Gemma Dobson tells Get Into Theatre what it's like to be an Actor from a working class background and the challenges she faced when starting to work in theatre and also now she is working within the industry. Gemma has starred in shows such as A Taste of Honey at the Oldham Coliseum and is currently starring as Sue in Rita, Sue and Bob Too. Gemma was also awarded Best Actress in a Play at The Stage Debut Awards 2018.
Hi my name's Gemma, I'm 28 and I'm an Actor. So my story is I grew up in Leeds on a council estate with my mum, I still live there now. I'm really really proud of being a working class Actor. So I went to a High School in Leeds called Intake High School. There I did GCSE Drama, Dance and Music and then I went on to do BTEC in Drama at Sixth Form. Then when I was coming out of Sixth Form I really didn't know what I was gonna do, didn't want to go to drama school and I didn't really know any other roots into the industry, I knew I wanted to be an Actress. I ended up on the dole (receiving benefits) for a few months and then I was like I really need to get a job and saw an advert in a paper for a call centre and ended up working there.
So I was working at the call centre and I started going to these evening acting classes in Manchester at a place called Manchester School of Acting. From that I got an Agent and I went on to be in an ITV drama called Brief Encounters, I've played Jo in A Taste Of Honey at Oldham Coliseum and I've been playing Sue in Rita, Sue and Bob Too for Out of Joint (theatre company). As an Actor working in theatre, what I love most about it is the rehearsal process, all the hard work that goes into it from the whole company, getting to know the cast and crew, working on a character, working on the story, performing to a live audience and engaging with audiences.
In between main acting jobs I have worked in a call centre I've done bar work and I've also done workshops of new plays. So one of the biggest obstacles for me was money. I couldn't afford to go to drama school and therefore I found a good quality acting class which meant that I could work full-time, pay my bills but also train. The second obstacle I think is having an insecurity about being working class especially being northern and having a voice like mine which you don't hear a lot on TV or in the theatre, it does give you quite a bit of anxiety about you know speaking properly or not having a proper voice and that has put me off in the past because I thought there's no place for me in this world but there really is and I've learnt to embrace it and there are people out there that want to hear my voice and that want to employ me and you know I just have to, I've had to learn to be confident enough to use it as a tool.
So one of the biggest obstacles that I still face is money, so it can be really hard to find a normal job in between acting roles. So for example if I know I've got a job coming up again in a couple of months' time I have to be really organised with the money that I'm currently earning so I try and save as much as I can to cover me for that period of time because I don't have the financial support elsewhere. So my advice to you would be if you are northern, if you sound like me, if you're from a similar background to me and you feel put off by that, don't. Theatre is not a posh person's industry. Theatre is for everyone and there are parts out there and there are jobs out there for people like you.
Photo: David Monteith-Hodge
Published: 11 April 2019