Thursday, 23 February 2012

Ticket to Ride

It was announced this week that a quarter of children in this country have never been to the theatre. Of the 2,000 parents surveyed, 25% declared that their children, aged between 6 and 12 hadn't attended a theatre. 60% hadn't attended a classical music concert and 40% hadn't been to an art gallery. Now, to be fair, I'm not sure if I'd attended a classical music concert before the age of 12. Although I quite liked classical music when I was younger, thankfully my parents realised there were a zillion things I'd rather be doing at the age of 10. Like making epic compliation tapes and practicing my signature for when Leonardo DiCaprio finally decided to ask me to marry him.

But I realise I was very lucky when I was growing up. Firstly I had parents who considered it extremely important to ensure that I didn't just spend my days moping around the house. Many weekends were spent travelling around the country going to museums, seeing shows or getting lost as we desperately tried to find an ancient ruin in the times before sat navs had been invented. I lived in a city where there was plenty going on plus I was an only child growing up in the 80s and 90s so everything was that bit cheaper. And that leads us beautifully to the reason why children are growing up seeing less theatre and that's because it's so bloody expensive. I am pretty sure there are plenty of parents out there who would love to be able to take the little mini versions of themselves to see all the wonderful things there are out there but their budget just won't allow them to.

I thought I'd do some incredibly lazy, vague investigative type journalism to attempt to illustrate my point. So, imagine two lovely parents in Birmingham decide to take their two children to see the Saturday matinee performance of Matilda. Even if they go for the cheapest seats available which are £25.00 each, that's £100 just to see the show. They don't know London all that well so they decide to take the train there. The cheapest return available for them is £75. Right, so that takes us up to £175. If we then take into account however they get to the train station, underground travel when they get to London and the fact that they might fancy remortgaging their home so they can each have a sandwich and a drink at some point during the day then you're probably looking at a day trip that costs well over £200. Suddenly you can see why 25% of kids haven't been to a theatre before the age of 12. Of course, I realise that our little Birmingham family could attend something a little closer to home. Why not see Oliver! at the Birmingham Hippodrome this weekend? Oh yes, because four tickets for their Saturday matinee this weekend would set you back £170. I could fly to Rome and back for less than that. Maybe Birmingham family would like to forego their little theatre trip and pay for me to go on holiday instead? No. OK. Just a thought.

I realise that there are plenty of free things that parents can do with their children to ensure that they are culturally fulfilled little beings. We are exceedingly lucky with the sheer amount of museums and art galleries that this country has that are free to enter. Many an afternoon I have marvelled at the fact that I can kill a few hours in town by wandering around the National Portrait Gallery for absolutely nothing. But how many 6 years want to spend every weekend traisping around another museum? Sure, the Science Museum is a whole load of fun but after a few weekends even the most enthusiastic scientist is going to start getting a tad bored.

And why should it be that children are the ones that have to miss out? I'm aware of why theatres are having to put their prices up. As the cost of everything else increases, tickets have to go up in value to ensure that everyone can get paid and so the damn show can be put on in the first place. But if only an elite handful of people can then afford to attend then it hardly seems worth it. Instead we're just creating a world where the lucky few can still see these wonderful shows that are being produced while the rest of us remain blissfully unaware of what's going on out there. All we can do is bitterly read the dazzling reviews rather ironically written by someone who has been lucky enough to see the show for free. And I appreciate that there are schemes out there such as the under 26 one which encourages those under 26 to attend the theatre by giving them free tickets but is that really enough? It helps ensure that young people are still going to theatre but it's not allowing children to grow up being aware at just how wonderful the theatre can be.

I've realised that I don't know what the answer to this and this has basically been just me whinging away for a couple of paragraphs (yes, I know that's what all my blog entries are.) If I knew what the answer was then I would take great pleasure in camping out in every box office across the land until every theatre took note and stopped ticket prices being so depressingly expensive that just looking at a booking page makes me want to cry. But I don't know what the fair solution is. Because if we start cutting ticket prices then people stop getting paid and I don't want to write another blog about actors not getting paid. Of course, as soon as someone pays me to be in something then I'll stop worrying about this because I'll be back to defending the cost of ticket prices but for now, I'll be enjoying camping out on my little soapbox. If someone would bring me tea, biscuits and maybe a few theatre ticket vouchers then I'd be hugely grateful.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Doctor Theatre

When I worked in an office, I bloody loved sick days. For the price of a cough and sneeze, I would be paid to stay at home and keep my duvet company. Apart from the monthly wages that would be keep me in a steady supply of dresses, sick pay was the best thing about being at work. To be fair, I took very few in the two years I was there but the ones I did have I embraced with the same kind of joy I usually only get from free bars, romping around in my onesie and short plays.

But it’s all very different when you’re self-employed. When your immune system decides its time it took itself off on a mini-break, there’s no one whose going to slip a few twenties in your bank account while you sniff and sneeze and create a used tissue barricade around your bed. Thankfully, my body used this week, where I had absolutely nothing planned, to shut itself down and turn me into a red-nosed, hacking misery so very little was lost and for once, I didn’t have to feel bad that I was lying in bed on a Tuesday afternoon watching Nighty Night. 

I’ve been very lucky when it comes to illness getting in the way of acting. I loathe the term ‘Doctor Theatre’ which appears to be everyone’s answer when you say you’re feeling ill but you’ve still got to perform that evening. Why isn’t this used in any other profession? ‘Doctor Office?’ ‘Doctor Hospital?’ ‘Doctor Primary School?’ No. When anyone else is ill then they just get told to stay at home and rest up until they’re feeling better but work in this stupid business and the show very much has to go on. 

However, it’s hard to argue with the term ‘Doctor Theatre’ when it really appears to work. How else would I have been able to get through a four hour dance rehearsal with chronic food poisoning? If this weird GP who refuses to cure anyone but performers doesn’t exist then practicing dance routines to Kanye West and Kelis when last night’s dodgy curry was playing havoc with my insides would’ve been almost impossible. And how many times have we found ourselves disastrously hungover just moments before we have to be on stage? During a Shakespeare festival a few years back, most of us, due to being desperately depressed about being kept out of London for three months with practically no money, drank ourselves stupid on cheap gin until 7am pretty much every night. We’d then get an hour’s sleep before having to get up so we were ready for rehearsals at 9am. Just the thought of this now makes me feel physically sick but back then, when you’ve got adrenaline and gin still coursing through your veins, you feel like you can achieve anything. 

I’d like to say that now I’m feeling better I’m being proactive again and making up for the few days where I achieved nothing. Yes. I’d like to say that. I can’t but I’d definitely like to. Instead I’m off to find another excuse for being a little bit lazy. Anyone got any dodgy looking meat that needs eating up?

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Where For Art Thou Advert?

You or may not remember that a little while back, I was having immense fun chasing up payment for an advert I shot last year. After more hounding than Rufus Hound’s bloodhound in Hound of the Baskervilles, I finally got my money and the whole world rejoiced as I could eat for a few more weeks.  And I thought that would mean that the saga was well and truly over. But oh no. Because although the money is safe and sound in my account (with a gorgeous dent out of it due to having to pay to live under a slightly damp roof) I’m now waiting to get hold of the damn advert itself.

You’d think an advert would be easy to find. Surely the whole point of an advert is that it’s out there to be seen so that as many people as possible get suckered in and squander their hard-earned monies on something entirely useless. But not when I’m involved. It is nowhere. I thought, because I’d been a bit persistent about getting my pay, that I’d leave it a few weeks before I chased up the footage. So I did. And now, three days later, I’m still waiting for a reply. So, desperate not to be seen as an actress that’s more irritating than a mohair jumper, I thought I’d do a bit of detective work myself.
First stop was that place where we all go when we want to find a video. You Glorious Tube. A treasure trove for procrastinators everywhere, YouTube is always to be trusted. If it ain’t on there then it ain’t worth seeing. Well, if we go by that rule then this advert most definitely isn’t worth being seen. I have searched for everything.  Every possible variant for every possible word has been used in every possible order. I have tried being obvious and I have tried being diverse. And because it’s only being shown in mainland Europe, I’ve even tried translating my searches into other languages. Still nothing. 

Starting to admit defeat, I thought I’d try searching by adding the name of one of the other actors in it. Ah ha! Someone has posted on this actor’s facebook page about it! There, in black and white is one solitary sentence compromising of seven words. That, my friends, is the sum of my labours. So, now I know that the advert exists because someone out there has seen it. But that means, out of the 1,407,724,920 that supposedly have access to the internet, only one of them has bothered to mention this advert online. They’re more than happy to unnecessarily tell us all what they ate for breakfast, their thoughts on EastEnders and share what they looked like on their holiday to Malaga but only one person in the whole of Europe has taken the time to oh so briefly mention this advert.

After all this searching, I’m still no closer to seeing myself. I realise that I’m probably only on screen for a maximum of five seconds and I imagine I’m almost unrecognisable but that’s beside the point. I want to see it. I want my friends and family to see it. I want those losers at school to see it. Dammit, I want proof that more than one person has seen it. And, more importantly, I can’t cope with the fact that I’ve now shot three adverts in my life and I’ve yet to see any of them. I refuse to be the invisible actress and therefore I will stop at nothing to see this damn thing. Taxi to Norway please!

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Whinges and Wines

Advert castings. That joyous time where you get two seconds to portray every emotion under the sun to show just how enthusiastic you can be about someone else's brand. You get shoved in front of the camera and you only just get chance to utter your name and agent and show off your profile before you're being asked to be cheekily upset about how wonderously happy you are at being outrageously shy at an imaginary person offering you soup in a stick. First attempts usually fail miserably while your brain desperately tries to make your face portray every human emotion possible in one gurning move. The casting director will then wince a bit, you'll feel like the worst actor in the world and then spend an agonising four more takes pulling every muscle in your face trying too look like you have a clue what they want you to do. They'll then smile pitifully and kick you back out on to the streets of Soho where you belong.

Thankfully the casting I went to this week wasn't quite so bad but it certainly had its moments. The part I was up for was described as a 'wine woman.' Now, these are two words I know well. This is the part I've been subconciously preparing for for a good chunk of my life. So I arrived at the casting feeling pretty darn confident and naively convinced that I'd get to drink at least one bottle of wine in my attempt to get the part right. I was given a short script to look over and was told I'd be going in with two other actresses so once they had arrived, we could get together and rehearse before going in. It was a three line script so rehearsing beforehand seemed a tad unnecessary but the waiting room was cluttered with other groups doing the same so I felt I ought to join in. The rest of my team arrived and once we'd all filled out our ridiculously long forms detailing everything from what we ate for breakfast last Wednesday to our thoughts on the current economic state of Azerbaijan, I presumed we'd run through the lines at least once. They'd also asked that we get to know each other a little bit as they wanted us to appear as friends. While every other group in the room was yakking away and howling with laughter, I was desperately trying to make conversation with one actress who was glued to her phone and another who was lustily whispering the script to herself. After a couple of futile attempts to make sure we were at least on smiling terms before we entered the casting room, I gave up and sought solace on Twitter.

We were finally called in and while the group before us left all busy arranging when they were going to meet up for drinks, we still didn't even know each others names. We went through the scene a few times with Mobile Lover constantly getting her lines wrong and Lusty Whisperer overpronouncing her lines and constantly being told to stop taking it all quite so seriously. I, on the other hand, was struggling with the glorious direction of being 'cheekily sincere' and I was also told to keep a straight face and laugh at the same time. Sadly I think we came across less like a group of friends and more like a self-help group of alcoholics. The advert may have been for shockingly cheap wine but I'm sure even this particular cheap brand has standards that we came nowhere near to reaching.

Oh, and I didn't get to drink any wine. Stupid job.

Sunday, 5 February 2012


This week I attended a screening for a piece I filmed back last year. I could bleat on about the fact that, because we were running  late, I missed all the free champagne. I could complain that the room chosen was too small for the amount of people invited and because I was late and small, I was stuck at the back and only able to see about a quarter of the screen. I could harp on about how a room with pillars isn’t the ideal room for a screening. But these things aren’t necessary. What I really wanted to talk about was networking. That horrible, awful thing that we’re supposedly all meant to be masters of and something we’re constantly told we won’t get anywhere without.

I’m not a networker. The idea of it brings me out in a cold sweat and a panicky breathless state of terror. It’s just not something I can do naturally. I’ll happily chat away to anyone and that’s why I’ve spent countless train journeys learning random facts about people’s lives. But put me in a room full of supposedly important people and I clam up faster than, well, a clam. I hate the idea of starting up a conversation with someone just because you want something from them. Now, I know we’ve all chatted up people in bars and, of course, that’s because we ultimately want something from them, be it a drink or their hand in marriage. But in a networking situation it all feels very different. It’s very much ‘I have an inkling that you could further my career so I’m going to desperately try and make polite conversation in the hope that my inane mumblings will inspire you to cast me.’ And the problem is that most of the time, people at these things either aren’t that influential or could give two figs about your failing career. Usually they’re just there so they can collect their free glass of vinegary wine and limp ham sandwich. They’ve got about as much influence on your future as I do (absolutely none.)

I know some people who are wonderful at these things and I usually look upon them with envy as they charm the greying pants off them in the foyer after a show. Sadly I think I’ll always be too self-deprecating and conscious of how loathsome a task it is to ever get very far when it comes to sweet-talking the movers and the shakers in the world of acting. I’ve now learnt to admit defeat when it comes to these things and accept that while others are gaining valuable contacts, I’ll be sat in the corner having much more fun with the crew (no, not like that.)

The worst time has to have been after my drama school showcase. I’d been in a wonderful scene which The Stage had raved about and I’m in a casting bracket that should get agents excited. I don’t want to sound like I thought I was going to get snapped up straight away but I was fairly confident when I stepped out of our frighteningly over-packed dressing room which contained ten girls constantly spraying their hair and one girl allergic to hairspray.  Networking type drinks had been arranged in the foyer and so we all filed out dutifully like a parade of slaves. However, there was a major flaw in the fact that no one knew who anyone else was. Some people’s friends and parents had somehow slipped into the event so you no idea whether you were talking to a top agent or someone’s dad. This meant that you had to stand around looking aloof while desperately waiting for someone to come up and talk to you. About three people were approached while everyone else stood expectedly against the walls, drinking ourselves into a cheap wine stupor. I don’t think I need to tell you which group I was in. The only person who chatted to me was a friend’s mum who told me they liked the dress I’d been wearing on stage. Not quite the result I was looking for.

I’m not entirely sure what the solution is. I know there are some actors with more balls than a ball pit and will happily hand out their business card in any situation but I struggle handing round a bag of sweets (it’s highly likely I’ll drop them/poison everyone/be in a room full of diabetics) so I’ll never join that gang. And there are those that just instantly attract people and find that everyone comes to them but I have about as much magnetic charm as an aluminium tray so that group is closed to me too. Maybe I’ll just stand in the middle of the room with a massive banner saying ‘Actress For Sale’ and scare the buggers into hiring me…

Wednesday, 1 February 2012


I realise you've probably been barely able to sleep after yesterday's blog. I imagine you woke up after only a couple of hours slumber this morning, desperately checked your phone/laptop/BBC News and were exasperated to find that there was still no update on my story. Please people, put down your phones for this news is in and I'm pleased to announce that, for some unfathomable reason, they have decided to take me on! No, no. There's nothing wrong with your hearing. You heard right the first time and this calamitous actress has somehow found someone who thinks she might be worthy putting up to audition for second maid on the left.

So what now? I've spent so long taking care of myself that I'm a little unsure what to do now. Of course I can still apply for things myself and I'll continue to do so but a lot of it will now be done by my agent. I realise I should now use this free time to be constructive but, as I've said many times before, I'm not the greatest at utilising my free time for anything other than crisp eating and wall staring. I should really be using my time work on the skills I was harping on about in the meeting yesterday but instead I'm using my free hours to work out just what we'll do if the chilli plant keeps growing at the rate it is as the moment...

And while I'm absolutely delighted to have an agent, it does feel like I've lost control of what I do a little. I realise I need an agent if I'm ever going to break out of an endless string of unpaid short films and adverts that don't ever make it to air but when it was just me putting myself up for things, I knew exactly what I was doing. It's hard to explain without sounding like the laziest actress this side of Lazytown but when I was applying jobs myself, I could pick and choose when and where I wanted to work and if I felt like having a week off (I know, most of my weeks are classed as 'off') then I knew I just wouldn't apply for anything on that week. But now I've got someone who wants their commission and while I can tell them when I can and can't work, the control lies very much with someone else now.

I realise this makes me sound incredibly ungrateful and nothing could be further from the truth. I'm very happy indeed that they've taken me on and it's what I've wanted since I got back into acting six months ago. It's just merely a thought to ponder on a very cold Wednesday afternoon while I sit by myself overdosing on Simon & Garfunkel.

Tonight I have the screening of the filming I did last year. Check back here tomorrow for some guaranteed self-loathing...