Bethany Down: Interview With A Warwickshire Based Actor
Bethany Down is a self-employed actor and spoken-word artist currently based in North Warwickshire. She is primarily a theatre actor, with classical training in British theatre styles from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, and her credits include Monologue Slam UK (Belgrade Theatre – original writing) and a National UK Tour as Juliet (Romeo and Juliet) and Sibyl (Private Lives) with Heartbreak Productions.
How did you first get into acting, and what attracted you to it?
Like most, I started young – I was always in nativities and school plays, did Saturday drama classes and dedicated myself in school to Drama as a subject. It was just something I had no fear about. I reveled in being on stage and did everything I possibly could to perform.
I’ve always loved reading and stories and got into Shakespeare at a fairly young age – also massively inspired by a Christian theatre company we’d see every year on holiday. I don’t really remember the moment it happened – I just realised it was something I was good at and wanted more of it in my life.
I’m sure my brother would say I’ve always been a drama queen, and he wouldn’t be far from the truth. I was always encouraged by my parents and teachers to pursue it, so I did!
What’s been one of your favourite moments or career highlights so far?
Landing my first professional role as Juliet after only 6 weeks of working as my own agent was probably the biggest highlight. During that tour there were so many high points in performance – mostly because I was playing a Shakespearean dream role, and one I never thought I’d actually get when I auditioned. I’d quit my survival job with no other in sight, determined to make acting work as a priority for the first time since graduating drama school.
It’s a real slog to self-tape, apply for castings, find the right work, to do it all on your own with zero knowledge of the industry, but somehow I managed it and was off on a 5-month national tour for the first time ever (and being paid for it!) Getting that call was incredible – I was sitting in a make-up chair having a test done for a photoshoot at the time and cried down the phone – and the whole experience was simultaneously the most difficult and brilliant of my life.
What’s been your biggest learning curve?
Touring definitely gave me so many lessons in understanding acting not just as a passion, but as an everyday job.
It’s not all thrills and jazz hands and applause. It’s 10 person audiences, rainy days, time management, negotiating different personalities, standing up for your rights as humans and actors when you’re all incredibly tired.
I was very much thrown into the deep end of the industry with outdoor touring. It tests you mentally and physically and some days the acting part of it feels like the very last priority amongst so many other responsibilities – learning to balance all of that was tough and a real lesson in the bigger picture of “putting on a show”.
It taught me what to prioritise as a performer with regards to my own acting process by stripping away the usual comforts of a dressing room, a real stage and a full crew behind me, giving me a much greater respect and appreciation for a regular theatre job. It made me think on my feet, showed me what my training had massively lacked in and where I could improve. It introduced me to different approaches to performance and gave me the confidence to trust in my own.
What advice would you give to aspiring actors/performing artists, and those who wish to get into the field?
It’s tough. It’s harder than you would think and the industry is not fair. It doesn’t discriminate, no matter how hard you work, how good you are or how deserving. I know so many truly wonderful, dedicated actors not in work simply because the industry is so over-saturated with brilliant people.
You have to be made of strong stuff to deal with the rejection and you have to be brave enough to make a fool of yourself, to take risks and to put yourself out there as YOU. But, if you can do all that, and you have enough faith and belief in yourself against the criticism and the injustice of it all (and can comfortably make a living whilst maintaining good mental health, too) it is genuinely the most rewarding job I have ever had.
Be grateful for every experience you can get your hands on, be humble, be willing to learn and to constantly improve – acting is not just talent, it is a craft and a lifelong development and you do not know everything.
Respect the people who you work with, from runners to costume designers, directors and technicians – everyone wants the show to work, and you are a relatively small part of that (even though the spotlights may make you believe differently.)
Theatre works when people work together and there is no space for ego.
Don’t feel pressured to make your own work despite the constant chatter on Twitter – we’re not all writers and creators, some of us are best placed to bring a vision to life rather than be the vision itself, and that is perfectly fine. But, if you want to have a go – why not?
You define your own success and failure, so go and make some things happen you’re proud of, no matter how small it may feel. If you see auditions as simply opportunities to learn something rather than the end result of a job and you’ll always come out a winner, even if you don’t get the role. Funnily enough, those kinds of auditions have been the most successful of my career. Relax, and have FUN with them, trust me.
COVID-19 has been tough on the entire entertainment industry. How has your experience been and how are you coping?
For me, it was pretty devastating at the beginning. January and February had been a flurry of exciting auditions, performing in a brilliant show in Leamington, Shakespeare classes and weekly spoken-word events where I’d been starting to get a reputation with my writing.
In March I was due to move to London to make my debut at the Hope Theatre, Islington in a brilliant show called Graceful by Hayley Ricketson. The role was perfect and I’d announced the casting on socials only a few days before we went into full lockdown. The show has been postponed indefinitely, I was furloughed from my bar job when the pubs were closed, and I was suddenly left with no work, no acting and not entirely sure what to do with my free time.
But funnily enough, the lockdown period has been a blessing in disguise. The postponement of the show was sad, but the job is still there for me as and when it happens. I saw it as such a win that I secured that casting in the first place that losing the show wasn’t quite as awful as it could have been.
I took the time to re-evaluate the progress I’d made this year and focused in on taking a real break after what had been a non-stop ride since Christmas. I focused on my mental health, physical fitness, read all the books I’d had no time for and wrote a lot, finding clarity on my career and what I wanted moving forward. Lockdown was very, very exposing in lots of ways, but I’m grateful to be able to see more clearly what I need to work on and what brings value to my life.
I was also very lucky to have a truly wonderful acting community around me. I’ve been part of Shakespeare Practise Group in London Bridge for a year or so now, and we moved our sessions onto Zoom. It meant that once a week I had a new script to learn, a new play to read and a new character to get to grips with, and a community of people to work with and have fun with.
We also started a weekly online play-reading, where we’d nominate plays to read together. We’d be cast each week and get together – for me this was an incredible introduction to so many plays I would never have even heard of, let alone sat down and read on my own. To do this every week for 3 months was priceless. I felt like an actor every day, even without a rehearsal room. I probably did more acting-related work throughout lockdown than I had done beforehand!
Have you found any useful resources during this time that might be helpful for others in a similar situation?
Having that community was the most useful resource to me without a doubt and I know I was lucky to have that – I would just say keep some element of your passion within your life and you’ll get by the hard times. Having been back to work for the past few weeks I have noticed the lack of acting related work in my days and I know my mental health is better if there’s something around – even if it’s just me reading a play myself, or doing this interview – the little things do matter and influence you without you realising.
As someone who has only been self-employed for a year I had no financial resources from the government but my furlough pay from my bar job kept me financially sound. Again, I’m so grateful to have been in that position.
I know times are still pretty uncertain in the UK, but what can we look forward to next from you?
I’m hoping Graceful will still be going ahead at some stage, so watch this space! It’s a small, 4 hander female-led show exploring a queer relationship between 17 year old Grace and 38 year old Rhonda. It’s provocative and funny, a mix of naturalistic dialogue and spoken word poetry. Definitely my biggest challenge to date.
Taking Covid out of the picture, the grand plan is a permanent move to London, starting my own spoken-word night and getting back on the poetry competition run, 48 hour Shakespeare shows with the gang and finding myself some industry representation to open more doors. I have new headshots lined up, a showreel complete and am in the process of re-jigging my portfolio ready for the return of theatre.
Upcoming Work (most likely 2021)