Isabelle Culkin talks to the cast and crew of the Durham Showcase about their time in theatre at Durham and their aspirations for the future.
How early did you get involved? I spent my entire fresher’s in Elvet Riverside corridors waiting for auditions. I went with people who slowly started filtering off, but I stuck at it.
What makes you keep going after rejections? You have to do every possible audition and then you will get something. I’ve been on the other side, and I always tell people, you’ll say you’re never going to audition for anything ever again, but once you’ve caught the bug, then you just keep going.
Do you have any theatre highlights? My highlight would be Guys and Dolls at the Gala. I also had the most fun on Educating Rita. It was just Lily, Hugh and I, and we just had a blast.
How about the success of ‘Congestion’? Congestion was a really personal endeavour. We were just trialling and erroring it, it wasn’t meant to be like ‘the best thing ever’. I feel like it worked because we didn’t have too many expectations. We didn’t even have a full script when we entered it.
What’s the best production you’ve seen? I thought Agnes of God was amazing. Thrust Stage were really good when they were in Durham in my first and second year. DDF in general was awesome.
What do you want to do in the future? I started saying for the first time this Easter… director. Hopefully, or a theatre-maker, but friends back home are just like ‘Ellie, that is not a thing’.
Have you got anything lined up after this? I’m putting a play on in September in London. It’s nothing that exciting, but it’s a play written by my dad called My Life as a Hooker.
When did you get involved? I started in my first year, in a college production, which is a nice way into it.
What’s been your favourite role? Barbara in Run for your Wife.
What’s the best production you’ve seen? The Boy James.
Any words of wisdom? Try out lots of different things, they don’t even have to be acting related, everything links.
How do you deal with rejection? Not very well. At the time it’s horrible, but you soon just get over it. Having been on both sides of the table, I appreciate that it’s not anything to do with your talent, but who’s right for that specific show.
Any personal theatre highlights? Cabaret – it was the first time I directed. I felt like everyone got on really well. There was such a nice atmosphere of everyone wanting it to be a success.
What are the best things you’ve seen? The Last Five Years, God of Carnage and Skylight.
How do you deal with rejection? It’s a bit of a hard dynamic to get used to, because at school you’re used to getting something in a show, whereas in Durham that’s not the case. It takes a while to get into the swing of that and realise that it’s not always going to go your way.
Any words of wisdom? Get involved early, because I feel I missed out in my first year, and as the years have gone on, I have done more, and it’s just got better and better.
Julia Xavier Steir
Do you read you reviews? I think looking at other people’s opinions is good because when you’re in a cast and you’re together you feel like it’s on fire, so you’re not always going to know just how good the show actually is.
What’s been your favourite role? Paulina in The Winter’s Tale, it was great to try my hand at sassy Shakespeare.
What do you want to do in the future? Try my luck at acting.
Have auditions always been a success? No, absolutely not. Everyone gets rejected. You can easily not get a role you’re good enough for.
What is the best thing you’ve seen? I really liked Our Country’s Good.
What do you want to do in the future? I would like to act, so I’ve been applying for drama schools, and have some callbacks.
Why drama school? Unless you’re lucky, you have to. To get an agent you need to do stuff, to do stuff you need an agent.
What’s been your favourite role? Sally Bowles in Cabaret.
What’s the best production you’ve seen? A Streetcar Named Desire – that was really good.
Have you got any plans for the future? Musical Theatre at Royal Academy of Music. I’ll be unleashed into the big, scary world.
Any words of wisdom? Get stuck in, as early as you can, and if that doesn’t work out, make your own opportunities.
When did you get involved? I was a latecomer. I properly started in third year. I freaked out and realised this was the last chance I had to do it before I went out into the world.
What’s the best production you’ve seen? Werthers and Wrinkles at DDF this year, I thought it was impeccably acted and produced.
Any words of wisdom? It’s hard graft. University gives you more humility, you just have to view it as an opportunity to work with ridiculously talented people in the long run.
How do you deal with rejection? You just view it as you weren’t right on the day, there’s no point beating yourself up about it, or else you’ll just feel bitter and vindictive. Just keep plugging away at it, and you will succeed. I got rejected from a lot of stuff in my first year, it happens. You just deal with it and move on.
Do you read your reviews? You always do, but the best advice you’ll get is don’t read and especially don’t believe your own press.
What’s the best thing you’ve seen? A Streetcar Named Desire, or The Glass Menagerie. They were excellent; it was sad not to be involved.
What do you want to do in the future? Act. I’m going to apply to drama school next year probably. I’ll try and work in that year and gain some other skills in case my very dreams come crashing down in front of my very eyes.
Why didn’t you get involved earlier? I just didn’t get involved, and I really regret it. I knew I couldn’t act, and I didn’t know I wanted to write. I then got involved in DDF this year.
What made you want to write? I’ve always enjoyed storytelling. There was a lack of things that I saw that I found funny. I wanted to write something that I found funny, and if other people also found it funny that would be a bonus.
What’s the best thing you’ve seen? Cabaret was brilliant. The Boy James was also amazing, it just blew me away. It showed me how I should have seen more whilst I was here.
Any words of wisdom? Everyone should write.
What do you want to do in the future? I want to try my hand at writing, it’s taken me a while to say that. I’d love to write for TV, I think that’s my dream. Anything really, I love writing.
How do you deal with rejection? You just have to be resilient and persevere. There are people who are already established when you arrive. You can’t just expect great things to happen.
Do you read your reviews? You can’t not read the reviews, you’re only human. I’ve never experienced one really, really negative review in Durham, and ultimately it reflects more on the reviewer than the show itself. If you can’t see one good thing in a student show then you probably shouldn’t be reviewing it.
What’s the best production you’ve seen? I loved Agnes of God, it was really fantastic. My favourite thing has been Motherland, it was phenomenal, I really couldn’t sing my praises for it enough, it was absolutely amazing, really brilliant.
Did you know about the Durham theatre scene before you got here? I don’t think I did at all, and when I got here I remember going to the meeting in The Assembly Rooms and thinking ‘Oh my God, this is such a big theatre, this is so cool’ and then calling my mum saying ‘Thank God they’ve got a student theatre, that would have been awkward, what would I have done? I would have to had taken up a new hobby and do my degree’.
What about rejection? It’s just swings and roundabouts, isn’t it? I think it reflects a lot about what people are like, because you can choose to not get your dream role and let other opportunities come out of that.
What’s been your favourite role? Probably Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls.
What is the best production you’ve seen? The Drowsy Chaperone.
What is so special about Durham? Durham teaches you to be a mover and a shaker. You’re not just in plays because a teacher is putting on a play at school. It’s where you meet your best friends, because they’re passionate about what you’re passionate about, and support you.
What do you want to do in the future? Make theatre happen. Just make theatre happen, I want to take what I’ve learnt and use it in the world. It’s really hard to admit what you want to do, especially if you want to be an actor, because it could easily not go your way.
How do you handle rejection? I auditioned for fifteen things in my fresher’s year and got into one thing. Just keep on going.
Do you have any theatre highlights? The Tempest. It was my first show, and the cast made it. We were with each other all day, every day, it was just fantastic.
What’s the best production you’ve seen? Bent in my first year. Rent was really good, which I was gutted not to get into. I really enjoyed Cabaret.
Why did you get involved with theatre photography? I’ve lived vicariously through Ellie Gauge for three years. I’m actually fulfilling a role now instead of being a groupie, which is a pleasure and a privilege.
What would you like to do in the future? I’d like to continue doing script development, and ultimately go into production development.
The Durham Showcase will perform at The Assembly Rooms, Mon 22 Jun, 19:30
Images: Florence Chater