Bridie Connell: a chat about acting, training and defeating failure

Meet Bridie Connell, a New Zealand born actress residing and working here in Sydney. Bridie is a multi-disciplinary performer with experience and training in acting, musical theatre, comedy and voice artistry. Not only that, but Bridie is also an award-winning writer and creator of her own work. Bridie is a cast member of Whose Line Is It Anyway, Tonightly with Tom Ballard and the Wild Adventures of Blinky Bill.

I wanted to chat with Bridie for a few reasons, one of them being she is a totally awesome and hardworking woman who is absolutely killing it in her career. The other is that she is just a decent human being who like all of us, has had to learn a lot to get where she is. Our chat was fantastic and Bridie shared so much with me about her career and the industry that we’ve decided to share the recording as a podcast for your listening pleasure. If you’re slow to take part in the podcast game, however, continue reading for some of the interview highlights. If you’d enjoy hearing Bridie go into more detail and hearing my witty banter (erhm) take a listen to the podcast at the end of this post!

As a performer, you’ve dabbled in a multitude of disciplines from acting to writing… I’d love to know where it all started for you? Where did the journey begin?

I come from a very creative family on my mum side, she was an actor for a long time and is now a drama teacher. My grandmother was an actor and drama teacher and we a lot of writers in the family. I was always exposed to literature, taken to see plays and pantomimes so I’ve definitely grown up with this creative air around me. I’ve always known my whole life that I wanted to do something in the creative arts professionally. I feel lucky in a way because people don’t always know what they want to do but I’ve always said ‘I want to write, I want to perform’! It’s a thing that brings me joy and I love to do it. At school I did things like singing, acting, debating and anything where I could perform and use those skills. I always thought when I finished school, growing up in New Zealand, I’d move to Australia and I’d go to NIDA or I’d go to WAAPA or I’d go to Toi Whakaari and I was like ‘I’m not going to take no for answer’. That was what was going to happen, it was going to be so great and then I finished high school and I flew over to Sydney and auditioned for NIDA. I got brilliant feedback and I was like, ‘this is the best moment of my life!’, and then they said that I was too young and had no life experience. I was so crushed because that had been the plan for so long and I thought that was the only way you could be an actor –  if you went to drama school. I was so gutted, I don’t if you’ve ever been through that but, I was just like, ‘that’s the only way to do it!’

When you think you know what the plan is but it all changes…

Yeah, completely! I guess being younger and more idealistic I was like, ‘oh yeah, the plans will work out!’. Rather than sit around and twiddle my thumbs I went to Uni and I did audition the following year [for NIDA] and I got a little bit further, I got to the next round but I still didn’t get in. I continued my degree because my grandma had said, ‘Go to Uni, do languages, education is never wasted. Whatever you learn [it] will help you because the more you have to draw on the better you’ll be as an actor and writer. So go and live your life, train your brain in other things…’

Live a normal life!

Yeah, which was really good advice. I did my first year [of Uni] back home and did a part-time acting course in Christchurch and then I moved to Sydney, purely because my brother was coming here to do his Honours and I felt like a change so I transferred to Sydney Uni. There was a big improv group [improvisation] at Sydney Uni and weekly Theatre Sports shows and that was just completely different to the Uni that I’d been going to back home. It was great [ the Uni back home] but it didn’t have anything like that and I thought ‘actually, maybe this is the way to train’, this was the thing that was really switching me on. I did improv all the time and then when I finished my degree I actually took over coaching and hosting Uni Theatre Sports which was just brilliant training. I was doing that a few times a week and then I started taking other comedy improv classes on top of that. That was the thing that has set me in such good stead because it’s made me really adaptable and versatile. We were always putting on shows at Uni whether they were improv or sketch comedy so I got really used to turning around scripts quickly and writing stuff for myself. From there I would enter Fringe Festivals and Comedy Festivals and write my own shows because I just got to this point where I was like I don’t want to wait for NIDA to tell me that I’m an actor. I’ll tell myself that I’m an actor! Some of my friends have gone to NIDA and had the best time and for a while I was really jealous and I felt really inferior but my acting coach and I did a lot of work on the fact that everyone has different pathways and if that’s their pathway that’s excellent but it doesn’t mean that I’m less valid. It just means I’m approaching it from a unique angle.

And it’s worked for you!

It has worked for me. I think coming from a background where I’ve really had to hustle to work has just put me in really good stead because now I have writing skills, comedy skills and presenting skills because I’ve had to learn to do everything. So, it hasn’t been the traditional approach but I’m glad about the way it’s worked out!

You’ve been part of some REALLY exciting projects, Whose Line Is It Anyway on the Comedy Channel and Channel 10 and you also worked with Hamish and Andy. I’d love to know how all this came about for you, how did you work towards this?

It’s funny, I was actually talking to a friend the other day, there are so many little gigs or crappy shows I’ve done in the last few years which at the time have felt so inconsequential but only now am I like, ‘Oh, but I talked to that person at the bar after the show who remembered me two years later who got me an audition..’. Or because I had an experience, like dealing with my first heckler at a show three years ago, it gave me more confidence at the next gig and that confidence got me something else. Really, everything I’ve practised in my craft has been stepping stones. Whose Line Is It Anyway was a great case of who you know. I am a very experienced improviser but basically, I got my name put on the casting list. One of the guys who was working on the project had been someone I had improvised with a few years before and he had made sure that my name was on the list which was great. And I really do believe that as performers and writers we have to look out for each other, you know, sometimes it can be so easy to get jealous and compare and be threatened by other people. I think if you can overcome that and try to lift everybody else up that you believe in that’s the best thing to do. The fact that he believed in me and got me into the audition room, he didn’t give me the job that wasn’t up to him, but he got me in the room. I was so grateful to him for that. From Whose Line Is It Anyway I got an Australian agent because I had only had one back home. Having a great agent just opened some doors for me in terms of meeting people and getting in to see different casting agents. At the end of last year, I did a show, a fundraiser show at the Enmore Theatre, which was an improv show. This same friend got Hamish Blake to come in and perform as a special guest star. I had met Hamish briefly before but never worked with him and I just absolutely loved working with him and improvising with him it was so much fun.

Improv has played a really bit part in your career, I find that the Improv Scene in Australia is a bit underground. Mostly the ‘improv people’ know about the improv scene and other actors don’t really take notice of it. I’d love for you to share why you think improvisation is so important for actors.

I’m very passionate about improv it’s been really important in my development and not just as an actor but as a person. I remember when I did Theatre Sports at school and my first coach ever when I was about ten said, ‘if you do Theatre Sports you’re better at life’, and he went on to say you learn to think on your feet, be better in a team and be more confident. There are so many skills that improv gives you which is great for personal development but certainly for me as an actor. I did it all through school and all through uni and I now teach and perform for a living, which is amazing, using improv. There’s nothing like improv to teach an actor to be present. You’re just so in the moment you can’t plan ahead there’s no script and there’s no rehearsal. It is the best training in terms of listening, reacting and just being grounded and in the moment. I would agree with you that it is a little bit underground but it’s definitely growing. There are a few good schools that are popping up in Sydney. There’s Improv Theatre Sydney who I do a lot of work for who just turned two, they have lots of classes for beginners and also a stream for actors. So, people who come from a performance background who are looking to help hone their skills. More and more when I go into castings I’m getting to audition because I can improvise and a lot of directors are now starting to follow that American model where they like to improvise on set or improvise in auditions. That didn’t really use to happen a few years ago but now, more and more I’m getting castings because I have improv on my CV.

I went to a Comedy Festival a few years ago in LA and I just couldn’t believe how revered improv was and how every type of actor was saying, ‘Yeah! It’s such an incredible skill, it’s so useful’. Casting directors wouldn’t look at people who hadn’t done improvisation it was really regarded highly and I think this is what we need in the industry here. It is such a good thing to have under your belt it helps you be versatile and confident in your choices and I think it’s also great because when you improvise if the scene goes brilliantly – fantastic, and then it’s gone. And if a scene goes terribly – that’s a shame and then it’s gone. It helps you shake things off as well!

 You’ve had such great success with your career, you’ve worked so hard to get to where you are today. What advice do you have for anyone out there who may be struggling with failure and self-doubt? We all have those days where we think, ‘ok, I’m going to just hang up the towel’!

Yeah, completely… I definitely still struggle with self-doubt all the time and I’m a pretty positive, optimistic person. I can be pragmatic enough to be like, ‘alright it’s just a bad day shake it off’, but some days it’s really hard to do that. You get so wrapped up in self-doubt and I completely understand where you’re coming from with that question. I’d say it’s really important to have a great network. I’m really lucky that my family and friends are so supportive, even the ones who don’t come from a creative background. They are all so fantastic and supportive and I know they’ve all got me. If I’m putting on a one-woman show and wake up in the middle of the night and have a meltdown about something that I’ve forgotten to do in the production schedule I’ll know that they’ll be there… having a support network is great. I think having goals and hobbies outside acting is great and I think you run into problems when you define yourself solely by your craft. I would rather be a good person and a happy person first and then a successful actor second. I think sometimes when that is imbalanced and is the other way around that’s when you can run into problems. Generally, if you’re happy and more relaxed everything will balance out and your acting will be better anyway. So definitely have a good network, have other things outside of acting and the biggest thing that’s really defined my journey is that I haven’t waited for the phone to ring. I have so many wonderful friends who have gone to drama school and it’s been so fascinating to see their journey. Some of them are so proactive and have started theatre companies or booked great roles out of drama school and they’re really hustling. A few of them, and they are a minority, but a few of them have just gone, ‘great, I’ve gone to drama school now I will wait for the phone to ring’. When Hollywood doesn’t call straight away they have been really upset and disillusioned. Maybe because I didn’t get into NIDA or WAAPA I learnt early that I needed to make it happen for myself. So, I’m always writing, I always have projects on the go, I always have a notebook full of ideas or my phone is full of ideas. I’m always gigging, singing a song, reading a play or watching a play. I’m always trying to do something creatively for myself so I’m always in control. Self-doubt is an inevitable part of our industry like when you don’t get an audition or it doesn’t go well. But if you are doing things where you’re in control and you’re like ‘I’m going to write a two-minute script and it might be terrible’ you’re giving yourself power and at the end of the day, you’ve achieved something. Even if it is a terrible script that you’ll never read again you did something to further your career every day.

I love that. It’s so true, you can’t just sit there. You can’t just hold onto that audition you did two weeks ago. You’ve just got to move on and keep hustling!

Completely! Some of the best auditions I did in my life I didn’t get the role, one of the worst auditions I did in my life I did get the role. It’s just so unpredictable, you can’t hold onto that… I a few years ago I had a notebook and one page it was divided into two columns. On one side it said ‘Show’ and on the other, it said ‘Business’. ‘Show’ was just all these different ideas for creative tasks and ‘Business’ was all these things like update my Showcast, talk to my agent, find out what STC’s [Sydney Theatre Company’s] program is for the next year… it was just all these different brainstorms of different things that were related to creative or the business side of our industry. The only goal I had was just to tick one from each column every day. Some of them were quite big things to do and some of them would take a minute and a half but just knowing every day before I went to bed I’d done one thing for each side of my career was really good. Things like that I find very empowering, I’m very goals orientated so doing stuff like that I feel like I’m not resting on my laurels.

 

To hear more of the interview head over the podcast below:

 

Follow Bridie:

https://www.facebook.com/BridieKConnell/

https://www.instagram.com/bridiekconnell/

 

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