Coffee Break -James Camp  

James Camp, 30, is an actor who co-founded Half Cut Theatre in 2020. It’s a touring company working mostly in East Anglia and the southeast. Susan Elkin chatted to him.

What first drew you to acting? Well, I grew up in South Cambridgeshire, where my parents still live, and was inspired by my aunty who’s a very keen amateur. So I did lots of youth theatre, but the real turning point was joining National Youth Theatre when I was 16. I did four seasons with them and learned a huge amount. When I left school, I did a foundation course at East 15 and then eventually – it took me three years to get into a BA course – I trained at Guildford School of Acting and graduated in 2014.

You must have picked up lots of skills doing other jobs along the way? Yes! I’ve done front of house, pubs, call centres and, until a year ago, shifts at Sainsburys. But for a whole year now I’ve been entirely freelance and managed to pay the bills which feels like a huge milestone. Of course, it hasn’t all been acting (I do upholstery and children’s parties as well for instance) but I haven’t had to take a PAYE job.

Did you get acting work after graduation? The first couple of years were difficult, but it began to snowball after 2016 with a fairly steady succession of acting jobs. In a way that’s easier than landing prominent work immediately as some of my friends did because their offers seem to arrive less often. These days my jobs come along at the rate of about three or four a year which is ideal.

So how was Half Cut Theatre born? George Readshaw, Alex Wilson and I were all in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men 2019 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. LCM tour Shakespeare very successfully and, chatting in the pub one day the three of us decided we could do something of our own. So three weeks later we went for it – with some venues booked, we had to assemble a company and get on and do it: our own take on The Dream. I had no experience at all of producing or tour management, but it went well and we felt encouraged.

How did the pandemic affect it? In a way it helped us because we were allowed to do outdoor work for part of the time and people felt less nervous coming to a space when they could sit distanced without having to travel out of their own neighbourhoods to busy, crowded places.

Do you manage to make it work economically? Yes we do. We invite advance bookings but don’t sell tickets. People make donations as they leave. That means that the generous couple who put in £40 are cross subsidising the family of four who can only afford a tenner – which is nicely democratic. We collect enough – even given the no-shows on rainy days – to make it viable. At first, we did it on a profit-share basis. For the current tour of Much Ado About Nothing we are paying all six cast members the Equity outdoor touring rate and we will top that up from profits at the end. There will also be enough to pay the three of us a bit for our producing time. We now operate as a limited company and might, eventually, apply for charitable status.

I take it you have no public funding? None. We have a little support from private donors but basically we have to generate the money to pay for what we do. We are sure that it’s because we don’t sell tickets that we achieve that. People are much more reluctant to commit if they have to pay in advance especially for outdoor shows. 

What next? We’re reviving our 2021 A Christmas Carol this winter because Omicron meant that many people who would like to have seen it missed it last year. That will go to indoor venues such as village halls and churches, but we try to maintain links with nearby pubs where we can, so that the whole community benefits. Word of mouth, we find is the main thing which is putting us on the map, so these collaborations are very important. Then next summer… Well, we’re mulling over ideas and will start to firm them up as soon as this tour’s finished. 

Half Cut Theatre’s tour of A Much Ado About Nothing continues until 09 July