Interview: Dan Morgan - Life On the Road

For many aspiring actors, life on the road can be both an alluring and daunting prospect. However if you want to perform, touring is a prerequisite of a lot of theatre work; whether that be Theatre in Education or National Touring. We caught up with one of our actors, Daniel Morgan, just before we went on stage in Thrive to find out more about his experience of being a touring actor.

How did you get into touring theatre?
I’ve been touring on and off for the last 6 years, both here and abroad. After I left university, I got a job touring a play about knife crime, which I now do every year. I’ve also toured a whole range of shows for Zest since 2014.

What’s your favourite thing about being on tour?
I enjoy how self-sufficient you can be when you’re on the road, as well as the variety of the days. You can wake up in one city, deliver a workshop in another and do an evening performance in another before heading back to another hotel. Most of the work I have done has been for young people and it isn’t unusual to engage with over 500 people in a day. I love that we can go to any location; be it a school, community centre or fully equipped theatre, and transform the space to deliver the same standard of performance in each. A lot of the time, we take theatre to people that may never have experienced it before and it’s great to hear their stories when you chat to them afterwards and see how they connected with the work. For me, that’s a pretty powerful feeling.

What are the not so good bits?
The days can be pretty unpredictable, there are lots of things you can’t control which can go wrong, like traffic! Often schedules are tight; a minor hiccup in the morning can throw the whole day out, but you just have to pull together and do your best. Most of the time we won’t have visited the venue before the day of the show, so won’t be familiar with the space. We can sometimes be confronted with unexpected obstacles like several flights of stairs up to the space – not great when carrying heavy set! The days can also be really long and physically demanding, but you keep going because the morale of the team depends on the morale of all the members.

What do you do to help you relax and make the tour easier?
I play the guitar, so if I can I like to take my instrument with me. I also make sure I’m well fuelled – I love a big meal when I’m staying in hotels! I’d say I’m definitely more of an introvert that some of the other actors I’ve worked with, for me it’s really important to take some quiet time to recharge during breaks and such. When you are giving so much emotion night after night, it’s nice to just chill and relax in between.

What sort of skills would you say a touring actor needs?
You definitely need to be versatile! On tour I’d say, more than working on a show that stays in one place for a long time, the roles often crossover and blur. For example, for Thrive the actors help carry and build the set and rig the lighting before delivering up to two quite emotional performances that night. If you can pick up experience and skills in this area early on it’s really handy, plus it gives you a good appreciation of technicians and the hard work it takes to make all aspects of the show work. You need an open, can-do attitude; it’s no use saying ‘I’m an actor, that’s not my job’ because in reality it’s everyone’s responsibility to make the show happen. You also need to be good with people; often you will be working with venue staff that you don’t know, under enormous time pressure to make this beautiful thing a reality. They won’t always know the show as well as you do, or may not have things just right for your arrival, so it’s easy to get frustrated and adopt an ‘us against them’ mentality, which really doesn’t help anyone. Though not always easy, the same tolerance should be extended to your cast mates. Sometimes you will be working and living with people you have only known a week, which can be really difficult. The most important thing to remember it that the whole thing is a team effort. And in my experience, a good team equals a good tour.

Has anything ever gone wrong in one of the shows?
Yeah loads of times! There’s a show that we perform in schools where the audience sits around us in a circle. In this particular scene, I’m sitting in the middle and I put my bag under my chair. It’s a conflict scene, and towards the end I’m meant to grab my bag and storm out. One day we were performing and I grabbed my bag not realising it was wrapped around the chair. The chair went flying and hit an audience member! Obviously I had to stay in character but I did apologise afterwards. I like to think that’s real immersive theatre, and a performance that audience member will never forget!