• Melissa Thom

When in America…Act


Partial image of The Shotgun Player’s ‘Hamlet’ poster
Acting is the idiot’s profession…the most minor of gifts and not a very high class way to earn a living. Katherine Hepburn


Perfecting your craft


Creatively, I’ve been compelled to push myself a little more since landing on American soil. After 17 years of commercial voiceovers, radio, start-ups, comms gigs and a multitude of other things, including babies, to distract me from life’s true path (er, existing), I applied to the American Conservatory Theatre (ACT) to study Acting, got jiggy with a few improv classes, and sharpened up my voice skills in the city. All to extend my range and help make me a better voice actor.


Shakespeare at dusk


At my first ACT session, we were taken out into Union Square and asked to perform a Shakespeare monologue to the public as the sun set across an orange sky. Not one to turn down a challenge, I climbed onto a chair and belted out Emilia’s monologue from Othello.

It was a pretty memorable experience for someone who had just touched down in the city. Some young dudes with skateboards stopped and listened. A mother and daughter held hands and cocked their ears as they sauntered by. It struck me as poignant; had I been in my home city in the UK, the skateboarding youths would have no doubt hurled some serious abuse at me, along with a couple of empty cans of Special Brew.


The scene was set: Cal Shakes, Berkeley, for a questionable Othello

I dragged my husband along to a performance of Othello at Cal Shakes. I don’t really have much to say about it other than Iago’s performance was superb, but the directorial choices were not ones that enabled me to enjoy this particular show. We left at the interval (we do this A LOT).


Be careful what you go for


A few weeks later, I saw an ad from a local chorus, looking to recruit new singers. I skipped along, thinking it would be a jolly low key affair, perhaps with tea, cake and chit chat, but when I turned up for the audition, it was so formal, I considered leaving sharpish. I legged it back into reception and had a quick tête-à-tête with the lady at the desk. “Shall I leave?” I said. “No, go for it”, she replied. “You’ve got nothing to lose”.


So I walked in to face 3 people dressed resplendently in black. “When did you last sing?” they asked. “About 30 years ago at school”, I replied weakly. And your last experience of playing music? “Er, when I was 11 years old in 1st violins for the Devon Youth Orchestra”. I wilted slowly into the flock wallpaper and auditioned like a performing monkey.


Miraculously, they offered me a place — straight in at the deep end with Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music, which we performed with the Mill Valley Philharmonic in November. And the Christmas concert was totally worth it, when, as we were warming up in the beautiful painted theatre, the whole choir burst into a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’, acapella, for my 3 year old son. He was delighted.


The Throckmorton Chorus Christmas Concert 2016. Credit: The Throckmorton Theatre

A walking cliché


So I’ve moved to California, signed with voice agents from LA to Denver, taken acting classes, started booking work here in the U.S. and joined a choir. All these things have enabled me to experience San Francisco in a way I never would have done otherwise. Meeting so many wonderful people through my work has, for me personally, made our experience out here far more memorable.


But most importantly, after having two beautiful boys and a pretty crazy few years, acting and humming a good tune has helped me get back to myself a little.


And that feels pretty damn good.

Performances


Othello, Shakespeare — Cal Shakes, Berkeley Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Edward Albee — Shotgun Players, Berkeley Hamlet, Shakespeare — Shotgun Players, Berkeley The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare — ACT, San Francisco The Hard Problem, Tom Stoppard — ACT, San Francisco


Books & Plays


Othello, Taming of the Shrew, Richard III, Hamlet — Shakespeare Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf — Edward Albee Suburban Motel, ‘Feat. Loretta’ — George F. Walker In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) — Sarah Ruhl Lungs — Duncan MacMillan Old Times — Harold Pinter The Doll’s House — Ibsen Detroit — Lisa D’amour

Wasted — Kate Tempest


I really love this woman. If you need to get rid of some angst and feel some decent beats in your bones, play this tune — ‘Lonely Daze’ from her debut album ‘Everybody Down’ — up LOUD: