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ATT actors rise to the challenge of performing while wearing masks
ATT has adapted the delivery of our programmes to comply with government COVID-19 guidelines while also ensuring we provide effective safety leadership training. But what has it been like for our actors? They are an essential component in creating a credible and relatable immersive experience, but currently have to perform in masks. ATT Communications Coordinator Sophie Jones spoke to three of our actors working at the Thrive Safety Leadership Centre in Immingham: Jamie Smelt, Leanne Rowley and Nicki Davy.
Sophie: Firstly, I just want to say thank you for all your hard work over this COVID period. We’re so pleased with how Thrive has managed to keep going to such an excellent standard. I want to start by asking you what it’s like having to perform with masks on at Thrive?
Jamie: From my point of view, it was quite strange at first, because obviously we’re used to working without them! At Thrive I take the role of a Day Shift Supervisor, and part of the story at Thrive is about communication, and not necessarily hearing everything or catching everything. So, in a way, I think the masks have sometimes added to the experience because they can be another barrier to effective communication and currently that is exactly the environment that most people on site are working in.
That’s really interesting. So, the fact that you’re wearing a mask potentially makes the scene even more realistic. Can you tell me how it’s affected your technique and approach to the performance?
I’m having to slow down and articulate a bit more. We take for granted that when we’re listening to somebody, we watch their lips a lot. In the Practical Safety Leadership workshop element of Thrive we talk about the visual element, as well as the verbal and the vocal. So, it’s about being more aware that actually it’s the whole body that people are taking in, not just the words. It’s not ideal, but you recognise the necessity of it. And the fact that the masks mean we’re still able to deliver the training makes it something that is very easily accepted because it’s the same for everybody.
After a couple of times of doing a particularly intense scene, I forgot I was wearing a mask at all. It’s just a different way of working, it’s adapting and communicating in a different way. When you can’t see people’s facial expressions it becomes a lot more about the tone of voice and what the body is doing, and in an intense scene like the one I am thinking of, it creates an interesting dynamic that adds something else in the way of communication.
In a way it can help the PSL workshops because, even though you’ve got the mask on, you can speak to somebody as if you are smiling, and they can hear that. So, it kind of reinforces that idea about the importance of tone. It’s got its positives as well as challenges I suppose.
Obviously, it is good practice to be looking at someone when you are communicating, but with the sound being more muffled. you really, really do need to be looking at the person and I find that making eye contact a lot more, can help make the engagement much, much easier.
You can’t rely as much as actors like to do on our voice and facial expressions, you do lose that. And obviously, we do we usually use the whole of our face to express emotion. If you’ve got certain points that you want to make clear, whether that is acknowledging a sense of blame or something that’s been thrown at you, you just have to do that more with your eyes rather than your whole face. You just have to refocus on making sure you get the point of view across possibly non-verbally, as best as you can, when you’ve got a mask on.
So, what kind of response have you received from the participants?
In the role I am in I’ve actually probably had some of the most challenges from participants. I think it’s because they can’t see the smile. Usually that initial sit-down smile allows somebody to feel reassured and that they’re in a safe space – it’s hard to try and soften somebody if you can’t smile at them. But I think the general feeling is that people have just bought into wearing masks because they’re needed and actually there’s a respect in the room that it’s for everybody concerned that it has to happen even if it’s not ideal or comfortable all the time.
Even with the challenges of wearing masks, how has it been coming in to Thrive and practising your craft?
The industry has really suffered and so many people that we know haven’t had any work or opportunities to practice, earn money, or do anything get out of the house. I think we’ve all felt incredibly lucky to be here.
We probably take it for granted because it’s a job but actually when you step back, we’re still finding new things. With the challenge of the masks, it’s almost like doing a show and then six weeks into it changes are made to the writing and it adds a little bit to a scene and suddenly you think ‘oh this is exciting’. The work here at Thrive has been an absolute godsend.