Two months ago, we featured Rob Copeland’s Take Five. This month, I am delighted to have his partner in broadcasting, Ben Morris as my Take Five guest blogger.
Ben is an actor and singer from Dublin who trained at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. He is well known in Ireland, having won the role of Nick in Fame the Musical (Grand Canal Theatre and tour) on RTE’s reality television series in 2010. His West End credits include ‘Hair’, ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ and ‘The Phantom of the Opera’, alongside extensive tours in Ireland and Europe. He is currently on tour in ‘The Commitments’. He has also appeared in films and on television.
Ben and Rob produce 'Inside The West End’, my favourite podcast, which features in-depth interviews from the world of theatre. The podcast gets behind the scenes of the industry , giving an honest and well rounded view of the theatre from the perspective of the people who work in it. If theatre isn’t for you, the podcast still has a lot to offer, with inspiring stories from people who have managed to fulfil their passions, often from small beginnings. These stories are applicable to anyone in or embarking on any creative profession.
Follow Inside the West End on Twitter @insidewestend and do make sure you subscribe to the podcast. It's completely free to subscribe to and it means that every time a new episode is released it will automatically appear on your device ready for you to listen to.
In your professional life, what is the single best thing about what you do?
The thing I love about my career is the diversity that it offers, both in terms of the working environments, the people I meet and the work itself. Since graduating from drama school I have worked as a performer in big scale West End musicals in London, as a Lecturer at top drama schools, as a voiceover artist in small recording studios in Soho, as a backing singer on prime time TV shows and as an actor on a freezing cold film set in Ukraine.
Being a creative person really has it's challenges, in terms of finding employment. But once you come to terms with that and find ways to make it work financially, the creative freedom is endless and exciting.
Do you have a creative hero / heroine and if so, why?
Growing up I aspired to be like Colm Wilkinson, the original Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. He's a Dubliner like me and he had to work his way up through the industry to the very top fuelled with self belief, a good work ethic and a huge talent.
I was a competitive swimmer growing up and the long lonely hours in the pool taught me a lot about self motivation and the pay off for hard work. My family were incredibly supportive when I announced that I wanted to be an actor, and I sought out experienced creatives in Dublin who could help me achieve my goals. The encouragement I received filled me with self belief. I was lucky to be born with a certain amount of talent and I have always worked hard to further my skill set and improve, I still take singing lessons now and regularly attend classes at the actors centre. I'm also hungry to learn from the directors and actors that I work with.
What piece of advice do you wish you had been given at the beginning of your career?
I was always told that being an actor would be difficult, everyone is keen to point that out when you tell them your intentions. Parents, friends, friend's parents, taxi drivers, hairdressers ...everyone. I knew it would be hard, but I had enough self belief to ignore the potential for disappointments. But I didn't understand why it would be hard. It's hard because it's competitive and you often find yourself with nothing on the horizon. Having worked fairly consistently for the first 6 years of my career, I foolishly allowed myself to believed that I was immune to difficult times. And then I hit a two year period where I didn't really work much as an actor or singer at all.
That's where I learned to be creative. Those two years in the wilderness actually gave me the time to create my own work. I had always taught acting alongside being a performer, so financially I was able to get by on the teaching work. But in order to utilise my creativity I began producing Inside The West End Podcast with my best friend Rob Copeland. The goal of the podcast was to inspire other professionals and future generations of creatives by sharing the inspiring life stories of the most successful people in our industry. In the process it inspired me and taking part in these conversations has really benefitted me as an actor.
I wish I had been told about creating my own work earlier. I wish I knew that you didn't have to sit and wait for the phone to ring, that actually you could pick up the phone and make the phone calls yourself. When you are proactive and it pays off, it is the best feeling in the world.
If you hit a creative block, what is your top tip for getting through it?
Go back to basics. Sometimes in an effort to be impressive, we try too hard- to be new and unique and that can hinder us. Sometimes the most simple solution is actually the right one. Rogers & Hammerstein wrote some of the most beautiful melodies like 'Edelweiss' or 'Oh what beautiful morning' and they are not complex or mind blowing, they are simple and utterly perfect. Other times we have a brain wave, a new idea that nobody else has come up with and that's thrilling, but it's also rare.
That's why while training in your field is not necessary for everyone, it is a huge benefit when you hit those walls. It's good at these times to remember the roots of your craft and apply that to your end goal which for me is usually storytelling. So going back to basics is usually a reliable starting point.
And finally, for fun, if you were a shoe, what type of shoe would you be and why?
I would definitely be a low-top white pair of converse. 'BORING' I hear you cry. But no, I've made a career out of being a reliable and diverse Mr. Average who usually delivers and can get on well in most situations. A low-top white pair of converse never really looks out of place with any outfit or in any setting, and is super comfortable and they've been my go-to shoe for 12 years!