The sixth of our chats with actors who left drama school without representation but have gone on to achieve incredible things is with the brilliant Ben Whybrow.
Name: Ben Whybrow
Trained: University of Bristol and LAMDA
What is your current/ most recent credit?
Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More in Shanghai.
How did you find leaving Drama School?
Daunting and exciting. Drama School was a useful, and at times frustrating, developmental experience where you are told you have permission to fail - but it didn't particularly feel like that permission extended into the final year. I left without an agent and it definitely felt like a personal failure at the time. I had a single meeting with a high profile agent at the beginning of the year, but in the meeting I was totally overawed and then couldn’t get arrested for the rest of the year. Fortunately a lack of agent interest kickstarted some proactivity and set me up for a lifetime of engaging with my own career development. I left knowing I had a job beginning in August, so that was quite exciting.
How did you get your first professional job?
As well as letters to agents, I wrote to loads of casting directors during the final year and managed to land a general meeting with Jerry Knight Smith from the Manchester Royal Exchange. I was angling at an audition for a small role in an upcoming production which didn’t materialise, but a month later, just prior to graduation, Jerry emailed me with a direct offer to ASM/understudy the Exchange’s national tour of The Glass Menagerie directed by Braham Murray and starring Brenda Blethyn. It was touring the UK for a few months, was a full equity contract and I had nothing else on the horizon. I loved the play and thought the opportunity to get paid observing a professional rehearsal room beat any temping. I was understudying LAMDA alumnus Mark Arends, and meeting Mark ended up having an instrumental effect on my career.
What’s been your favourite job so far?
I’ve worked on some amazing projects and I couldn’t single one out. Certain jobs stand out though: Something Very Far Away (NT Studio/Unicorn/Melbourne Festival) a live animation puppet show which Mark (Arends) asked me to be a part of as a devisor and performer was filled with such warmth, tenderness and inspirational people. It was totally magic and the collaboration with Mark has led to continued projects with his company Make Mend and Do. This Will End Badly (Edinburgh/Southwark Playhouse) a remarkable play by Rob Hayes, directed by Clive Judd was hands down my best experience as an actor; Clive is a brilliant, rigourous director and I don’t know if I’ll ever get offered a play and part as challenging. Working with Punchdrunk on The Drowned Man and now Sleep No More has also been a hell of a ride; I will have lived in China for 14 months by the end of 2017 and it’s a ridiculous adventure. In all these projects (and a handful of others) I’ve made lifelong friendships while making theatre with real artistry. I think that’s what marks out the special ones.
What is the advice you would offer to young people leaving drama school over the next few weeks or the advice you’d give yourself looking back?
I wish the Bryan Cranston clip about auditioning being the actors job had been available when I graduated. It’s great. With or without an agent you will have to audition, so make being good at it your focus.
Also, don’t let people pigeonhole you. A lot of chat at drama school and in the industry is about defining what your casting is. It’s a very screen oriented mindset, but in theatre, develop as broad a range as possible. Look for projects where you’ve not done the same thing before. It will be very useful and more interesting in the long run.
Some other basics: Exercise, read, write letters to directors, find "your people”, stay curious and do something useful in your community. I know it’s hard but don’t worry too much about the agent if you don’t have one. They will be there when you really need one; and you only want a good one anyway. It took three years before I teamed with my first agent, and then another three years before my current agent. One of the most exciting actors from my year didn’t have an agent for about 7 years and she’s absolutely flying now, consistently working on really thrilling projects and seriously respected by her peers - she found her people: young, interesting directors and writers who were also looking for a break. Just like actors, the big player creatives of tomorrow all have to start somewhere and most of your work will come from people that know you and your work already. I think its worth remembering that there is also some value in learning your craft outside of the spotlight; the great older actors all talk about learning their trade and making their mistakes in the Rep system. Most of us don’t have the opportunity to experience that, but if you can find a way to make it work financially, the fringe is your friend. I believe that talent will out, but you need to be dogged. Finally, your mental and physical health are more important than acting.
What do you think of (RE)PRESENTED as a project (is it something you’d have gone for)?
First and foremost it’s a great opportunity for unrepresented actors to get audition experience for a paid job and get feedback. Why wouldn’t you take that? Also, new writing is the lifeblood of theatre and the opportunity to have a character written for you is like gold dust. Why wouldn’t you want that? It’s a great opportunity to do a show in London and have your work seen. Isn’t that pretty obviously a good thing? I’d definitely have applied if it had been running a decade ago.
Ben Whybrow is now represented by Hatch Talent
To apply for (RE)PRESENTED please click here and fill in the online registration form. Applications are open until 1st November 2017.