A congregation of crows gathers silently on the roof of the neighbourless cottage.  Not another soul can be seen through the heavy fog that spans for miles over the flat and flooded farmland beyond, except of course for a single, solitary scarecrow, its face clumsily etched upon a galvanised bucket head. Although the eyes have been repeatedly scrawlehttp://www.honestactors.com/wp-admin/upload.phpd on with a felt-tip pen, they still give the uncomfortable impression that they have seen some shit. A distant clink of chains and the laboured trudge of a footstep divert my attention from the stranded transit van; I stare searchingly down the neglected country road and into the foggy abyss.

Out of the grey mist comes my colleague Glyn, an enormous metal chain hanging from each of his hands, followed closely by the third of our company, Jake, and a very friendly looking farmer. Whilst trying to back the van out of the driveway of our creepy ass cottage, the front wheels have become lodged in a sodden patch of land, various attempts at backing out has left the ground under the tyres churned up to mighty fuck, so we are going nowhere fast.

The farmer plods over, casting a judgemental squint over the whole situation.

“What do you reckon?” says I.

“Well… I wouldn’t have put it there for a start” retorts the farmer. “Actors aren’t you?” As if to say that we have just confirmed all his preconceptions about both actors and city-dwellers; getting their vehicle stuck in a ditch and having absolutely zero expertise as regards getting it out again. But, being a total country lad, he leaves us to chain up the van whilst he pops over to the barn for his oily animal of a tractor. He hauls us out with ease like an absolute titan, then trundles off into the blind fog beyond, determined not to accept so much as a thank you or a hat doffing. We briefly marvel at the fact that the front lawn now looks like a shepherd’s pie that has been mauled by a rabid hound, and then very swiftly jump into the front cab and get the hell on our way. We are now an hour behind on the day that we have to go and do an acting in a prison.

Not an entirely untypical situation. Every day is a story when you’re out on tour.

Years ago, in that drama school bubble of hope and ignorance, where we all believed we would be the one to fall into the lap of opportunity when the shutters were opened at the end of our third year; bursting optimistically like a flock of doves into the sunset of our futures, only for the majority of us to be taken out by an oncoming lorry called ‘The Industry’ around the first corner. Educational Theatre, or T.I.E, was that part of the industry we all turned our nose up at the idea of, believing it to be unelevated, unsavoury, the consignment and fate of the unskilled and underachieving actor. It certainly isn’t a regular character in the dreams of the average aspiring performer. There are actors who will never deign to see the value in this avenue of the business, perhaps I would have been one of them had I not been in desperate need of my first acting job a full year and a half after I had been thrust out the front doors of drama school and hit the pavement with a tremendous thud (it was not paved with gold like they said it would be. Just concrete, like usual).

Half a decade later and T.I.E is my bread and butter. Very much in contrast to my preconception that it is an easy option for which very little skill is needed, it is a line of work that demands a great deal of graft and gives you no space for laziness. Frequently you find yourself dealing with an audience that has no experience of theatre (very often because society has made it quite clear that it is not for them), no obligation to listen to what you are saying and therefore no etiquette at all. Phones out, heckling a-plenty, eating, drinking, smoking, crashing in and out of the room, sleeping, fighting, necking, it’s all there for you to deal with. You want their attention, you are going to need to be damn good at your job. It’s all very well doing your play down the West-End, where everyone has paid a pretty penny to get in, where they have decided that they are going to be entertained tonight weather what they see is a slice of genuine brilliance or a crock o’shite. You want a lesson in how to hold an audience? Go do a play for 40 ex-addicts on Cell Block H (and if you want to know more about how that went, have a look at my blog post: Porridge).

Before theatres were big and shiny and populated with cash-cows for gain of commercial enterprise, before fame was considered by many to be the prize at the end of the actor’s path, before quality was willingly compromised to make sure an X-Factor reject was on the poster, before the concept of real communication was nullified of its importance, before we forgot about our audiences, theatre was toured to spread news and to educate and enrich the lives of others. T.I.E is theatre in its original format, the grass roots of the business; where you have to earn your audiences approval, and standing ovations are not handed out like an obligation for paying 100 quid a ticket. Now, I am not poo-pooing that story played out under a glistening proscenium arch somewhere near Shaftsbury Avenue, it is something I still reach for and it obviously has its place; as does touring educational theatre. I think we should all be doing it. It is not the dregs in the teacup of the acting profession; it is a warming and satisfying brew. Relevant, humbling, enriching and going nowhere.

Series 3 of the podcast is now available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Acast. Episodes already released feature full-length interviews with Adrian Lester, Joanna Scanlan, Tom Riley, Kate Fleetwood, Sarah Ball and Jonjo O’Neill. Click here to listen!

Series 1 & 2 are also available free, along with a special live episode for Equity recorded in November 2018, and follow-up inteaviews with all seven of the emerging actors, conducted in October. Go have a listen

Chris Thomson

Actor, musician, writer, podcaster, dedicated jobber and industry all-rounder. Known for turning up on time, generally saying all the right lines (though not necessarily in the right order) and having grown an impressive beard with the sole intention of deceiving others into believing he has a chin. You can see and hear more of Chris’s content by checking out his very own blog and podcast; ‘Are You Still Doing Your Acting?’.