Drama graduate finds her place in spotlight
30 June 2022
As a performing arts student at the University of East London, Jasmine Ricketts would spend her free time watching performances at the nearby Theatre Royal Stratford East. She took notes. She studied performances. She imagined what it would be like to tread those boards.
Now, in a classic case of life imitating art, the next time Jasmine enters the east London theatre it won't be as an audience member, shuffling to find her seat in the upper circle, but on stage as an actor with one of the world's most prestigious theatre companies.
After months of vigorous auditioning, the University of East London alumna Jasmine has seen off stiff competition to be named one of 16 actors selected to join the illustrious National Youth Theatre (NYT) REP Company. Its first production will be the Olivier award-winning "Gone Too Far" by Bola Agbaje.
"It is so surreal. I cannot believe we will be performing at the Theatre Royal Stratford East," said Jasmine. "When I found out, I just had to pinch myself. I spent my three years as a student watching shows there."
NYT has nurtured the talents of a string of famous names, including Dame Helen Mirren, Daniel Craig, Sir Daniel Day-Lewis, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Colin Firth, Rosamund Pike, Catherine Tate, Sir Ben Kingsley, Sir Derek Jacobi, Matt Lucas, Matt Smith and Zawe Ashton.
Graduates of its distinguished REP company are signed by agents and the majority go on to forge successful professional careers. If you were a betting person, you'd fancy your odds at "making it" in the notoriously competitive acting world with NYT REP Company emblazoned on your CV.
Only a year ago, it was a very different outlook for Jasmine (pictured above). Graduating when Covid-19 first took the country into lockdown, the fortunes of the 23-year-old looked bleak.
Jasmine said, "I graduated in lockdown. Our student shows got cancelled, and the theatre industry was treated awfully during that whole period of the pandemic. We didn't know if the industry would be the same again. I felt so lost, I even applied for horticulture courses, thinking acting was never going to be an option for me."
But her perseverance, determination and tenacity - just some of the many qualities honed alongside her acting skills on her BA Performing Arts course at the School of Arts and Creative Industries - have now paid off. After four rounds of auditions, starting from November 2021 and ending in April 2022, Jasmine is a proud member of the elite 2022-2023 NYT Rep Company cohort.
"The audition process was vigorous," she said. "I had to prepare both classical and contemporary monologues; edit a 20-minute self-tape; I wrote a piece of spoken word; and even played school games in front of the panellists. It was versatility and adaptability they were looking for."
She credits her course leaders and tutors at the University for giving her the tools to succeed in her chosen career. She readily admits if it wasn't for their support, encouragement and connections in the industry, her future may have looked very different.
"The teachers play a big part to the success of a university and my teachers were really great," she said. "Looking back, they truly were the first teachers I felt believed in me and my abilities. Even outside of my studies, they would give up their time to help me with auditions.
"It was my tutor Tristan Parkes who raised the idea of me auditioning for NYT REP. He's done a lot of work with the company and after I put in the research - and seeing how affordable and inclusive the company is - I fully realised what an amazing opportunity it could be."
She added, "The University really prioritises the arts. It treats creative subjects the same as any of their other courses which I feel is unique and cannot be said for other universities."
Jasmine starts rehearsals for Gone Too Far in the next couple of months. She hasn't yet been told what role she will play, but she is eager to get to work on her first production with the REP, and is especially excited to be working with the rest of the company and NYT CEO and artistic director Paul Roseby OBE.
"It's such a wonderful play. It covers themes of racism, identity and divisions. It's got us all super excited already!" she said.
"I can't wait to work with the other members of the company and Paul Roseby. There's no feeling quite like working with other actors. The feeling of being back stage with people you've worked with for months is something I'll never get bored of. Each show will be slightly different, just like the audience and that’s really exciting for me."
She added, "I don't doubt that this opportunity will be huge for me, but more than anything it's brought back my confidence and love for acting. It's put me in the front line to do what I love again, showing me it is possible as long as you don't give up hope."
Gone Too Far, written by Bola Agbaje, is being staged at Theatre Royal Stratford East from 24 March to 1 April 2023. Book tickets now.
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