Local BAFTA scholarship winner on auditions and inspirations

Gaia Ahuja, an upcoming actor and BAFTA scholar from Tulse Hill, spoke to Anetha Sivananthan about auditioning for drama school, advice for aspiring artists and acting inspirations

Gaia Ahuja, 21, is in her final year at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA) and will be receiving support throughout her final year via the scholarship awarded by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA).

She says she has always loved performing since a young age and was influenced by the television she watched growing up.

Gaia Ahuja. Image courtesy of Gaia Ahuja

Although Gaia had committed herself to drama classes at the South London Theatre in West Norwood, it was while studying for A-Levels at Dunraven School in Streatham that she realised that she aspired to make a serious career out of acting.

“Everyone was applying for university and they’re going through the academic route and I am not an academic,” she says.

“I realised I needed to work out what I wanted to do and I started looking at drama schools.”

A teacher put her in contact with former student Harry Jardine, who had gone on to join the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), one of the UK’s oldest drama schools. He organised workshops with her and helped mentor Gaia during the gap year she took following her A-Levels.

Her first audition for drama school was “competitive” with “so many requirements.”

“You’ve got about five minutes to show a panel of people who you are and it’s a lot of pressure,” says Gaia.

However, she does believe things are progressing for young actors who may find the process of applying daunting. She strongly recommends organisations such as Open Door as good places to start. Supported by Arts Council England, Open Door is a part-time intensive course for people seriously interested in building a career in acting, backstage or production arts.

Gaia Ahuja at SouthSounds. Image courtesy of Gaia Ahuja.

Of her acceptance into her first choice for drama school, LIPA, she recalls: “It was such a relief and, because it was my second year trying, it just meant so much more.

“You don’t get any feedback for the audition, so you don’t know what you’re doing wrong. It could literally be something as simple as they’ve already taken on way too many girls or they’ve already got a girl who looks like me.”

She added: “It’s so much bigger than you’re good and you’re not good.”

As well as studying for a degree in acting at LIPA, Gaia is the co-founder of SouthSounds, a community-based creative collective in South London working in partnership with Streatham Space Project. It draws local young people together and provides them with an opportunity to showcase their talent with no judgement.

In Liverpool, SouthSounds is collaborating with other organisations to create events run by young people for young people. The organisation is looking for people in full-time employment who have a passion for the performing arts such as singing and song-writing that they would be interested in having the chance to pursue.

Performances at SouthSounds. Image courtesy of Gaia Ahuja.

All BAFTA scholars are entitled to free entry to academy events and Gaia has had the chance to interact with upcoming artists and uncover creative opportunities at BAFTA’s Guru Live annual festival of talks, workshops and masterclasses. She will also be attending the BAFTA Breakthrough Brits – a partnership with Netflix to support the next generation of creative talent.

Gaia Ahuja. Image courtesy of Gaia Ahuja.

A persistent acting influence over the driven 21-year-old is the screenwriter and lead actor of the E4 series Chewing Gum, Michaela Coel, due to the British actor’s ability to be the writer of her own show and to represent a strong female protagonist as the series’ lead character, 24-year-old Tracey Gordon.

Gaia said: “She [Michaela Coel] is the perfect example of someone I am describing. She is writing and starring in her own show and she is using her experiences and her voice to write for herself.”

Other acting inspirations Gaia cites as pivotal to shaping her interest in the field include the Shameless actor Maxine Peake.

She says: “I think she’s brilliant. She is strong and self-aware of who she is.

“I really admire that she writes, acts and directs.”

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