Allison is a professional actress. Born in Bradford, West Yorkshire, now living by the sea in Hunmanby near Filey. She is Mum to 5 year old Darragh and carer to her mum as well as acting professionally for 25 years.
ActorsLIFE: Tell us about your career. When did it start? How did you discover your talent?
Allison: I was one of those immensely annoying kids who always forced their friends to perform to the local old folks at the bottom of our street. We’d drag out everyone’s dining chairs, line them up and go knock on all the doors of the local sheltered housing flats. It was usually a mix of Doris Day, Elvis and Abba songs along with a few sketches, not too shabby for a bunch of 8 year olds!
I wanted to go to drama school but knew I’d never get the funding so I did a degree. Since then I’ve been acting on and off. I taught for a good few years but always came back to performing in the end. At the moment I’m acting full time.
ActorsLIFE: How is your career unfolding?
Allison: As a character actress I’m at that fantastic point in my career where loads of amazing parts are now opening up to me. I just played ‘Madame Arcati’ in Blithe Spirit at Middlesbrough theatre which I’ve wanted to do for years but haven’t quite been old enough. Obviously we are still in a profession that is not only massively oversubscribed but also skewed towards male performers but increasingly there are more opportunities with open castings so I’m positive things are moving in the right direction.
ActorsLIFE: What do you enjoy the most about acting?
Allison: For me it’s when I forget I’m acting, when you make that connection with another actor, the audience, or both and the whole process is effortless. I used to dance when I was a child and there were times when I’d feel like I was floating. Once you’ve experienced that it’s hard to imagine doing anything else. Actually there isn’t much I don’t like about acting other than the fact that I don’t always get to do it as much as I’d like to.There isn't much I don't like about acting other than the fact that I don't always get to do it as much as I'd like to! Click To Tweet
ActorsLIFE: What were some of your favorite experiences as an actor?
Allison: I’ve been immensely lucky and managed to play some fabulous parts and worked with some incredibly talented people. Everything from Mephistophiles in Dr Faustus, Joyce Grenfell and even Claudius in Hamlet. But some of my absolute favourite moments have come working in more unusual environments. I have done a couple of panto tours to nursing homes, performing to people with dementia who won’t get the chance to see theatre normally. Their reactions can be amazing, often people who are confused or agitated can have wonderful moments of clarity during performances.
ActorsLIFE: What are some of your personal and/or professional goals for the future?
Allison: At the moment I’m looking to do more TV work. I’ve done much more theatre and although I plan to keep doing it I’d like to broaden my horizons a little bit. Again because of my casting type I’m at the right age to make that move. Of course that’s not to say I don’t have theatre goals left. I’d still LOVE to work with the RSC and the National Theatre at least once to really feel like I’d ‘made it’ but I know thousands of other actors who’d all like that as well!
I do some presenting for a project run by my other half which works with veterans and serving armed forces personnel using archaeology and I love it so at some point I’d like to do a bit more presenting if the opportunity came up.
Mostly though I just want to keep working. I do a job where I can’t wait to get to work each morning so the more mornings I get at work the better!
ActorsLIFE: What has been your personal key to success?
Allison: It’s a cliche because it’s true.. PERSISTENCE!
In our business there will always be a hundred other people who can do the job as well as you can and once you accept that life gets much easier. I’ve cast for shows I’ve directed so I understand the decisions aren’t personal and very often have nothing to do with how talented you are or whether you can play the part. If you’ve been asked to audition the director has a pretty good idea you can play the part, it’s more down to whether you fit their vision of the role.
But keeping going even after tough rejections is vital. You need to see yourself as a business and behave like that. Build up relationships with casting professionals, email theatres, go to workshops, attend classes, practice your skills and perform with fellow actors when you’re not working. Don’t rely on others for your sense of self worth and I never read reviews (except occasionally by accident)
ActorsLIFE: Who are the actors you most admire?
Allison: The usual suspects like Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith but I could go on and on and on! Kathy Bates is also amazing, Johnathan Pryce, Mark Rylance, Jessica Lange… I admire anyone who can pull me into a story and isn’t afraid to be ugly.
ActorsLIFE: What are the best ways to get a job?
Allison: There are so many ways to get work as an actor. The days when agents found you every job are long gone. Of course a good agent can still be a vital part of your arsenal but more and more I find work myself. Spotlight in the UK is essential if you want a good agent but I rarely find work for myself via spotlight. Casting websites can work but are often full of low paid or unpaid work so you have to be prepared to pick the wheat from the chaff. Personally I use Casting Call Pro, Dramaic, the equity job information service and casting weekly mostly. I have profiles on other sites but as I’m reasonably happy with my showreel I’m only taking paid work now unless it’s a project I feel I absolutely HAVE to do.
ActorsLIFE: What do you think are the main challenges facing actors today?
Allison: The market is flooded. Everyone is willing to do the job so more and more actors are working for free to get experience. Whilst this seems like a good idea it lowers the value of what actors do and means more and more we are expected to work for free or very little money. It’s almost impossible to just be an actor now. So few of us actually make a full time living from acting as there just isn’t the work there. Theatre audiences want to ‘see someone they know’ in the show so unless you’ve had a spot on Eastenders, Corrie, Emmerdale or been part of a reality TV show it’s harder even to work in theatre.
ActorsLIFE: What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to become an actor?
Allison: Make sure you understand that it’s highly unlikely that you’ll work full time as an actor. Have back up skills you can use to earn money whilst you’re ‘resting’. I’ve worked as teacher in the past but now I do corporate work, theatre in education and am a therapist. Be persistent, be clear about your casting bracket but always push the boundaries when you can. Create a business plan for yourself and stick to it.
ActorsLIFE: How is the job market now in the industry? How do you think it will be in five years?
Allison: The job market isn’t great right now but we are still dealing with the effects of a massive recession. The arts took a real beating as budgets were cut and people didn’t have money to spend on theatre tickets but I’m very hopeful that things are improving. I’m seeing more and more local opportunities and some fantastic work being made so I’m positive that things will get better. We need bold and brave casting though, we have to make sure that we aren’t always looking at the same faces on our screens. Diversity is good for everyone.
ActorsLIFE: Do you need an agent? How do you get one?
Allison: Yes and no… Firstly you don’t ALWAYS need an agent. There are lots of ways to work without one but once you get to a certain point in your career then an agent become more important. I worked for years doing small scale theatre, theatre in education and entertainments without an agent. The work was relatively easy to find and wasn’t always well paid so parting with 15% or more wouldn’t have been worth it but once you want to move on to more varied work a good agent is vital.
For TV and film work you are lost without an agent. It’s almost impossible to be seen by some casting directors if your agent isn’t known to them. I’ve just moved to a great agency in Manchester and so will hopefully start to be seen for more TV work.
ActorsLIFE: Are there any upcoming projects and/or events that you would like to mention?
Allison: I’ve had busy year so far thankfully as it really isn’t always the case. At the moment I’m rehearsing with SHE Productions for a short version of Alice In Wonderland. I’m playing the Caterpillar, Cheshire Cat and The Queen of Hearts! It’s with East Riding Theatre but we’re performing at Beverley Races which is a new experience for me. After that I have some more work with Rusticus Theatre who create amazing outdoor performance adventures for families.
ActorsLIFE: Tell us something that nobody else might not know about you!?
Allison: I love archaeology. I met my other half on a dig eight years ago who’s a qualified archaeologist and we usually can be found digging up the past a few times a year at least. I’m also a bit of a geek and a massive ice hockey fan.
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