Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Interview: Sarah Solemani discusses the National Youth Theatre

Best known for starring in BBC comedies Him & Her and Bad Education, actress and writer Sarah Solemani recently joined the board of the National Youth Theatre where she began her career. 

The organisation are about to begin their 2016 auditions; the application process allows applicants from all backgrounds across the UK the chance to join the National Youth Theatre to build careers in the industry working with other young people whilst the courses provide extensive training on theatre and theatre practice. Alumni include Dame Helen Mirren, Daniel Craig, Chiwetel Ejiofor CBE and Sir Daniel Day Lewis.

Sarah’s television credits include: The Borgias, Skins and Psychoville; she is set to appear in the upcoming Bridget Jones’ Baby film whilst her theatre credits include The Graduate (West End) and The House of Bernarda Alba (Almeida). Sarah has penned and starred in The Secrets - The Conversation, part of a series of drama films produced by Working Title for the BBC. 

She is under commission to write original comedy with FX Studio in the US and has work in development with Kudos, Tiger Aspect and Working Title. Sarah’s first play was produced by the NYT and since then her plays have been performed at the Soho Theatre, Lyric Hammersmith, Arcola, Southwark Playhouse, Old Vic, Theatre503 and the Public Theatre, New York.

I recently spoke to Sarah about how the NYT kick-started her career, who should be auditioning to work with the organisation and what she thinks about the buzz surrounding new writing in London…

The National Youth Theatre kicked off your career, do you remember what it was that inspired you to audition in the first place?
I used to go to a Saturday morning class at Mountview in London where I grew up; I really enjoyed it but it was only a few hours and some of the kids didn’t take it seriously and wouldn’t always turn up. I wanted more, and heard about the National Youth Theatre. When I started reading about the NYT and looking into the courses and training and opportunity to be introduced into the industry I thought ‘I have to be a part of this’. I remember preparing my speeches religiously each night – I had no experience or family in the business. At the time drama school was hugely expensive and not an option for me. I remember very clearly the audition and the recall and then the letter arriving on the mat telling me I’d got a place. Then I did the training, the following year I was asked to do a production, then I got an agent and the following year I was in The Graduate in the West End!

It’s an amazing story – you were just sixteen, weren’t you?
Yes, by the time I left school my gap year was ridiculous and every actor’s dream of being in the West End and working at the National and doing television for the BBC. It was a great time, and it’s all thanks to the National Youth Theatre!

Cast of NYT's 2015 West End REP Season in Consensual / Photo Credit: Helen Maybanks

I guess it’s important to stress that going down the drama school route isn’t the only way into the industry…
Exactly! Drama school is fantastic, a lot of the really brilliant actors I’ve worked with went to drama school, but it is expensive and it’s not the only option. The beauty of the National Youth Theatre is that you start much younger, I think it really does take a good ten years to really learn the craft and navigate the industry. The sooner you can start the better. It’s all taken in holiday time so you can do it alongside your studies – if you want to go to university to keep your options open then the National Youth Theatre is workable around that. It’s the best training you can get without going to drama school.

You’ve retuned to the organisation to join the board. What has drawn you back?
I just think it’s a really important institution for diversity and for being an open door – there’s no other institution like it. I would hate to see acting become something only the privileged classes can do. It shouldn’t be like that – we would all suffer because we need stories about everyone and we need actors who come from all different backgrounds to tell those stories. The National Youth Theatre needs funding, but it also needs the casts so I’m getting the message out there.

Sarah with Russell Tovey in Him & Her
So currently you’re on the board of the NYT and writing plays whilst taking on various acting projects – how do you do it?
I mean… I’m very lucky to have so many different opportunities. I’m starting to act in my own work which is a really great feeling. I just try and manage my time – it’s important that I take my time very seriously [laughs], that’s the only way you can do so much.

It’s a really exciting time for new writing at the moment, can you feel the buzz?
I think in London there is a really incredible and exciting new writing scene. There’s the Young Vic and Old Vic New Voices and stuff going on at the Royal Court – there are a lot of different opportunities. I grew up alongside Nick Payne and James Graham and we’re all in touch and actually meet up every year for a new writers dinner. We all grew up together writing above pubs and then writing for different venues and look how successful both of them have been! 

I took a play to New York with the Old Vic New Voices and it was really extraordinary because we did an exchange with British and New York playwrights, and hardly any of the New York ones had ever had a play put on! The funding system in New York is completely different. We’re really lucky in this country that we have opportunities and it’s just a matter of people reaching out and getting involved.

So finally, who can audition for the NYT?
We’re asking anyone from fourteen to twenty-five years of age to apply – sometimes there is that little voice in there which is saying “I think I can do it” but it’s so easy to let that voice get drowned out by doubt. Don’t think “someone like me can’t be an actor” because this is your chance and this is what the National Youth Theatre is for. There are audition venues all around the country and all the details are online. 

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Auditions for the National Youth Theatre are taking place this month. 
Please visit www.nyt.org.uk for further information and to book an audition.

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