Neal Foster, 45, is an Actor and Manager of the Birmingham Stage Company. He co-writes, produces, directs and stars in the stage shows of Horrible Histories, and lives in London.
Do you have such a thing as a typical day?
There is nothing typical about my life. Even when you have been performing in a play for over a year, each audience is entirely different so every performance changes to entertain the new audience.
What is your morning routine?
Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day and I take as long over it as possible. I have fruit salad, Weetabix, toast and tea! I’ve never been able to do anything without first having a proper breakfast in the morning.
Did you always want to do what you do now, for a job?
I told my teacher, Mrs Beard, I was going to be an actor when I was eight, but I think I knew I wanted to be an actor from the age of five. I enjoyed the fact that everyone laughed at me when I played the policeman in the school nativity. It was inevitable that I would also run my own theatre company, because I used to charge my parents two pence to watch me act out scenes from Disney films.
What is your working environment like?
When I’m not performing I work in a lovely office in Regent Street in the heart of London. When I’m performing, I have to be at the theatre early because children’s shows often start at 10am. I love being backstage in a theatre. No matter how small or smelly the rooms you change in – and sometimes they are very small and smelly - there’s always something magical about being in a playhouse.
What is the best thing about your job?
Going through dramatic situations in plays which you wouldn’t go through in your normal life. Each time you go on stage you enter into a different world and I love that feeling.
Are there any downsides to your job?
The biggest downside to being an actor is the long periods most actors are out of work. That is why my life has been helped by running my own theatre company, so when I’m not acting in one of my shows, I’m preparing for the next production.
How do you come up with creative, original ideas?
Ideas come from the oddest places and sometimes when you least expect it. I find a lot of ideas come to me when I’m lying in the bath. We initially decided to stage Horrible Histories because our Education Director suggested it might be fun to put the books onto the stage, so I rang Terry Deary and asked if he would be interested in letting us work with him. Fortunately, he said yes!
How do you juggle work life and having fun?
I’m lucky that my work life has provided some of the greatest fun I could have ever experienced. For example, I’m writing these answers from Australia, where we are performing Awful Egyptians at The Sydney Opera House, which has been very exciting. But there’s nothing like a nice meal with friends or a walk down a country lane, back home in the UK. I tend to like simple pleasures in my social life because my work life is enough of an adventure.
What is coming up for Horrible Histories?
We’ve got a brand new production of Barmy Britain – Part Two! which is performing at the Garrick Theatre in London from September. I wrote the play with Terry Deary and we’re both very excited about the show. It’s got all sorts of fantastic characters like William Wallace, Charles I, Elizabeth I, Dick Turpin and Queen Victoria – all doing silly, naughty or gory things from history!
Would you would you say to anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Acting can be such a hard job that the only reason you should do it is because there is absolutely nothing else that will make you happy. There are 40,000 people in Britain who call themselves actors but only about 4,000 actually get work – and even they spend long periods out of work. So, if you can find something else that makes you happy, I'd say to try that first. But, if you really don’t think anything else will make you smile each day, then you’ve got no choice, but to go for it!
If you had superhero skills, what would be your dream job?
I’ve already got my dream job, but I’d love the superhero skill of learning lines, without really trying. Learning lines is often the most boring part of being an actor, so it would be great if I had a photographic memory like some lucky people!
Catch Neal and the rest of the brilliant cast in Horrible Histories this summer...
Horrible Histories – Barmy Britain - Part One
Dates: 7 August – 1 September 2013
Horrible Histories - Barmy Britain - Part Two!
Dates: 26 September 2013 – 5 January 2014
Tickets: £17.50, £15.00 & £12.50
Box office: 0844 412 4662 For more information, visit: barmybritain.com