High hopes for a bright future on stage and screen
Phoebe Lorenz is an actor and writer who grew up in Barnard Castle. She gained her BA from Liverpool Hope University before going on to train at the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts (ALRA) in London. She is currently in post-production with her first short film I’m Still Ethan, which she created and co-wrote with Amelia O’Loughlin – a film which looks at those left behind when a loved one is imprisoned.
How did you first become interested in theatre and performance?
Strangely (or maybe not strangely) enough, I’ve always wanted to act. From the age of about three my family would put Fun Song Factory videos on and they had children singing nursery rhymes and songs. As soon as I saw that other children could perform, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I’ve been acting in some form ever since.
What can you remember about your first appearance on stage?
It was when I was about six at school and I was playing an angel in the nativity. They picked children at random to sit alongside the main angel. Unfortunately, I wasn’t picked and I remember so desperately wanting to sit in that prime spot. I started Stage Coach aged eight and I remember we performed Lord of the Flies for our families. I had a role where I stood up to one of the bullies. I think I only had a line or two, but that line felt so great to deliver.
Many people will recognise you from performances with the Castle Players – do you have a favourite role and what was so good about it?
It has to be playing Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice.
It was my first main role with the CP which gave a whole new level of responsibility as I was pretty much on stage throughout the entire show.
I had to remember the order of scenes, what came after the other, all the stage directions as well as the lines.
It was part of the winter tour and each night before the next show I would sit in bed with the script and walk through the play – I knew it inside out by that point.
I have such fond memories and it was great to perform in a different venue each time, adjusting to fit each environment and audience.
I mean who doesn’t want to get to play Elizabeth Bennet?
Was there a particular point at which acting changed from a hobby into something you wished to pursue as a career?
I think I always knew I wanted to have a career from it, despite my family being anxious about it being a reliable or even viable job.
I did try to think of other things I may want to do career-wise, but it always came back to acting. So, I just had to make sure I calmed my family’s fears and was one of the ones who did make it.
What were the biggest benefits of your time at the London Academy of Live and Recorded Arts?
The industry is a lot about who you know and less about what you know. It’s true that contacts will only get you so far before talent has to come into it.
But, I have been saved many a time at networking events by being able to say I studied at drama school.
I remember one such time at the opening press night of one of the West End shows, a film producer asked me “So where did you train?”. I was so grateful I could give him an answer.
Having the opportunity to train and live in London opened a whole other world of opportunities for me, from the people I met and experiences I had.
The biggest benefit has probably been learning more about myself as an actor and the type of roles I can play and enjoy.
I love interesting characters and playing people who are so different to myself – that’s where I can have the most fun.
We also trained in stage and screen which was invaluable, they’re very different beasts and having that opportunity has been huge for me.
I have some wonderful friends who I trained alongside and that is amazing.
The industry is tough, but having friends who understand and have your back is so important.
You are currently putting the finishing touches to your debut film I'm Still Ethan, for which you also co-wrote the script. How did the film come about?
I am passionate about stories which have a social message or leave an audience feeling something profound.
I had vague inklings that I wanted to create something around the subject after being inspired at a film festival back in 2019. Then when Covid started rearing its head back in February 2020, I created I’m Still Ethan in earnest. I connected with Amelia O’Loughlin, of Freida Films, and the rest is history.
The film and script we have now is one we have worked tirelessly on together speaking to people along the way and bringing our writing flare to fruition.
Did you enjoy the filming process?
I love filming, for me it’s like the air I breathe. However, this process was slightly different as it was the first project which I had some ownership of. It was my shared “baby” and that brought with it a whole new level of responsibility.
Suddenly it wasn’t just that I had to act and make sure I portrayed the character well, but it was a project I was also helping to oversee and execute. I was jointly responsible for things like the locations, the props and the budget etc. That’s not easy and it was a first for me, so I’d be lying if I said there weren’t moments which sometimes felt overwhelming. But thanks to our fabulous team, and particularly Amelia, who kept the ship running, we got there. In terms of playing Steph, I had the best time. I essentially created a dream role for myself and I just wanted to play the truth of the character and I really think we have that.
What are your hopes for the film?
Immediate hopes are for Covid to stop interfering – but doesn’t everyone want that? In all seriousness, we want to have a global showcase for the film via the festival circuit initially and then approach distribution platforms and having it shown on TV would be the dream. We have partnered with Crest Advisory, which advocate on the issue of families of prisoners. Their work is awe-inspiring and we’d love to connect with more charities. With this film we really want to help break down the stigma that families of prisoners can face. Throughout this journey I’ve heard the term forgotten victims being used a lot and it’s so true. So much focus is on the offender themselves and yet very rarely the people left behind.
What’s the difference between acting on stage and acting in front of a camera?
More than people might think. Apart from the obvious fact that one is live and one pre-recorded, each are skills in their own right.
When you are performing on stage, you have to learn the whole script and stage directions, but as it’s live, there is a certain freedom – no two performances will ever be the same. Your acting style has the opportunity to be larger than life, character allowing; your gestures, expressions and moves might all need to be scaled-up for a theatre audience to see and you are also having to project your voice to be heard, which can feel slightly unnatural.
However, you have the ability to feed off the energy of your fellow cast members and the audience, which is especially important if you’re performing the same show for a long run or tour. But there is also the pressure of what if you forget your lines or something goes wrong, but it’s a great lesson in thinking on your feet and just carrying on. Screen acting is such a different beast in that while everything for stage can be generally bigger, for screen, it’s the opposite – less is definitely more when in front of a camera.
If you have a really expressive face, for instance, that can be an off-put for an audience. Suddenly things we do with our faces without even realising, are highlighted on screen. For instance, I used to move my head around a lot when talking and it’s been a real effort for me to tame my movements and be more still when in front of the camera.
Film and TV isn’t shot in chronological order, so you could be crying in the morning for the end of a script and then flip to the happiest you’ve ever been for the beginning of the script for the next shot. It’s about being aware of the scene you’re about to film and what’s happening for that character at each point. You also have a hidden microphone so you can talk at a normal level and even whisper, so screen acting can definitely feel more real and allow you to access the reality of the character as you’re filming a scene sat in an actual living room for instance. Just don’t forget you’ve got about ten or more people just behind the camera watching you. However, they’re all focused on their job and making sure things are working like they should.
It has been well documented how the arts and entertainment sector has been affected during the pandemic. Has this dimmed your enthusiasm – or made you more determined?
It’s been such a hard time for the industry (and everyone) and my heart really does go out to all those affected. I used to work at theatres in the West End and it’s so sad to see what’s happening to arts venues. I must admit I have been incredibly lucky to have achieved what we have with I’m Still Ethan during the middle of a pandemic.
It’s definitely shown me anything is possible despite the odds or what’s going on around you. It’s been hard, of course, and Covid has definitely affected us and the film in different ways, but I’m more determined than ever.
Had it not been for the pandemic, I might never have got around to making a start on the film, so there have been silver linings for me, which I’m thankful for.
What are your hopes for 2021?
I obviously would love to see I’m Still Ethan doing well. We have big plans and I am really excited to see them unfold. We still need to have the I’m Still Ethan wrap party and premiere – this year would be nice.
I would also like to finish writing my other project that I have on the backburner, a feature film, and make a start on making that come to life too. But I’d really love to act more, so hopefully that opportunity presents itself.
A move may be on the cards, let’s see what happens with Covid, but being able to take a trip somewhere else and create acting connections at the same time seems like a dream right now. Of course, I’d also love to hug my family and friends again.
Where can people find out more?
Currently the Freida Films website www.freidafilms.com /imstillethan and via the I’m Still Ethan Instagram page @imstillethanfilm
My website is coming soon.