I moved to the BRIT School, Croydon, at age 14 from Bacon’s College secondary school in Rotherhithe, south-east London. The BRIT School had fabulous drama and theatre teachers. I remember Andrew Midgley and Stuart Worden, a former theatre producer who is now principal of the BRIT School. They were fantastic people to work with, because they straddled that line between teacher and director when they were putting on shows.
They allowed your personality to shine through: if you were geared towards comedy, they would allow you to improvise a little bit within a play and find the “something funny”. And if you were good at drama, giving very truthful performances, they would allow you to find something there as well.
Returning to the BRIT for a careers day in 2015, I was on stage with Stuart, and able to tell hundreds of Year 12 students how his encouragement of individuality and risk-taking made the BRIT really special. It gives people the confidence to pursue very difficult careers, and express themselves, in ways other schools don’t.
Growing up on a Peckham council estate, for me the BRIT was amazing, because I’d had three years and all my primary school years, wanting to do something that was seen as weird to want to do: a little bit effeminate. As a young boy growing up in those kinds of areas, you wanted to show what people considered a sort of manly attitude, and that wasn’t me at all.
So to go to the BRIT School and find people who were a bit more like-minded, and wanted to do what I wanted to do, I felt far happier and secure in social interactions with people in my class.
The training at the BRIT School taught you not only to become a better actor, but also the attitude that you need to be in a successful company: the respect you have for each other’s work and basic timekeeping. You learned: “This is not about me, it’s about the show and the company – it’s about a team effort.”
Later, I attended East 15 drama school and outside directors came in during the third year and everybody got a fresh start. The teachers had seen you for maybe two years, and would build up an impression of what you were like, and how they would use you in a certain play. People had been earmarked by some teachers as: “Maybe this person is not quite what I want for a lead actor in this play.” But then a new director comes in and [the students] do a readthrough or an audition and show something they haven’t been given the chance to show before. When somebody from the outside comes in, it feels more realistic, more like the way the acting world actually works. They just go by what they see in the audition room, and they either want you or they don’t.
I graduated over 10 years ago now, and the audition process was not done enough. Audition procedure and technique can get you very, very far. Within theatre and drama education, there should be more of that.
The characters in The Inbetweeners are quite small-minded, which is why we can laugh at them, rather than be offended. We blame their age and their upbringing for their ignorance. When I was 16, I was surrounded by open-minded individuals who wanted to get into the performing arts. But in other ways – like constantly being attracted to girls as a teenager but not knowing how to talk to them – I can definitely relate to the characters’ struggles.
Blake Harrison is in End of the Pier, Park Theatre, North London, 11 July -11 August (see www.parktheatre.co.uk for details). He was speaking to Susan Gray