Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Blue Skype Thinking

I’ve noticed recently that there has been a real increase in the amount of auditions that are being conducted via Skype. At first I saw a couple and my reaction was that casting directors are getting lazy and student film makers couldn’t be bothered to organise auditions. But the more I’ve seen, the more I’ve realised that this kind of thing is going to be the norm. Now I’m still a Skype audition virgin but I know my time will soon be up. It’s only a matter of time before the encircling pack of webcam-equipped wolves pounce upon me and I find myself performing a script to my laptop. 

In theory, the online audition sounds perfect. I don’t have to think about what time I’m going to leave the flat so that I can make sure I arrive in time. I don’t have to worry about the rain/wind/a wily eagle that will ruin my freshly styled hair. I don’t have to spend money on getting to an audition that I probably won't even get. Instead of losing hours out of my day, I can get myself ready, sit in front of the computer, do the audition and then get on with my day straightaway. Unless they want me in full length then I can potentially audition in my slippers which would probably be the highlight of my career.

But here’s the thing. The main problem is what if these auditions become more regular than the ones where you schlep into Soho which, although annoying, at least they get you out of the house. However, there are far more important factors such as the fact that I may be able to get away with my usual indoor footwear (giant frog slippers if you must know) but other than that, I’d still have to get myself ready as I would for any audition. I’d be the living embodiment of ‘all dressed up with nowhere to go.’ It’s the depressing moment when you’ve got yourself ready for a night out and just as you put your coat on to leave, your friend calls and cancels. I don’t want to get my hair ready, do my make-up and put on my bestest clothes just to sit staring at my laptop.

And then there’s the worry about what your surroundings look like. Our flat is so damp that our dehumidifier is collecting enough water to keep drought away from London for the next 10 years so most walls have an interesting pattern of mould on them. Although it might help make a director feel sorry for me, I’m fairly sure it’ll be very difficult to concentrate on my performance when they’re busy following the mould travelling across the wall behind me. We also have a neighbour who likes to shout profanities at the top of his voice. Surely his exclamations will be rather off-putting while I’m trying to desperately trying to read through a scene. Add to this the fact that people seem to specifically stop outside our flat to cough loudly/argue/hack their guts up/sell crisps at the top of their voice (really happened) and you’re suddenly plunged into the most unauditionable space outside Basra. 

And finally there’s our shoddy internet. Our internet likes to cut out constantly. Unless you’re sat on top of the router, it will crash the second you try to do something. Our internet is so unreliable that I once used up nearly a whole month’s data allowance on my phone after I was forced to download a film via 3G so that I was ready to do a voiceover the next day. So you can guarantee that as soon as I’m just getting into a scene, just ready to say the killer line, the internet will die and I’ll suddenly be faced with a blank screen and the realisation that I’m acting to my very old, crisp crumb filled laptop. Oh, and let’s add in the fact that I’ve got the attention span of a flea who is being forced to watch the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy so if I get an email or I suddenly get an urge to check Twitter, my audition attention is over. It’s hard to look interested in someone talking to you about their upcoming project while you’re busy vetting photos on Facebook. 

So here’s to hoping that I manage to keep those online auditions away for now. Or at least until me, my flat and my router learn a bit of netiquette…

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Bored of Directors

I’ve done some horrible auditions. I’ve been shouted at for doing things wrong and I’ve been told off for not knowing things. I’ve been ignored, I’ve been laughed at and I’ve been made to feel like an idiot. And at their worst, they’ve made me wonder whether I should really be an actor. And today’s audition fell firmly within that last catergory…

Directors, I know most of you are good people. I know you do a damn fine job and are a sheer joy to work with. You respect the people you work with and you actually know what you’re doing. But oh how I wish you’d all been with me today to see just how it shouldn’t be done. I got to the audition venue about 15 minutes early because that’s how I roll. I hold running late akin to drowning puppies so I will always be early for things. I’m usually so early that I have to do a fair few wandered laps around the venue so that I don’t look utterly ridiculous with my insane timekeeping. But 15 minutes early is massively acceptable so I headed straight in. The audition was being held upstairs and I was told to head straight up so, being the law abiding citizen that I am, I did.

At the top of the open stairs was an open door so I tentatively poked my head round where I was greeted with a ‘hello’ that was so shocked, I wondered if I was accidentally wielding a bloody axe. I wasn’t and I stepped into the room as that seemed the polite thing to do. The director glanced at me, sighed, rolled his eyes and grunted a ‘And who are you?’ in my general direction. My reply, which I attempted to accompany with a handshake, was completely ignored and he turned to his producer to ask ‘Do we want to see HER now?’ She made a fuss about having to check half of south London first to make sure that no one else was waiting to be seen. She traipsed off with her A-Z and compass and in hand and I was made to wait in the middle of the room while the panel stared at me, making no attempt to make me feel comfortable. I told them that I was happy to wait until my actual time slot but his only response was a look that is usually reserved for when you tell a panel that your audition piece will be you drinking your own urine while you play the national anthem by tapping a cocktail stick on your toenails. Our intrepid explorer finally returned and she said that they might as well see me now. This was greeted by the director with a slump down at his desk and I was finally invited to sit down.

The second I sat down, I was asked for an in-depth analysis (the type even Freud would’ve called excessive) for a character that has a total of eight lines in a 30 minute film. I gave what I thought was an extremely detailed and well-considered answer and I was actually rather proud of the points I made. But oh no. Mr Director politely nodded until I was done and then went on to tell me that I was completely wrong and then treated me to a lecture to his thoughts on the character. Fine. Have your moment of glory, you jumped-up, unsupportive, horrible piece of directorial trash. 

I was then asked to read a couple of scenes which were both fine. I was reading with the producer who seemed more interested in checking her emails than actually helping me and the director seemed to enjoy giving me the type of direction where you’re asked to be happy, sad, confused, angry, sarcastic, devious, honest and tentatively bold with a single line that contains one word. It’s such a hideous thing to ask of an actor and only results in them line coming out either completely flat or at a pitch you didn’t even realise you were capable of.

By now I was feeling so low about the audition that I was fairly sure things couldn’t get any worse. But of course it could. I finished the final line of the last scene, held the moment for a couple of seconds like all good actors do and then looked over at him to see him actually wince. Directors, if you ever want to make your actor feel like they’ve been wasting their life chasing their dream, try wincing after their performance. You’ll be amazed at just how useless it can make someone feel.
Apparently I’ll be hearing back from them later today on whether I’ve got the part. If I get it then I will eat my hat, shoes, coat and snood because it’ll help detract from the pain of having to work with this director again…

Monday, 23 April 2012

Swampy Saturday

There's something very special going on in the West End at the moment. In amongst all the ridiculously well-advertised and vastly overpriced musicals and plays, all boasting their super famour line-up, is a wonderful little show. It's on at the Soho Theatre and it goes by the name of Swamp Juice. Amidst all the glitzy, so-called glamour of the West End shows is a gorgeous little beast that will mesmerise you for a bewitching hour.

I'd seen a ton of rave reviews for Swamp Juice while I was up in Edinburgh last year. However, due to already being involved in two woeful children's shows, I was unable to find the time to see it inbetween time spent performing to an empty theatre and wondering just how quickly one could suffocate themselves under a giant inflatable cow. So I didn't see it. And, I'll be honest, I was vaguely aware of it being on at the Soho Theatre at the moment but I hadn't really given it any thought about heading down. However, fate was being a wonderful mistress on Saturday night and T was given a surprise night off. So, giddy on the excitement of having a sudden weekend evening to ourselves and being a pair of overgrown kids, we booked tickets for the one children's show that was on in the evening (sorry Matilda, we can't afford your eye-watering prices right now...)

The evening started interestingly. I think I've mentioned in a previous blog how I'm constantly baffled about how difficult audience members make finding a seat. It has always seemed like such a simple system but I don't think I've ever been to a show where someone has sat in someone else's seat. But there's no such excuse at the Soho Theatre as their seating is unreserved. However, people still made finding a seat more confusingly difficult than a team of lemurs trying to solve a Mensa puzzle. There was climbing, clambering and some of the most feeble shuffling that I've ever seen. Worried that we'd gone to see a show that only appealed to the socially inept, we were worried.

But the lights went down and the next hour was full of awesome incredibleness that I'm not going to try and explain. What I will tell you is that it's a one man show that somehow keeps you gripped for sixty wonderful minutes while this one, very clever performer keeps you entertained with shadow puppets made of junk. It's inventive, it's funny and it'll make you feel like a child seeing things for the first time again. And then, just when you think he's exhausted the world of shadow puppetry, you're treated to something I wasn't aware was even possible in the theatre. (I won't ruin it because I fully expect you all to go and see the show this week.) When the show was sadly over, T (who even got to be part of the show) and I spent a good long time after excitedly gabbling about the things we'd just seen. It's on until the 5th May and you can book tickets here (and I strongly sugggest that you do.) Even if you think puppetry ain't your bag, I can't recommend this show enough. In the world of theatre where so much is based on how you look and how well your name can sell tickets, it's incredibly heartening to see a show that just uses rubbish, lighting and just a love for their craft that outshines them all.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Reviewing The Situation

There has been a lot going on recently about trolling and people being proper meanies on the internet. Because the internet offers people a misguided belief that anything they write online is veiled with a shroud of anonymity, it gives a feeling of an amateur, local village production of 'Anything Goes.' We are still just about clutching on to the last little scraps of free speech so people are still using the internet to weave together mean little sentences and then fire them out at fairly unssuspecting victims.

Although I've never been the subject of trolling or abuse online, it got me to thinking about the abuse that us actors put ourselves up for on a regular basis: reviews. Reviews can be amazing. They can tell you that you're talented and beautiful and that you are 'the next big thing' (or whatever other stereotypical phrase they can come up with) but they can also be harsh. Now I've actually been in very few things that have actually been reviewed. The first proper play I was in was listed wrongly in Time Out so most people turned up just as the play was ending so all they saw were two audience members leaving looking thoroughly disappointed. So, for the first few years of my acting life, I remained thoroughly unreviewed (apart from a glowing review I received on Yelp after I slated a restaurant in Covent Garden...)

But that all changed about 12 months later. I was in a play which was based on a translation of an ancient text. A beautiful story and a lovely cast and crew but the translation was about as coherent as my GCSE Spanish aural exam. Add this to rehearsing in cold offices and a budget that barely stretched to sticking a feather on a piece of string and you can imagine what the end result was like. Now, I'm not saying you need an endless supply of cash to make a good production but it does help stop your set, whic is supposed to be a sumptuous and exotic land, looking like a 3 year old's atttempt at making Tracy Island with their eyes closed. Much of our set was made out of cut up curtains and broken coat hangers and it seriously looked like it did too.

Because there was no money involved (not even travel expenses) the director had to be understanding about us needing to work which meant that rehearsals were usually spent with at least one cast member missing. We even had one cast member who was working on another show at the same time and, because they were paying him, we saw him once between the first meeting and the technical rehearsal (no, I don't know what his part wasn't re-cast either.) This meant that by opening night, we were seriously unprepared. Even by the final dress rehearsal, we still weren't allowed to be in costume because they were still being made. This meant that we had no idea they barely functioned as clothes so our audience on the opening night was treated to more than one actor accidentally flashing their pants. The first night was littered with people's trousers falling down and the realisation that our costumes were almost completely see-through.

And sadly the play didn't improve in time for the press night. This meant that we were then faced with a barrage of reviews that described the play as mundane, unsuccessful, confused, awkward, extremely wrong and that the costumes looked like they belong in a science-fiction show. Not the reviews we were hoping for when we were working on a profit-share show. Somehow we still managed to sell-out almost every night and we ended up with a pretty good show on our hands but a lot of the damage had been done. Our leading man had been slated in almost every single review and our leading lady was distraught when a review talked about the size (or lack of) of her lady lumps. However, the worst thing was that one actor had done incredibly well out of the reviews. Now normally this wouldn't be a problem. Normally we'd be pleased for someone who was doing well. But it turned out to be that one blood difficult actor who makes rehearsals a nightmare. That one actor who feels it necessary to pull you aside after every bloody run-through and tell you exactly where you're going wrong. That one frikking actor that despite telling him countless times not too, consistently ruins your big scene by upstaging you and making sure that he's the star of the show. Yep. That guy.

Since then the shows I've been in have barely been reviewed. And I'm still not sure whether it's preferable to be in a show that gets lots of bad reviews or a show that just gets nothing. At least the bad reviews give me something to blog about...

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The Right Stuff

“You will be cast in front of the writter & directors so perform at your best.”

Wonderful advice there. Because we all need reminding that we need to perform our best in an audition. Most of us just wander in, mumble a few words, make half-hearted attempts at acting and then slouch out, happy with the terrible job we’ve done. So thank you, poorly written casting call, for your dazzling words of wisdom. If only you’d come along a few years earlier and that BAFTA might finally be mine…

But it did get me thinking about how we behave in audition. Yes, I’m using ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ in the hope that I can drag you all down with my terrible, auditioning ways. I’m sure none of you have fallen over in a casting, come out with an accent that’s so borderline racist that the casting director suspects you have the BNP on speed-dial or have managed to send yourself spinning towards very expensive editing equipment on an office chair. But let’s pretend, for the purposes of this blog and my own sense of pride that you have. Thanks.

The problem is that when you get into an audition, you just want to do well. We were constantly taught at drama school that you need to be brave and not worry about making mistakes. Now, that theory is wonderful when you’ve managed to convince someone to give you the part, it’s a lot harder putting it into practice when you’re so desperate for a job, you find yourself wondering if it is in fact possible to survive off Bovril and cheap noodles (it’s not – after two days I was muttering Lady Macbeth speeches on the District Line and entertaining thoughts of venturing into musical theatre.) When you’re faced with a panel who hold the key to you paying your phone bill for another month, the desire to please takes over every other human instinct and doing something ‘right’ becomes as important as breathing.  The battle between taking risks and doing something correct is a harshly fought one and usually it’s me that’s the only victim.

An incredible example of this is during an audition for a children’s show I went up for a few years ago. It was for a new devised piece that, although a little bit too much like TIE for my liking, would be playing in theatres instead. It was nicely paid and the character’s name was the same as mine which, to me, meant that the part was mine by law. Now, I should prefix this story with the fact that it was the second time I’d applied for the job. The first time round, they’d rejected me at the application stage. So, when I saw the job come up again, my pride and my bank balance had to have a long chat about whether I could really put myself up for it again. As always, my bank balance won and my pride was forced to go and sulk outside for a good few days.

So, second time around, clearly noticing just how desperate I was, they asked me in for an audition. They’d asked me to prepare a monologue from a children’s play and after days of desperately searching for a speech that was appropriate but also didn’t make me sound like a patronising lump of jelly, I finally cobbled one together. Off I went in my most colourful dress in an attempt to look remotely kid-friendly and when I arrived, I was greeted by an incredibly glum looking man. The audition was being held in what can only be described as a store room which housed a noisier fan than any member of the Barmy Army. He miserably explained that the fan had to be kept on at all times otherwise the world would implode (or something along those lines) so I’d just need to work alongside it. I’d worked alongside incredibly poor actors so I imagined this wouldn’t be any worse.
After a little shouted chat over the rattly din of the fan, I was asked to perform my speech. It was received with the same amount of enthusiasm as someone trying to tell you the real meaning of Easter while you stuff yourself silly with your thirty third Creme Egg. He said it needed more action so he asked if I’d gather up a few items and pile them up for the first half of the speech and then spend the second half of the speech putting the items back. A simple task, you’d think. Well, it would’ve been if half of what he’d been saying hadn’t been drowned out by the sound of the entire world’s air being rotated around the room. So, instead of asking him to repeat himself, I decided to throw myself head first into the task that I thought he’d given me which was collecting every single item in the room, creating a tower out of them and then dismantling it all by the end of the speech. 

Confident that he’d be incredibly impressed with my confident reaction to his direction, I set about the task of collecting every single item I could get my hands on. This included a sofa, cushions, two kettles, an alarming amount of books and a good twenty or so other items. Basically, I gathered up everything apart from the director and the desk he was sitting at. However, getting all these to balance in this precarious tower I was creating was taking a long time, and hit by the desperation of wanting to get this right, I started to slow my speech down so that I could create my cushiony-bookish tower and take it back down again. It was getting to the point where I was speaking a syllable every five seconds when he finally put me out of my misery. I then had to stand there with a kettle in one hand and a scarf in the other while he explained to me how I’d got it completely wrong. The audition was then brought to an end and the humiliation, I thought, was over. But of course it wasn’t. With the audition over, I then had to fish my bag and coat out of my homemade tower while the director patiently waited, in silence, for me to leave. Despite my instincts to make small-talk, I think, for once, I made the right decision to leave the audition on a wonderfully silent low-note.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Beauty And The Beast

I've tried to avoid it. I've looked away from Twitter and I've shielded my eyes from Facebook. I've avoided news articles and TV stories and I've even backed off from in-house discussions. But the truth is, Samantha Brick happened and the even worse truth is that I'm now going to try and relate the story to acting. I'm sorry. I hope it's going to be a seamless affair and by the end I'll be congratulating myself on a blog well done. However, I think we all know that the stitching will be terrible and by the time we reach the final paragraph, the stuffing will be bulging out of the poorly constructed seams. But it's miserable outside, I still find myself unemployed and there's a distinct lack of casting calls so let's give this bloody thing a good go...

So, this whole beauty thing. There's no denying that in the world of acting, Beauty is definitely one of the superpowers. Acting Ability likes to think that it's at the top of the food chain but sadly Good Looks and Powerful Connections are most certainly the ones that rule the roost. Oh we all wish it wasn't so but how do you argue against it? Argue too much and you just look like a bitter old hag who has jealously coursing through her withered, ageing veins. But if we don't say anything then are we just being bitter old hags, sitting back in our rocking chairs while the 'Pretty Ones' get to have all the fun?

It may be that I'm looking out for it now as I get older and the lines on my face have decided to move in, but I'm sure there's been a definite increase in both castings specifying that actors must be good looking and also ones asking for 'actor/models.' In this age where companies have to make everything as beautiful as possible to ensure that their unecessary items sell so that they're not forced to live on the streets, more and more casting calls are looking for models who can string a few sentences together rather than actors who would do a damn good job at making their advert even just remotely convincing. And I'm not saying that all models can't act but it's saddening to see yet another group of people, along with the reality TV stars, snatch away the precious few jobs that have been left to us.

But it's the casting calls that ask for 'attractive' people that baffle me. Attractive in whose eyes exactly? T is contracted to say that I'm attractive but the only time I've ever turned heads when walking down the street is when I'd walked a good ten minutes with my dress tucked into my knickers. But I'm certainly not unattractive so I'm not entirely sure where I stand on this balance beam of beauty. When a casting call asks for someone who is pretty, like one yesterday that stated 'Obviously she needs to be attractive' I feel uneasy putting myself forward for such a thing. Not only because it's such a horrible sentence (why does she need to be attractive? It was a normal story about a normal sounding girl. Why can't she be normal looking?) but because who am I to say that I'm attractive? I realise it's utterly ridiculous to deny myself the chance of work just because I'm a bit modest but I also have great difficulty in putting myself up for something that is essentially me going "LOOK AT MY INSANELY BEAUTIFUL FACE, CASTING DIRECTOR. YOU WANTED A GORGEOUS, ATTRACTIVE, SEXY ACTRESS? WELL HERE I AM!"

And the problem is that, while the directors continue to ask for the beautiful people of the world to star in their shows, it will sadly be those genetically blessed ones that get all the work while those of us with our quirky little 'interesting' faces sit in the darkened sidelines, waiting for the character parts to be shoved our way. I'm sure the Gorgeous Ones could put up a good argument here about how they always have to play the same kinds of roles and how they'd love to have a chance to play more interesting parts but I would just wave their full CV and healthy bank statements in their faces until they shut their pretty little mouths. Yeah. That'd show 'em.

But how do we combat this? Do we all learn from Ms Brick and set about convincing the work to come to us by making ourselves and everyone else around us believe that we're the most beautiful thing on Earth? Or do we get together, kidnap the beautiful ones and hold them to ransom until the acting fraternity promises to change its ways? OK. Get your balaclavas out and I'll meet you on the High Street in an hour...

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

To Prep Or Not To Prep

The couple of you who read my blog will know that I’ve had an audition coming up that I’ve almost completely refused to do any preparation for. Despite it being an audition where I’ve been given specific things to prepare for and having oceans of time to do it in, I’ve completely and utterly failed to apply myself and get anything done. Yeah, I read the script a few times and I suppose I made a few character decisions but that, my online friends, is it. A thank all that is holy in the world of theatre that I did.

This was one of those auditions where they’d actually stipulated what they wanted. Often you’ll get castings that ask nothing of you bar turning up roughly on time. And then there are others that need you to learn Mandarin, Swahili and Catalan along with how to play the lute and the ability to juggle fire at an intermediate level. This job fell in somewhere in between. They wanted auditionees to be familiar with another language and I had to pick some scenes that I wanted to work on during the casting. So I did this. Sort of. I picked the scenes that I liked and thought would be good in a casting. One was a light-hearted scene where as the other was much more serious so I thought these would be good to go on. As for the language, I must admit that I did very little work indeed. Apart from looking up how to say ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ I sought out very little else as it seemed like a very pointless exercise. 

So, I turned up to the casting all ready to be thoroughly ashamed at the little work I had done. I arrived and the auditionee before me was already in. The casting room had rooms thinner than Keira Knightley on Weight Watchers so I could hear every single word. Of course, I should’ve spent my time looking over my script but instead I spent the whole time listening to my competition and thinking how she was doing things that I wouldn’t have done and also, rather smamelessly, picking up a few ideas too.

Finally, it was my turn to go in and I was welcomed in my a team of smiling assassins, all ready to show me up for the lazy, no-good thesp that I really am. We had a lovely little chat where I got to be pathetically self-deprecating about my so-called acting career and then we started on the audition proper. I was already for them to ask which scene I’d like to do first and to enter into a infuriatingly sincere speech on why I’d chosen it when they told me which scene they’d like to hear. Oh. OK then. So we did the scene where, despite my character having to react to a lot of action going on around her, I had to sit very still and speak to a casting director who refused to look at me. This went on with three other scenes in the film, the panel giving nothing away on whether they were impressed with what I was doing or if they were planning on setting up a firing squad in the corridor outside for my crimes against acting. And then the audition was over. No foreign languages. No painful moments where I had to desperately try and sight-read in another language. No hilarious blog material. Instead I was thrown back out into the real world, all rather happy that I hadn’t spent hour after agonising hour getting ready for it.

Now, they often say that preparation is the key but it often feels like that, in acting, it’s not always necessary. Surely a lot of our job is reacting to the moment and being able to deal with anything that’s thrown at us , be it an accent, an emotion or even a chair. It’s the unexpected that keeps this job exciting and surely makes us better performers? Of course, I understand that there are exceptions to this and if you’re asked to prepare a comedic yet tragic monologue from the 18th century then you do it, but there is a certain joy in improvising your way through things too. I could never have prepared for the audition that asked me to read the news while receiving alien signals via my back teeth and there's little I could have done to get myself ready for an audition that asked me to sing Mrs Lovett's 'By The Sea' while pretending to be an angry jellyfish. And it's those moments that make this job both so ridiculously wonderful and irritatingly awkward.

As I returned to the tube station, I saw another actress, clearly up for the same role, using the train platform as her own preparation room. She was sat on the bench, whispering the lines to herself, clearly desperate to get it right. After a few minutes of trying the lines out in different ways, she got up and then proceeded to do her make-up and hair in those fish-eye mirrors which are presumably there to make sure there’s not a murderer lurking behind you late at night. I admired her dedication to her preparation but I was seconds away from telling her not to bother…