The Actor's Wheel
Chelsea Vincent tells us what it’s like to be part of touring actor training company The Actor’s Wheel, based at the University of St Mark & St John.
It is pitch-black outside as I trundle into the studio, wiping the sleep from my eyes. It will be dark again by the time we leave. As I approach the door, the telltale sound of some modern techno-type song alerts me to the fact that some of the cohort are already warming up for the long rehearsal ahead. I smile, as I so often do when walking into this room, and wonder what a passer-by might make of the contorted shapes being formed by actors trying to banish remnants of last night’s dreams and awaken tired muscles for another day at work. I wonder what my younger self might have made of this glimpse into a future she never would have expected.
Plymouth has always been a city full of hidden treasures, and I was certainly surprised when I started looking for actor training courses. Fresh-faced and ready to meet the final school exams head-on, I spent my free time poring over prospectuses for courses all across the country. Then, quite by accident, I stumbled upon a company in its infancy; a new course due to start in Plymouth that September.
The Actor’s Wheel, borne from the brains of local practitioners Kevin Johnson and Natasha Buckley, and based at the University of St Mark & St John, touted a unique method of degree-level training in the South West; annual tours, professional performance opportunities and weekly voice and movement classes were just the tip of the metaphorical iceberg. I knew this was the place I needed to be. Plymouth had beaten London in the training stakes.
Of course, taking on a new training course was a risk on the part of both the students and lecturers, but this only served to create a unique sense of unity in the company. Every actor becomes a spoke in The Wheel, making the creation of strong ensemble based work that much easier. Three years later, The Actor’s Wheel is weaving its way into the fabric of Plymouth’s cultural scene, offering its inimitable brand of challenging, physical, magical theatre to audiences near and far.
Lucas Emms steps up to the wheel in The Caucasian Chalk Circle, 2016 (credit: Clare Tregaskis)
A riotous wedding in The Caucasian Chalk Circle (credit: Clare Tregaskis)
The 2016 graduating company during their first tour in 2014 (credit: Clare Tregaskis)
Now, as the first cohort prepare to fly the nest, I am reminded of all of the incredible (and, frankly, impossible) opportunities that have fallen into my path in my three years with The Wheel; I have performed all across the country, in Greece and in Romania; I have developed my craft not only as an actor, but as a director and theatre practitioner; I have done things that once made me tremble with nerves. I am a stronger person and a more creative artist.
Looking around the faces of the people I’ve spent three years learning, laughing and crying with, I cannot help but smile, the way fate must have smiled on me when I decided that Plymouth was the place I train. Someone breaks my reverie by asking me what I’m smiling about, they tell me to stop slacking and join in the warm-up. Hours later, sweating after a long and challenging rehearsal, I emerge from the studio with that same smile on my face. Everybody must think I am mad. I know that I am lucky.
In its short life so far, The Wheel has produced an abundance of emerging creative artists, trained and nurtured in Plymouth as well as strong, thought provoking theatre. And, personally, I cannot wait to see where The Wheel goes next.