Practitioner | Performance Artist | Curator
Felipe Pacheco is a Brazilian-English actor and movement practitioner based in London, skilled in stage combat and physical theatre. Felipe’s performance education started in America when he studied Dance and Theatre at the Columbia College Chicago, after which he completed his Theatre and Performance degree at the Guildford School of Acting, UK. An early accolade for Felipe was his role as Wilfred in Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures’ Lord of the Flies in 2014. Since, he has acted in a number of productions with Off the Ground Theatre and the National Youth Theatre whilst also playing the lead in Peter Pan with Maltings Theatre last Christmas. He has co- founded Buried Thunder theatre company, providing growing experience off stage as well as on it. First training with their Ignition programme, Felipe is now working as a Practitioner for one of the UK’s leading theatre companies, Frantic Assembly: inspiring and engaging with Performing Arts students up and down the country.
I chatted with Felipe in January 2021 about his training, his inspirations and experience in devising and performing work.
© Nick Gregan
What was your experience of studying Theatre and Dance in America?
My time in Chicago was one of the best periods of my life, and studying in the US was one of the most formative things I have ever done. It was the first time I had actually studied and trained in dance which really broadened my performance horizons. I started to watch a lot more of it, and had tutors that changed my perspective of performance (even life) forever. The rigour of Ballet, the application required in Modern dance and athleticism in West African dances hit me like a brick wall. The days were long and practice never-ending, but that sort of work ethic is something I still hold very dear. It set me up really well for University back in England, that’s for sure. I wasn’t sure if I’d be any good, or what to expect. I wore a dance belt for the first time (which was an experience in itself), and the course at Columbia College was perfect for me – it really was one of those times where it seemed like everything was falling into place. In terms of being in the US specifically, there is obviously a great tradition of Modern dance which I really got to sink my teeth into. As well as that, being in a city like Chicago – so rich in culture and arts – was a real treat. Being British was also a great plus in America. I felt different (good different), and it was lovely to be able to share differences in culture and language between all of us in class.
Which other courses did you look at before choosing to study Theatre and Performance at the Guildford School of Acting?
So I actually had a place at Durham to study Biology when I went to the US! I went to Chicago as part of my gap year you see, since my parents were moving there. It was so good, I ended up giving Biology a miss, for this lifetime anyway. (Although I do genuinely, really, really love it!) Anyway, I started applying to the big drama schools, but I knew it was tough to get in, especially when you’re younger, so I also applied for theatre courses at UK universities at the same time. I got a few recalls and second rounds at drama school, but it didn’t work out for me. Looking back now, I’m glad it didn’t! I see how incredible an experience university was and how differently it has shaped my career.
What in particular were you looking for from your studies?
I didn’t want to lose all the momentum I had built up in dance, so the university courses I applied for had to involve some sort of movement practice. Uni of Surrey/GSA were offering interdisciplinary models in dance when I applied, and I actually ended up taking all the dance modules I could, which was brilliant. What helped was also choosing a course that allowed you to shape your own educational journey. (So tacky, I know, but how else do you say it?) So every module I picked, every essay I wrote, was because it was what I was interested in. That is a huge benefit of courses like the one I did. The freedom to explore your own practice is invaluable.
At what point in your training did you realise you wanted to pursue a portfolio career? Across performance, teaching and curating.
I don’t think I ever planned to pursue a portfolio career, really! My experience of the industry thus far though, is that everyone has their fingers in many pies, you know? Especially in the early stages of their careers. I sort of fell into it, but what I can say is that it definitely works for me. I absolutely love teaching and I’m good at it. A beautiful thing about arts education, at all levels – from school to higher education – is that you are taught by people who are living the industry. That is a win-win situation, right? The students get up-to-date knowledge and the teacher gets to put their practice to the test – really making sure we know what we’re talking about. It’s also just amazing to be able to keep rotating between the different disciplines, keep flexing those different muscles. I think the contemporary performer does well to also be a savvy producer or comfortable deviser for example. It makes you a better actor/dancer, just because you’re a more rounded artist.
Did you struggle to ‘choose’ between Theatre and Dance or did you know you’d like to keep both integrated throughout your education and into professional work?
There aren’t many decisions that come easily to me, I have to say, but luckily that was an easy one! I love theatre and am most comfortable when I’m on a stage or in front of a camera. But I also love movement. Alongside music, it is one of the most universal and powerful performance mediums. So that was a ‘no-brainer’, as Kevin Bacon would say. (Other actors are available) What is amazing is that the middle ground I was looking for already exists – as physical theatre. So I’m a lucky boy.
What was your experience of participating in Frantic Assembly’s Ignition project?
Ignition was life-changing! Oh man, there is so much to say about it… Not least that it was beautiful, hard, rewarding, and very, very special. There are few things I’ve done in my life that I’ll remember forever, and that is definitely one of them. I learned so much, so quickly, and made friends and collaborators for life. I know that sounds like a cliché, but it’s true! Ignition is being rolled out for young men and women now, and we’re actually running a campaign to fundraise for it when everything comes back around. Check it out and get involved: www.franticassembly.co.uk/we-are-ignition
Which artists/companies have inspired you in your field of work and why?
Well, I am lucky enough to work for the company that most inspires me, which is Frantic Assembly. I think it is the insistence on accessibility which is most inspirational and the way we approach devising. The Frantic Method is just so refreshing and powerful. I also love the work of Ido Portal, a movement guru I try and keep up with, and New Adventures also changed my view of performance. I am currently part of their Overture programme, and coming back into contact with the company has reminded me of their hunger for clear story-telling through movement. That is something I always want to strive for. The athleticism and artistry of Gecko is always impressive too, and Grace Goulding works how I like to work, with freedom and a love for the individual.
Which aspects of being a practitioner with Frantic Assembly do you enjoy the most?
I love travelling everywhere and anywhere. You get to see the whole of the UK, and meet so many different people. You go to all kinds of schools and institutions and see the reality of each one – that is humbling and important. We also always talk about a golden moment that happens if you deliver a workshop well, where you see the penny drop for a student. I live for that. Our goal is always to empower participants and show them what they’re capable of. Often they don’t know what they can do – and that’s why it’s so important and fulfilling when you get to show them. I also love coming up with new devising tasks/warm-ups and working with the other practitioners. It’s an incredible group of people and I feel really lucky to be in that circle.
What challenges did you face in starting up the theatre company Buried Thunder?
How long do you have?! Ah, there have been many. But that’s not a bad thing either! As you work to solve problems, you learn how to avoid them in the future. Collaboration is tricky, and that has always been challenging within the company. We have always been ambitious, and delivering such performances within a rigid time-scale, whilst keeping everyone happy, is not easy. I don’t think we’ve faced anything particularly new, though. We’ve had to negotiate similar problems as most small companies when they start I’d imagine: figuring out who the boss is, how we work best, where the money comes from, who our audiences are, how to structure the company, what we bring that is different to the rest – all of those kinds of things. But we’re still young, and part of the fun is sorting all of that out!
What stages are there to your creative process when devising physical theatre work? Does/how does this change from project to project?
This is a great question. I guess I’d answer it the opposite way round – I’d start with saying that it does change from project to project for sure. You have to know what medium you’re working in first. I’ve been doing a lot of digital work lately, and that changes your approach for sure. What helps is knowing how much time you have to devise too. Having said that, what usually happens is we have a couple of R&D sessions to build up ideas around the themes or story of the piece. What this usually looks like is us messing around with and devising movement sequences. Once we have some ideas, it’s all about refining and revisiting material, letting go of some, adding to others… Text often comes at a later point… Once we have all the material (or most of it), I find it really useful to plot the story on post-it notes so you know it makes sense. We film EVERYTHING we do. That is really important, so you can remember what you’ve done. Also, often everyone is inside the performance, so filming it means you can watch back and direct yourself.
With a number of performing accolades, how does the relationship between an artist and an agency work in securing new performance opportunities?
I would say to try and have as clear a communication as possible between you and your agency! I cannot stress enough that you need to do your homework – know your craft. Tell them what your goals are, where you want to be, what kind of stuff you like, and what you’re good at. Crucially – what you’ve been working on that could help you achieve those aspirations. Then, when the audition comes in, same again – do your homework, learn your lines, get the tape in early and go from there…
Is representation with an agency something you would encourage young artists to secure?
Yes – but it’s also not the be-all and end-all. You know, I always think the start of anything is always the hardest bit. So just start somewhere, and my experience is that things will start to fall into place, or get easier. An agent is definitely very useful, and maintaining a good relationship with your agent even more so. Then you can focus on becoming a better performer/practitioner whilst they work to find you the jobs. You better believe that you have to be ready when those self-tapes or auditions come through though!
Whilst playing Peter Pan with Maltings Theatre last Christmas, COVID-19 restrictions halted the production’s run. What was this experience like for the cast after months of rehearsals?
It was hard for sure, but a little easier to deal with than the announcement of the first lockdown, for example. Theatre companies and creative industries are becoming a bit more savvy when it comes to Covid – drawing up more flexible contracts, being honest with us about the risk involved with the job, and then working fast and remotely to actually make the show. What I’m trying to say is we always knew it might have been a possibility, so it was a little easier to deal with. We also managed to do quite a few shows before the announcements, and that was all I could ask for, really. I am going to miss the cast and crew – love those people.
Considering the industry’s accelerated attention towards digitalisation, what do you think screen work can offer to audiences that live work cannot?
I’ve spent the last five years answering the complete opposite of that question, so this a great intellectual exercise for me! What I love about the screen is the power of the edit. You can make or break something with it. So screen offers some little tricks (through the edit) that are harder to achieve in live work. Things like drawing the audience’s attention to a minute bit of clothing, or a wink from the main character… You can do things like speed up footage, or use slow-mo, and of course, film on location. There are also ways of interacting digitally with performances that are quite clever and offer something different. VR is really storming the scene, and accessing remote performances has probably never been easier. Having said all of that – part of the fun of live performances is emulating things we can do on screen by using lights and well thought-out choreography, for example. Also, you just can’t beat a live experience from an audience’s perspective. There is something in the air. You can’t explain it, but it’s special. Each to their own I suppose!
What are your ambitions for the coming years?
Great question! I really want to develop my screen experience and land more roles for screen. That’d be awesome. I really need to get my bum in gear and get my voice reel sorted too. I absolutely love voice acting, accents and impressions, and that would be another useful thing to add to my portfolio. I would also love to make another show with Buried Thunder, as well as travel and do more things with Frantic. I mean – just more of the same and I’d be more than happy. I am so lucky to say that I love what I do, and although these are incredibly tough times for the arts, I think what is beautiful is that we are resilient. We are creative, and we have to keep going. Easier said than done, but it wouldn’t be worth it otherwise.