I have taken the liberty of inviting a ‘guest-blogger’ to write for me today – I’m sure you’re all completely bored of me chuntering on by now…
So, let me introduce you to CHRISTIAN WALKER – a professional Actor (ex-Guildford School of Acting), co-producer for Poleroid Theatre and a superb, VERY humorous and observant writer. If you’ve seen any of Poleroid’s past work – most recently Breakout – you will know what I mean.
I won’t spoil his blog for you – but it’s a good’un – and isn’t he a dapper chap?!
Last week, I returned to my old drama school for an open day in order to pay tribute to Ian Ricketts, a man who has become synonymous with the college and nothing short of a legend in the eyes of anybody fortunate enough to have had him as a tutor in the forty-two (yep, forty-two) years he has been teaching. The fact that I am still at it (acting that is) a few years on, has as much to do with Ian Ricketts teaching me how to be a man, as how to be an actor. Having dug out my original notebook from the early days at the college, and scanned through a mountain of “Thought of the Day” manuscripts I began to notice the correlation: the extracts, be they by Marcus Aurelius or Alan Bennett, were all designed to steel the soul to withstand – or at the very least understand – the variety of pressures the world had thrown or would soon be throwing. They were aimed at fulfillment and how to keep a healthy mind. They were aimed at longevity.
Ian Ricketts (left) in the new GSA facility for the cutting of the Ribbon
I was put in mind of another GSA graduate who found mainstream success later in life:
“People used to say all sorts of negative things to me about acting; I just thought it would be better than working.”
That was Bill Nighy speaking to a journalist from The Independent (who also, incidentally happens to be my brother) back in February 2012. Obviously a quote such as this, taken out of context could be massively misconstrued by anyone without half a brain or who has never seen an interview or even a movie with the man. But, despite no doubt having been delivered with the trademark Cameron Foster-esque glint in the eye, there is an essence to the statement, which would resonate on some level with most professional actors. Great acting is hard work and for the most part the best performances come from those who have found their process and are prepared to put in the work to reach the peak of their cognitive and perceptive faculties.
But it’s fun. That’s where it started, right? Let’s not pretend it isn’t. That’s why people want to get into acting in the first place. And the reason that we know this is that there isn’t much evidence of amateur banking societies in country villages across the land. People don’t respond to an accountant telling them what they do for a living by leaning in to say “you know, I’ve been known to do a bit of maths in my time”. Even if one was to achieve instant success straight out of college, it is unsustainable without an appreciation of what it means to work hard at your career. But we should never lose the fun. Ian is all about the fun.
“I know it’s going to be very, very difficult but I’m an actor – I just can’t imagine myself doing anything else” is a line I have heard, almost word for word, from two different actors on two separate occasions in reaction to the obligatory ‘Talk of Doom’ that every drama student receives at some point in a vague effort to keep their feet on the ground. Quite apart from the irony of an actor incapable of imagining themselves doing anything else, it strikes me as a slightly unadventurous attitude for someone entering into such a sensory experiment of a profession. “The actor is always learning” Said Ian Ricketts when addressing the class in an uncharacteristically concise moment in my very first term at drama school “And if that’s the case, every experience, good or bad, should be cherished” (okay, I may have paraphrased that one a little – my class notes are barely legible).
This was one of Ian’s many lessons: that we are always learning, we are always growing, and we will never know everything. So… you know… chin up.
Success in the acting profession and indeed any purely creative aspect of an industry is relative and abstract and shouldn’t have a monopoly on our personal happiness. Enthusiasms outside of theatre are important. Sport. Painting. Gardening.
Back at the open day, one of my peers had tried to characterise ‘success’ as: “noted respect for your craft from within the industry” which admittedly sounds like it was lifted from a pamphlet in a brewery.
A mildly inebriated older gentleman, also a former student, cut a rather bleak figure as he put it altogether more simply: “Fame, dear boy. Fame. Do everything you can to be famous”.
“Are you famous?” one of the younger alumni asked.
“I was never a famous actor.” The old boy replied, “But I was a very famous gardener…”
We had been coaxed down to Guildford on the advisement that Ian Ricketts the legendary tutor of the GSA, part of the brickwork, the glue that holds the college together was going to be retiring imminently and permanently. Brenda Blethyn, another former student of his had very thoughtfully paid for a bronze bust for the lobby. And as we stood there listening to an array of speakers eulogize on their various experiences of the man himself, latecomers could have been forgiven for thinking they had accidentally walked in on a funeral. The school has moved into new facilities in the last couple of years and it was widely assumed that Ian would not be moving with it. The arcane rules and regulations of a university campus seemed too much to ask of a man so steeped in tradition and common sense, the building itself too sterile and functional to contain him. But as we were about to leave he revealed, with a slight look of mischief, that due to the hunger and eagerness to learn which he witnessed in the eyes of the new intake being as strong as ever, he would in fact be staying on
“For the time being”.
Ian is all about the fun.