Secret Theatre receives an Exceptional Award from Arts Council England!
(Interview by Sean Brooks)
Originally conceived as a year-long project whilst the multi-million pound redevelopment takes place, the Lyric Hammersmith recently announced its Secret Theatre project is going to be extended for another year to embark on a UK tour!
We spoke to two of the Secret Theatre cast members Katherine Pearce and Hammed Animashaun about their experience of the project and the upcoming tour as well as offering some great advice for all you young people.
Tell us about yourself and how you got into theatre:
KP: Well, from being very little I would perform for anybody that would watch. My mum was really good with stories – she used to put on all the voices – and so I got into amateur dramatics and youth theatre. I took Drama for GCSE and A Level, but it was only when I went to Moscow Arts Theatre on a taster course that I got serious about wanting to go into theatre. I then went to train at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama – it took a couple of attempts – and I’ve been pretty lucky to be in work.
HA: I didn’t want to be an actor at all; I wanted to play basketball. I kind of just fell into acting. I’ve always enjoyed making people laugh and being an entertainer – I was the class clown, which the teachers hated! My drama teacher saw something in me and forced me to join Half Moon Young People’s Theatre in Limehouse. A new agency opened up in Hoxton and my drama teacher told me to think about signing up, but I was thinking about going to uni instead. I was studying Philosophy with Drama when my agent called by about an audition for Mogadishu, I got a part and I’ve been working ever since. I had to drop out of uni, but I really wanted to finish and get my degree because that’s important to my mum, so I’ve always said I’ll go back to school. As I’ve been working ever since, I don’t know when I’ll get a chance!
What drew you to Secret Theatre?
KP: I’m going to be honest, I didn’t quite know what it was. Sean Holmes (Artistic Director of the Lyric) came to see Port at the National where I had a really tiny part, he had a word with me about doing theatre in a different way and, even though I haven’t been in the industry a long time, it felt really special to me. I did the audition and it was only really when we started that I realised the scale of what we were doing.
HA: Sean and I were doing Cinderella here (the Lyric) and he took me aside and had a chat about the concept of Secret Theatre and he asked if I wanted to be part of it. I researched all the people involved and I was nervous about the whole thing – I hadn’t been to drama school, so I was worried about feeling out of my depth.
KP: It’s just really refreshing to be doing something different. For Show 2, we sat round doing it in the traditional Southern American accent, and it was so boring.
HA: That’s when we started to realise what Secret Theatre was about. We were slipping into the norm and we didn’t want to do that. I think young people really relate to that. What’s great is we’ve noticed a much younger audience, who seem to really enjoy it and respond to it.
How does the creative process work?
KP: Well, we had to see what we were like as a company before deciding on any piece. We played ball games and did different exercises for like a month. It was only after that that we decided what sort of thing we wanted to do – we were constantly generating new material.
HA: Sean told us what he was thinking, but he didn’t tell us the casting. With Show 3, we had no idea what was going to happen. For me, Show 4 was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
KP: But even then, with Show 3, parts still got changed. We try not to say ‘no’, which is a really good thing. To have to do something you’re not entirely comfortable or interested in is great for your determination. We’re actually about to work on a scene that’s really difficult, but I’m excited to see how we’re going to make it work. It’s so refreshing.
HA: What’s brilliant about this company is Sean didn’t know all our collective talents. We can all sing and some of us play instruments. He inadvertently brought together a really talented group of people; it kind of just happened.
KP: Hammed is a great steel drummer! I don’t think it’s not a coincidence that Hammed is a great drummer and musician as well as great coming timing. They complement each other.
Do you think it helps being an ensemble?
KP: Absolutely, Show 4 is a different show every time we do it as there are things that are constantly changed. We know enough about each other to be comfortable and whatever I do; I know others would be able to cope.
HA: It definitely keeps you on your feet. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. What’s great is normally in this industry, I would never get cast in a role like this. I had to really dig deep.
What do you think are the obstacles in the industry?
HA: It’s really easy to get typecast.
KP: The only similarity between me and Marilyn Monroe (who my character is based on) is that we’re blonde. We’re about to do a scene that we’d normally never get cast in, so it’s really exciting. It’s important because this story happens all over the world, not just to one type of person. Why does Juliet have to be the same every time? She’s always a pretty waif of a girl, which is fine, but it’s not relatable. Why can’t we have some alternatives? Let’s take James Bond, Daniel Craig isn’t the tall, dark and handsome of the previous Bonds and it kind of broke the mould.
HA: It’s frustrating for actors. I’m always cast as a big, clumsy guy and whilst I do enjoy doing that, my role in Show 4 is so different. I think there are no small parts only small actors. It’s about taking small parts and turning them into something huge and with Show 4, I’m able to sink my teeth into it.
What advice do you have for our young people?
HA: Stay positive. Stay on top of your craft. What’s amazing about this generation of young people is it’s getting bigger and bigger and there’s so much talent. Unfortunately there just aren’t enough jobs, so you need to stay positive. The calls aren’t always going to be coming in but don’t let that beat you. Stay positive, stay true to yourself. For any young actors out there, don’t let typecasting beat you. Keep pushing. Don’t let the industry beat you. It’s a great industry but there are flaws. You need to be able to take rejection. You need to be resilient. I did the whole community theatre thing, I didn’t train and I’m really pleased I did that. There’re some great actors, particularly young people, who are pushing. That’s the only way you can break it. If you want it, keep pushing.
KP: Do it for yourself. Don’t do it for the money or the fame.
HA: Definitely not the money!
KP: I had a whole summer of going for one line in Holby, one line in Being Human and I wasn’t getting them. You can create your work. Reading keeps your creativity going. There aren’t enough jobs so the only the way artists can survive is to create your own work.
HA: I’ve been with Metronomes Steel Orchestra for almost six years, and we play at Notting Hill Carnival, and that keeps my mind busy. Not only as a musician; it allows me to think about other things. You’re always going to have nerves, it’s all about how you control them. I’m nervous every night! Don’t let nerves beat you.
Thank you so much to Kat and Hammed for chatting with us! We wish you the best of luck with Show 5 and the upcoming tour – we can’t wait to see more!