Academy student and Hungry Wolf alumni, Marisa Abela is the first TTW member to be offered a place at the renowned Drama School, RADA! She took some time to answer our questions as part of the ongoing ‘Spotlight’ feature, where we take a look at one of our (many!) notable students.
: When did you join TTW and what made you do it?
MARISA: I first joined The Theatre Workshop around September 2014. The Academy was using my (then) school’s facilities for their Friday night sessions. My drama teacher told me to go and audition, that it would be a really good opportunity to experience drama outside of the classroom.
TTW: So, have you always had an interest in acting and the performing arts?
MARISA: I have always had a passion for acting and the theatre. I’d been a part of youth companies before but I found that they were usually musical theatre based rather than straight acting and it wasn’t really what I was interested in. This is why from the age of about 13 to 17 my love of drama was largely restricted to the academic study of plays in English lessons or drama lessons in school, as well as school productions.
TTW: Would you say that acting is your preferred branch of the performing arts, then? Surely you sing and dance, too?
: Yes, straight acting is definitely my preferred medium. I’ve always always been so interested by human beings and the way we interact with each other. For me there’s something about seeing a play and being struck by the way the playwright, director and actors have worked together to create a story that makes you, as an audience member, sit back and think ‘yes, I’ve experienced that, I recognise that’ and that giving you some sort of release, through humour or an emotional connection. That’s the most powerful thing for me. I don’t think I’m quite talented enough a singer or dancer to evoke the same reaction in an audience through song or dance as I may be able to through straight acting. Having said that, I am in absolute awe of companies such as DV8, Frantic Assembly, Fourth Monkey and PunchDrunk. These physical theatre companies that incorporate contemporary dance into their pieces, in my opinion, hold such a key role in the progression of modern British theatre. John, by DV8 and The Drowned Man by PunchDrunk are two of my favourite things I’ve ever seen.
TTW: You’re obviously passionate about the performing arts – it’s clear what RADA have seen in you! Tell us a little about your TTW experience; apart from the training, what made you come to us week after week?
: I went to quite an academically driven school and a lot of young people find the drama school process quite hard to understand. The idea you can get really far at some schools and nowhere at others. That you might not be right for a drama school one year and then be just what they’re looking for the next doesn’t make sense to people outside this world. To have a group of young actors together in a space who all understand exactly what everyone else is going through is not only refreshing but I think necessary. It’s so healthy to be able to come in and talk to people that understand things that your other friends or teachers or parents don’t understand. Everyone is so supportive of one another as well, everyone genuinely wants everyone to do the best they can and that’s just such a positive environment to be in. Since I got my drama school places the love and support I’ve received from my teachers and friends at Theatre Workshop has been nothing short of overwhelming.
TTW: Well, that’s great to hear! We are always incredibly proud when our graduating students leave us having secured a place at Drama School. In terms of the productions you’ve done with us, do you have a favourite?
MARISA: I have to say RUNTS, with Hungry Wolf. I think the fact that the company took the risk of creating an all female production with female directors and a female writer is such a fantastic example for young female actors. We’ll have to face a lot of scrutiny in this industry as women and face things that our male counterparts won’t have to face. To be part of this cast, telling the important story that we’re telling as well as having a say in the creative process is such a gift.
: Well, we’re sure you’ll be busy with full-time training but Hungry Wolf is growing every year – if we have a project you’re interested in then we like to see members return! Talking of training, can you tell us about the audition process at RADA?
MARISA: It’s quite a rigorous process with four rounds of auditions. The first two are quite quick jobs; your monologues and an interview. Then there’s a three hour workshop for the third round and then a full day workshop for the fourth. For some reason, I always did my best work at RADA and Guildhall. Something about the environment both schools create…I found it easier to connect with myself and produce truthful work.
TTW: Sounds amazing, and intense! We’re you at all nervous?
MARISA: Was I nervous? I was absolutely petrified! These auditions are crazy. You have to do your best work and show them exactly who you are in the space of ten minutes while trying to remain calm, it’s an almost impossible task. I was excited though. I think there’s something to be said for just going. What’s the worst that could happen? They say no! So, why not just totally enjoy myself and get my money’s worth! And when they interview you, really talk to them. It seems an obvious thing to say but just being in the room and being present and in your own body, not out of yourself and overrun by nerves, because that’s always when things go badly.
TTW: That’s a brilliant approach! How did you react when you found out that RADA had offered you a place?
MARISA: When I got the call from RADA… well… I just cried! Sounds awful but this is everything I’ve been striving for in the last two years. This is the end goal I’ve been thinking about. I had always pictured the phone call and thought maybe I could say something intelligent and interesting but…no, not a chance! Just blubbering on my end as soon as I realised it was a ‘yes’. It was the same with Guildhall but just utter shock rather than tears. I think I was speechless, which is rare!
TTW: How did you prepare for your drama school auditons? Did you get any help from TTW staff?
: I prepared in a few ways, firstly by going away, taking a break and learning a bit more about myself. Of course it matters tremendously that your speeches are up to scratch and your monologues are where they need to be. However, I’d spent my whole life in full-time education at an all girls school. Even in my A-Level years I was called into school from 8:30 till 5pm every day. There was a lot I hadn’t experienced. I’d read a lot of plays whilst away travelling and by the time I came back I was ready to work closely with my Academy Drama Teacher, Rebekah on all of my speeches. The Theatre Workshop has helped me massively. There is no doubt in my mind that if it wasn’t for Becci I wouldn’t be where I am with the offers I have. She brings out the best in you whenever you work with her and you’ll leave her sessions feeling calmer, confident and ready. I don’t think I’d have had the confidence to apply to drama school if I hadn’t had gone to the Academy. I knew nothing about drama schools or even what monologues should be like before Academy. I’m not a particularly spiritual person but I think Theatre Workshop came to use my school’s facilities for a reason in September 2014 because if they hadn’t, I wouldn’t be where I am now.
TTW: You must be excited to move to London and start school in September. What do you think will be the biggest change for you?
: Not having my mum there to make me food! There’s not much I’m worried about to be honest; I’m really excited, so all that’s stressing me out right now is how does my mum make her mashed potatoes so smooth because I can’t go without mash for too long.
TTW: I can tell you now, Marisa, invest in a potato ricer…smooth mash every time! Anyway…RADA is renowned for producing famous theatre and screen stars. Do you have a dream role or job in the performing arts industry?
: To work with the RSC, that’s a huge dream for me. I’d also love to be able to work at the National Theatre. As well as theatre I would love to break into the television and film industry, obviously. To be part of an ongoing series with an intense following like Happy Valley or Luther over here in the UK or The Office U.S, Orange Is The New Black and House of Cards would just have to be the most fun job in the world. The writers on those shows start writing for the actors, so the scripts become flawless, the cast dynamic must be so much fun. That’s definitely a dream.
TTW: Aim high – that’s what we say! For any younger TTW performers who are considering going into the industry or applying for The Academy, do you have any advice?
: Yes, do it! Do it if it makes you happy. Do anything that makes you happy. If you decide it is what you want to do, do it whole heartedly and throw yourself into everything with no ego and just a sense of openness and willingness to learn and improve.
TTW: Wise words, indeed. That’s a great way to end this interview! But…finally, we hope you’ll pop back to Brighton every now and then to visit us. Although you’re heading off to begin an exciting new journey, what will you miss most about TTW?
: I’ll miss my friends. I’ll miss my teachers. It’s always nerve-wracking going from somewhere where everyone knows you and you’ve created yourself within a group to a place where you have to totally start again. I’ll miss the support system that comes with the Academy. If I’m ever struggling, I know a teacher is a text message away and that’s going to be hard to walk away from. I know from other Academy members that have left Theatre Workshop though, that the teachers are still there for you, even after you leave, ready to support you if you need them. I think the biggest credit to Theatre Workshop, above how much I will miss it, is that I am ready to move on. I feel I have all of the tools I need to start a three year BA in Acting and for that I’m incredibly grateful.
TTW: Well, we will certainly miss you, Marisa but you’re right, we are only ever a phonecall or email away if you need any advice or support in the future! Good luck with your full-time studies and all the best for what we are sure will be a wonderful career ahead!