The National Youth Theatre Rep Season: An Insider Guide to Training at the NYT
The National Youth Theatre offers a variety of opportunities for young performers looking to hone their craft. None is so recognised as their rep season: 15 students train for 9 months, learning essential skills and performing a season of shows at the end of the programme. Spotlight spoke to Nathaniel Wade, alumnus of last year’s NYT rep season, about the benefits of this experience.
Thanks for talking to us Nathaniel! Let’s start with the basics: why acting?
I like telling stories and I didn’t know in school that [acting] was what I wanted to do. I was falling over in class and seeing if I could trick the teacher into thinking I’d actually hurt myself – a lot of the time it was very successful! – and I didn’t know that that was my way of wanting to perform and act. Throughout school I did school productions but it was only in Year 12 that I thought I knew what I wanted to do. And the school environment wasn’t helping me do it. I didn’t leave school or anything but I remember thinking, “Why am I here? I want to be an actor!” It wasn’t clear how I was going to get there so I started applying to drama schools. I googled acting classes and NYT was the first thing that came up.
So a Google search was a big factor…!
They were the best – they came up first for a reason. I asked around and friends all said “You have to do NYT!” It seemed like the logical thing.
What was the process after you found out about NYT?
I was so keen to get in! I’d done all this research and I really wanted to be a part of it. I was so worked up about the audition and I knew it’s about being generous in the workshop. It’s not about how good you are as an actor, it’s about giving to other people, being generous in the space. Telling the story. Things like that! Which is their ethos: it’s about the ensemble, it’s not about how I feel. So I kind of remember going into the workshop thinking, ‘I’m going to go have fun, be generous and give as much as I can’. I didn’t think of it as an “audition”. I was really excited and wanted it so much.
“It’s very very life changing, and you hear people say that all the time. It sounds cliché but actually it’s true.”
What about when you found out you were in?
When I did get in I was lying down and I saw the email on my phone – I just ran around the house shouting! Because I really wanted to be a part of this thing and experience it – I’d heard so many stories and now I was going to be a part of it.
What was your experience of the mentorship offered? NYT’s Rep programme is pretty famous for amazing mentorship!
Specifically for rep, each of us gets an industry professional as a mentor. I had Gbolahan [Obisesan] who directed Cuttin’ It. He has been a brilliant mentor to me. Others had Wendy Spon, head of casting at the National, and Gary Davy – it stops you comparing yourself to the industry people and thinking, ‘Oh, they’re all the way up there and I’m down here’. NYT helps to scrap the gap – they’re just normal people like you or I. I think you don’t get that anywhere else. It’s brilliant because they come back and give their time for free. They do it because they want to be there, they want to give their time, most of them are from NYT as well.
That must be a great feeling – particularly since a lot of artistic pursuits tend to feel a bit lonely at times. That’s something I notice just being at the NYT - their passion permeates everything…
Everyone in the room is so on it, so alive – not in an arrogant way, just in a giving way. Like we’re going to create something amazing together and make great memories.
Was there any advice you got from your mentor that you thought was particularly important?
Gbolahan taught me to continue to be hungry, to continue learning and be curious. I think it’s very easy for actors (as you get to different stages of your career) to think, ‘Ok, I’m here now!’ It’s easy to forget what you were learning or to keep going. Gbolahan taught me to continue to be curious about the world, people-watch all the time – these are all people you could potentially be playing. He encouraged me to study particular mannerisms, how people walk and talk.
I remember there was a particular character from a play that he had written, Mad About the Boy – at the time I felt the character was very far away from me so I felt I didn’t know how to do it. He encouraged me to just go for it. Get out of your own head and embody it. That specific performance was a massive turning point – it made me believe that I could play anything if I put my mind to it, if I fully commit myself to it and stop analysing too hard. How do you know you can’t do it unless you properly immerse yourself into it?
Talk me through the rep training programme – it sure sounds like a hell of a lot of work…!
It’s over roughly 8 months – at the beginning you do training, then you get cast in the shows, then you rehearse and then do the shows. I just think the great thing about it is that it is so condensed and so quick. You get out of it what you put in. If you turn up half an hour every day before it starts and put into practice the vocal stuff that you do, or you do some yoga or you practice that exercise or breaking down a text, you will come out of it and you will feel prepared.
By the end you will feel like you can carry yourself in auditions and execute your skills in a good way. I think that’s what I learned most from rep: I am confident and comfortable in those situations now. I don’t think I would have been able to do that before – I would have just been like, “Oh my god, there’s the casting director…!” and now I think, “You know what? This is what I can do, this is my craft. If it works for you, great. If it doesn’t, fine!”
What about the performances? You do quite a lot of performing at the end of the programme - what did you learn from that experience?
Stamina. And also, working under pressure! Which I think is cleverly done by NYT, because in the industry, you don’t get a lot of time to prepare for roles. You get (if you’re lucky) two to three days – sometimes you only get one day. It really prepared me to be able to learn lines, action it. To figure out, "What do I want from this scene? Where have I come from? What am I trying to do?" And yeah, just the stamina of performance. When you’re doing 3 shows for two and a half months and one night it’s Shakespeare, the next night it’s completely different… there’s no time to be like uhhh! Just bold choices and straight on to the next one.
What was the biggest challenge during the programme?
I know it’s great and the text is beautiful, but I find performing Shakespeare very very hard. Specifically playing Paris was a huge challenge for me. Those are the biggest learning curves though, aren’t they? That taught me a lot and it taught me that there is still so much to learn – you’re never going to stop learning, so stop stressing! You’ve never going to get to a point where you’re like "Ok, I’m an actor, I’m done"
And since finishing the 2016 rep season, what have you been up to?
I’m very fortunate – I signed with Waring & McKenna. I got signed halfway through rep. They’ve put me forward for a range of roles in film, TV and theatre. I think the biggest one was the first meeting they got for me – it was during rep season and I was stressing, thinking “Oh my god! I’ve got lines to learn!” But it went really well and I learned so much from it. It allowed me to be more confident in myself and present my work and be proud of it.
I can imagine – imposter syndrome is a common thing that affects a lot of creatives…
Absolutely. I think the great thing about NYT as well is that they give you a great mind-set to be a surviving actor as well. To know what to do when you’re not getting auditions or you’re not in a job. You have an amazing network of people – writers, directors, dancers, singers – I don’t understand how you would not make use of it, go to your peers and create some work. Most the time, they let you have the space for free too. And I think that’s brilliant. It’s a massive support network when you’re going through bad periods, a kind of support that you can’t find in other places. Great survival techniques – I’m surviving! You have to be [tough] or this industry can eat you alive.
Any last words for those thinking of auditioning?
A lot of people don’t think about training when they think rep – they think “agent”. It’s about so much more. It’s about being a surviving actor and knowing what to do, when you do get that audition, so you’re confident enough to actually execute well. It’s about the training. Obviously, agents help! But rep is such a unique way of working and training and you grow with these 15 other people. For me I learned so much by watching other people – everyone’s so different. Embrace it, take it on - I think that is a brilliant way of learning. If it scares you, it’s gonna be great – you’ll come out a totally different person.
What would you like to do next?
Star Wars. I’m just gonna be real! I have done a lot of theatre in the past, and I do want to get film and TV experience. The process intrigues me – it’s so different to theatre – and I want to experience it first-hand.
We’ve no doubt that we’ll be seeing a lot more of Nathaniel soon! If you’re curious about the NYT Rep programme, it’s not too late to audition. Last chance to join the National Youth Theatre in 2017 – apply now here.
Nathaniel Wade Headshot: Alex Norton ©
Header image: NYT Rep 2016 performing 'Pigeon English': Helen Murray ©