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That’s A Wrap: Former Pupil Completes Acting Degree At Rose Bruford College

That’s A Wrap: Former Pupil Completes Acting Degree At Rose Bruford College

Former pupil, Morgan Burgess, took to the stage for his final musical performance at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance to complete his degree in acting.

Morgan joined the Senior School in Fourth Year (Year 10) and continued through to Sixth Form, studying English Literature, Music and Theatre Studies at A Level. During his four years here, he demonstrated his burgeoning musical and theatrical talents, performing in numerous school concerts and plays including his role as Jean Valijean in Yarm’s production of Les Misérables in 2018.

Morgan secured a place to study Actor-Musicianship at Rose Bruford in London, where students from over 40 countries study a range of vocational and professional degree courses. Notable alumni of the College include Gary Oldman, Tom Baker, Stephen Graham, Maddy Hill, Lake Bell and Hayley Squires.

We spoke to Morgan about his experience at drama school, the challenges of working in an extremely competitive industry, and how he felt preparing for the final performance of his degree…

Q. What is your favourite memory of being on stage at Yarm?

I loved performing in Blue Remembered Hills by Dennis Potter. This was part of our performance module for A Level Theatre Studies and it was so much fun.

It’s a play set in the West Country in the Second World War, in which adults play seven-year-old children. Exploring the child-like physicality and voice in rehearsals was such a joy, we couldn’t help but laugh and enjoy ourselves the whole time. There can be a lot to juggle in Sixth Form, so being able to go to Theatre Studies and play around as children for a couple of hours was a great way to unwind and we were so lucky to have that opportunity.

Our teacher, Mr Pender, got the best out of us; playful is his middle name so this piece was perfect for him to direct and the end result was fantastic.

Q. When did you first consider applying for drama school and why?

I first considered applying for drama school towards the end of Fifth Year (Year 11). Acting had been a hobby of mine from the age of 12 or 13, but it took me a while to realise I wanted to do it professionally.

By the time I started Sixth Form I knew it was the right path for me. I knew I wanted to act for a living and couldn’t really see myself doing anything else – I still can’t.

I would say it took a bit of courage for me to make that choice though; I was fully aware that acting is one of the most unstable, precarious, and unpredictable professions out there, but I was determined to give it my all. If I hadn’t gone for it, I would just be left asking myself ‘what if?’ for the rest of my life.

I chose to study in London because it is home to almost all of the most prestigious drama schools; it is where it is all happening for the acting industry. I also love London’s culture, the fast-paced living, the diversity, the parks, the bars, the museums and galleries and the infinite choice of good quality coffee shops – all of this suits me well.

Of course there are good opportunities in other regional cities like Manchester and Cardiff and I did in fact audition for Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD), Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) and Guildford School of Acting (GSA), but none of them quite compared to London and the variety of top notch theatre and TV and film castings available there. Even if I’d trained elsewhere, I would have still wanted to move to London at some point.

Q. What is a typical day at drama school like?

Before the pandemic, training was very intense and there was always something going on, which I loved.

Most days at drama school are long and exhausting – mentally, physically and emotionally. However, there is a sense of achievement and a huge reward at the end of each day because of how much you are pushing yourself. The highs are extremely high and the lows can be extremely low, but I have found that this heightens the overall experience: the lessons we learn here are profound and personal. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunities has presented me with, to explore the art of acting and discover things about myself.

A typical day would consist of a number of core classes in voice, movement and acting, as well as lessons in more specific fields such as stage combat, period dance and accent/dialect. We also get the chance to perform full plays throughout the three years, this gives us the opportunity to put the skills that we have been refining into practice.

Q. How has the pandemic affected your training?

Of course, Covid-19 has taken a massive toll and training to be an actor during a pandemic has been a unique experience to say the least. For months on end we had no in-person training, instead we had to sustain ourselves and our acting practice and continue to refine our craft from our bedrooms.

Whilst it was incredibly challenging at times, I think in some ways that it has actually set me up well for the industry once I graduate. Yes, I may have missed out on some key training over the last year, but I have had to learn how to adapt and thrive in unusual and unexpected circumstances. I have definitely learnt how to be more resilient which is a useful skill to have in the world of acting.

As Covid-19 restrictions started to ease, the intensity picked up and it felt fantastic to have a taste of normality again as I rehearsed for my final year musical, Working, a piece adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso from the bestselling book of the same title by Studs Terkel.

The original book documents a large number of real life interviews from the 1970s, mostly in Chicago, of people talking about what they do for a living. The piece gives an unfiltered, untarnished view of how the Americans of the 70s thought, what their hopes and dreams were and what their days looks like.

The musical therefore, is largely transcribed from the book: many of the songs and speeches in the piece are taken directly from the real words that working people have spoken. Rehearing and performing the piece was an in depth study of America and its people.

We all felt a responsibility to honour the stories of each of our characters, as we were all playing versions of real people. Performing with my Rose Bruford peers for the last time was bittersweet. It was remarkable to observe how much the 15 of us had all grown and developed as people and performers over the last three years. I’m sure that I will work with many of them again in the future.

Q. What have you enjoyed most about your time at Rose Bruford?

The highlight of my time here at Rose Bruford has to be the performance of ‘August: Osage County’ by Tracy Letts that my class performed at the end of our first year. All the skills I had learnt over the year fell into place and things started to make sense…

I was able to connect the dots between the various disciplines we had been practising and I felt my acting technique elevate to the next level – whether it actually did or not, I don’t know, but even for me to feel as though is enough for this moment to stand out to me as one of the highlights of my time at drama school.

During training and in the end performance, the whole class came together as a professional ensemble and it was amazing to be a part of that. We also had a wonderful director, Raymi, whose guidance I have treasured throughout my three years at Rose Bruford.

Q. Have there been any challenges or tough moments whilst studying acting?

There have been quite a few challenges – perhaps too many to list! There have been times where I thought I’d had a ‘breakthrough’ in a class, only to go to the next one a few minutes later and feel like the worst actor in South East London. That’s the thing with acting though: you never feel like you’ve completely ‘got it’ so you’re constantly striving to be better and to become more truthful I suppose.

The minute I feel like I have done a perfect performance is the moment I will start to worry. In my opinion, something isn’t quite right if you don’t think you can improve.

The lows can be shattering and humiliating, but it’s during those tough times where I think I’ve been able to learn the most – or at least, learn the hardest and most useful lessons.

Q. If you understood the challenges of drama school when you were applying, would you still have taken the same path?

Numerous people made me aware of the challenges of drama school when I was applying and explained there would be a mixture of highs and lows during my time there, but I found myself even more inspired to apply every time someone told me just how challenging it could be. It all sounded so exciting and it was pushing me to want to do it even more.

Even now, having experienced my own personal lows at drama school, I can look back and identify them as some of the pivotal moments for my own personal growth and development. From my experience, there are incredible life lessons in feeling like you have failed and it’s how you come back from that feeling and push yourself further that makes you a better performer and a better person in general.

In a weird way therefore, I am not frightened of the tough times in the future as I know they will be the biggest opportunities for personal growth. I’m grateful for all the lessons I learnt at drama school, even if some of them were the hard way.

Q. Are you a part of any acting/theatre/drama programmes outside of Rose Bruford?

Rose Bruford encourages students to make their own work alongside the scheduled performances in class. In normal circumstances, they host an annual event called ‘Symposium’, similar to a mini fringe theatre festival.

It’s a one week festival for students, staff, alumni, invited guests from the industry and academe and more to all come together to take part in. As well as live performances, there’s a range of brilliant and insightful workshops, talks and exhibitions to explore.

Anyone who has written and rehearsed a play outside of school can perform it during this week – it’s great and the atmosphere is always electric. It always feels really great to watch your friends perform their new work and it makes us all extremely excited for the future.

Q. What are your immediate plans and how do you see your career developing? What are your long-term dreams?

My plans are as simple as finding work, but in this industry that can actually be quite hard. Actors can go months without getting a job and have to rely on a second income to pay rent and bills. So my next step is signing to an agent; after our final performance at Bruford, the class did an Agent Showcase which was a compilation of scenes and songs that best demonstrated our skills and talents in an effort to grab the attention of agents.

I am keen to pursue a varied career in theatre, TV and film. I have a real passion for Shakespeare and other classic texts by the likes of Arthur Miller, Chekhov, Ibsen and Tennessee Williams; I would probably say I’m a little bit of a traditionalist based on my taste in theatre. American drama has a special place in my heart too, so I suppose my dream would be performing a classic American text at the National Theatre, but doing anything on a stage as prestigious as the National would be what I’m aiming for.

In the end, I would like to be able to live off my acting career alone. I know that this can take some time as there are some leading West End stars who still have a day job, but hopefully this is a long-term dream I can achieve.

Q. What advice would you give to a pupil thinking of a career in theatre?

It’s an incredibly tough industry to break into so I think it’s really important that anyone interested in pursuing a career in acting has a real passion for it and is willing to give 110% – the love and the need of it is the only thing that will get you through the tough times. If a pupil quite fancies acting but also thinks they’d make a good lawyer, for example, then I would recommend becoming a lawyer.

Once certain that acting is the right path, then I would suggest diving head-first into every opportunity available: watch as many theatre productions as possible (the National Theatre Live streams in Yarm’s Friarage Theatre are fantastic for this), sign-up to workshops, audition for the National Youth Theatre, and then think about drama school.

Drama school is a great grounding in the art and craft of acting. It may not be for everyone, but everyone certainly leaves having learnt so much about themselves and what they want to do moving forwards.