I believe that theory and technique do nothing unless worked out and made use of as a lived experience. I’ve experienced professional success as a classical ballet dancer, singer, and as an actor. I’ve succeeded when I’ve been able to repeat what works. My own acting learning has been a conglomeration of methods and techniques learned and put to use in the profession. I’ve enjoyed success in each of these professions when I have been able to repeat the acting strategies that work for me. I understand that people learn in many different ways, and what works for some may not work for others. My deepest desire is to inspire everyone I teach to tap into their own potential for peak performance and exceptional success.
Paloma: For me, being an actor and teacher is an ongoing, two-way dialogue where each practice informs the other. Both demand generosity, openness, putting your attention outside of yourself, collaboration, listening and responding.
Do you remember a specific teacher from your own training who inspired you?
Lucy: Shout out to Rob Swain, Aoife Smyth, Nicolas Kent, Mirza Metin and Bijan Sheibani for the time, care and laughs.
Brandon: As a foster kid, many of my teachers served as the mother and father figures in my life. An instructor I had who wasn’t actually an acting teacher at all named Scott O’Daniel helped me to see that I was responsible for my thinking and I was in charge of my emotions and the way I responded to the world around me. I may not be able to control the situations around me, but I can always control my thoughts, emotions, and response. That was a GAME-CHANGER. After understanding and putting that knowledge to use in my life, my professional career completely changed. It took off, really, and I never stopped working.
Paloma: Honestly, my students are my best teachers. They have taught me to never underestimate their abilities, to stay present, open, positive and flexible. I learnt a lot from working as Assistant Director to Sean Holmes at the Lyric Hammersmith, particularly about thinking outside the box and making bold choices. My practice changed dramatically after entering the world of comedy, clown, cabaret and drag. I was inspired to explore experimental, boundary-pushing art through working with Bourgeoise and Maurice, Victoria Falconer, Dr Brown, Pecs and Eirini Kartsaki. I learnt the strength of kindness from my Granny. I actually think I learn from everyone, every day.
What is your vision for the ALRA MA Professional Acting course?
Lucy: I want to lead an MA Acting course that empowers its actors as artists, who challenge the industry through new stories, who demand control over their art and their future practicing it. I want actor training to have the bravery to be responsive: to listen to the individual student’s needs and to celebrate difference within cohorts, rather than a “one size fits all” model. I want to widen the curriculum on the MA and bring work in from all backgrounds. I’d love to see a culture where staff actively encourage critique – why use Arthur Miller and not Lorraine Hansberry? Let’s also offer up new adaptations and challenge students to come up with new political contexts. I want to give our students responsibility so that we empower them. Let everyone be seen in their training, ensuring diversity of intake, material, and visiting practitioners, so that safe spaces are created. I want our graduates to leave with a feeling of joy in their craft. I will lead a course that encourages passion, responsibility, and enjoyment of the work. Regardless of success at Showcase, or agent interest, I want them to leave knowing themselves as artists.
Brandon: My vision for ALRA’s MA Professional Acting course is to develop an inclusive and progressive program that continually implements new and innovative ways of acting teaching and learning. My greatest desire is that the actors feel they’ve participated in a meaningful journey of knowledge that has empowered them and developed their unique voice.
Paloma: My vision for the MA is to foster a life-long love of learning in actors. I want the students to become confident in themselves as artists, believing they have something unique and precious to offer the world. I want the students to become proactive, self-reliant agents of change and use art as a force for good in our communities. I want the MA course to be an inclusive place where everybody is truly seen and heard; a place of truth and integrity, a place where we come together and examine the human soul. I also want to have lots of fun.