Have you ever wondered what it must be like, day to day, to be a West End Actress ? In an exclusive interview with BoxOfficeTheatre.co.uk, 1984 Actress Ingrid Schiller shed some light on life behind the curtain.
Ingrid Schiller trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, graduating in 2013. She’s currently playing a member of the ensemble in 1984, and understudying the lead role of Julia.
On Wednesdays and Saturdays, you have to do two performances of 1984— what’s a day in the life of a West End understudy like?
On a normal two show day I come into the theatre a bit early and watch the others warm up, chat to the ladies I’m understudying in the dressing room while they get ready. Once the show begins, I often go through my lines for both parts I understudy. I’m onstage at one point during the show and part of a big scene. Once I come back down, I usually get changed for the gym and wait for the last scene to begin, because that’s when we understudies are allowed to leave. I spend my break between shows working out, showering then getting lunch and sitting in the park watching the world go by. Sometimes I meet friends in town before heading back to the Playhouse. Wednesdays is ‘Song Day’ so one member of the company gets to play a song that means a lot to them and everybody closes their eyes and listens or dances; it’s really fun.
What do you think are the misconceptions about understudies?
I think understudies are undervalued. Recently there have been big stories hitting the media about understudies having to step in last minute (very successfully) so people are becoming more aware of understudies, which is great. I’m thinking of Funny Girl, The Suicide at the National and Branagh’s Romeo and Juliet. It’s really difficult; you get a tenth of the rehearsal time the main cast have, you have to watch things meticulously because you never know when you might have to step in. Lines are one thing, but suddenly having to deal with costume and props you’ve never had is also a shock! People sadly think of understudies as second best— I don’t think you’ll find many actors who want to be understudies for the rest of their lives, but a lot of famous actors started as understudies (Imelda Staunton, for example). This job has already taught me so much and I’ll never view an understudy the same way again.
What’s your favourite thing about this production of 1984?
The mind games. It’s the little “glitches” in the show that can seem like a mistake or coincidence but have been rehearsed in so much detail. I love when attention is given to little things. I also love how the show resonates differently according to the current world news- and it hasn’t been a dull month and a half on that front!
What have been your biggest challenges as an actor?
Being out of work. You start off full of optimism, but when you don’t get an audition for a while— or when you do, you don’t get the job, the doubts start. It’s very easy to start feeling worthless and depressed. It’s fine for a while, but I’m already nervous about getting another job when this one finishes at the end of October! Finding a way to dig yourself out of that hole can be so hard. I feel better when I research and get pro-active. Doing unrelated creative stuff just for fun with friends really unblocks you and you realise why you are doing this job in the first place: writing, going to a museum, photography or drawing, it all helps your creative soul.
And finally—any theatrical superstitions?
Loads! The Scottish play (you mustn’t say the name Macbeth inside a theatre) is one that I just really like, so I go along with it even though I don’t believe in it. Whistling bringing bad luck too! I get very OCD about doing certain things before certain scenes: I imagine where my character is coming from, sometimes I like to touch a certain lucky prop or repeat a certain line I tend to trip over… Once I have had a good few runs of the show the superstitions definitely get less…