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Matt Roddis - on the Marella Dream cruise ship: "a real learning curve!"

Matt Roddis is a twenty-four-year-old actor, singer, and director from Rotherham, South Yorkshire. He graduated from Sheffield Hallam University with a first class honours degree in 2018. SHU Acting & Performance caught up with him shortly after he returned from working as an entertainer on the Marella Dream cruise ship.

Matt Roddis. Photo credit: Kate McDonald Photography.

SHU Acting & Performance: Hi Matt, we hear that you’ve spent a year working as an entertainer on a cruise ship, what was that like? 

Matt: I was a lead singer, dancer and general entertainer on the Marella Dream. Performing two shows a night, six nights a week. I was also involved in three group cabarets, and had my own solo act! 

SHU Acting & Performance: It sounds like you were busy! Were there lots of rehearsals? 

Matt: Before we left we rehearsed six-days a week 8am-8pm. We got three ten-minute breaks and one forty-five-minute lunch break. I had auditioned as a singer. Then, when I got into rehearsals, I did a “casting day”, so that they could work out which shows I would be performing for the next nine months, they realised I could dance and threw me into a whole load of movement sequences.

SHU Acting & Performance: What shows did you perform in? 

Matt: They ranged from things like Committed (The Commitments) to the Brother Blue (Blues Brothers) and Burlesque; to more review-type shows that involved song and dance from all over the world, as well as interactive pieces.

Matt Roddis performing on the Marella Dream (centre). Photo credit: Marella Dream.

SHU Acting and Performance: What was it like performing to audiences on a cruise ship? 

Matt: It’s really strange performing to people who are on holiday. They aren’t your usual theatre goers. Lots of them really appreciated what we were doing. But we’d get asked things like, “what do you do for work then?” And told, “that was very professional - I’d pay good money to see that.” That was a bit frustrating. Overall, it was an amazing professional experience, and I got to see beautiful places and performed almost every night.

SHU Acting & Performance: What did you do in your spare time? 

Matt: We started off around the Canary Islands, Portugal, and Africa, and then went through to the Mediterranean. We didn’t have to work in the daytime. So I got to see all of these amazing places. I went to Rome three times, Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast, Portofino, and Sorrento. There were two duty days per-week. On these, we had to stay on the ship and run activities for the guests - not what I signed up for, but a great learning curve! After shows finished the audience would leave and the performers would congregate on Deck 10 Aft and unwind. I shared a cabin with my now really good friend Robbie. I call him my wife!

Matt Roddis: backstage, performing, and post-show on the Marella Dream.

SHU Acting and Performance: It sounds like a brilliant experience. Was the intensity of working long hours on a ship the biggest challenge that you have faced since leaving us? 

Matt: Not quite. Show business is a very different world from being a student and it was difficult to know where to start once I graduated. Leaving an institution where you’re surrounded by constant support and really dedicated tutors is difficult. 

SHU Acting and Performance: Was it very hard to find work when you started out?

Matt: The constant knock-backs are harder than I imagined they would be. I did upwards of ten auditions before getting my cruise contract with Peel Talent. Saying that, I learned to write, devise, and perform at SHU, and was able to rely on my creativity to make my own work. Before I went away I directed Suspects, which was performed at Early Fest in Sheffield in the spring of 2018. 

SHU Acting & Performance: What advice would you give to our current students? 

Matt: Just throw yourself into as many things as you can. Free workshop with Equity? Great! Member of The Making Room? Fab! Open calls, agent interviews, student films, showreels, voicereels, singing reels, and so many other opportunities will really help to build your CV. Do as much as you can. Build your brand. Make lots of connections. 

SHU Acting & Performance: And what would you say to those who are close to graduating? 

Matt: Leaving can be scary but you have to trust yourself. You’re going to begin the process of looking for work in an area that you have specialised in for three (or more) years. Believe in your knowledge and throw yourself into it. The main piece of advice would be to talk, talk as much as you can, with as many people as you can. Acting can be a very isolating industry, so talk, find contacts and be open to the opportunities they bring your way.

SHU Acting & Performance: You were part of a year group that travelled to Venice to perform at the Biennale. What was that like? 

Matt: I have so many amazing memories from SHU but performing in Bryan McCormack’s Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow. really sticks out. I feel so blessed to be able to say I was a part of something so profound. It was a powerful piece of image theatre about the humanitarian refugee crisis and we performed it at a major international festival. It’s a memory I’ll never forget! 

Matt Roddis (centre) in Venice with SHU Acting & Performance, rehearsing for Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow. Photo credit: Elizabeth Pennington.

SHU Acting & Performance: Is that your fondest memory from your time with us? 

Matt: My fondest memory is my final show, which I created with my best friend, Rob Cannon. I had the most amazing four-month experience; acting, laughing, and even designing the set for our dark and sinister comedy The Wait; a piece inspired by a Harold Pinter play. We spent £300 on a fully operational dumb waiter. Oops! But it was worth it. To have a working piece of set that we could bounce off made the performance so much more than just a play. We also borrowed authentic costumes from Sheffield Theatres. And we had real guns... that were theatrical and only shot blanks! 

SHU Acting & Performance: Did the two of you work on the project on your own?

Matt: We worked with Niel Sissions, who taught us vital techniques and was the best tutor we could have hoped for! I honed skills that made me feel really confident to face the industry when I left. I’m very thankful for those experiences as they really shaped me as a performer, academic, and as a person.

Matt Roddis, set building and performing in The Wait (2018). Photo credits: Jonathan Cannon.

SHU Acting & Performance: It sounds like performing in Venice and in your final showcase had a really profound impact on you. What would you say is the most important thing that you learned while studying with us?

Matt: Two words. “Just be”. That’s what Neil Sissons told me again and again throughout our final rehearsals. It’s the best piece of advice I’ve been given. Any actor who really wants to prevail in the industry would do well to live by those two words. Acting isn’t acting. It’s “being”.

SHU Acting & Performance: What do you hope to achieve in the years ahead?

Matt: I have aspirations, such as performing at the Edinburgh Fringe, doing some screen work, and finding new opportunities to sing as much as I can. I’ve been working as an acting and singing tutor since graduating. I love teaching adults, especially beginners. Online tutoring is a very strange experience but I always try to be as adaptable as I can be for anyone who wants to learn or practice. I’m starting a PGCE in September, because I want to develop this side of my career. Teaching is secure work that I will be able to use to support me when I’m not performing. 

SHU Acting & Performance: If you could study Acting & Performance again what would you do differently? 

Matt: I had the most amazing three-years and I wouldn’t change many things. I'd knuckle down with the academic side from day one, as that would have prepared me better for essay writing in the final year.

SHU Acting & Performance: It’s been great hearing from you Matt. We’re excited to see how your work develops and wish you the best of luck with the teacher training!

Matt Roddis teaches singing and drama and will be starting a PGCE at St. Augustine’s Primary Academy in September. He is also a photographer and provides headshot sessions for professional actors. He is continuing to work as a performer and director whilst also making his own work.

Instagram: /Matthewryanroddis

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