Edward Spence

"To create is such a personal and vulnerable thing, and whatever we put out into the world is so intrinsically tied to us as individuals"

What do you do?

I’m an actor. It feels good to say that. I remember when I was much younger, saying “I’m not going to call myself an actor until that’s my only source of income!” Wouldn’t it be great if it was that simple? But as well as acting, I’ve been lucky enough to direct theatre, as well as serve as producer on several pieces of new writing for stage, film and VR gaming.

I also write, and more recently I have been working with several other creatives based in Leicester to produce Dungeon Manager, a filmed longform series in which we play various role playing games.

How did you get to where you are?

I’ve always known I wanted to act, but it wasn’t really until my mid-teens that I realised you could make a career out of it. Much later, I also realised how challenging a career in the arts could be, but that’s a much larger subject for another day...

I auditioned for drama school straight out of A Levels and, though I was accepted onto an acting foundation course, there was no funding attached; I couldn’t afford it. So I asked if I could defer my place for a year while I raised the required fees, and about halfway through the year, two things became very apparent to me, the first being that there was no way I would be able to earn that amount of money. And the second was that I wanted to learn more skills before pursuing acting as a career.

After a year where I was employed at Bury St Edmunds’ Theatre Royal in the wardrobe department, working with an incredible team who taught me so much and gave me an invaluable insight into the inner workings of theatre life, I moved to Leicester to study Creative Writing & Film Studies. I’d always loved writing, and hoped that I would be able to develop not just my own voice, but my understanding of language and texts.

Throughout my course, I sought out as many acting opportunities as I could. I performed in shows for the Leicester University Theatre society, community productions at Curve and The Little Theatre, I volunteered myself for student films, I made contacts, and over the course of it all, I met some truly exceptional artists from whom I learned a lot. And then, in my third year of university, I was offered my first professional role with E.G. Productions (an amazing company based in Market Harborough) on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. All because I’d happened to work with the right person on the right production, and because they happened to think I was the right person for the role. In acting, there’s often a lot of talk of “being in the right place at the right time,” and while you absolutely have to make your own opportunities to ensure you are in those “right places,” it is remarkable how true this can be.

From there, I spent the following five years working in the Midlands and in London as a self-represented actor, while also branching out into directing, running workshops for new writing and for young performers at Curve, voicework... basically, as much as I could do. I was eager to learn. I still am. Then last year, I was fortunate enough to sign with Ashrow Talent Management, a terrific team of agents based in the Nottingham area. Again, all because they happened to see me in the right show at the right place and at the right time.

That was a very long answer.

Why do you love what you do?

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot throughout lockdown. I think that perhaps I need acting more than I love it. When I was young, it was an escape. Something fun. And while it is still absolutely that in some respects, as I’ve grown older it’s become something more akin to... inwards reflection? Self-exploration? I don’t know, I don’t want to put too much on it.

But, in terms of loving it... look, I think many artists would agree that it’s hard to separate yourself from your own work. To create is such a personal and vulnerable thing, and whatever we put out into the world is so intrinsically tied to us as individuals. And when it’s going well, it’s incredible. When it’s not... well, it’s not. I’ve found working as an actor (and perhaps moreover, when I've not been working as an actor) has at times been rough. Sometimes it is as emotionally draining as it is demanding, both in and out of work. And other times it can just hurt. And is it healthy to love something that has the capacity to hurt you, often and repeatedly? Again, I don’t know.

But what I do know is that I need it. In fact, I couldn't live my life without it. Which given what I’ve said might be unhealthier, who knows! But I have found so much of my identity in exploring the lives of others, discovered so much about the world, about our history and culture. And it’s been said before, but art connects us. It might not connect us to everyone, but it connects us with someone. It makes someone feel seen. It allows us to put something vulnerable and imperfect out into the world, for someone to see that something and to say “I didn’t know anyone else felt that way. Maybe I’m not alone.” And however we make that connection, and whatever we find that in, is both uniquely individual and completely valid, be that as a creator or as a consumer. I know that’s what I needed when I was young and looking for an escape. Maybe I’m hoping to provide that for someone else. In short, acting is an answer for me. I just don’t know what the question is yet.

Why are you based in Leicester?

As I mentioned, I initially moved to Leicester to study. When I was visiting my university choices, I told my family I was going to walk around the campuses to get a feel for it, but I never did; I found myself instead exploring the cities. It felt more important for me to know where I’d be living for three years. And it sounds trite, but there was something about Leicester that clicked. It felt right. And in terms of timing, it was. Within my first four years in Leicester, Richard III was unearthed and the Foxes won the Premier League; suddenly all eyes were on Leicester and the already impressive artistic scene just bloomed. And so by the time I came out of university, there was really no better time to be a part of the city. There was a momentum and a passion and a buzz that, prior to coming here, I’d never experienced before.

I moved here to study, but I now consider it my home. Theatre and film in the Midlands is arguably more exciting than it’s ever been, both in the production and the promotion of regional talent. And that’s to say nothing of its other arts, of which there are other people who are far more qualified to talk about those than me. It’s an incredibly exciting time to be here.

What next?

Well, with the recent lockdown, things are still very up in the air for a lot of people in the industry. I think the next few months (maybe even years) are going to see a lot of rebuilding, and I’m hoping to contribute to that in whatever ways I can.

In terms of acting, I’ve recently been cast in John McCourt’s Emphasis Mine, a new feature film set in Leicester that hopes to show off the city at its most beautiful. Throughout lockdown, I’ve been tweaking some long gestating screenplays I’ve been working on in collaboration with Jordan Dean over at Fishbulb Films, so I’m hoping to have those finished soon.

I’m also currently working with Lauren Jepson (a brilliant artist) on an online comic that we initially envisioned eight years ago, but finally feel ready to tackle.

And our second season of Dungeon Manager will be premiering on 14th October! You can watch all the previous episodes on YouTube on demand from the link above!

Social media accounts to follow:

Twitter: @Edward_Spence_ | @DungeonManager_

Instagram: @edward_spence_ | @dungeonmanager_