What's it like for a young student emabrking on the 1 Year Diploma in Acting & Musical Theatre with Dorset School of Acting? One of this year's intake, Maya Thomas, gives us the lowdown on her experiences so far and tells us about some of the great theatre productions the students have been watching here at Lighthouse as part of their learning ...


The first thing I noticed when I went for my audition for The Dorset School of Acting at Lighthouse was the way that the massive windows let the light flood into the rooms. This instantly made me feel more comfortable and relaxed, and the sense of welcome increased as I met the people working there. Everyone was friendly and intriguing, and I quickly realised this was a place that really nurtures performers, not forces them or treats them as a number. I felt encouraged without judgement, which came as such an unexpected relief. I was led to understand that I could be myself and learn from my mistakes without feeling personally attacked. My teachers are the kind of people that even someone shy and introverted can feel able to be vulnerable around because of the safe supportive environment they create. This atmosphere is infectious and within a few days of working together, we bonded as a group and I feel like if I fell I would be picked up by whoever is nearest! Being open and honest is the most important thing in the process and I think we have all been able to do that very early on.

Having a tour around the building was fascinating because I found out just how many aspects there are to Lighthouse. A cinema, three different stages, each with a different atmosphere: The Sherling Studio for more intimate performances, the Theatre for showcases and larger-scale productions, and the Concert Hall which speaks for itself! I was impressed by the sheer scale of it and it feels great to be training in the midst of professional productions going on and band rehearsals in the next room. We were next shown to the newly- refurbished backstage area there. The dressing rooms had the classic lightbulb mirrors but also a modern, spacious feel about them, which for any performer is a massive bonus when it comes to quick changes, makeup and general warming up and preparing before or during a show.

The first production which we all went to see with DSA was a piece called ‘Judith’, in the Sherling Studio. I enjoyed the way we could see every minute change in the actors’ expressions as we were so close. The play was fast paced and intellectual, and although at times it was hard to follow, there were clear messages and themes throughout, such as deception, sex, corruption and power. I found the after-show talk extremely useful for my understanding of the play as we were given an insight into the directors’ vision and were able to ask questions. I asked ‘Would you say that the character of Judith embodied strength or weakness?’ and I found it interesting that the directors answer opposed the actors answer. To me, this demonstrated that the play was largely down to the audiences’ interpretation and in discussions with everyone following it, I found I was right, that we had all taken away different things from it.

‘Judith’ was a hard first play to get our heads around and we were thrown further into the deep end when we were told that our new project was to devise a piece inspired by Jessie J’s new song entitled ‘Think about that’, ready to perform to an audience at the Roundabout Theatre that was coming to Poole Park on the weekend of the 14th of October. This was in a few weeks’ time and we all rose to the challenge. It motivated us to get to work and get to terms with our styles of working. I think this helped us gel as a group. We collectively picked out the emphasis in the song on breath- and with the direction of ourselves and our teachers, we took that through with us to the final piece, which ended up a concoction of physical theatre and dance.

The next production we saw at Lighthouse was Gecko’s ‘The Wedding’ in the main Theatre. Its absolute concentration, unity and creativity blew us all away and we were in awe talking to the director afterwards, of how he managed to combine so many complicated concepts into one performance, keeping everyone connected and in tune with each other at all times. By this point, we had already realised how challenging it was to work as a group and try and communicate one idea so that everyone understood it equally clearly. It was particularly interesting that Geckos’ production also featured breath- and actors moved seemingly effortlessly as one body, along with their intakes and exhales and then they would chaotically spread apart before being drawn back together again. From our point of view- at the back of the theatre this time- we could fully appreciate the formations and shapes they made, which made up for our understanding of their facial expressions which we could not see from so far away. Instead we focussed on their body language and thankfully, the cast were emotionally expressive to a heartwrenching point, so we had a clear idea of the storyline and motives of the characters. The end left us feeling uplifted and inspired!

We channelled some of the energy and focus into our rehearsals and our performance rapidly improved along with our discipline and listening to each other. We were now a strong team starting to accept and reject each other’s input and ideas without offending each other as we were all striving for an end goal- a thought-provoking and powerful piece on manipulation lies, and strength. We started to use ‘The Process’ to begin to connect on a personal level to the story which was impersonal to us. We never completely scrapped an idea as it would always find a way to wind its way back into the piece in another form.

On the day of our performance, we arrived at the slightly daunting Roundabout Theatre, and from the first rehearsal I felt how in time with each other we were, so there was no need to worry! The performance went fairly smoothly and we were in our element and fully focussed to one another. I found it fun working in the round because there was no hiding in the back row because I’m the tall one: the audience were observing from every angle, and every time our eye lines were ahead we were staring at someone sitting opposite us! We achieved what we set out to do and I am excited about the future of working at Lighthouse with DSA!

Published 1 November 2017