Artist Spotlight #4: Nick Langmead

Nick Langmead is a Guernsey-born artist. As a professional actor, he has most recently been touring the UK with Mikron Theatre.

How and why did you get into theatre?
NL: I got into by accident. I did Les Misérables at the Grammar School in 2003 playing Jean Valjean and suddenly discovered I could act and sing, at the same time. It was a brilliant experience, and after that I did quite well at Theatre Studies A-Level after which my Drama teacher encouraged me to apply for LIPA (Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts). I did that, and I got in. I just fell into it, and I didn’t realise I was going to love it as much as I do.

Can you tell us about your experience at LIPA?
It’s really what you make of it. You can go in a do your classes, and work on your modules, your voice technique, and this and that. Or, you can get involved in as much as possible. The unique thing about it is that I was studying alongside musicians, dancers, managers, sound technicians, stage technicians, designers; it was a huge spectrum of people that I was getting involved with. I also did music there, especially in my final year. I was doing voice over recording for sound technicians, live sound for technicians where I would be on stage doing a monologue and they would be putting effects in to create a world. So you know, I got active and I did a lot of things, and that inter-disciplinary experience is what I got out of it – aside from acting. It puts everything into context. It’s a hard thing to go and do, purely because you’re on your feet all the time; it’s very physically demanding. I was working while I was there, so I was on my feet all the time throughout the day, rehearsing rehearsing rehearsing, and then going to work on my feet throughout the night in the restaurant. And it was tough, but if you love it, it doesn’t matter.

Since graduating, how have you progressed in your practice?
I think you start to take out the bits that aren’t necessary for you to get a degree in a subject and start to reinterpret the bits that you actually need as a performer. For example, voice technique. This was something that you just did (and no-one really enjoys voice technique), but when you have to stand in front of an audience of up to 300, 400, 500 people like I have done and your microphone dies, suddenly you’re in a position where you either stop the show and sort the microphone out, or you kick in with your voice technique and begin to reach the people right at the back because you’ve learnt how to use your diaphragm and your articulators and everyone can hear you. It’s the difference between a good performer and a bad performer. That has happened to me a couple of times! I’m just so glad I do my voice technique, and I’m so glad I warm up every day! I perhaps don’t treat my voice as well as I should, but I try to use it as tool.

So, you take your techniques, you take what’s useful. And things that aren’t as useful, you filter it out. You also learn how to work hard! It can be easy to get through university without working hard. You can get 40% and still pass. However, you won’t get jobs by doing 40%, and you won’t get rehired by a company by doing 40%.
You learn to trust yourself a little bit more, you trust that you know what you’re talking about and know what you’re doing.

Can you tell us about a recent project you’ve been working on?
Before I started Mikron I was working with a friend of mine who is studying to do a Masters in London’s Central [School of Speech and Drama]. He’s developing a form of theatre called ‘Theatre of Deception’, and in order to achieve this ‘Theatre of Deception’, we’ve been doing a lot of invisible theatre on the tube. We were devising stories, for instance I played a homeless man who had come out of rehab for drug abuse – he’d clearly lost everything – and then had discovered that he was seriously ill, but wasn’t allowed to get medical treatment as a known drug abuser and he was on this tube, asking for money. So, I stood up there, in less than desirable clothes; I literally had urine on my clothes, I swilled whiskey, I had dirt all over my face, I hadn’t washed for 5 or 6 days, so I really hummed – it was horrible. I stood up in front of everyone in the carriage, and delivered a broken monologue about needing money. I then walked through the train, meeting another actor who gave me some money – he was a tourist, and I saw he had lots of cash in his pocket – then I’d ask if I could have that cash as ‘I need it, I’m really sorry, I wouldn’t be asking if I didn’t need it.’ Following this, someone would intervene – ‘Don’t give him any money’ – after which someone else offered that he could give the money if he wanted to.

We basically started this dialogue on the train, after which I left, almost in tears. (Literally, almost in tears. It was a horrible experience watching mothers take their children away from you. As well as people swearing at you, constantly.) This dialogue that ensued after I left the train was what we were working toward. To be deceived into thinking they were witnessing a piece of reality, and to respond accordingly, in a real way.

This dialogue was recorded, and following that it was played back after which we tried to find the social dissonance in that dialogue. It was thrilling. Very upsetting to that particular story.

We also did one about a gay couple and a homophobe. I played the homophobe who would say nasty things toward them during a public display of affection. The amount of things that people were saying astounded me. And this was London. In 2012! And there are still people, our age, who are clearly educated and a lot of whom clearly come from affluent, comfortable backgrounds saying the most hideous things about gay people. It shocked me. I expect that in pockets of some very small places, but in a multicultural, metropolitan , cosmopolitan place like London, you don’t expect that.

Can you tell us about your time with Mikron?
I don’t know where to start! We begin with a three week rehearsal process before each show; we have our lines to learn and we have songs to learn. So we have text and music to get to grips with. I play guitar, viola, kazoo, and a kahong which is a box drum, that sounds like a snare. Different parts that you hit make a different tone. There are obviously other people involved too playing different things. Then we have the staging to contend with. We are set up, pack up and maintain the set all at the same time. And we are also learning how to boat at the same time!

So following this three weeks of rehearsal, we have the show. And from this, we go on the boat and tour the British waterways: the canals, the rivers… We’ve done the Thames, the Severn, the Avon. We basically tour the country being travelling minstrels and performing. It’s the best job I’ve ever had; taking theatre to people that don’t normally watch theatre.

And so in terms of the future, what does that hold for you?
Hopefully continuing to do more touring. After that, I don’t know… Touring is ok if you don’t have financial or family commitments. Obviously, I’m not married, I don’t have kids, I don’t have a mortgage. Touring is fine for me. But there comes a time when that becomes difficult. So you have to move to a residential theatre. You move to one theatre to do a show for a period of time and that’s more difficult; you have to have a big CV to do that. London will probably be my place of residence for a while – that’s where all the auditions are.

And you’re committed to theatre. Would you ever wander into film or television?
I have done a little bit, and have played around with a camera, which is fun. But, it’s not the same. You can have as many takes as you want for a scene. You also end up doing short scenes which are cut together… It’s a different style altogether. A different technique, a different thing. A whole different animal.
And also, I believe in the power of theatre. I believe that society needs it. Even though the industry isn’t nearly as strong as the film industry, I think interpersonal relationships can never, ever be replaced by the screen.

So finally, as a person who was born in Guernsey in what ways has the Island influenced your creative practice?
When you spend 18 years on a rock in the sea, you’re constantly thinking about what else there is: what’s around the corner? What’s over the horizon? That is the founder of all creativity: wondering what else is there, and questioning things. And I think that the very experience of being on Guernsey and developing on an island where you can only go 24 square miles has given me everything I need to be in the creative industries. I never stop questioning and wondering what else there is and what other possibilities exist.
I do still love coming and trying to catch up with people, but I did leave when I was 18, so you’re never going to be able to catch up on 8 years’ worth of your lives. I’m looking forward to coming back and reintroducing myself to everyone.

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