By Harri Pitches
This is the second of two posts that return to the serialised account of a First Year BA Acting student at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS). It is a first-hand account of the experience of a student emerging into the industry from three years of sustained actor training.
We graduated as the BA Acting Class of 2019 on the 4th of July, alongside alumnus and Honorary Doctor, Richard Madden. Rubbing shoulders with one of the high-flyers from our course on the day that we were finally unshackled and let loose upon the world to seek our fortunes was a most strange feeling. There we were, standing proud, smiling and chatting to someone who represented the peak we could aspire to, just as we were now embarking on the odyssey ourselves. Drama school prepares you for untold challenges as an actor, but there is no etude or vocal warm-up that can get you ready for the daunting mystery of life after the cosy bubble of higher education. I spent my graduation day utterly elated in celebration of everything I and my classmates had achieved, but I was not without fear and anxiety for the future – while it was a wonderful, freeing feeling to escape the shallows of RCS, the ocean beyond seemed unfathomable. It was only when feeling this uncertainty that I was able to reflect on how I felt in the weeks before I started at the RCS – I left my high school with the same sense of foreboding for the much larger pool of fish I was about to enter. However, three (all-too-short) years later, I am a much more natural and confident performer, very much at home at RCS, and eager to learn more. It stands to reason then, that the new proving ground of working life will soon feel just as much like home as my alma mater. Now, as the weeks after graduation become months, I am slowly but surely finding my feet as a jobbing actor.
While I was in two minds about leaving drama school and entering the world beyond, I was blessed to have very little time to think about it, as I was immediately thrust into rehearsals for a children’s theatre production at the Shakespeare Rose Theatre in York. I completely appreciated my luck in securing acting work straight away after leaving RCS, and energetically and enthusiastically buried myself in my first proper job. I was the new kid on the block for the first time in three years, and I definitely felt that I had something to prove. My need to validate and cement myself as a professional in my first job was a very useful impulse – I conducted myself with utmost care, I was punctual, I was off-book within the first week, and I was endlessly eager to demonstrate that my training had made me an efficient and indispensable utensil. I was the pen through which the director shaped the story, and it made my rehearsals deep, cerebral, and hard work. Although I have no doubt that I came off as a little green, and can probably afford to be less of a ‘Yes-Man’ in my next jobs, I think that the feeling of having something to prove brought enhanced attention to detail, sharpened performative senses, and a tighter control over my abilities. These are all qualities I would be loath to lose in any future acting employment, no matter how long I’ve been working or how comfortable I feel.
With the job itself came new challenges that were alien to me upon leaving drama school, revolving around the need to audition for Autumn and Christmas work while in the middle of performances for my current job. This was something I had never even had to think about during my time at RCS. For instance, in my third year, which was essentially theatre in rep, I would finish one performance and glide seamlessly into rehearsals for the next, having auditioned for parts in these plays many months prior. Not so in the real world. At its most hectic, we opened the play in York, I awoke at four o’clock the next morning to get to Norwich by eleven for a recall for a Christmas job, and then hopped back to York the same day ready to rouse myself at five o’clock the next morning to start the get-in for my current job. Needless to say, I was burned-out before I had even really begun. Although I was a waking ghost, appearing zombified and monosyllabic to my family in the mornings, I could only be grateful that I was busy enough to be so tired. This was all part of a learning curve that I was lucky enough to be following, as I began to navigate the new relationship between actor and agent. Indeed, in these first few months that I have been signed, I have sought to strengthen this relationship by taking a firm hold of each and every opportunity that has come my way. I think this is borne from a similar urge as my need to cement myself as a professional in the eyes of my director. It is a relationship that I am becoming ever more comfortable with, and I look tentatively but determinedly forward to the months to come.
I feel a distinct need, especially at the end of one of life’s chapter’s, to immediately keep the story going – to find a home outside the familial house, and to venture to new places beyond the boundaries of the home county and make them my own, in whatever small ways I can. Glasgow and Scotland are without question those places for me, and even while in gainful employment, I grew restless while living at home over Summer. The decision to move back up was not a difficult one – after all, I have spent the last three years building a life for myself up here. My friends, my partner, my agent, and indeed, the ethos that being at the RCS has imbued my life with are all part of this wonderful corner of the world.
As it stands now, I am currently ‘resting’ – living the indefinable and purgatorial state between acting jobs. It is not easy. I am a creature of endless internal disquiet, and only when I am working is some of my innate turbulence quelled. At school, it was easy to fight the pangs of jealousy that crept into my consciousness, for drama school is its own little bubble, and what happens inside it is inconsequential to life on the outside. It is harder now – the playing field is levelled, and thus there is little certainty of work in any creative capacity. I have found myself working as a bartender, more because I am in desperate need of something to do that will put an end to my ceaseless refreshing of the Spotlight Castings webpage than for any financial benefit. However, luckily, the aforementioned early morning dash to Norwich reaped the reward of an exciting Christmas job for which rehearsals begin in mid-November. So in reality, I have just over a month to spend in limbo before I tread the boards once more. I would do well to remember this when I feel the green-eyed monster crawl its way to my door again. I am sure that this period of uncertainty is not the last I will ever experience. It is the first of many, many, many more, and tackling it with gusto and honesty is perhaps the key to dealing with the others that undoubtedly lie in wait. What will be, will be, and as long as I am doing everything I can to keep active, engaged, and productive, then these periods will be fewer and further between. So. Lots to think about, and lots of time to do it. My drama school journey was hard; often disappointing and frustrating, but it was also magnificent and mind-blowing. It was long and full of doubt, both in myself and in the profession I had chosen, but it also built me up and strengthened my character and confidence in ways I probably don’t even realise yet. It was desperately sad, and it was the happiest I have ever been in my life. If I have learned anything in my time there, it is that you cannot have one half of things without the other – drama school is a balance; unsteady, swinging from floundering in confusion to clarity and assuredness in a heartbeat. It is how you decide to walk this tightrope that defines who you are on the other side of the chasm. For me, I think I can be proud of the person drama school, and indeed Scotland, has moulded me into. I arrived here at once a scared little boy, and at the same time arrogant, spiteful, and honestly, not very nice. I return here – for good – warm, kind, open, and as my Dad would say, ‘with a feeling of ease’. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Harri Pitches, January 2020.