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UI freshman theater student hails from across the pond

BY JUSTUS FLAIR | DECEMBER 06, 2012 6:30 AM

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Luke Millington-Drake is nothing if not dedicated to performing.

The native of London traveled to Iowa City in March to present a three-minute audition for the Iowa Center for the Arts selection committee.

“It was my first time performing for an American audience,” he said. “It was nerve-racking, and I was jet-lagged as hell. I remember thinking, ‘What if they don’t get me; what if the way I perform they don’t understand?’ ”

His hotel clerk did not help boost his confidence.

“The morning of my audition, I wanted to look nice, so I washed my hair and did my hair nicely, and I was wearing nice clothes,” Millington-Drake said. “And because my hair is long, the lady at the counter looked at my mother and me and said, ‘Hi, ladies, how can I help you?’ And I had facial hair at the time.”

Despite this rocky start, he was able to impress the panel of judges with his two chosen pieces, Alistair, from Posh, by Laura Wade, and Sebastian from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and he was awarded the full in-state tuition scholarship.

The scholarship is another item on his extensive résumé.

“I did my first professional show when I was 5,” the UI freshman said. “I was working with a company in England called the Winter Shall Players, and they did a series of plays based on the life of Jesus Christ. They did the Nativity, the Act of the Apostles, and the Life of Christ. I played the small child’s role in that. But even though that was my first professional acting job, I was always a performer.”

The desire to perform had long been present for him, in the form of ballet, tap, jazz, acting, singing, and anything else.

“My mom said I was always writing shows in my room by myself,” said the theater major. “Then I’d perform them and make her buy tickets to come see them. I’ve dabbled in other things, but it always comes back to acting.”

The choice to come to America for acting was not one he made lightly.

“The thing that differs a lot here, and the thing I really wanted to learn, was to connect to the body more,” he said.

“The Americans focus mainly on the embodiment of a character,” he said. “It’s something the Americans think about right away. Whereas in England, I found they focus more on the voice, and how they talk, and how they think, and the physicality comes later. Certainly, I think the training in England vocally was helpful, learning to speak from the diaphragm and to project.  And that comes from doing a lot of Shakespeare.”

Millington-Drake has had an abundance of experience, both in Shakespeare and in plays more modern.

“I did a subtotal of 14 plays in five years at my high school [Charterhouse School in Godalming, Surrey, England],” he said.

However, even before entering high school, he had extensive theatrical credits.

“When I was 10, a theater-production company where I lived did a production of David Copperfield, and I played Young David,” he said. “That was the first show I cried after, because I had rehearsed for eight weeks, and it had been a huge part of my life. I was at an age, mentally, where I was able to pick up on the actors and what they were doing. I was actually asked to play a character, so I was constantly watching, learning from the actors, learning from the director. One thing I learned in particular from the actor playing David Copperfield was how to project your voice.”

Millington-Drake was able to put those skills to the test in his Iowa première as Prince Malcolm in the Mainstage production of Lady M in October. The actor enjoyed his time.

“The script was strong, the director [Matt Hawkins] was awesome to work with, and the thing that’s so nice about him is he’s a collaborator, and he really cares about what we think about the character,” Millington-Drake said.

The team effort on Lady M was essential to his method, he said.

“He really likes collaborating with people,” said classmate Katie Boothroyd, with whom Millington-Drake is preparing a scene from Michael Gazzo’s Hat Full of Rain.

“He doesn’t want to work by himself; he wants to work together and connect with someone else to help him with his character,” she said. “He doesn’t just brush it off; he understands a deeper meaning in the theater.”

The show also marks a fresh experience for the new Iowan resident.

“This is the first time I’ve seen Americans do Shakespeare, so it’s very interesting to see how they approach it,” Millington-Drake said. “There are things they do, which I would never think to approach it that way, because no one would really mention that back in England. Which is great — it’s just another way to think about and analyze Shakespeare.”

As with many British actors, he is very passionate about Shakespeare.

“I love Shakespeare,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to learn than modern speech is for me, because Shakespeare does all the work for you. The fantastic thing about Shakespeare is, once you get it, you really, really get it. Every word he uses, every rhyming couplet, the iambic pentameter, you realize as an actor that he does all the work for you. And each actor puts his own spin on it, but he lays all the groundwork for you.”

Millington-Drake is venturing outside of Shakespeare and into the American theater in his Acting I class this semester.

“Luke is a great actor and friend,” said fellow theater major Alyssa Hitchcock. “He takes his work in the theater seriously without taking himself too seriously. He always works hard in class and gives his all to his performances, but afterwards, he is able to just relax and go to animated movies with all of us.”

In addition to theater, Millington-Drake has many interests beyond animated feature films.

“I love both watching and playing tennis,” he said. “It was a sport that I developed the interest in as a recovery from juvenile arthritis, which I think is why I like it so much. Now, I always follow the tournaments. I feel like it’s sort of the one sport that can be both frustrating and satisfying at the same time. It can change so easily. It’s a very emotional sport; it’s physically and emotionally draining, which is why I think I like it so much.”

Now that he has moved to the States, he has much to keep him occupied.

“I want to settle this year — settle in the Theater Department, settle here in Iowa,” he said. “I know what I want in life, and now, I’m just taking the steps to get there.”


Luke Millington-Drake

Favorite words: “Moist” and “Plinth”
Favorite author: Roald Dahl
Favorite play: Noises Off, by Michael Frayn
Favorite movie: Emperor’s New Groove (“Krunk reminds me of myself”)
Favorite Color: Crystal blue (“Like the sea”)
Favorite Food: Chicken Ramen from Wagamama in London


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