Alumni Spotlight: Alan Pearson

Mountview Senior Acting Tutor and BA Musical Theatre graduate Alan Pearson talks training, and finding your feet in the industry.

Alan Pearson (photo credit: Yellowbelly Photography)

How did you get into acting?

It came from my love of film. My earliest memories are of watching musical films in particular. I have lots of fond memories of watching Barbara Streisand and the MGM golden era of film with my mum, and I was just enamoured with it. That continued into somewhat of an obsession with actors and how they worked and the different roles they played. I never really took acting that seriously, because all of my school life I was geared towards going to university to study film editing. I had an inspirational drama teacher at school called Jude Bert, who I am still in contact with. I wasn’t particularly confident in school, but I felt the most confident when doing drama and acting classes. They used to ask me to sing in assembly, which I was happy to do. My drama teacher Jude Bert got me an audition for the National Youth Theatre, and I managed to get in when I was 16. I was all set to go do Media Studies at university but didn’t end up going because of getting into Mountview.

How was the training and why Mountview?

Honestly, I first heard about Mountview because I had a crush on someone who was going there, and I heard lots of great things from them about their experience. I felt a real connection to Mountview when I went for my audition, I felt very safe there and excited about the building. The training was inspiring but a very challenging time. I struggled in the first year, I felt like a fish out of water. I was trying to fit in with a very talented bunch of people, and I think that I was granted a place based on my potential. I had very little knowledge and didn’t really understand what it was to be an actor, but because of my love for film, I knew how to pretend. It wasn’t until my second year when I committed harder. I was really inspired by lots of our tutors. Sally-Ann, who is currently Mountview’s Principal, was my acting tutor during my training. Cath Baxter, Paul Clemence – they all really encouraged me to buckle down and focus. Cath Baxter, who was my voice tutor at the time, was particularly hard on me, which I am incredibly grateful for now, as I think I owe a lot of my work ethic to her. I really thrived in projects. It felt like repertory theatre, playing lots of different roles all the time. Once, I played Claudio from Measure for Measure, Tybalt and Caliban all in one project. It was amazing, I loved it! I made some of the best friends during my training, and for the first time in my life, I felt like I was with my people! I had a moment where I realised that I was in Mountview, one of the best schools in the world, but then you forget that the next bit comes, which is the hard grafting. It’s vital that you are among people that support, understand and listen to each other, to be able to feel confident enough to get through it.

How was the transition from training to professional work for you?

It felt like a very big step. I went straight into working in a creative environment, working in Front of House, so I was surrounded by actors, writers and artists and it kept me afloat. I met loads of people, and maybe this is just who I am, but it ignited a passion in me. I found myself always looking for opportunities, always grafting and turning up to press nights and asking questions. I worked Front of House at Wyndham’s [Theatre] during the Donmar season and Kenneth Branagh was playing Ivanov. Michael Grandage, who was the Artistic Director of the Donmar at the time, auditioned all the actors who worked Front of House, which is an incredibly generous thing! I didn’t really think anything of it and just went off and did another job. But, because of that audition, he then asked me to come back and I understudied for Hamlet with Jude Law at the Donmar Wyndham for that season. I was always on the lookout for those kinds of opportunities. The word for it all would be manoeuvring. You’re side-stepping here, and ducking there, popping in and just listening for everything. As long as you’re kind and decent, no one will doubt your passion and integrity for going after something that you really want and creating that work for yourself if you need to.

“The word for it all would be manoeuvring. You’re sidestepping here and ducking there, popping in and just listening for everything.”

Five of us from Front of House somehow managed to wangle producer, director, MD and choreographer positions, and we put on a performance on the Wyndham stage and invited hundreds of people in the industry. Of course, we lucked out, because we knew all the staff that worked there, I almost feel embarrassed about how brazen I was, but if you don’t ask, then you don’t get.

Tell us about your journey into writing and directing.

I wrote a play during my training, which was called One Man’s Junk, which was set in an attic, and it was terrible! I then started writing loads of sketches with my friend Harry and we would perform at gigs. I just really wanted to create. It was when I was in a production of The Sound of Music, I was working with Andrew McBain – he was Trevor Nunn’s assistant. I think he saw in me the sort of problem solving, mechanical, logical brain. So, he gave me my first directorial job, which was working with him on Rain Dogs, a musical version of Lanford Wilson’s Balm in Gilead, which we did at the Trafalgar Studios. For a first gig that was pretty amazing and that launched my drama theurgical career. The thing about writing and directing is that you are very responsible for everything creative in that project. There’s a lot of second guessing, fighting off those thoughts of it not being good enough and that is a real challenge. Trying to block all that out and to just trust the work, is probably where my demons come out. It’s different as an actor though, because you have the director to tell you, “No, it’s a lovely choice, but try something else.” As a director, you are in charge of whether the choices are good or not, so I’ve learnt to trust my gut. If I like it, then its good enough for me and it’ll be good enough for lots of other people.

“As a director, you are in charge of whether the choices are good or not, so I’ve learnt to trust my gut. If I like it, then it’s good enough for me and it’ll be good enough for lots of other people.”

Being an actor who is also a director is its own entity, because there is a different kind of dialogue about how they might approach a character or emotion or a set of stakes. I really like being an actor director, although I know it’s not for everyone. It can be really hard to not just tell people what I want and to line read for them, but that’s its own challenge. There are still many stepping stones that I want to pursue as a director.

What have been your highlights coming back to Mountview now as an Acting Tutor?

I’ve been freelancing at Mountview since 2015. Then I went full time at the beginning of 2020. Inspiring students is what fires me up every day, seeing the development and the growth of a student that might have been because of something that I have taught them or guided them through is incredibly fulfilling. The pride I feel when students succeed in the building and out in the industry is off the chart. It makes my job worthwhile. I am so aware of the cost of words that I say to the students, because I remember the words and feedback that were said to me when I was here, maybe at the time they were delivered to me flippantly, but they still live rent free in my mind. So, I am so conscious and aware of how I share knowledge, thoughts and feedback with students.

“The pride I feel when students succeed in the building and out in the industry is off the chart.”

It is important to me to be accurate and clear and supportive when I am teaching, because that is the way to inspire: through encouragement. I sometimes say things in classes, and I hear Sally-Ann and other tutors saying it to me, eighteen years ago, and I think “wow, I finally understand that now.” I’m still only now understanding things as a tutor. It’s really come full circle.

You directed one of the 2023 Spring Season shows, Bare. How did it feel to direct the Musical Theatre third years?

Alan directed Bare as part of our 2023 Spring Season

Before I knew that I was directing Bare, I had only heard one or two songs from the show when doing acting through song classes, which was the primary reason why I wanted to do this one. It was a blank canvas, and I am absolutely thrilled. This is my full circle moment, especially because of the fact that I have grown very fond of all the students as I’ve been with them for three years. Usually you do two years with them, and then you hand them off to directors and other creatives in their final year. But this time, I get to see some of them through to the end. With Bare in particular, the themes resonate with me very deeply, as they do to lots of the students so it’s been a personal journey as well. I was really excited. It was a real challenge as it’s completely sung through and an opera, and this means it comes with unique logistical hurdles. I hope it spoke to a lot of our up-and-coming students, because it’s about young people grappling with their identities and fitting into the world. It’s something that everyone can relate to, and the cast did an amazing job. They inspire me every day.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Embrace your mistakes. Get things wrong, survive it, laugh it off and try again. I think it’s only then that we discover really interesting and bold things. The sooner that you can get over that fear of exposure, the greater your work will be. I also strongly believe that the key to being in this industry is to be kind. You just don’t know who you’re meeting and that has put me in good stead in this industry. Despite this, you should never let people walk over you. A mantra of mine in my life is to do no harm, but don’t let people harm you. Stand firm, trust your integrity. As long as you put the work in, you’ve committed and you can justify things, then no one can argue with that. There is nothing wrong with politely coming back at someone and then to ask them to “clarify that” or “help me understand that”. When it comes to auditions, I also tell myself this mantra before going in. It’s not about them, it’s about you in that moment: putting yourself in the best possible position for your work to shine.

“Embrace your mistakes. Get things wrong, survive it, laugh it off and try again.”

It’s also vital to have something outside of this crazy industry, to give you some respite. It can feel lonely, especially if those around you are finding success or getting caught up in that quicksand of what other people are doing. So, I personally play a lot of sports. I run a LGBTQ+ netball team club called The Unicorn, and we recently just did really well in a tournament. I have lots of friends in that area that don’t know my current field, which I find really useful. It’s key for people to get good at something that isn’t what their job is. Get good at cards, chess, crochet. You should also be patient with yourself. People leave drama school with such a hunger that if things don’t happen straight away, it can feel like you aren’t doing very well. Separating talent and success for yourself is good. Just because you don’t get a role, it doesn’t mean you’re not talented, as it can be based on a variety of factors, so separating those things can be good for you mentally. Keep communicating with those you trained with. It becomes such a family, and everyone grows together and is going through the same thing as you. I still talk to the likes of Ruth Morrison, George Ure, Dave Roberts and Lauren Hood, who were all in my year and keep me going. Keep your creative flame alive, create your own work.

Find out more about Bare here.