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Out of Character: Colin

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This is the first in our series of Actor Profiles. We start with Colin who shares his thoughts on acting, the closure of Bootham and how confidence grew out of creativity.

Name: Colin Benson

Describe yourself in 3 words:

Oh…honest, outspoken and…caring, I would say. 

What other creative projects are you involved in?

Just what I’m doing with Out of Character at the moment. We’re trying our damndest to put something together and sometimes it seems to be working fine but then, sometimes, I’m not always so sure of myself. I’m finding it very daunting.

You’re being modest. Tell us about the filming

Oh. it’s series called Dark Angel with ITV. I did work on it a week or so ago at Harewood House and also up at Beamish.  I've also been playing a policeman in a film called Dan Leno & the Lime House Golem shooting scenes with Alan Rickman and I'm due to be working on the ITV series Victoria.

How long have you been in OOC?

I think it’s over two, two and half years, something like that. I’m terrible with dates. Terrible with dates and names!

What led you to join the company?

It was Sharon, my wife. She joined, must be five or six years ago now and I got to meet up with a number of the people who were in it. And I saw how good they were. It was outstanding. The work that they seem to be producing was of such a high standard that I thought to myself, ‘I’d love to be part of this’,  but I couldn’t see a way in because I was a bit of a shrinking violet at that point in time. But then I got on a Converge course after seeing how much she (Sharon) was enjoying it. That was run by Gemma Alldred then.  I loved that. I really seemed to come out of my shell with that. I did one term with that and Gemma said, ‘Go into Out of Character as if you owned the place!’ And so I did as I were told and I’m still here now. So, I must be doing alright!

Are you still a shrinking violet?

No. I think that died. I forgot to water it. 

You killed the shrinking violet?

Yes, well I don’t like violets anyway…not my colour!

What was your first production?

Now that’s one I’m trying of think of. I did quite a number of those Speaking for Yourselves things… 

Just tell us what ‘Speaking For Yourselves’ was.

Speaking for Yourselves...there  was like a line up of actors and we all recounted our own stories. It was quite interesting. Different stories from different people and what they had been through and how they got round certain problems and experiences.

What has been your favourite role over the two and half years?

Oh my favourite role…it has to be Blumfeld.  I loved that guy. I don’t know what it is about him but I just felt, right from the beginning, I had a link with that guy. I researched him to death, I think. Even down to the point of finding a book in a rare bookshop that I’ve still got. Every so often I still pick it up and have a look at it. I’m not really sure what it is about him - he just seemed to grow on me until the point I felt like had some sort of ownership of him. I felt I knew what things he had gone through. It was a role that was originally done by Giles Moorhouse, and it was good stuff, but I felt like he was different from that and I tried to put my own tilt on him. One day I’d love to play him again. He seems to mean a lot to me for some reason. It’s like he’s a very close relation, you know? I've also recently enjoyed playing the miserable Jacques in Disturbing Shakespeare, I was involved in co-writing that role and playing the character in a variety of theatres was very rewarding.

Colin plays Blumfeld in 'More Tales From Kafka' at York Theatre Royal

Colin plays Blumfeld in 'More Tales From Kafka' at York Theatre Royal

How has being in the company affected your recovery?

My recovery…it’s quite a number of years since I’ve had any input from the mental health services but it’s helped me in so many ways.  My confidence, the way I actually think about different people with different circumstances in their lives. I’m more compassionate now. More open to listening to different people. It’s made me a bit of a softer character.

It’s made you soft?

Oh yes! Like a squeezy orange! Something like that!

You were involved in the delivery of WY-FI (West Yorkshire Finding Independence) workshops and university workshops. Tell us about your experience of those.

Wow, that were brilliant. I had no idea that these sort of organisations existed. We went to Huddersfield, Halifax, Wakefield, Leeds. Yes, we were in the original Halifax Building Society building which was something different. The people in there were from completely different backgrounds and there were some strange stories that were recounted which were so interesting. Like the guy who lived in Amsterdam for ten or twelve years who had never been involved in the drugs scene out there but ended up roped into it in Halifax. But now he’s a good way into his recovery and it’s working out well. Then there was the guy who had been on hard drugs for years and broke his leg and has never touched them again ever since. Different stories of people from different backgrounds. Brave people, brave people.

Members of the Company, including Colin, just before a Wy-Fi workshop

Members of the Company, including Colin, just before a Wy-Fi workshop

What do you think of Bootham closing?

I think it’s wrong on many counts. Like everybody else who knows anything about Bootham in York there were problems. Yeah, you can’t get over that one. But the work that was done in there was so important. It was so important. This is going to turn bad is this one. I feel it in my bones. This isn’t going to go well at all. The guy from the new company who’s taken over says,  if he’s true to his word, that he can make alterations to this and open different parts of it. The building itself, during the time I spent in it, the building helped me recover as well as the people in it. I think it’s wrong. I think it’s been a managed closure for the wrong reasons.

What do you mean “the wrong reasons?”

I think there were jobs that had to be done in there, that were well known and well documented, that weren’t done. So you end up getting inspectors in and, apparently, a piece of plaster fell on some guy’s head. Not a good experience but do you shut a whole hospital for it? Do you send people out into the community not knowing where the hell they’re going to go next? Who’s going to care for them? I also feel that if this had been a kids’ hospital, a paediatric hospital,  there would be absolute ‘hell on’. But, because it is what it is, there are certain people who just don’t want to deal with it. I think we all have to be a bit careful because you never know where you are going to be tomorrow. Bootham was a healing place for me and I’ll never forget it and I’ll never forget the staff that helped me on my way.

Colin and fellow actor, Mark, perform to Mental Health professionals at the INTAR conference, Liverpool

Colin and fellow actor, Mark, perform to Mental Health professionals at the INTAR conference, Liverpool

On a brighter note what advice do you have for other actors?

Oh! Listen…take care in your work. I tend to like to research things. I find that if I can become that character rather than act that character it works for me. Whether it works for other people, I don’t know. I like to get some ownership of a character. If I can get that it lessens my mistakes.  

Anything else?

This company, Out of Character, it’s a wonderful place. The people in it. It’s like a small family that care for each other. We can be each others props at different times and we can learn off each other to an extent where we can all grow together… and people can come and watch and experience what we have put out. Sometimes it works better than actually trying to preach at people. Let them come and watch and see and experience what these people have been through, where they’ve moved onto, how they can recover through the right circumstances and the right backing. It makes for a happier group of people.