An Interview with Peter Polycarpou

What training have you done to improve your ability as a performer? And how did you find it?

I attended Middlesex University and did a London University Diploma in Dramatic Art. I found it very useful but my real training has been spent working in the industry for the last thirty-three years. We are constantly learning as actors and continue to pick up useful information from the people we work with. I always watched actors whose work I wanted to aspire to. I also keep myself and my body fairly fit and cycle to Improve my general well-being. The first seven years of my career were also spent doing what is called four weekly rep where you are constantly working on new scripts from month to month. I attended voice classes and singing lessons, movement and yoga classes and continue to learn even now.

Did you ever have a backup plan? If yes, what did you want to become?

I was going to be a chef and learned how to cook by attending a Catering College Course in Brighton before going to train. My Grandfather was a chef and I thought I might become a cook.


How did you get into the industry?

I wrote to a lot of different theatres all over the country and one day I got a reply to one of my letters asking me to audition for a role and I landed the part. My first job was for a children’s theatre company called The Unicorn Theatre For Children.

During your time not working as part of the industry, what do you do to get by?

I teach workshops all over the country. I have taught at Mountview Academy, Central School Of Speech and Drama, LAMDA, Oxford University and many other arts training colleges and youth theatre groups.

How can your experiences contribute to your employment in the performing arts industry?

Your experience is essential. The more experience you have, the more casting people and directors will see your work. The more people that see you work the more chances you have of being used by employers. Good reviews can also help but the most important thing is that work breeds work.

What are the harsh realities of working in the business that people don’t always tell you about?

The time you will spend unemployed and the countless auditions you will, have to go to without getting the job at the end of it. This will nearly always be the hardest thing to cope with. Paying your everyday bills from the proceeds of acting work may be impossible. Having the support of people around you can lessen the pain but coping with unemployment is one of the hardest things. Not getting jealous or bitter about people who you think aren’t as talented as you get the work that you auditioned for.

On average, what is the difference between the pay of a leading performer and ensemble members?

It can vary enormously. Some theatres employ people on a company wage where everybody earns the same regardless of the role they play and I have worked for theatres that do this. The NT employs people on an experience-level pay system. The more you work for the NT the more likely your fee will increase over time. Then you will receive a fee for each performance you have. Some film and television actors receive on average much higher sallies than those who work n the theatre. The top 2% of actors in film and television earn the most money as they are what are considered stars. They will by virtue of their name bring many millions of dollars or pounds to the ticket sales of anything they appear in and consequently demand very high salaries in order to accept a role.

You’ve heard the saying “It’s not about what you know; it’s about who you know”. What is your opinion on this statement in relation to the performing arts industry?

I have found that this statement is by and large dependent on the work you do and keeping in touch with those who you work with. If you are someone who doesn’t get on with the people you work with even if you are hugely talented, you will not work often. If you are talented and do get on with people then you will by and large make contacts that will last many many years. That can sometimes work in your favor and people will recommend people they know or are friends with for work. People want to work with those who are easy to work with and turn up on time, know their lines, don’t allow their personal life to interfere with their work, and are good company members.

What would be the best advice you would give to someone wanting to join the business?

Get some proper training at an approved Drama College, join Equity the actors Union, and keep yourself busy even if you aren’t working professionally go and watch others work or work within the business somehow. Work backstage, of front of house anywhere where you can keep hearing about what’s going on in the business. Get an agent and make them put you up for work…these days there are cooperative agents run by actors and that can be a stepping stone to finding an agent.

Can you tell us about your most memorable audition?

It would have to be when I auditioned for Miss Saigon and I and learned the song Bui Doi to sing for Sir Nicolas Hytner, Sir Cameron Mackintosh, Claude Michel Schoenberg, Alain Boubil, Richard Maltby. It was on stage at The Theatre Royal Drury Lane and I remember Claude Michel Schoenberg coming on stage after I had sung the song and giving me a huge hug!

What is your favourite part about working in the business?

Working with great writing, talented people, and interesting directors, and having a fabulous rehearsal process.

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