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"React to what's happening not what you know is going to happen" - An Interview with Craig Finlay

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Another wonderful chat with a local actor that’s been around amateur theatre for some time now. Craig has a great understanding of both the practical requirements and the mental wherewithal to develop and present astonishing characters.

We covered off Craig's background to begin with then jumped straight into some skills that will help aspiring actors when they’re on stage.

Craig had a keen understanding from an early age that you need to be part of the story all the time when you’re on stage. You can’t hide in the background even if you’re not directly involved in the scene. People will be drawn to you and you need to be a part of that story for them.

As for getting into theatre Craig felt that finding one of the more prominent theatre groups in your area will be a great “in” for any actor. They are usually very welcoming and looking for new talent.

He noted that as long as you “do the best you can”, you are “as generous as possible” and “show respect for professional values” you’ll do well in amateur theatre.

Then once you have your foot in the door there’s every chance people will become aware of you and you’ll find more parts. You’ll need to keep working at getting better and understand that things come with time and experience. But Craig was clear that getting the basics right was the first step.

The basics:

  • Projection

  • Learn your lines

  • Breathing

  • Diction

  • Movement

  • Stage combat (if courses are available)

  • Be on time

Then, if you continue to push yourself to be better, whether that be by; being observant and replicating things you see, talking about your thoughts and ideas with those around you, listening to your directors, getting out there either to see shows or be a part of them, you’ll soon notice an impact on your performances.

We then moved on to talk about why he had chosen not to pursue acting professionally. I’m always keen to understand what has shaped a person's decisions around utilising their skills in a professional way and how amateur theatre fills the gap for them.

Craig noted how volatile acting was and the need to be pushing relentlessly for work and contacts. He derived a great deal of pleasure out of the work he does day to day while also being able to pick and choose what plays to take on. He doesn’t want to have to invest a great deal of his time and energy into a piece just because he has bills to pay. He would rather be motivated by other things like the challenge, or sheer enjoyment of the script and even the familiarity of getting back together with his friends to produce something.

When it comes to actually putting himself forward for a part, after deciding he’d like to be involved Craig had a few thoughts on how he prepares for an Audition.

Firstly, the more auditions that you do the better you’ll become, so get out there and start auditioning. Then, try not to put too much pressure on yourself. There will be other parts. But to give yourself the best chance of being involved, try to be memorable. Read the whole play before the audition. Prep a monologue but be flexible as they may ask you to read for various parts, so don’t get too attached to a specific role. Also be aware you’ll need to show you can respond to direction. Craig also made the very good pont that the rehearsal process is about refining - it’s subtle in nature and allows time for character to develop. Auditions don’t offer you that, so you need to direct yourself in advance and make some clear, defendable, decisions.

Moving on to rehearsals we both agreed that self consciousness is your enemy. The rehearsal room can be scary and you might be intimidated to begin with. That's natural, but you need to allow those things to sit external to your actions. Inwardly you must realise you’re not going to be judged for the work you put in and so put it all out there and see where it takes you. You will make mistakes but don’t dwell on them. Work to make what you’re saying authentic, have it ring true and find ways to bring your character to life.

In order to do all that there were a few bits we thought needed to be in place to help actors along. The first was a sense of structure. Craig likes to see where the play is going and that a director has control. He likes definitive choices to be made so he can feel confident when working. He also likes to be off book as soon as possible. The sooner you’re off book the sooner your body and mind are free to work on developing into the role.

Once at that stage Craig felt you’d be in a good position to start understanding your character. He is not big on motivations. He likes to react to what's happening in the moment, not what you know is going to happen in the future. The trick with this is to avoid inconsistencies in the character scene to scene. You need to really have the text in you and the character finely tuned. You need to be thinking about it outside of the rehearsal room, using the script to shape what and where your character goes and make sure any theoretical tools you employ match how the overall play is to be presented.

Finally, when it comes to the shows, Craig highlighted that there is still work to do. Remember the basics, remember to control your breathing, to warm up, and that you’re about to come face to face with an audience so don’t let that throw you.

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