Speaking recently with the poised and welcoming Aamira Challenger was a great pleasure of mine. Her admiration for classical text made attending the recent Shakespearean Masterclass a must. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
First things first, what have you been up to lately?
I just finished up doing a US tour, and now I’m sort of jumping back into things again in the UK… auditioning, doing little bits here and there.
The ebbs and flows of working as an actor.
Yeah, definitely. I’ve found over the years that I have ways of staying fulfilled between jobs. A lot of my day jobs tend to involve acting. I do medical role-play for doctors who are becoming medical consultants; I’ll play the patient for them. When I’m not doing the “creative” acting jobs, I still get to dip my toes in that way.
That’s interesting to me. The “downtime question” is one of my favorites to ask. It seems to me like your downtime revolves around acting… about two years out of The Academy, and I’m finding the downtime to be a challenge.
I know what you mean. I think coming off of this tour, I’ve really found myself okay with downtime. I earned a Master's in Classical Theatre in London after The Academy, so I never really stopped learning… Now, even though acting is my purpose, and my passion, I find other parts of my life to be just as important and fulfilling.
You recently took the Shakespearean Masterclass. How was that experience for you?
To be honest, for a while I thought I was attending as an audience member! Then a bit before it, Jon-Michael told me I was going to do a speech. And that was great because I didn’t have the time to sort of psych myself out or get in my head about it. I’m so grateful for that because it helped me jump in… and that’s something I’m really trying to work on lately.
What was the lead-up to “jumping in?”
We were so fortunate to have Susan Pilar there. We did a classic Susan Pilar warmup—one that really settled us into the body. It was a wonderful, full warmup.
The Masterclass was just incredible. One of the things I came away with was the “muscularity” of Shakespeare’s text. With Shakespeare today, we’re so keen to make it so relaxed and approachable, sometimes putting it into modern settings, which is so wonderful, but within that, working with Harriet made me so aware that the text is this meaty, energized, complex thing that we as actors have to step up to. We must throw ourselves into the text and let that speak for itself—you don’t have to “gesture” because the text can speak for itself.
The stand-and-deliver method can work wonders.
It certainly can, and that was something that was nice to hear out loud. Another thing she mentioned was trying to find the balance between the text and the intention, what you’re playing, and what the text is giving you. Hitting that sweet spot between those two things that I’m letting the text drive it, but I’m also making sure that I’m emotionally fulfilled. The text is genius, and we’re kind of not!
Harriet also called it a workout. We have to focus on how much breath we need, and we need to focus on how the words feel and rise to them with the intention. A lot of the text is persuasive language, it’s rhetoric, so it can be quite easy to rattle it off because it sounds pretty. But we have to be in the character’s mindset of finding those words. Whether they’re trying to persuade someone of something, or they’re working something out by themselves.
I’m always approaching it as though I’m playing someone much smarter than myself, who has a much stronger grasp of language than I do. Unpacking each thought as it happens in each moment is crucial.
Shakespeare had a way of making all of his characters turn into geniuses… Romeo, during the balcony scene, I mean, poetry comes pouring out of him!
Absolutely! He's a poet. You know, I really found my passion for Shakespeare at The Academy. I had Barbara Rubin for Shakespeare in my second year, and her use of scansion, paraphrasing the text, finding the meaning for every single word was so important for me.This class had the feeling of being a great risk-taking space. The Academy audience and Harriet were all there to sort of “catch us” as we gave it a go.
It’s been my pleasure chatting with you. A final question for you: where do you see yourself in five years?
In five years, I would love to be doing more classical theatre and writing more. I like to write in verse. And feel really excited about where I am! I’m going to continue following this path out of curiosity.
I spoke with another alum recently, and his belief is that if you stay curious for 30 years, you can’t help but end up at The Academy Awards.
Ah, there you go! The Academy Awards.