Monkey business  

Steven Green is making waves with Fourth Monkey, the school with a difference he formed after treading the boards himself. LESLEY FINLAY caught up with him during a break in rehearsals…

For many outside the industry, actors get a bad press: needy, self-obsessed and always playing to a crowd. In reality, it is quite the opposite – actors give a great deal of themselves in a part (as anyone who has attended drama school knows) and also give a great deal back. This is certainly the case for Steven Green, who, after many years acting on stage and screen, started his own company, determined to teach young actors the craft, with real performance opportunities that would allow them to make professional contacts, so vital in getting work as an actor.

Fourth Monkey is gradually making a name for itself as a company of note, with innovative works and an intensive course that puts its actors on stage in difficult and challenging works – for example, last year’s Marlowe season and this year’s Tamburlaine and The Elephant Man.

Steven grew up in Barnstaple, North Devon and was planning a career in football after injury struck when he was 16. He had already been involved with the drama department so was forced to rekindle his love of theatre while his leg healed. When the opportunity to join a professional team passed, Steven looked at drama schools.

He said: ‘I took a year out before I did the audition round and was offered several places but ended up choosing Middlesex University. This was the crazy campus at Trent Park– anything was possible. The BA in Performing Arts was an inspiring course in a very creative environment. We were never told no; we were encouraged to do our own work and this is the biggest thing I’ve taken from it. I guess I carried it on in a subconscious way.

‘Want do a piece on the roof? Yes you can. Wanna do a piece on the lake? Yes of course you can. We did a lot of Robert Wilson inspired work, a lot of Artaud-based work, a lot of clown (that’s where I came across Trestle), as well as John Wright and Paul Hunter from Told By An Idiot who were in their graduate year when I was there. It’s nice that that relationship has reconnected through Monkey. We have a lovely partnership with them.’

‘Tamburlaine is epic; we’re working hard to get the students to work the big emotion; the big stakes and that can be lacking in the industry today…’

After graduating in 1994, Steven took on a variety of roles. He recalls: ‘I acted for a long time and was really lucky – theatre, films and television. I was very lucky to work with Derek Jacobi, Antony Sher, Richard O’Brien, Timothy West and people of that ilk. I learned so much – I spent six months on set with Jacobi on The Jury playing his junior barrister. He was amazing; it was like an acting lesson for six weeks. It was incredible to work with him. I got on well with him, watching what he did, how he did his piece to camera – that learning and process was really useful.’

Steven had started writing, directing and teaching – ‘the bread and butter’ – when he decided to put all his work into one pot. He says: ‘I spent a lot of time teaching third year students, preparing to come out into the acting world but not at all prepared for the realities of what that world is like.

‘You need to be used to acting with an audience, which is so important. You wouldn’t train someone to be a footballer and not give them a ball for two and a half years. That’s why Fourth Monkey has an emphasis on showing and sharing work.’

Steven came up with a new training model – offering a one year and a two year course, 40 hours a week, with no prolonged holidays. Students receive all around training from voice to clown and from text to mask with built-in performance opportunities in London and Edinburgh.

He explains: ‘The emphasis is on showing and sharing work; putting yourself on the stage. If you talk to Jacobi, Sir Ian McKellen – any of these great actors – they will talk about the importance of rep; it’s where they learnt their craft. We believe in the rep profoundly. It’s a way to learn. Our guys are in two productions; coming into contact with directors, industry directors, the people they are working with could ultimately employ them. It’s a chance to make good professional relationships and connections. This is one of the unique things about Fourth Monkey’s approach.’

Although many new companies are cropping up, thanks to the growth and reputation of the creative industries, the pressure of money and job opportunities is still tough. In the old days, actors would come out of drama school, get an agent and then hang out until the phone would ring.

‘The industry is saturated so you have to go out and create those opportunities for yourself…’

Steven says: ‘The dynamic is different. It’s about being proactive; being on the front foot, nothing will come to you. The industry is saturated so you have to go out and create those opportunities for yourself. Fourth Monkey is an alternative way of training; we’re giving our students a realistic approach to how to survive in the industry as an actor. Yes, the priority is to train as an actor; we do that; but can you be a theatre major? Can you be a collaborator? Can you make work for yourselves?

‘Companies are born out of the training environment. To survive, you have to be connected to your peers.’

Now is the time of year when would-be actors are auditioning. Steven explains what kind of student catches his eye: ‘We’re looking for an openness and willingness to learn. Our auditions are a couple of speeches and an interview to get a sense of the person; I’ll recall in an ensemble session – being an ensemble company it’s important to find team players; we’re looking for a capacity for openness, willingness to collaborate and a passion for theatre and acting. We can iron out technical issues but it’s about being prepared to work hard – we cram three years of training into two; it’s intensive so we need students with stamina.’

Life is going from strength to strength – 2014 saw the release of their first crop of two-year students; one of whom Sam Adamson was nominated for best supporting actor in the Off West End awards while another, Natalie Allison assistant-produced at The Arcola.

When we catch up with Steven he is in rehearsals for his acclaimed production of The Elephant Man and another foray into the work of Christopher Marlowe following last year’s triple bill. This time the company is tackling Tamburlaine Part 1. Steven says: ‘Last year’s Marlowe season was the result of a lot of work and developed in a particular way. It opened up a love for Marlowe and a real grasp that his work is difficult. If you’ve done Marlowe, Shakespeare is a dream. Tamburlaine is epic; we’re working hard to get the students to work the big emotion; the big stakes and that can be lacking in the industry today.

‘We’re also doing a Shakespeare season with our one year guys – a rep season with As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It should be an interesting season – it’s the first time we’ve done Shakespeare so we’re all looking forward to it.

‘We’re doing well – we’ve been shortlisted for stage school of the year [it went to the Young Vic]. We’re also able to employ our two-year rep graduates in our touring company, the Fourth Monkey Ensemble, with Equity contracts; this is a great chance to cut their professional teeth. Yes! Life is pretty good!’

For details of courses, tour dates and workshops visit