April 18, 2015

Acting Changes – Part 3 of 3 in FINDING ACTING

For a handful of the practitioners in the acting world their professional journey probably goes a little something along these line:

Start off acting in a smaller or supporting role.  Graduate to a lead role.  Think about directing a project.  Direct a project.  Go back to acting.  Think about producing a project.  Produce a project that you act in and direct.  Swear you’ll never produce a show that you act in and direct at the same time again.  While all the while thinking, maybe I’ll do something else.

There are a number of actors that come into the business later in life.  I’ve always envied these people for the fact that they are bringing with them a lot of life which they can bring to their roles, past experiences in different worlds that they can reference when building a character or creating the world of the play.

In Part 3 of Finding Acting we hear from Penelope Read who has a unique journey and relationship with the business.  Penelope outlines her experience of back stage quick changes to sat navs; and talks about how acting as been a part of her life for sixty plus years and there’s no stopping her involvement.  A great reassurance for all of us who have the pleasure of doing what we love for a living.

Forward by Allen Lidkey


Penelope Read

Penelope Read

I took my first tentative steps on the stage at the Prince’s Theatre Clacton, age 3, as an Easter chick. That was it – stage struck ever after!

Many school plays later, I decided I wanted to sing, had my voice trained at Guildhall School of Music and ended up singing with Handel Opera Chorus, performing at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre. It’s a huge building and once, we had a swift costume change backstage – no time to gallop up to the dressing rooms. Imagine my shock when I found a male dresser standing ready with my frock! Nobody cared, we were busy counting beats! I sang in many recitals and operas, playing various roles from Belinda in Dido and Orpheus, to Mrs Bedwin in Oliver!

Acting became a serious option, when I retired from teaching.

I began with a few Murder Mysteries. Great fun, with lots of improvisation and opportunities for comedy. To gain experience of film and TV, I joined a couple of Background agencies and spent several years, working as a Supporting Artist. Hard work, long hours and a lot of travelling! However, I learned the rules, the jargon and the etiquette for work on set. Very different from the stage!

As always, I felt the need to progress.

I managed to get some features, some very enjoyable corporate films and the odd advert. Time to join Equity! And Spotlight! Perhaps the most useful of all was joining a Film Group in my local town. We met once a month, picked up a script and went off to film it in one day! Great for showreels and very useful experience. It grew and grew, as did my network of contacts! Now it’s split off into a different form, but I am often asked to take part in a variety of work – music videos, short films, and pod-casts. My most recent project is a documentary about a very deprived area in Essex. Interviewing – a new skill!

How easy is it for older actresses? There are certainly fewer roles, and those often assume anyone over 60 is a little grey granny. I’m not quite ready for that yet……. On the other hand, I’m blessed with colouring which means I could pass for many nationalities – Italian, Greek, Jewish, all parts I’ve played so far.

Since I began, I have seen many changes – mainly in the field of technology. Mics weren’t available when I first started singing on stage, it was all done with the diaphragm! With the advent of editing software, anyone can produce their own Showreel as long as they have the footage.

How I got to jobs before SatNav was invented, I shall never know, but somehow we managed!

I used to buy ‘The Stage’ to look for work, whereas now, there are a host of websites if needed. One major change is the requirement to join Spotlight – it really is essential nowadays. All in all, it should be much easier for us today, but on the other hand, there are a lot more actors competing for each job!

However, I make sure I do something every day to progress my career, whether it’s checking websites, updating my CV or learning a new accent. I’m really excited about joining Actorshop and look forward to a long and happy career!

The joy is working at something I truly enjoy and learning all the time, even in my dotage!


Penelope Read

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