For the second of this blog’s seasonal specials I am thrilled to bring readers an interview with a member of the professional cast of A Play For The Nation. Jack Holden will be playing the role of Lysander, one of the four mixed up young lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Jack’s love of performing started at the age of 7 with a camcorder-recorded spoof of a popular children’s BBC show entitled ‘Bloop Eater’. He was born in Tonbridge, Kent in 1990 and was educated at the Judd School after which he was awarded a place at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, graduating in 2011. Since then he has never looked back and has played in a range of productions including a couple of highly praised one man plays and a previous season with the RSC. His last stage outing was as Hastings in the Theatre Royal, Bath production of Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer directed by Lindsay Posner. Jack has also appeared on TV and radio and has recently completed his first feature film The Levelling made for BBC iFeatures; the film is set in the aftermath of the 2014 Somerset floods. Jack says that he “divides his time between Central London, Kent, the West Country and, given half a chance, Los Angeles”.
So Jack, how and, more importantly, why did you get involved with the Dream 2016 project?
I worked for the RSC at the end of 2014 to the beginning of 2015, performing in The Shoemaker’s Holiday and Oppenheimer, which then transferred to the West End. It was a dream come true to work for the RSC. When they asked me to audition for this new project I couldn’t say no; what an honour to be asked back straight away, and for such a fantastic show.
The amateur audition process was quite intense, what was it like for you?
My audition was very straightforward. I read a few Lysander scenes with Erica Whyman, and we talked about the project. I was given plenty of time in the room and it felt like I really got to understand the enormity and ambition of Dream 2016. They saw me perform in the previous Swan Winter Season, so they knew what kind of actor I was… I just hoped they’d want me to be involved.
Have you worked with Erica Whyman before?
I’ve not worked with Erica, but I’ve seen some of her shows and I’m always in awe. I can’t wait to work with her to create a beautiful version of Shakespeare’s most magical play.
What aspects of the project are you most looking forward to?
I’m excited about: doing such a wonderful play, speaking Shakespeare’s words, seeing the cities of the UK, playing some beautiful theatres, meeting lots of talented and passionate people, inspiring people from all corners of the country to act, perform, play, write and create.
Anything that you are feeling less easy about?
I’m slightly nervous about what my digs will be like in each city!
This project is a real “one off”. How do you feel about working in a company that includes amateurs and schoolchildren as well as professional colleagues?
One of the reasons I wanted to do this job so much was because it would be a production with amateurs, children and professionals all mixed together. By touring to all corners of our nations, including people from all walks of life, the RSC is placing itself as a truly national institution making theatre with the people, for the people. Amateur theatre is a vital part of Britain’s cultural identity. In this time of austerity, with arts and culture budgets facing deeper and deeper cuts, it’s never been more important to let everyone know that our theatre community, both professional and amateur, is fighting fit and making great art.
Tell us how you got into acting; did you work as an amateur before training?
I took GCSE drama at my secondary school, then acted in more and more plays at school, at clubs, with societies, until I was doing more acting than school work. I went straight from school to Drama School, but flirted with the idea of joining the RAF! A very great mentor to me at the time said, ‘If you don’t act professionally it’s not the end of the world; there’s nothing wrong with being a very good amateur.’ It was sage advice, and it took the pressure off me while I was auditioning for Drama Schools. I was lucky enough to get a place at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, and I haven’t looked back.
What have been your favourite professional experiences so far?
My first ever job was playing the lead role (Albert) in War Horse in the West End for a year. It was a dream come true. I was 21, I was doing eight shows a week, it was the hit show in London. I got to ride enormous puppet horses, fire guns, act within a truly brilliant cast. My first time at the RSC was awesome too. And I did a couple of one-man shows last year – they were great fun. And I just did my first feature film. SO many experiences to choose from!
What about Shakespeare?
The last time I performed in Shakespeare was Comedy of Errors (as one of the Dromios) for Fine Frenzy theatre company. It was so much fun. I detested Shakespeare at school because we always had to read it sitting down, bored rigid, not a clue what was going on. Shakespeare was written to be spoken, on a stage, standing up, dancing, sword-fighting, laughing, crying, kissing. I plan to do all of those in Dream 2016!
I know the amateurs can’t wait to start working with the professionals. Do you have any advice/words of wisdom for us?
Everyone gets nervous. Don’t try to stop your nerves; feel them and use them to energise you. Then think about what a beautiful thing you are doing; speaking four hundred year old words, to a crowd of excited human beings, gathered together on this night, in this beautiful room to hear you tell a story. What an honour!
Many thanks to Jack for taking time to share his thoughts in this blog post; we’ll be looking to benefit from your expertise in the rehearsal room as we enter 2016 – Dreamyear!