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NEWS > Alumnae Profiles > Difficult Times Render the Arts Fundamental Rather than Frivolous

Difficult Times Render the Arts Fundamental Rather than Frivolous

Rising star Poppy Gilbert, Class of 2015, has wanted to act since she was 12 and seized every opportunity at LEH. Since graduating drama school, she has continued to work on stage and screen.

I don’t think I considered myself a creative person when I was at school. I wasn’t very good at painting the reflection of the trees in the ponds at Bushy Park and the clay pot I brought home from Year 8 art was comically bad.

I thought of acting mathematically. I was good at remembering the lines and I could reproduce those lines in such a way that they sounded like normal human speech. It sounds so basic, but it made sense to me. At Drama School we were actively encouraged to explore our creativity but I was shy. How could I get an A* in creativity? Not something I felt prepared for. Nevertheless, the more I learned, the more I gave myself permission to call myself an artist and, perhaps more importantly, to feel like one.

I love the community aspect of acting, these enormous teams of people working on set or backstage all seeking to create the same show, no one group or person more important than another.

I least like it when people are excluded from that community. Historically it has been often nepotistic and restricted, depending on gender, age or race. It feels as though there is the momentum and drive to move away from this, but it can be slow.

The arts are so linked to politics and morality in my mind that being an actor has absolutely become part of my identity. It is frustrating when old fashioned tropes are flung around; melodramatic, loud people, especially women, desperate to be the center of attention. I think being an actor is about exercising empathy and listening because everyone has stories and you might be asked to retell them. Watching the way people walk or interact on the tube, or squabble with their partner in the queue at Pret a Manger. I think actors sometimes see the world a little differently.

I think it is less about whether or not you train, which agent you sign with or how quickly you get on the telly. If you want to be an actor, work hard, be open, give yourself permission to really care about what you are saying, don't be afraid to be wrong or to be rubbish. The industry can be mean, so be kind to yourself. I am glad I went to drama school because on the slow days, or the ‘I am a useless, talentless pigeon’ days, I have a toolbox given to me by Guildhall and a gorgeous, supportive community of alumni.

Everything came to a screeching halt in March. I am hopeless at being patient and that was what was required. I did however enjoy the time to watch more and to read more and, in particular, a series called ‘When They See Us’ directed by Ava DuVernay sparked my interest in the law.

In March, I created a small company with my sister selling T-shirts to raise money for a charity that supported vulnerable women. Without wishing to negate the importance of fundraising, it struck me that there was more I could do. So I decided to get a qualification in Law as it seems to allow you to strengthen your understanding of so many aspects of human life.

I’m doing my graduate diploma in Law at London South Bank University, as they offered evening seminars so I could do them after filming, and I have been so overwhelmingly impressed with them as an institution. The pastoral care and support offered, including for mature students, is exceptional.

This is the equivalent of a law degree so the next stage would be specific training to become a solicitor or a barrister. I do not know if I will continue, the future of my job is so unknown and often spontaneous that I don’t know what I will be doing in six months let alone two years. I am loving the PGDL for now and all other bridges will be crossed as and when I get to them! I’m actually finding it rather helpful combining the law course with the acting. I’m currently working on the character of a hired assassin – and the two seem to compliment each other!

Recently acting has felt trivial when compared with the exceptional NHS workers running understaffed hospitals, or the cleaning staff making transport safer for us to use, or the supermarket employees working round the clock, but acting is not a frivolous pursuit. Discussing the art I am consuming is the bulk of conversation when I catch up with my friends. It provides a space for laughter, for grief and for people to feel that their stories are being told.  If I’m not much mistaken, a large proportion of the country feels this too.

Similarly, whenever I struggled at school and my mental health was wobbly, I found solace in the music department. Mrs Ashe’s passion, and the support she and Mrs Tate offered me, have been the most meaningful part of my entire education. It seems to me that difficult times render the arts fundamental rather than frivolous.

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