Monkey Motivation: Abey Bradbury, Cream-Faced Loons

9th April 2020

Monkey Motivation: Abey Bradbury, Cream-Faced Loons

We spoke to our Class of 2015 Two Year Rep graduate Abey Bradbury about Cream-Faced Loons, the Manchester-based theatre company she established in 2016 with the intention of bringing live performances of Shakespeare’s works to public audiences in non-traditional theatre spaces in a way that is exciting, accessible and affordable. To ensure that this ethos continues during this period of isolation, Cream-Faced Loons have launched a variety of ways to engage with them digitally, including their weekly Shakespeare From Your Sofa challenge plus much more! Here, Abey shares a little bit about her training with Fourth Monkey, what she imagined doing once she graduated and what she has worked on since then…

What made you choose Fourth Monkey for your actor training?

I’d heard about Fourth Monkey in passing from a few people over the years but hadn’t really thought much about it, and then I did the whole auditioning for the Big Old School Drama Schools. It was my second year of auditioning and I remembered Fourth Monkey and thought I’d give it a gander and see what it is was about, and it just immediately seemed like the kind of place I’d love to go. I’d always loved devising and creating things and being really physical, so it seemed like the perfect place for me!

What were your highlights of your training with Fourth Monkey?

Ooh there are quite a few to choose from! I loved all the shows we did, they were all so different. In a year I played a soldier, an Empress, a closeted Homophobe, a murderess Nanny and in one show I played over sixteen characters including the kitchen sink (literally, I played a sink at one point)! I also loved the time in Reggio Emilia doing Commedia with Antonia Fava. And now, I love seeing what everyone is off doing and making and performing!

When you joined Fourth Monkey, where did you imagine your acting career going? Has life post-graduating been as you thought it would be?

It’s funny because all through school and college, I was very much Musical Theatre Minded with dreams of the West End, which we were taught was really the only option to be an actor. I soon found out my dancing skills were somewhat lacking (though I do a fabulous cha cha slide), and and then going to Fourth Monkey kind of opened up this whole new world that I thought I couldn’t be part of, and it completely changed my goals and ideas. 

So while I’m still waiting for the call from Wicked, now I’m very much more about making cool things that I enjoy, and making shows that audiences might not be expecting but thoroughly enjoy, and make them want to come back to see live performances and theatre again and again and again.

The good thing with Fourth Monkey was that they didn’t really sugarcoat what post-graduating life would be like, so I knew it would be a slog and hard work and definitely a life-style choice, which *spoiler* it has been. But I’m really proud of everything I’ve done and built, and feel like I’m on a slow but steady upward trajectory – I’m here for the long game!

Can you tell us a bit about what you’ve been working on since you left Fourth Monkey? What have the highlights been?

My first year out of Fourth Monkey I did absolutely anything and everything I could acting wise – I have many horror stories of that and if I think about it too much it turns me to drink…

But I’m glad I did that because by doing everything it made me realise the kinds of things I DID want to do.

Some of my highlights are probably ‘It’s Different For Girls’ – which was a new actor-muso musical I was in and helped create about the first all female band in 1960s Hull – the show was great, and we got to meet the original band which was amazing. Plus, Ginger Spice herself also came to meet us all which was insane!

I’ve also just done a show with Lamphouse Theatre called Wild Boy which was another devised show with lots of music and playing in it (beginning to notice a theme!), we toured it to some amazing places like Crowland Abbey and it was such a  beautiful story and magical show, I’d love to do it again and more things with Lamphouse (*that’s a very unsubtle hint if you’re reading this Lamphouse)

My main highlights would definitely come from everything I’ve done with Cream-Faced Loons though, my own company and leading rather nicely to the next question…

Can you tell us a bit about your experiences of creating and running your own theatre company? Any advice for anyone thinking of doing this themselves?

So I’ve always had a real love of directing and creating things (I’m a very bossy actor with far too many ideas for my own good!), but as a new graduate I was finding it hard getting any opportunities to do the things I wanted in the way I wanted to work.

On top of that, I’m also a massive Shakespeare Nerd, and had been in/seen a couple of really bad versions, and was getting frustrated that no-one seemed to be doing Shakespeare in a really fun, exciting way.

And then on top of THAT, I really love site-specific theatre, and in Manchester and the North are so many interesting buildings and spaces, I was amazed no-one was using them!

So all that added together and I had the mad thought on a drizzly Tuesday in March to start a Shakespeare company making audience focused Shakespeare in site-specific spaces, and since I have the attitude of go big or go home I launched Cream-Faced Loons in 2016 with a 3 day Shakespeare Festival spanning across Manchester, with a day of workshops, a performance of Two Gents and a pop-up event where we performed a scene from every Shakespeare play around the city centre.

Since then we’ve done at least 2 shows a year, we made a really cool web series called The Real Ceels based on As You Like It with SquadFour Productions, who make awesome short films amongst other things, we do a lot of free pop-up events, and we keep getting bigger and better every year! 

Last year we did King John, and we’ve been asked to headline a venue at Edinburgh Fringe with the show which is amazing! We were meant to go this year, but since the virus has struck we’re now going in 2021, but also have a tour of it planned that keeps expanding every week!

We’ve also recently launched Loons Online, our new online platform, where we have multiple new web series going up, live streamed performances on the way and loads of ways for people to get involved across the world, plus recordings of our past shows and other behind the scenes things, so it’s all very exciting!

My main advice for anyone wanting to start their own company is stolen from Nike and is JUST DO IT. There’ll always be a reason not to do something, so rather than put it off, just take a deep breath and go for it. A few times I’ve dithered about doing a show, so have just booked a venue to force myself into putting it on, and having that deadline works for me!

I’d also say that it’s a lot of work. And by a lot I mean A LOT, but if you’re doing something you love you won’t mind. I get very, very, extremely stressed around shows – (I got a small bald patch during King John due to stress! Don’t worry – it’s growing back now) – and people ask me why I do it to myself. However, I always say that if I’m going to be stressed about something, I’d want to be stressed about doing this.

A last very practical advice is a bit of a harsh truth that it does cost money to run a company and put on shows, and while we’ve been lucky to get Arts Council funding for a few projects, it’s not something you can rely on, and you will 100% have to put something in yourself. That said, Cream-Faced Loons work on a literal shoe-string, and you’ll be amazed what you can beg, borrow and steal, and the creative solutions you come up with – I once needed a room of rustic tables for an immersive show, which were thousands of pounds to hire, so instead I borrowed plastic tressle tables from a local church hall, begged a massive roll of spare hessian material from a local workshop to cover them in, bada-bing-bada-boom I got me some rustic looking tables for free!

I always make a budget before every show and work out from there how much it would take minimum to put on, and then how much I can realistically put up myself, and then I work in mind-numbing temp office jobs for however long I need to earn enough for the show. 

So yes, a lot of work, a lot of toil, but it’s such a ball I wouldn’t swap Loons for anything in the world.

Fourth Monkey is all about ensemble and taking a collaborative approach to acting and theatre. Is there anyone you’d particularly like to work with or collaborate with in the future? 

Other than Lamphouse…?! Definitely Told By An Idiot, I loved working with them and Stephen Harper at Fourth Monkey. Cream-Faced Loons is definitely inspired by them and their way of working using play and games, and how everything is focused on ensemble and just having fun on stage. I would give my right arm to work with Told By An Idiot!

As a massive Shakespeare nerd, I’d also obviously love to do something at The Globe or RSC – either as an actor or with Loons. We’re all about engaging new audiences with Shakespeare so maybe we could do collaborate on that with them – we could be their ambassadors in the North! I’d give them an arm and a leg each too.

Having spent three of my limbs I’d probably give my last leg to anyone who just wants to make crazy, wonderful, interactive, mischief-fuelled theatre with us! I’m one of those dangerous pro-active types, and it’s happened before where someone mentioned a vague idea for a show to me, and I liked it so much that by the end of the conversation I had a venue booked and plan for 3 days R&D, a brief plot and premise outline, list of possible theatre spaces to perform it, social media profiles and a R&D casting call ready to go – so if you’ve got an idea for something and want to collaborate with a slightly manic Northern kazoo player, hit me up!

As we are in the middle of ‘audition season’ here at Fourth Monkey, what are your three top tips for any prospective students on audition day?

1) It’s much easier said than done, but definitely just be yourself. When you’re auditioning I know you can feel like you want to impress and be what you think whoever you’re auditioning for wants, but honestly you are unique and being you is enough.

2) Chill out, and go for it, or in the immortal words of Fourth Monkey, BE BOLD AND PLAY! Auditions are really stressful, but if you think of it more as a workshop and just have fun, then the stress kind of falls away and in turn you perform better as a result. It’s not drama school auditions, but I always run workshop auditions for Cream-Faced Loons, and what I look for is people who work well with others, people who throw themselves into things and don’t mind looking like an idiot, and people who genuinely seem to enjoy performing and acting. What I don’t look for are super polished speeches, the loudest actor pushing themselves to the front all the time or people scared of looking stupid. I’ve often cast people who forgot lines in monologues, said nothing in an improv exercise but their silent reactions were just hilarious, people who may not have had a massive amount to do in devising tasks but I saw really pulled the team together while creating it – and I think that all that is the same at Fourth Monkey. They always told us to FAIL GLORIOUSLY! In fact, my friend who did the Year Of course forgot her speech half way through her first audition, but that didn’t stop her getting in and having a fabulous time! So don’t worry about being perfect, just do your best and have a blast doing it.

3) Try not to let rejections get you down, whether that’s from Fourth Monkey or other places you’re auditioning at. If you don’t get into a certain school or training, it doesn’t mean you’re no good, just that that place wasn’t right for you, or it wasn’t the right time. A phrase I really like for both drama school auditions, acting auditions and beyond is ‘Measure Your Own Success’ – decide what success is to YOU, not what other people think that is. Getting a recall for somewhere is a massive achievement to be proud of, even if this isn’t the year you get a place – a leading role in the West End is great, but so is performing for a primary school in rural Yorkshire who have never been to the theatre before – so a ‘No’ this time doesn’t mean it’s a failure.

BONUS TIP! – wear leggings, fill up your water bottle and make sure you have a wee 5 minutes before you go in!

Check out all of Cream-Faced Loons latest projects via their website, or find them on Instagram – @creamfacedloons. 

They have recently launched the on demand LOONS ONLINE platform to share everything Shakespeare-related whilst in isolation. This includes a great range of content to keep you engaged whilst at home, including weekly 60 Second Shakespeare videos, a new web series based on King Lear coming very soon, a selection of potential live streams and much, much more. You can also find recordings of their previous shows and behind-the-scenes shenanigans, ideal if you’re in need of a ‘live’ theatre fix!

Watch the trailer for Loons Online here.