Ed's career path was written in the cards
Ed Cole grew up in Baldersdale, where he spent most of his time cycling, playing football, and waiting for his mum to come home from rehearsals with the newly founded Castle Players. It wasn’t long before he ended up on stage himself, and by the time he reached his teenage years he was a familiar face in Castle Players, Turrets Youth Theatre and Teesdale School shows. After studying theatre at Hull University, and receiving professional actor training at the prestigious Drama Centre London, Ed co-founded Middle Child Theatre Company, in Hull. His independent work has seen him explore areas of theatre and performance beyond acting, and his most recent project is a debut venture into documentary film making, working with Gateshead-based dancer Lizzie Klotz to create the 25-minute short film Letters from Lockdown.
What was the best thing about being a member of the Turrets?
Putting on plays. There’s nothing better, especially when you’re young. It’s easy in childhood and teenage years to feel isolated or under pressure to behave in a certain way. Turrets was (and still is) the complete antithesis to that. You can go along and be completely yourself, and know you’ll be accepted.
Then you work with this dynamic group in a determined and focussed way to create a piece of theatre, and during that process all the relationships just strengthen. There’s such a strong atmosphere of support and it’s the perfect environment to be bold and brave and to discover who you are and what you’re good at.
What do you remember about the first time you appeared on stage?
I think the first time I was ever on stage was at primary school in Cotherstone. The only thing I remember is my mum arriving late and sneaking into the audience halfway through. I still haven’t forgiven her!
Was there a specific point when you decided theatre/arts was something you wished to pursue as a career – or was it something you had always aspired to?
I remember a PSE lesson on career choices when everyone in the class was instructed to blindly pick a “career card” out of a hat, each card providing some information on that job.
I just happened to pick out actor, completely by chance, and although the card said the hours were unsteady and the pay was terrible (which is true) I remember feeling so excited because actor was just as legitimate a career choice as anything else.
I wouldn’t have been able to realise my ambitions without the support of my family, an extremely talented and creative group of friends, and a fantastic drama teacher.
I also owe a lot to the financial support of many people locally. The summer before heading off to study I was appearing in the Castle Players production at The Bowes Museum. I slipped a note into the programme mentioning the drama school fees I was having to pay, and the response I got was overwhelming. I still regularly think about the level of generosity I received.
You studied theatre and acting at university – what is the one thing you learned that has stood you in good stead since graduating?
At university I was lucky to fall in with a group of friends who were constantly putting on shows. Even outside of the course timetable we wrote plays, performed plays and all took on different production roles.
I learned pretty quickly that you can’t accomplish much on your own in any creative process.
Also that it’s crucial to have huge amounts of trust and respect not just for everyone you’re working with, but also for yourself and what you bring to the table.
A few years after uni I co-founded Middle Child Theatre Company with that same group of friends. I think the trust and respect we developed for each other, and ourselves, is largely the reason the company has now gone on to be so successful.
At drama school there was more of a focus on acting styles and techniques and how different practitioners over history have approached performance.
I took a lot from that too, mainly that there’s no right way of approaching acting.
As with any creative practice you should examine others and learn different techniques, but eventually you have to find faith in your own personal method.
As well as stage, you have been involved in various film, online and other projects – do you have a preferred medium or do you enjoy the challenge of whatever comes along?
My best experiences have definitely come in theatre, but I don’t think the medium is as important as the people you’re working with or the quality of the idea behind the project.
And following on, are you happiest in front of an audience or in front of the camera – or do you prefer to be back stage or behind the scenes?
I’m enjoying writing and directing theatre more and more as I get older, although I have to say, once you arrive at the first performance I find it terrifying; having to just sit and watch, knowing you can’t jump in if anything goes wrong. I find that much scarier than being the one up on stage.
Being on stage gives you control and a live audience gives you energy and urgency. It’s the just the greatest feeling in the world. I do find it more difficult to find that level of electricity in front of a camera.
What is the favourite play/project you have been involved with – and what makes it stand out?
After founding Middle Child we all initially worked for free, running the company alongside two or three bar jobs to pay for rent.
We spent all our spare time rehearsing, marketing, performing and learning how to build a functioning theatre company. It was exhausting and completely unsustainable.
About 12 months in we wrote our first successful funding bid to the Arts Council, for a production at Hull Truck Theatre. Although it wasn’t for much money (a million miles from a West End wage) it gave us a feeling of legitimacy, and it was legitimacy we had earned together.
The play we put on was Apples, an adaptation of a novel set in Middlesbrough by an amazing author called Richard Milward. It sold out a few nights, and I loved my role.
What made it memorable though was that everyone involved had worked so hard and sacrificed so much just to get to that point. It was a special moment.
Much has been written and said about how the arts and entertainment world has been affected by the pandemic – how have you found the past 12 months?
I’ve been fortunate to pick up bits of work here and there.
But it’s been far from plain sailing, and I know a lot of people working in the arts who have spent the last year feeling isolated and cut adrift, especially freelancers, who make up such a huge percentage of people working in the sector.
There has been a lot of media coverage around the issue, however, a large number of the reports I see approach the issue as a light- hearted one (usually ending with a reporter quipping “the show must go on” with a wry smile).
The reality is a bit more grim. People have had livelihoods, careers, relationships, not to mention finances, completely wiped out. Fortunately theatre is such a supportive industry, and I’ve seen nothing but a constant flow of solidarity and strength between fellow professionals.
It has been a devastating time though, and I think it’s important to acknowledge there are a lot of freelancers who are still struggling.
And how optimistic are you for the future of the sector?
My optimism is pretty cautious. Theatre is an industry riddled with problems, a lot of which have been exposed by the pandemic and many of which are a direct result of government policy.
I don’t think heading back to the way things were is possible or desirable. We have to use this opportunity to restructure the way theatre works across the country; specifically increasing funding for regional venues and organisations, and acknowledging the workers’ rights of freelance professionals.
Your latest project Letters from Lockdown is a documentary – did you find it difficult to get people to open up about their experiences of the past few months?
The project began with discussions between myself and the brilliant Lizzie Klotz, about how we could creatively and sensitively encourage people to open up about some of the more personal aspects of living through lockdown.
We thought it would be healthy and positive for our participants to be able to do so, and also for our audience to hear others articulate feelings that might be difficult to define.
From the first moment, everything we did was about making the participants feel safe, willing and empowered to discuss the weird emotional roller coaster we’ve all been on.
Before the interviews we ran through some tasks with them. We encouraged them to write, read, talk, and most just be honest about the times it’s been challenging, rewarding or surprising.
Even after this preliminary work, both Lizzie and I were still bowled over with the final responses captured on camera. We both feel humbled by the generosity of the participants, and we’re incredibly proud of the film.
What are your hopes for 2021 – have you been able to make any plans, or is it still too soon?
It’s too early to make concrete plans, but I’ve started writing more in lockdown, so I’d love to continue with that, and maybe get my first play performed.
I’d also like to learn how to brew my own beer. I feel that might be a crucial skill moving forward.
Where can people find out more about your work?
Middle Child’s website is www.middlechildtheatre.co. uk, and Letters from Lockdown can be found on Lizzie’s website at https:// lizzieklotz.com/letters-from-lockdown.