Monday, 28 May 2012

And The Award Goes To

After castings calls, BAFTA* are often the next source of my frustration. I take out a lot on them. To be honest, I pretty much blame them for anything that goes wrong in my career. The fact that I've yet to be on TV (apart from my 2 seconds smiling and nodding next to someone else) is entirely their fault. The fact that I still haven't been in a film that doesn't involve a feckless student fumbling around with a third-rate camera is also their fault. And the fact that I still haven't won a bloody BAFTA? Most definitely their fault.

So, it was with gritted teeth and envious eyes that I watched the BAFTA TV awards last night. I mean, I say watched, but I actually switched on for the final hour. Thankfully I managed to catch both Emily Watson's and Dominic West's beautifully eloquent speeches and although I haven't yet seen Appropriate Adult, I couldn't agree more with their receiving of awards. This Is England '88 were also worthy winners as was Borgen, Stewart Lee, Rolf Harris, Monica Dolan and Steven Moffat. But then the downsides came along. Two massive downsides...

Firstly I can't do a blog about the BAFTAs without mentioning the thoroughly depressing award for 'Reality & Structured Factual.' It's such a heart-sinking title that has left my little ticker thrashing and flailing for air. BAFTA's mission statement on their website reads as:

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) supports, promotes and develops the art forms of the moving image - film, television and video games - by identifying and rewarding excellence, inspiring practitioners and benefiting the public.
As the leading charity in the UK supporting the art forms of the moving image, BAFTA ensures that the very best creative work can be accessed and appreciated by the public.

So how the heck does promoting utter dross such as Made In Chelsea help them do this? How on Earth does a show that follows the made up and inconsequential lives of a few fame hungry airheads in west London help promote art forms? I understand that these programmes are bafflingly popular but it's so distressing to see these shows being made and promoted when we're told that there's not enough money for well-made dramas and comedy to be produced. We are capable of producing such wonderful programmes in this country and it's very upsetting to see a show that promotes an image that you can only be viewed as successful if you prance about in Mahiki every night being recognised by an organisation that's supposed to support the arts.

And then we get onto my next gripe... the fact that not all the awards were aired. Now, I realise that it would take a long time to show all 27 awards being handed out but maybe, instead of encouraging those giving awards to indulge in the type of banter that makes your whole body cringe, they could dedicate that time to making sure that all awards are aired. But as it was, a number of awards including those for Best Single Drama, Best Comedy Series, Best Single Documentary and Best Current Affairs. Now what does that say to you about the world of television? What Dominic West said in his speech is true; television is an incredibly important resource in ensuring the world is educated. But BAFTA seem to think that constructed reality shows and the coverage of The Royal Wedding are far more important than programmes that uncover the truth about our care systems and wonderfully made dramas. That's the sorry state that television has got itself into and it's sad to see a company that is perceived as the one that upholds quality and important programming, is helping to TV on its downward spiral.

*BAFTA, if you're reading this, I will totally delete this blog if you finally come to your senses and hand over that award that I totally deserve...thanks...

Friday, 18 May 2012

Six Years On

Six years ago today I was one excited little person. Six years ago today I thought I was a couple of hours away from the start of a glittering career. Six years ago today I was mid-way through my final performance within the cottonwool-lined walls of the cocoon that is drama school. Six years ago tomorrow I woke up with a vicious hangover and a wondering of what on earth I was supposed to do with the rest of my life.

During my final performance, I'm pretty sure I was naively convinced that this would be the lowest point of my career. I loved the play I was in but I believed there were bigger and better things to come. Had I known then that my first job would consist of me travelling around Oxfordshire in a terrible white dress for almost no money then I'm sure you'd still find me cowering in the box-like singing room, clutching on to someone's discarded practice skirt and gnawing on my copy of Contacts. If I'd known that over the last few weeks I'd be using the phrase 'It's just so quiet out there at the moment' like it's going out of fashion quicker than monologues at auditions then I'd still be in the canteen now guzzling cheap baked potatoes. If I'd known then that I'd now gone for nearly a month without an audition then I'm pretty sure the students there now would refer to me as the drama school ghost who wanders aimlessly around the dressing rooms.

However, if you'd mentioned to me that within six years I'd have starred in an advert with one of my comedy heroes and that every single audition I get would send such a thrill through me that I feel like the most importnat person in the world then I'd probably have raced off that stage mid-speech and never looked back. Y'see, that's what is so ridiculously addictive about this job because you just don't know what the next day will bring. I remember a couple of months ago complaining on Twitter that I wasn't getting any auditions and there was nothing out there to even apply for. I was feeling utterly dejected and experiencing that familiar feeling of wondering what the hell I'm doing with my life. However, minutes later my agent was calling me with an audition for a pretty big feature film. That magic unpredictability is what's so wonderfully special about this stupid so-called career that we have carved out for ourselves.

Six years ago I firmly believed that I would be an actress forever. If someone had told me that three years in I'd find myself taking on an office job which some helpful so and so would try and comfort me with by saying 'But you can pretend you're an office worker so it will still be like acting' then I'd have attacked you with my 12 zillion headshots. That was a low point that I'd never imagined but I had no idea that during that pathetic low I'd also meet the love of my life and that my last day in that office (leaving because I'd got myself two acting jobs) would be one of the happiest days I've ever experienced. 

If I had the chance to have a quick word with myself back in 2006, I'd tell myself that it all works out in the end and that acting jobs do happen. I'd say that even the excruciating jobs are alright and not to worry when I find myself spending a good few months solely playing animals and children. But most importantly of all I'd remind myself to write everything down because it would make my future plans of blogging a whole lot easier...

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Food Glorious Food

Casting: "We need a brave man willing to enter in a restaurant, sitting on a table and eating quite a big meatball."

 Food is one of my favourite subjects. If I could somehow find a way of combining both food and acting into one job then I would be so ridiculously happy that you'd probably hate me. If someone could find me a job where I could be paid to eat all day and then I waddle off to do a little bit of acting in the evening then that'd be swell. Thanks.

But sometimes food and acting do come together in dischordant harmony. Of course, there's on-set catering which I have moaned and marvelled at several times on this blog already. Those terrible jobs where a feeble looking cheese sandwich and two grapes are supposed to sustain you through 15 hours of filming. The ones where you hope their sound equipment isn't too sophisticated so they can't pick up your miserable, rumbling stomach. And then there's the other end of the scale where the food is so damn fine and plentiful that you spend much of the afternoon desperately fighting off the need to curl up in a contented food nap.

However, there are also the acting jobs where food is gloriously intertwined with your acting: EATING SCENES! Now, these should be my favourite thing in the whole world. I should relish (get it? RELISH? Oh, forget it...) the opportunity to act and eat at the same time. That's where perfection lies and I should be ready to dive in mouth first. But, if you've ever had to eat on set or on stage then you'll know that the experience is far from ideal. I was in one short film where there were two separate eating scenes, one set at breakfast and another at dinner. For the breakfast scene, the director had decided that we'd be eating scrambled eggs. However, on the day of filming, they'd discovered that they only had two eggs to feed the both of us meaning that my character had to dish up a forkful of egg each. And that's all we had to keep us going for the dozen or so takes that we ended up having to do. They weren't the speediest bunch at setting up shots either so each take meant we had to nibble away at the tiniest fleck of freezing cold scrambled egg. What was supposed to be a scene about a couple falling out turned into a scene with two of the most miserable looking actors who appear to have forgotten how to eat.

Another film and another breakfast scene. Oh, and another unorganised crew. However, this one had completely forgotten that my character would be eating breakfast. For some reason the director had decided it would be nice if everyone in the family was eating a different type of breakfast. So, my dad got to happily munch away on toast, my younger brother got to eat as much cereal as he liked and my younger sister got a lovely looking fruit salad. And then there was me and no other food to be found. So, instead of giving up on this bizarre idea that no one would even pick up on anyway, they decided that I could eat the one remaining item that was left over from lunch... a tuna sandwich that had been had been sat in the sun for three hours in possibly the hottest flat known to mankind. Now, I don't mind tuna but I'm really not a fan of it when it's at its most poisonous in a hideously cheap sandwich. I expressed my concerns but they said they really needed me to be eating in the scene so maybe I could just eat around the edges. It was one of the last shots of the day working with one of the most awkward casts I'd ever known so, to just get it over with, I decided to just get on with it and deal with the sickly consequences later. What I ended up with was yet another scene to add to add to my rather niche 'Unable To Eat Convincingly On Camera' showreel. As jobs go, they are few and far between.

Incredibly, writing this blog has actually made me rather hungry. Maybe I should set up a Skype lunch session so that I can finally prove to the world that I am actually capable of eating techniques other than nibbling and grimacing...unless cold scrambled egg and tuna sandwiches are the order of the day...

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The End Of The West End

I realise the subject of this blog is ridiculously inevitable. If you have seen any of my tweets today then you will realise what has been winding me up. You'll know that a certain news story has got my goat, sheep and cow and has caused me to endlessly rant about it via social networking. Or, if for some reason you haven't noticed or you don't happen to follow me on Twitter (fools) then I'm sorry to break the bad news to you that you have missed a day of me whining about Chris Moyles being cast in the stadium tour of Jesus Christ Superstar. If you were unaware of this news, I'm sorry. Sit yourself down, give yourself a few minutes to recover, BACS me £1000 and then read on...

Checking the news first thing in the morning is never a good idea. Rarely do we wake up to the news that the government are giving away free money/ice cream/kittens so it's generally a bad way to start your day. However, it's normally news about famine or war but today's news was far worse. Today's news made me question humanity AND my career. The news that probably one of the most idiotic and annoying people to clumsily grace our planet has been cast in an acting and musical theatre role is tragic. It makes our industry into even more of a mockery than when I spent a whole summer playing the part of a camp man. It's that bad, people.

The casting of celebrities into plays is sadly not a new thing anymore. As soon as someone realised that you could put someone off the telly on to a stage and people would pay ridiculous amonts of money to see it, the West End has been ruined. Take yourself down the West End, push a few tourists out of the way and have a look. Every bloody poster is plasterded with the inane grinning face of someone from that little electrical box that we desperately stare at every evening in the hope that it might one day produce something good. And it's because of this that it's almost impossible to get a job in theatre now. These so-called stars have now taken the jobs of the top actors meaning that they now get the supporting roles. The supporting actors have now been pushed into the supernumerary parts and now the rest of us have been pushed into waitressing.

But what's even more upsetting is that Chris Moyles isn't even an actor. He's not a singer. He's not a performer. He's a buffoon that has somehow elbowed his way into an already oversubscribed industry. And like with everything else in the world of acting, the behaviour we have to put up with wouldn't be tolerated in any other industry. Would they give Holly Willoughby the role of a GP just so it would encourage more men to go to the doctors? No, of course they wouldn't. I mean, I'm sure that's mainly because who would give up a job of spending every morning with Philip Schofield but you understand what point I'm getting at. But at least the other stars of the West End are performers. They've kind of earned their dues and although they have annoyingly fast-tracked their way into a job that we have all worked very hard to not get, at least they pretty much know what they're doing. But what does has Chris Moyles done to get the job that I know a trillion actors would love the chance to play? Bombard radio waves with his incessant chatterings? Make terrible game shows that should never have seen the light of day? Appear on a celebrity version of Supermarket Sweep (thanks Wikipedia.) What started out as an interesting sounding show that would be starring the incredible and exceptionally talented Tim Minchin has now become the worst sounding project since Rock of Ages...

This now also means that a strand of the acting industry that was already pretty tough to get into has become even harder. Once you just had to be the son or daughter or best friend of the director. But now you have to somehow get famous first by making a complete fool of yourself on television in any show of your choice and then wait for the West End castings to come flooding in. As a career plan, it wasn't one I particularly had in mind. I had one in mind that contains a fairy knocking at my door before the month is out and handing me the role of a lifetime (and a million pounds) on a silver platter. Thanks Andrew Lloyd Webber. Thanks very much.

I saw someone post on Twitter today that at least this casting would help bring more people to the show and that it would mean ticket sales would be high. This means that instead of quality casting, directors have instead decided to create freakshows to ensure that not every musical ends the way of Streets of Dreams which has had to be postponed until the end of the year while they desperately work out how to make it any good. So, this week not only have we had to deal with the news that acting jobs are going to the director's friends and family but they are now also going to hateful celebrities. That's the way it's going folks. Soon Downton Abbey will contain a cast made up of Made in Chelsea stars, Jeremy Clarkson and the editor's sleazy second uncle. When the ancient Greeks invented acting, I'm pretty sure they never imagined this...

Monday, 14 May 2012

No Pay, No Way

Casting call: "“Unfortunately we’re not able to offer a fee on this occasion.”

Unfortunately this is casting call that we're all to used to seeing. A good 75% of casting calls probably contain this line or a variation on it (such as the incredibly inventive 'This is a no-pay experience!') However, what we're not used to seeing is this kind of casting call from an established company. And they're not just any old established company, they're the company behind shows such as Have I Got News For You, Outnumbered and Episodes and whether you're a fan of these shows or not, you have to admit that it's pretty shocking behaviour. As companies go, they're probably one of the biggest so why the heck are they advertising unpaid acting roles?

Now, I saw this casting call a few weeks ago and was utterly outraged and it has now been reported on in the stage here after Equity got involved and rightly questioned what on earth they were playing at. (Whether you want to praise me for being way ahead of the news is entirely up to you but I am currently accepting cash rewards and/or a Nobel Peace Prize for my work.) But I think we're all in agreement that this isn't on. There is no freaking way a company such as this should be allowed to get away with hiring actors for nothing. That, my friends, is the job of university students and unscrupulous directors. If actors can't be paid for a role on a show which will almost undoubtedly be a primetime show and will probably be slated on Twitter then when can they?

But it's the backtracking that this company has done which is even more worrying. It's the kind of awkward backtracking you do when you've been caught talking about someone behind their back. 'Oh no, not you. I meant the other Hugo Smith.' When questioned on why they're trying to get actors to work for free, they have now claimed they will not be using professional performers and will instead be using members of the public and friends and family of the production team. Is this what's going to happen now? Have we now got to the point where companies are so reluctant to pay professionals, they'd rather rope in their mates to work for free? Other people's mates are rarely funny. Other people's mates are the type of people you get cornered by at a party and then have to listen to them talk about their tedious jobs and boring lives. Other people's mates think drinking twenty bottles of WKD and then running around Derby city centre with a traffic cone on their head is the definition of 'quality.' Other people's mates should not be allowed anywhere near a television unless they happen to know a clever way of filtering out annoying adverts... Has our profession become so lowly-regarded that we can easily be replaced by the director's second cousin? And it's worrying that one of the biggest TV production companies has started this trend. Surely it's only a matter of time before smaller companies follow suit and our TVs will become awash with casts made up of the make-up artist's university mates and the man in Muswell Hill who wanders the streets asking everyone for 20p. Irritating and baffling people do not maketh the good television programmes. Actors are being pushed out of TV at an alarming rate with shows such as TOWIE and Made In Chelsea gaining far more viewers than well-made dramas and comedies so what hope have we got now?

And what's even more worrying is that yet again, actors are going to be forced into unpaid work just to hold on to to a career that's more slippery than a greasy seal. Companies are again holding us to ransom where we can either accept their terms and work for free or spend a lifetime waiting for one precious job to come our way. It's unfair, it's unethical and it's ridiculously frustrating. Plus it's extremely worrying that high profile companies are choosing cheap labour over high-quality programming. If production companies are more worried about making low-rent television than supporting the industry then what's the point?

I would love the opportunity to gain the exposure that a primetime TV show would bring but not at my own expense and certainly not just so a very wealthy production company can save a few pennies. I refuse to forego a well-deserved wage just so an exec can continue to fund their lavish lifestyle. Why should they get to go on fancy holidays while I sit at home wondering how to make a tin of chopped tomatoes and a bag of Scampi & Lemon Nik Naks last me until the end of the week. It's exploitation at it's lowest, meanest level and until we all make a stand against these companies, all we're doing is encouraging them to turn our already fragile industry into a laughing stock.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

The Kingdom of Hell

After last night, I've had to resign myself to the fact that theatre audiences will never cease to amaze me. The behaviour of audiences has been in the news lately and I find it incredible that people seem completely unaware how to behave when they enter a room with a stage.

I went to see Three Kingdoms  at the Lyric Hammersmith last night. It was a play where I really didn't know what to expect but I certainly didn't think the first surprises would occur before the lights had even gone down. Just as my friend and I sat in our seats, we saw a small discussion taking place down by the stage. A confused looking man was having something explained to him by an annoyed looking usher and, as he stepped aside, it was revealed to the rest of the audience that he had used the stage as his own personal coat rack. I realise cloakroom prices can be eyewatering at times but the stage?! Really? He reluctantly bundled them under his seat and we all waited for the drama to unfold on the stage.

The play began and we were hooked almost immediately. However, it's hard to be completely hooked when you have a panel of whisperers sat directly behind you. A few scowls from me did nothing and a very loud shush from the gentleman in front of me was also ignored. Finally my friend turned around to shush them again and they finally listened. However, they didn't just immediately shut up. Oh no. Instead one of the ladies whispered 'But I'm translating it for them.' Oh. That's ok then. Carry on. Because we all came to the theatre to listen to you translating a play into another language. I honestly can't imagine why she thought that this was acceptable behaviour. However much I wanted to see a play, if it involved everyone else's experience being involved by a theatre whisperer then I'd most definitely stay away.

But anyway, on with the show. Three Kingdoms is quite a show. It somehow manages to be both beautiful and utterly disgusting at the same time. It's absurd and real and magical and horrific. The first half of the play had me thoroughly hooked. Be warned, it's a long play but not for one second during the first half did I wonder what the time was or if anything exciting was happening on Twitter. When the lights did finally come down, we filed into the foyer, chattering excitedly about what we'd just seen. Despite my dislike of just how many songs one character sings, we were both in agreement that we were watching something pretty special. We just about managed to get our drinks in the shortest interval known to man and we hurried back in, excited about what was going to happen next.

And then it all happened. My friend and I had already discussed that we thought the second half would go more absurd first before it came to conclusion but neither of us could've predicted just how absurd. I was all ready to reattach myself to the hook that had caught me in the first half but instead I was just left floating around wondering what was going on. One of the lead characters appears to disappear completely and there's a party scene that very much makes you feel like the only sober guest at a drunkenly debauched gathering. Then, just as I thought we were going to get a suitable conclusion to the story, you're left with a baffling ending that doesn't end things at all. Although still excited at having seen something completley new and beautiful. I have to admit that I did come away feeling a little disappointed.

However, I do have to give credit to the 13 actors involved in the show. The play is performed in English, German and Estonian and it's down to the actors that I spent more time watching them than keeping an eye on the surtitles. There wasn't one weak link in the play and their performances and physicality were utterly breathtaking. Steven Scharf who plays the mysterious Dresner was particularly astounding and reminded me just what a joy acting is.

And, given my recent blogging subjects, I do have to briefly mention the fact that out of a cast of 13, only 2 were female. I realise the subject of sex trafficking means that the majority of strong characters will be male but it's very upsetting to see scenes where four actors get to play the most incredibly complex characters while there is a pretty girl slinking around in the background cleaning the floor and handing out slices of cucumber. The two actresses get their moments but they are extremely brief and are very much overshadowed by the strength of the male characters which is a shame.

If you're in doubt over whether to go, my advice would be to go. It's a wonderful lesson in just what theatre can do and it's a play that is definitely still on your mind the day after. It'll make you think, it'll make you gag and it'll make you laugh. Just make sure you go on a day when the socially inept are choosing to stay indoors.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Casting The Net

Casting call: The type of girls we're looking for are sexy, attractive with a good figure, styled with a touch of class. Of course you need to be highly talkative, motivated and keen to get into character with lots of flirting and banter.

Considering what I often tweet about, I’ve actually kept pretty quiet on the subject of casting websites. Most days, someone will ask where the frankly ridiculous castings I post up on Twitter are from and I’m always sorry to tell them that they come from the websites that all us actors use. I wish they came from obscure locations but no, they come from websites that many of us pay to use. Yep, non-actors, we pay for the privilege of these often ludicrous, sexist, racist, poorly written adverts.
I subscribe to two different casting websites. One of which is pretty much obligatory and another I choose to pay for. The second I keep going because I work on the basis that I would only need one paid job from it a year for it to pay for itself and I’m fine with that. Plus, it keeps my Twitter feed alive and provides me with at least one ego-boosting retweet a day. I pay just under £400 a year for these castings. £400 to receive daily insults in my inbox. £400 to make me constantly question why I do this infuriating job. But also £400 to laugh at the sheer absurdity of other people and keep myself thoroughly entertained.

There have been castings, like yesterday’s that asked for the actor to just have experience whereas the actress had to be beautiful, that have driven me insane. And then there are the castings that ask dancing hamsters that have made me laugh. There have been baffling castings, creepy castings and ones that are probably illegal. But none have made me as angry as the one I saw for an adult tv phone-in channel. That one truly got my blood boiling. Because I don't know how it got past them. I always presumed that there was a screening process in place for castings that were put up on websites, or at least I hoped so. I realise that this industry is widely unregulated but you would hope that in the few places where checks can take place that they actually do. But apparently not. And I hope that's the case otherwise it means that these websites just don't care...oh...

I realise that TV phone in channels need to hire people. Despite being one of the blunter knives in the cutlery draw, I’d still worked out that they didn’t just pluck these girls off the street. However, I didn’t realise they’d go to well-established casting websites and that these sites, that require their members to pay if they want to see the paid jobs, would actually accept them. Well done to the TV channel for aiming so high as to look for attractive actors but shame on you casting website for demeaning our profession. Shame on you for allowing this job to be classed as an acting role. Shame on you for thinking that this is what we spent three years at drama school for. Shame on you for possibly encouraging younger actresses who are desperate for money and work into these types of jobs. 

Honestly, if I painted the whole of north London red and covered it in deadly sharp spikes, I still don’t think you’d realise just how angry this advert has made me. It makes a mockery of our already rather ridiculous profession and it means that those people who laugh or sneer at you when you tell them you’re an actor now have a right to do so. Now I know I make fun of this job but I do hold it in high regard. I’m proud of the job I do and if I can spend the rest of my life earning a decent living from it and having a damn good time then I will be exceedingly happy. I consider myself very lucky to be able to do a job that I love but that joy will only continue if companies such as this particular one, one that supposedly supports the industry and was set up as both a resource for work and a place for actors to receive guidance, actually help keep it that way.

Either that or we all just sell out, hit the gym, invest in some skimpy underwear and finally earn ourselves a soulless, depressing and unfulfilling living...

Friday, 11 May 2012

Double Standards

Casting call: "1 actor preferably with experience working in films. 1 actress preferably curvaceous & attractive."

If an alien landed in my garden and asked what the world ofacting is like here on Earth, I’d show him that. And if he was unable to read English then I’d read it out to him. And if he didn’t understand English in any form then I’d show him a picture of Jonah Hill next to Megan Fox. Add to this the dent in the wall where I’m constantly banging my head against it in frustration and then he’d finally understand. He’d understand because the despair in my eyes and the whacking great bruise on my head would tell him what a sorry situation we’ve got ourselves in.

Now I know that guys get asked to be attractive in castings too. I know the industry also puts pressure on them to be fit and healthy and bloody gorgeous but I think even blokes who act would agree that the pressure on women is far worse. Take the above casting call as a soul-crushing example.A guy can get away with just having a bit of experience. That’s great. He’s worked hard and now his experience is being taken into account. Bloody marvellous. But our actress? No one gives a toss about how much work she has done or how much time she has spent developing her craft, as long as she’s gota good little figure and a pretty face, she’s got the job. It’s demeaning and upsetting and one of the key aspects that makes me hate my job.

I realise I’m not breaking any ground by saying that sex sells. Since the world of advertising realised that we like a girl with a cute face sells products more than a rat in a wig, being attractive has become more important than working out whether the chicken or the egg turned up to the party first. I realise it’s also not a new problem in the world of acting as our cinema screens have always been awash with beautiful leading men and ladies. But when you see a casting like the one above then you know that something has gone horribly wrong. 

If you don’t see castings regularly then you may or may not be amazed at just how many female roles ask for the actress to be ‘attractive’‘pretty’ or ‘slim.’ Even worse, the castings usually ask for all these things. Because so many writers think they can only write female parts who are prostitutes, strippers or femme fatales, we get sadly stuck with an endless stream of job srequiring us to be thin and beautiful. But it’s not just one sector that’s asking this of us. From unimaginative writers right at the bottom of the ladder to highflying execs who are casting for the next big feature film, they all ask for breathtakingly gorgeous ladies. It has given the industry a horrible aura of inevitability around it. You can guarantee that pretty much every job will contain more male roles than female and you can now usually bet a fair amountof money on the fact that the scant female parts that there are, most if notall, will involve the woman being good looking or naked. While the men get away with interesting characters and intriguing back stories, the women are just chucked in with a skimpy bra and a slick of red lipstick. 

I know I whinged on about this in a very similar fashion earlierin the week but I hope you’ll forgive me for repeating myself. And if you can’t forgive me, any chance you know the number of a good plastic surgeon?

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Actors On Strike

Casting call: "Payment details: no pay. Fee details: £10 show fee to cover towards costumes & insurance"

I regularly complain about unpaid work. Along with crisp eating and casting-call-mocking, unpaid moaning would earn me a lot of money if, well...y'know the rest. And I was happy complaining about it on Twitter. I was OK just subjecting T to my daily mutterings about it. But now, not only do I think the situation is getting worse, I've noticed more and more castings actually asking actors to pay. And this is bloody unacceptable. It's one thing giving up your time for free but to actually pay for the so-called privilege? Oh no. Not on my watch. If you can't even afford to put on a show then you don't put on a show. You do not, I repeat YOU DO NOT, ask actors to fund your whims. We are not Dragons Den. And we are not here to pay to work.

But it got me thinking. With the public sectors striking today, I wondered what would happen if we all got together and went on strike against unpaid work. Now I know it wouldn't happen because there will always be actors who will work for nothing. And I'm not saying they shouldn't. I've worked for free because I was starting out and fiendishly desperate for work. If you can afford to do it then I can't stop you (although, if you really can afford to do it then can you maybe also afford to give me a fiver?) But let's just imagine WHAT IF. What if we all decided that we were no longer going to take on unpaid work. Presuming anyone would take a blind bit of notice, what would actually happen?

Well, firstly I'd hope the universities and film schools would take note. Now, I realise that some film schools and universities pay their actors but there are far more that don't. And of course the students can't afford to. Their money is for beer and chips so I would never expect them to spend their few precious pennies on us actors. And why should they? They're not the ones who decide to make films, they have to because of their course. So maybe it would make the universities actually think about what they're asking and maybe offer up a bit of cash so actors can be paid. Or maybe they should instead work alongside drama schools so both sets of students can gain valuable experience instead?

And on the subject of short films, maybe it would also help stop the other big producer of unpaid endeavours - the short film competition. As an actor, you don't need to know when The 48 Hour Film Challenge or the Virgin Media Shorts competition is running because the casting websites will be awash with adverts for it. Hardly any of them pay and again, why would they? These competitions just encourage film makers to have a go and see if they can maybe win that coveted prize. But these competitions clearly don't think about the actors that will be inevitably needed to make these films. In fact, just a quick look at their website shows no mention of actors. It doesn't even mention that the actors would be welcome at the final awards ceremony. The prize is £30,000 of film funding meaning that even if the film did win, the actors still wouldn't receive a single bean. All we get is the chance for our face to be briefly seen at a screening. And we all know that landlords love when you try to pay rent with that. So, either these competitions should stipulate that all films submitted are fully-funded or they consider the consequences of encouraging people to hire actors for free.

And then there are the independent film makers, making films for whatever reason. And I salute those people for going into as precarious occupation as us silly actors. But I only salute them if they have taken the time to think about their project. They've thought about funding and have spent a lot of time raising money to ensure that everyone (cast AND crew) gets paid fairly. However I don't salute those who just feel like making a film. Those who expect actors to dance to their unpaid tune just because they're being offered a credit on a film that'll be seen by no one, a DVD that you'll receive after months of chasing and the possibility of working with these slave drivers again in the future. These film makers are the ones that need to be stopped, or at least put away under the stairs for a year or so while they think about whether they really want to make that film. If after that year they decide to play nicely and treat the art of film making with the respect it deserves then they can carry on.

And then there are theatres. Glorious theatres that charge so much for productions to be put on in their often damp and dusty spaces that theatre companies spend all their cash on hiring the space so the actors are left with nothing...again. Now I don't know what the answer is here because I can't pretend to know the costs involved in running and owning a theatre. I'm sure it's not cheap and I totally understand that they too have to make money, especially with Arts Council funding being at a depressing low. So, should theatre companies be stopped from putting on shows unless they've got enough cash to ensure everyone is paid fairly and the theatre receives enough so they can keep going? But of course, if that happens then many fringe theatres would probably be empty for at least half the year meaning that they'd then be forced to close down and the amount of work available would rapidly decrease. And I fully respect those that offer a profit share. It's wonderfully admirable but it rarely happens. I've been in a sold out play that still only made each actor £30. We had no expenses covered so for just under three months work, I got a princely sum that worked out at about £3 a week. Meaning that this job, despite not being explicit about it, had managed to get me to pay to work.

I wish I knew the answer. I wish I knew what the solution was so that actors were no longer forced into working for free. I wish I knew that there was an answer that meant we wouldn't just decrease the amount of work available meaning that the majority of actors wouldn't be pushed out of the profession while the few precious jobs remaining went to the famous names. I wish I knew more so that this blog wasn't a bit of a generalisation. But mainly I wish I knew when I'm next going to get a paid job...

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Total Immersion

Unless you've been living under a rock (or somewhere far flung like Surbiton) then you won't have failed to notice that immersive theatre is bloody everywhere these days. Putting on a standard play is just not acceptable these days and if the line between the performers and audience isn't as blurry as an actresses vision after a bottle of Merlot then it's not worth talking about.

I won't bore you senseless about talking about the various companies that have taken this particular performance baton and have run for the hills with it because I'm fairly sure that there are several articles out there that cover this subject far better than me. I could put a few links up for you but hey, this blog ain't a holiday, do your resting on your own time. But no, what I wanted to look at was the idea of being in the audience of these things, especially when you're a performer yourself.

If you're a performer then it's always going to be difficult to completely switch off on a trip to the theatre. Just like a chef visiting a restaurant or a doctor finding themselves in A&E, when you know how things are done, the joy of something is minimised somewhat. Theatre done well is one of the most magical experiences but if I'm in the audience, I'm also thinking of what's going on backstage before the curtain goes up. I think about the fact that actors are probably slouched just inches from the stage, gossiping with their cast about how annoying the director has become. And when watching actors on stage, I try to enjoy the action that's happening then and there but I can't help wondering if, like me, they're actually stood there wondering about how they need to pop to the bank tomorrow. And when they're taking their curtain call, it'd be lovely to think that their smiles are because of another job well done but more often than not, it's relief that they're one show closer to the end of the run.

But what happens when, as a performer, you find yourself in the audience of an immersive theatre piece. Immersive shows put the audience in the role of the performer so you'd think it would be the ideal scenario; you get to perform without the hassle of an irritating cast, awkward director and the constant nagging feeling that you could be doing something better...or something like that... But instead, I find myself more concious than ever. I start worrying that I'm not doing what the actors need you to do and that you're completely ruining their show. And I have full reason to worry about this kind of thing because I've done it before. Last year I went to the wonderful One-on-One Festival at the BAC. If you didn't go then a quick description is that each room had a different immersive experience and you go in on your own and have the time of your damn life. In one room I got to lie on a bed and draw a self portrait and in another room I had my own personal cocktail made for me. I was even kidnapped by a criminal team of beatboxers who blindfold you, throw you into a car and give you your own, private beatboxing performance. However, one of the greatets rooms was run by the masters of immersive theatre, Ontroerend Goed. It was called A Game of You and in simple terms, looks at how others view you. I don't want to ruin it in case any of you ever get to experience it but it's awesome and incredible and it makes you think for days. But, of course, I managed to ruin mine almost instantly by sitting on the wrong chair when I entered the room. The actor tried to subtly tell me that I was in the wrong chair but I had no idea what they were trying to do, thinking that this was all part of the show. Sadly the actor had to finally break out of character and tell me in the most simple terms that I was sat in the wrong chair and they'd be unable to continue until I moved. Nothing ruins a moment quite like the feeling that you've ruined something rather magical.

Then last night I found myself at another immersive theatre piece courtesy of the wonderful BAC. I was at Babel in Caledonian Park, a grand spectacle where the audience find themselves very much part of the action. But I wasn't sure just how much we were supposed to be involved. At times, members of the audience were shouting out, enjoying the mob mentality that was being inflicted upon us and I'm sure we were supposed to join in but,  instead of feeling like I could shout along too, I found myself worrying that the actors were getting annoyed with them for ruining the show. I didn't want to be the immersive theatre equivalent of the idiot who sits in the front row eating a bag of Kettle Chips while playing on his phone and farts loudly in every dramatic pause. Although that does sound quite fun...maybe I need to rethink my position as an audience member...

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Tales From The Script

Yesterday I was invited to a casting. It was an exciting moment because castings are normally preceded with begging letters and me trying to come across as a wonderfully employable actress rather that a director would be foolish to overlook. But this one was different. This one I hadn't applied for. They had found me which basically means I'm now as sought after as Dame Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith combined. Or so I thought. Y'see, I'd let excitement get the better of me before I delved a little deeper. As we tried to work out whether we were going to have to extend into the garden to make space for my rapidly growing head, I took a look at the script. And it was then I realised that I'm still right at the bottom of the pile, somewhere beneath a TOWIE cast members bumcheeks...

This script was, by far, the worst thing I have ever read. It's four pages of near nonsense. It contains six separate references to the penis and one single paragraph mentions the word 'dildo' a eye-watering three times. Now, I wish I could just post the script here because it would honestly get more hits than my writing could ever achieve but even I'm not that cruel. But please take it from me that it's incredible. Any script that contains a sentence talking about sexual problems and how they need to be remedied with a diet of pulses is up there with the greats. It has no punctuation whatsoever, they've bafflingly used the word 'eats' instead of 'means' and they've ended one sentence with the phrase 'shouldn't be it?'  The script is so bad that I've actually replied to ask when and where the casting is because I can almost guarantee that the experience will be so blogworthy that I might be able to retire on it. I'm still waiting to hear back, I think they might have been confused by my question on whether or not the job is paid...

Now I don't want to start on too much of a rant on scriptwriting because I know very little about it. I've got full admiration for those that can do it well and I think it's an incredible skill. However, I've been whacked round the face and slapped on the bum by so many bad scripts that I finally feel that I need to say something. Now I make secret of my incredible ability to create overly long sentences that are infuriating to try and read. And I know that I probably get spelling and punctuation wrong on occassions. But I don't expect anyone to act out my blogs (if anyone would like to, please record it and send it to me, I will post it on YouTube and I can become a millionaire at your expense.) Surely, if you've written a script, it's generally a good idea to get a few trusted people to have a look over it so they can let you know if things don't make sense/you've written the worst script since Showgirls/you should never be allowed near a keyboard and an idea ever again.

But more than a poorly written script, it's the ideas that really make me want to dive into a bag of Salt & Vinegar McCoys and never come out again. I've spoken before about my frustration at writers who seem unable to write a Middle Eastern character without mentioning terrorism and/or arranged marriage. I'm amazed at the amount of writers who've done this and, as an actress who often goes up for these roles, it's so hair-tearingly dull, I'm amazed I still have a full head of unmanageable locks. And then there's the problem with female roles. Recently I have seen so many casting calls where all the male roles are interesting parts with wonderful quirks and intriguing back stories and then all the female roles are described as 'beautiful' 'model like' or 'prostitute/lap dancer/slut.' I'd reluctantly accept it if it was every so often but every single day I'll see more than one casting where a writer has clearly enjoyed writing brilliant characters for men and then, realising they've left the ladies out, throw in a few bikini-clad beauties for good measure.

After all this then, we're left wondering what's the answer? Hopefully we've got a new wave of wonderful scriptwriters out there who are just about to leap over the horizon with their imaginatively written scripts in their eager hands. Or, the other answer which I usually hear, is that actresses need to write their own stuff. This annoys me because we shouldn't have to do this, but I understand the point and yes, maybe we should be doing this more. But then you read an article such as this one here: and you wonder whether it's even worth it. (Of course these thoughts come after you've screamed at the screen for ten minutes having just read the sentence "But because it's a small gene pool for talent, on and off screen..." but that's for another blog.)

So maybe I should be writing my own work instead of complaining about everyone else's. When I've written my sitcom about an Iraqi lingerie model who commits acts of terrorism to get out of an arranged marriage, I'll let you know...

Friday, 4 May 2012

To Bee Or Not To Bee

A little Twitter chat last night got me thinking. It got me thinking about horrible, nightmare-inducing things. I got me thinking until I wanted to turn my brain off and never think again. It got me thinking about the 'things' we have to be in auditions.

Y'see, if you have a nice, normal job, you probably didn't have to be something else when you went up for it. Yes, you probably had to be a more eloquent, presentable version of yourself, a being that you don't quite recongise who apparently works well one their own as well as part of a team and whose only fault is the inability to say no but I bet you haven't had to be an inkwell, a fried egg or a giraffe (many thanks to @ThatMrStirling & @Cromerty for sharing their audition woes.) Imagine the dismay when, after a beautifully thought out audition where you perform your monologue perfectly and read the script beautifully, you're then asked to be a broom. It's utterly demeaning and is one of the key moments where you truly find yourself questioning what on earth you're doing with your life.

Having to play inanimate objects is ridiculous. There's a game that some teachers or directors like to play where you're put into teams and random objects are shouted out and you have ten seconds to create that object between you. I think it's meant to show just how desperate actors are to please people but all it really achieves is getting actors to stand in a line with one idiot sticking their leg out while another gurns to try and show that they are representing a pencil. There's nothing quite like finding yourself in a flailing human pyramid pretending to be a piece of cheese to really make you realise that your parents are probably wildly embarrassed by you.

But even worst than this is animals. I love animals. If I wasn't an actor and I genuinely couldn't find myself someone who would support a life of sofa-sitting and crisp-eating, I'd work with animals. They're awesome and better than most humans. But find yourself being asked to be one in an animal and you find yourself in stereotype hell. If someone asks you to be an elephant, what's the first thing you do. Yep, you put your arm in front of your face and wave it around like it's a trunk. Monkey? Get your hands out of your armpits. Squirrel? Yes, I've just made you nibble at an imaginary hazelnut. Putting horrors of animal studies at drama school aside (running around a dance studio in a tiny leotard pretending to be a crane, anyone?) my worst experience was at a drama school audition. If my memory serves me right, we were in groups and had to devise a small movement piece. The rest of the auditionees then watched and were asked to come up with animals that it reminded them of. We then had to take the movement piece as inspiration and perform an extended improvisation piece as those animals. Other groups got lovely animals like lions and horses which mainly meant they got to wander around until time was called. However, when it was our group's turn, some wiseguy decided to shout out 'MOTHS!' which meant we then had to spend the next five minutes furiously flapping around a ground floor studio with windows on every side. All that ensued was bemused looks from other students as they walked on by and five hyperventilating auditionees who were fired up by flapping arms and adrenaline. It was not pretty. There was a myth at the school that one of the dents in the walls had been created by someone pretedning to be a bee. Note to directors: make sure you've got insurance before asking a desperate auditionee to be an airbourne creature...

And then there's trees. Because of this bloody advert:

People will always ask if you had to be a tree while at drama school and I can actually say that yes, I did once have to be a tree. It was during a seemingly innocent voice class and our tutor suddenly threw out the instruction 'And now I want you to be a tree.' Shocked looks all round as we wondered if we were being filmed for a TV prank show but no, he was being deadly serious and we entered a stereotype that we never imagined we'd be part of.

If only they'd ask me to be a resting actress. I can do that one perfectly...

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Silent But Deadly

Firstly, read this:

If you're anything like me then you probably read most of it with a little jazzy voice in your head going 'And your point is what, exactly?' OK, it might not have been jazzy. Maybe it was Irish. Or loud. Or maybe you made it sound like a monster. But, if you're a working actor then I'm fairly sure your reaction was fairly similar to mine. And if you're not an actor then you're probably left wondering what their problem is.

Y'see, I thought that this article was going to finally give all us actors a bit of a voice and expose the soul-shattering amount of unpaid work out there at the moment. Just today I saw a casting call for a fringe theatre piece that didn't pay but made a point of saying that the last two years they'd managed to break even and had been able to put on a massive party for their cast and crew at the end of it all. Now, I don't know about you but I'd rather they spent their time trying to get some extra funding rather than harking on about some rubbish party they're going to organise, spending the money they could be giving you on a cheap wine and value crisps.

I could go on for ages about the unpaid situation but it's been done to death by a lot of other people who are far more eloquent than I'll ever be. I could mention the fact that casting sites such as StarNow ask all of those who post jobs to say that they agree to abide by the National Minimum Wage Act but this doesn't then stop them posting up jobs that are unpaid. Yesterday I saw a casting call for a film about modelling scams. Underneath the casting it had the line:

The owner of this listing has agreed to abide by the UK National Minimum Wage Act. 

Now, you're way ahead of me aren't you because you already know that, of course, this job was unpaid. The director was unable to see the irony of posting up a job about scams which states that they are abiding by a law that stipulates that people providing a service should be paid the minimum amount (let's ignore any legal stuff about being self-employed and whether actors are entitled to a minimum wage) and then mentions that actors won't be getting paid.

But no, what I really wanted to talk about was the fact that I would've loved to have had a chance to play some of these parts when I was straight out of drama school. If it was a choice between playing a near-mute barman in a successful play at the Bush Theatre or dragging myself around Oxfordshire and Nottinghamshire performing TIE for kids who couldn't care less, I know which job I'd choose. Yeah, it's dull being on stage when you've got very little to say but, when you've just hopped straight out of drama school, getting those credits and working alongside directors and actors of that calibre is pretty bloody great. And I understand that it might not be the greateest thing to write to casting directors and agents about but heck, at least you've got something to tell them. During my first year of drama school, I'm pretty sure that casting directors and agents thought I was taking a vow of silence against them. As much as I wanted to get in touch with them, it's bloody hard persuading the National Theatre's casting director to attend a 9am showing of your play on heroin in a school hall in Banbury.

And sometimes being silent on stage is no bad thing. Some of the greatest moments of theatre I've seen have been just from a look that a so-called 'lesser character' makes. And also, let's not knock the relief that being quiet on stage can bring. I've had several shows where I've had prolonged periods of silence on stage (make of that what you will...) Now, I'd love to say that I spent that time staying in character and keeping my character's motivation and intentions firmly in mind. But of course I didn't. Those moments are also great for wondering what terrible food you're going to pick up on your way home, whether you turned the gas off before you left the house or working out inventive ways to sack your agent. They allow you to keep a sneaky eye on the audience and they also help you to gently work your way through a killer hangover.

So let's not be too down on those mute lurkers and silent standers. If someone wants to pay me to silently stand on a stage for two hours, let them, I say!