Interview from The Stage magazine with James Issitt, senior lecturer in Drama.
How did you start off in theatre?
The credit for this has to go to my mum! I wasn’t interested in much outside of school and my parents tried everything, music lessons etc, but drama stuck! Something clicked inside my head. From there and nearly three degrees later I am helping others to achieve their dreams. Just perfect! And thank you mum!
What is the best piece of advice you have for acting students today?
A two-fold answer really. See as much professional and amateur theatre as you can. The quality of the productions is not important. Try to immerse yourself in the professional world as much as you can. See shows that you wouldn’t normally see. Secondly, read/listen as much as possible: from reviews, to articles, to podcasts, to plays. Having a large virtual library in your head of plays you have read can give you the edge. Give yourself every opportunity. This is a tough profession.
What would you change about drama training in the UK?
The accessibility of training for young adults and the huge costs incurred. This is improving but we need to develop the offer to students in order that more Northern/working class actors can train. Also, the appreciation that university can offer education and training as well as drama schools. We are different establishments, but the universities should not be ignored.
What is the best part of your job?
This is definitely the lightbulb moment. Seeing the sudden understanding of a concept in the student’s eyes is priceless. Also, seeing the students achieve the best possible degree they can. And having the privilege of seeing their first professional role.
And your least favourite?
I think this is the same as every teacher/lecturer in the country – paperwork. It is a necessary evil but can be so time consuming.
Who are the practitioners you admire the most / who should students be looking up to?
Imelda Staunton, without a doubt, mainly due to her versatility. She can perform in anything from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to Gypsy. And Sir Ian McKellan – his King Lear with stay with me for the rest of my life. Both of these actors give so much back to the industry and help students to achieve their goals. Incidentally throughout all of my years watching professional theatre, I have only ever given two standing ovations: one for Sir Ian’s King Lear and the other to Imelda for Gypsy – they were incredibly detailed and passionate performances. From a director point of view, I would happily watch anything Greg Doran directed – a genius.
What is the one skill that every successful actor should have?
Bravery without a doubt. A successful actor is brave enough to make bold choices in the rehearsal room and on stage. There is an element of risk associated with this level of bravery, but after risk the rewards are huge.
What are the advantages of studying on a course like Cumbria’s as opposed to a drama school?
Carlisle is well placed within the wider arts community with excellent transport links to Newcastle, Glasgow, Liverpool to name a few. We have excellent links with Theatre by the Lake in Keswick. At any given time there are several industry professionals working on site with our students to create and facilitate performance. All members of the staff here at Cumbria have professional credits in their chosen fields. Cumbria is a smaller university than some, but we ensure that the student is an individual and not a number, and that their voice is heard. Plus, you could always ask me to teach you a magic trick– which is the topic of my PhD!