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Movement Director, Naomi Said on expensive socks, rejection, and her experiences of working in the Theatre industry

Naomi Said

Naomi Said

Anyway, a couple of days ago I enjoyed a joyful chat with Naomi during the course of which various topics were discussed. Some questions, some answers, a bit of light sage advice. I’m pretty sure this is the first chat of its kind with Naomi on the Internet.
I decided to start things off with a hard-hitting question.

Hi Naomi. How are you today?
I’m really good thank you. I’m excited to have reached this week; technical rehearsals as movement director of one show in the daytime, and our last week of shows as a performer in an NT show in the West End in the evenings. I can’t quite believe it to be honest! Both companies I’m working with are inspiring and hugely rewarding to be working with, so it’s a very good time right now, especially with the variety of creative and performance work to focus on. That said, a few holidays with friends and family are coming up soon; always a good feeling after quite an intensive period of work!

You are in rehearsals at the moment for Watership Down. How is it looking?
We are having the best time creating this show with this team and company. Tech has started and it’s an exciting time as all the elements everyone’s been working so hard on really start to come together. Soon the audience will be there to join us for what is an epic adventure story, told in the fairly tiny Watermill Theatre. It feels like the challenge of staging this piece, in this space, has spurred us on to be braver, more collaborative, courageous and as wildly imaginative as we can possibly be. It’s been one of the best experiences I’ve had on a creative team and I think we’ve made some really dynamic and uplifting as well as sensitive work, all infused with a playful, ensemble spirit; my favourite kind of theatremaking. It’s a deeply affecting story (as well as a very well-known one of course) and I’m now really keen to see what happens when we have the audience with us. I also hope that lots of young people come along to see the show too.

BOOK YOUR TICKETS TO WATCH WATERSHIP DOWN HERE 

You trained at the Birmingham School of Acting. What were your experiences of drama school like?
Wonderful. I feel very lucky to have trained at BSA when I did. I experienced inspirational teaching across voice, movement, acting and singing and excellent opportunities including challenging roles in productions and things like representing the school at the Sam Wanamaker Festival at Shakespeare’s Globe. One of my closest friends now was my singing teacher at BSA. We have gone on to forge a firm friendship and we work together too, teaching on musical theatre training courses; so Louise Shepherd is still a constant source of support and inspiration. I’ve also been directed professionally a number of times since graduating by one of our acting tutors and a visiting director too, so I feel my training sparked the beginnings of many long-lasting professional relationships. I use so many of the tools I learned there every single day of my professional career and will forever be glad I trained at that school at that time. It was also, then, the only affordable accredited postgraduate course I could find. I’m not sure how I would have trained had I not got in there so am particularly thankful that I did. Many of my closest friendships were made at drama school, too. Ten years on and our friendships are ever stronger. That is a wonderful feeling.

What advice would you have for a young actor starting out in this industry?
Have a second, or even third, “fiddle”. Basically, especially when starting out, there is a great deal of time, for most, spent trying to land the next job. If this time can feel constructive and purposeful, including a viable way of earning money somehow, I think that is so helpful if not vital, when you are starting out, to not be relying just on the acting. Keeping your overheads like rent as low as possible (cue many years living in shared houses!), was helpful, I found. I was massively lucky that I had a good, flexible administrative job at Birmingham Hippodrome while and after training (I had already spent a year working there prior to drama school). Once I made the move to London a few years on, I found flexible waitressing work initially. But I’d also had some opportunities on a few acting jobs to learn how to be a theatre workshop facilitator. So I decided to really focus on developing those skills, alongside my acting. I trained as a drama practitioner first with Bigfoot and, later, with Frantic Assembly. This eventually took over from my waitressing in between acting jobs; it felt artistically liberating and much more conducive to my acting work. It also led my path towards movement direction. I’d danced from aged 3 and had done some choreography in my spare time while at university and realised if I could learn how to do that sort of thing professionally, I’d then have acting, practitioner work and movement direction/choreography within my reach. For other people it’s voiceover work, carpentry, personal training, playwriting, dog-walking, graphic design, cake making, landscape gardening, photography, temping; there are so many possibilities. Then I’d also say be a cultural magpie and see/experience as much as you can. Know what’s being made and who’s making it. Invite casting directors to see your work. Cultivate positive working relationships and stay, gently, in touch. Take your time with it and try not to rush. Make your own progress rather than trying to compete with others. Keep fit, flexible and strong and look after your voice. Maybe take singing and dance lessons or practice any instruments you play. Go to acting workshops, read plays and make short films with your mates to practice your screen acting (that’s what Jeff Goldblum told us in a workshop at the Old Vic once!). Find what you are really enthusiastic about (the industry is so very diverse) and have the bravery to be your authentic self amongst all the noise. Try to be flexible and keep developing your skills. Be patient and know that you can find your own path and excel, and that everyone’s path is unique and totally unpredictable, as well as a long journey. That all serves as advice I’d like to take on board myself really!! But I also hope some of it can be food for thought for anyone starting out. I’m becoming passionate about helping others who want to learn about this industry, in whatever small ways I can; recently I had a GCSE drama student shadowing my work for a couple of days as part of his work experience, which seemed to galvanise his thoughts about next steps, which was great. That’s the last bit of advice. Write to the people who inspire you and who you want to learn from, especially on the creative side. You’ll be surprised how many creatives, particularly, are extremely open to hearing from you and to things like observing rehearsals or being an assistant. I know it’s a bit different for the acting side of things. I’ve gone off piste on this question now haven’t I…

Is rejection the greatest aphrodisiac?
I think rejection is a regular part of life in this industry, but there are ways of mitigating the “down side”, certainly. I think as long as you are always prepared, give of your best and try to relax and be yourself, at the end of the day you’re either right for a project or you are not. Resilience is vital. As is a sense of humour. Being asked to do projects or come to a meeting is way more of an aphrodisiac than rejection! When that started to happen a little bit, it was a big shift in the way I then went about things. I realised I could start to create my own opportunities (I wrote and co-produced a piece a few years back), or at least move towards things more on the front foot, rather than waiting for the phone to ring and being anxious about landing every audition.

What’s the most you’ve ever spent on a pair of socks?
My boyfriend loves the clothes of Oliver Spencer, so I was hugely generous once and splashed out on the very cheapest thing I could find for him in their Soho store. They are very nice socks, it cannot be denied, but they’re also the most expensive pair I’d ever think of buying, by a mile. I don’t tend to shop such a lot these days, I try and make things last and much prefer to try and save up for holidays. They did throw in a free cotton tote bag to be fair, and he loved both presents, so it was well worth the sock splurge, I suppose. You can’t beat fresh socks can you. I like stripes, bright colours and really fluffy ones.

You worked on the Kevin Spacey Gala. Are you a worthy person?
It was certainly a big honour to be asked!! I have been involved with the Old Vic for over 8 years now through the 24 Hour Plays and New Voices scheme, and they have always been very supportive in my development as an actor and, more recently, a movement director too. The piece we created for that gala, which opened Act 2, ended up sharing a starry bill with Sting and Annie Lennox, amongst other legends. So, no, I didn’t feel very worthy that night! But I did have a brilliant experience working on it. And it was the first thing Adam Penford and I worked on together, which has led to me working with him again on “Watership Down”. It’s rare and liberating to find someone with whom collaboration feels totally instinctive and natural. So I guess we have Kevin Spacey to thank for kickstarting that!

Who’s the best Movement Director in the world today?
I learned an inordiante amount about being a movement director from Liam Steel and I always find his work completely exhilarating. I am lucky to have had such an insight, as his assistant on various projects, into how he goes about developing movement work and creating properly dynamic and expressive staging that’s fit to bursting with vibrant life and huge intelligence, and is always incredibly exciting to watch. I owe so much to Liam, and also to Scott Graham, Steven Hoggett and Neil Bettles. They have generously shared their practice with me on many different projects and I’ve been so lucky working with them over the years. I find all of their respective creative works and artistic approaches inspirational in so many different ways. I learned a massive amount while working at the RSC with Struan Leslie too. Imogen Knight‘s work is super good and Peter Darling‘s musical choreography and staging is pure utopia. I admire the clarity and precision of Joseph Alford‘s work and the beautifully integrated and imaginative movement Ayse Tashkiran creates at the RSC. Aline David’s work on “The Kitchen” at the NT was a very special moment that has stuck clearly in my memory; it brought back all my memories of waitressing life, in and out of crazily busy and heightened, yet surprisingly graceful, restaurant kitchens. I’d just read and been captivated by the kitchen-world of “Down and Out in Paris and London” too, so the moving images of that play, as Aline so skilfully brought to life with this huge ensemble, really hit a chord. I will never forget it; the Olivier stage erupted into this giant balletic rhythm-machine-of-a-kitchen, teeming with tension, work and life. I can see it in my mind’s eye even now. Oh, and I must mention Bob Avian‘s musical staging on “Miss Saigon”, which was the first West End show I ever saw as a girl at Drury Lane. It’s indelibly marked in my visual memory almost 30 years on. So, all of the above. And loads more too. And then Gene Kelly. Always Gene Kelly, albeit “in the world” on DVD nowadays. He’s my all-time hero, plain and simple.

When was the last time you acted in the West End?
This is the last week for our cast on “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” at the Gielgud, before the new company takes over. I’m in the ensemble, I cover two roles plus I’m the Dance Captain, so there is so much variety in my job here. It’s been a wonderful year and one of my favourite experiences as a performer, so I will be a little sad to be leaving a job I have so enjoyed. I was hugely excited by the production when I first saw it at the cinema via NT Live and still have to pinch myself now that I am in it!

If you hadn’t been a movement director and actor, what would you have been?
I love architecture a lot and wasn’t so bad at maths, so maybe if I had to pick an alternative dream now, it would be that. I did love my job before going to drama school, as Development Officer for Birmingham Hippodrome, working on corporate fundraising and individual giving schemes as well as helping organise big events. I learned so much off my colleagues there; it was a lovely and hugely inspiring team of people to work within. So many diverse and exciting shows and events were happening in the building all the time. It’s also when I really got into enjoying contemporary dance; lots of international dance work came to the theatre and into the studio there too, plus I could take classes at DanceXchange after work. I’m certain had the lure of the stage not taken hold at that time, I’d have continued working there and been really happy on that side of things. I’m glad that I did take the plunge in the end, though!

What is your favourite flavour milkshake?
Ah that’s an easy one, and it’s also one of the few things I can say in Spanish: “un batido de fresa por favor”. Delicious.