I feel like an author as I sit here posed in my kitchen, ready to put down on paper, or rather my computer screen, the stories of three men and how their lives unintentionally collide and drift apart, only to collide again one sunny afternoon in Edinburgh.
It was 1999, Britney Spears was at the top of the charts and was playing loudly through the portable CD players of a coach full of excited 17 year-old A-level drama students on their way to the biggest theatre festival in the world – Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The itinerary was tight, the schedule written: everyone knew exactly where they had to be and when they had to be there. There was hardly a moment spare when this group were not either travelling to a play, actually watching a play, or reviewing a play. One of those 17 year-olds was Jack Baldwin, a want-to-be actor who hadn’t told his parents yet. One of those plays was Pip Utton’s Adolf, a one-man show about the biggest baddie of the 20th century.
Two years later, and another coach full of want-to-be actors were on their way to the E.M. Forster Theatre in Kent, ready to see the very same play that Jack had seen – only this time Atomic Kitten was top, the music was playing through early editions of portable mp3 players, and one of the students was a very excited Benedict Holme who also happened to be a history buff. ‘This show is right up my street,’ he thought.
Little did Pip know that these 60 minute performances were going to change Jack and Ben’s lives forever: ‘It wasn’t even in [my] thinking.’ Yes, they both knew that one day they wanted to be actors, but his performance made them convinced. No longer did they just want to act. Suddenly they were engrossed in the production values, the writing, the importance of having something to say and a platform to say it on. Jack was now empowered to challenge his parents who desperately wanted him to have a ‘proper job’ and read classics. Ben ran straight off to the National Youth Theatre to pursue his dream.
Of course Pip knew nothing about it. He just soldiered on continuing to perform his show…
‘I consider it a great privilege to act,’ explains Pip in a sunny garden café in Edinburgh 15 years later. ‘It is a great privilege to be allowed to stand before an audience who want you to suspend reality for a short while. Of course you hope that everyone will enjoy your work, it is very important and I am thrilled if anyone feels moved or inspired by what I do, but I hope I never become conceited enough to expect it.’
Today is an unusual day. Ben, Jack and Pip have responded to a phone call they received earlier in the week from their producer. ‘There is someone I’d like you to meet,’ she tells all three of them.
Coincidentally, all three men are connected to the same company. Ben plays Basil in Faulty Towers the Dining Experience and Jack is an actor in The Wedding Reception. Both shows are produced by Interactive Theatre International, which is part of Imagination Workshop, the same company that will produce Pip’s latest tour in Australia next year.
A round of drinks later and the men are talking of their journeys into acting, their career paths and their relationship with their craft. In order to complete the circle, Ben asks Pip who it was that inspired his own career? ‘No real inspiration or hero for me, I’m afraid,’ says Pip. ‘I came to it in early middle age. It’s my mid-life crisis, my fantasy, my dream come true and I hope it lasts forever.’ And there the actors conclude that no career path is ever the same.
At this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, both Jack and Ben have relived their younger years as an audience member in one of Pip’s shows, this time as he plays the Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher. Pip hopes to catch Ben in Faulty Towers the Dining Experience and has already seen Jack in The Wedding Reception. On finding out that Pip was in the audience that night, Jack says: ‘There’s a moment of pressure, but one has to suppress it because there’s a show to do and any selfish fears I have would detract from that. But I was in character, so I didn’t get to speak to him properly.’
Ben and Jack have to dash, leaving me and Pip to talk: ‘Knowing that we are all working for IW makes the world smaller and more exciting. One of my great joys in this world is that I get to work with young, talented creative people and being associated with IW broadens those opportunities for me,’ he concludes.
Imagination Workshop and Interactive Theatre International bring together some of the greatest actors who ‘know their characters inside out’ (Glam Adelaide) to perform in ‘shows that are too brilliant to miss’ (The Great Aussie Bite). Edinburgh Festival Fringe is one of the most important events of the calendar as its level of success determines the pace of the year ahead.
Yet between all that stress and pressure, beautiful stories of legacy are created like this one that we read about today. We love our actors at ITI and we have created a special hashtag to proclaim it so! Follow #weloveactors today!
— Blog post: Beckie Smith: Head of Marketing–