From the Drama Barn to York Theatre Royal, Alumni Voices catches up with Sam Thorpe Spinks, on how it feels to return to York to star in Sovereign.
“I’m back here in York for six and a half weeks rehearsing for Sovereign at York Theatre Royal. It feels very strange being back up here as a professional actor – it shows that perseverance pays off. But my mindset is very different from 10 years ago. It’s shameful how little I explored as a student, there’s so much to do here – I never saw this side of York. As a student it was mostly under the cover of darkness to clubs. Also, because of the way the terms are, as a student you are only here for autumn, winter, spring and a little bit of summer – it’s nice to explore summertime in York properly now.”
Sovereign is being staged outdoors at King’s Manor, part of the University of York, where Henry VIII notoriously held court in 1541.
“I’ve never done anything like this before – to perform in the place where Henry VIII actually came to stay. It’s amazing to do something where you don’t have to use your imagination that much – it’s all outside with 200 people, under the cover of an oak tree.
Part of the work for this play and the research is looking around York. So much of C. J. Samson’s novel Sovereign is based on real places in York so you can wander around and really get into the mindset of the characters and absorb the atmosphere of the city.
It’s a real mix of re-exploring the old places and trying to separate the nostalgia because it’s hard not to associate places with memories, like a cafe where I broke up with someone – there are so many memories around every corner.
When I came to York I read History and Politics and I had no inclination to act. My History and Politics degree was helpful in terms of developing a sense of curiosity and willingness to do some research. I’m a screenwriter now as well so research is integral. My mum, aunt, brother and grandfather were all actors so it was perhaps always destined but I’d never really done any acting before I came to York.
Around Christmas of my first term I caught glandular fever and I was feeling a bit isolated. My mum suggested I audition for some of the plays. By second year I had fallen in love with the sense of community and professional environment of putting on a play – the Drama Barn is just amazing. I used it to learn. I started to write a few plays and put them on. And that was it. I’d caught the bug. My degree started to take a backseat and became secondary to acting.The Drama Barn gives York students the opportunity to try things out of their comfort zones and experiment doing things you’ve never been able to do. It’s one of the best facilities in the country and I fell into it by serendipity.
“There are so many memories around every corner.”
My first memorable role was at the Drama Barn, playing Alan Turing, breaking the enigma code – it was my first lead role. That was a really great experience at the time. I was drawn to speeches from that and it opened doors for me as I used excerpts from those for my auditions to Guildhall Drama School.
There are two types of typical day for an actor; out of work and in work. I’m in work at the moment, rehearsing for Sovereign, so my typical daily routine involves getting up early and doing some hot yoga to wake me up.
“It’s nice to do something enjoyable and entertaining in the evenings that’s different to just watching TV to unwind – that’s not anything to do with acting.”
After yoga I’ll have a coffee and do some work at York Theatre Royal. I’m juggling a lot of different things in development – I’m currently producing a play at the Soho Theatre which I’m also in and I’m an artistic director and screenplay writer too.
Then I’ll warm up on my own in the theatre for about 45 minutes before rehearsals start. There’s only a cast of two in Sovereign so we will rehearse just the two of us until about 5pm, then the community cast of 100 volunteer actors will arrive. We rehearse with them three times a week from 6-9pm and all day on Saturdays.
The other day I was just walking around the streets of York and heard some live music blaring out of a pub and so I took myself to watch some live music. It’s nice to do something enjoyable and entertaining in the evenings that’s different to just watching TV to unwind – that’s not anything to do with acting.
The process of acting is the most enjoyable part of the job. I’ve been absolutely overwhelmed by the generosity of spirit of the people I’ve met through acting. Being in the rehearsal room is a very special and safe place; it’s a privilege to be there. At the end of the day there is something greater at the end of it for everyone – it’s tough, it’s long and it’s sometimes exhausting – but we are all working towards the same common goal and getting there is part of the joy.
There is rejection in every industry but the amount of rejection is quite relentless. I try not to see it as rejection. You’ve done your job and maybe the role wasn’t right for you but that doesn’t mean that you’re terrible. It’s an important distinction but I’m only just getting my head around it. I’m trying to keep as rounded as possible in terms of balancing my acting and my writing. I’ve got a writing partner for screen (TV) and producing and writing plays. I try to keep many plates spinning.
“We are all working towards the same common goal and getting there is part of the joy.”
I do think in this day and age you have to try and balance your CV with a diversity of skills. You can’t just do acting. It’s funny – I find the more I focus on one, the more the other takes off, for example if I focus on acting, the more my writing career will do well.
For me a good acting performance is about clarity, not forcing the drama to come across very naturally. I also think that good writing makes a good performance; when combined with good acting, that can make a terrific performance.
I’m really looking forward to playing Jack Barak in Sovereign. I’ve never done anything like this size of production – there are 70 volunteer costume makers – it’s huge.
I’m also excited about a theatre company that I’ve set up with a friend of mine from Guildhall that champions new Jewish writing, commissioned through Jewish playwrights.
In the future I would love to do a fantasy, something like Game of Thrones or House of the Dragon – that’s pure imagination, pure magic.
The best advice I was ever given was, ‘It’s not fair and be on time.’ My advice to aspiring actors would be: keep going, turn up and do the work and be a gracious member of the team.”
Sovereign is on at York Theatre Royal from Saturday 15th July – Sunday 30th July