Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Race Relations

I apologise for the continuing river of rant that appears to be running through my blogs at the moment. I would love nothing more than to write about me spectacularly falling over in front of an audition panel or coming a cropper up against a fiendishly mean director. I love telling you about how I’m forced to crawl around on the floor scrabbling for stale bread or running around a church hall in a swimming costume all in the name of work but sadly I have none of those tales at the moment. The world of auditioning is eerily quiet for me at the moment so until someone asks me to partake in a pointless improvisation or the kind of drama game that pulls on all your cringe muscles, you’ll just have to put up with my whinges.

Now, I’ve talked about race issues in the world of acting before. It was an issue I hadn’t planned on revisiting for a while but after seeing the new Spider Man film, I felt it needed addressing again. The film, if you haven’t seen it, is actually pretty good. The scripting is dodgier than Made In Chelsea and it doesn’t credit the audience with even a teaspoonful of intelligence but the acting is bloody wonderful. If you’ve seen Andrew Garfield before then you’re probably already aware that he’s damn good and he therefore plays a very fine lead. And it’s not just him, pretty much everyone in the cast is very strong and extremely watchable. 

But, it’s safe to say that when it comes to race, the casting of the film is more limited than my patience during an amateur production of Romeo and Juliet. A quick look at the featured roles  in this film and you’ll quickly see that Caucasian is very much the order of the day. Apart from a couple of couple of black actors who play a taxi driver and a crane operator and have been granted perhaps one line each, there is only one other person that I spotted within the film that wasn’t Caucasian, That character was the bad guy’s equally evil helper type person (sorry if my technical jargon leaves you feeling lost and confused) who was played, sadly not particularly well, by an Asian actor. And that, my friends, was it. A New York taxi driver, a construction worker and a villain. It’s the type of casting even the Village People would steer clear of. Well done, Hollywood. Let’s get the bunting out, you’ve excelled yourself again.

This raises two very obvious points. Firstly, although I’m the first person to complain about obvious ‘box-ticking’, the lack of characters portrayed by ethnic minority actors is quite alarming. As I said, I’m not saying that every single film should be employ some sort of skewed Noah’s Ark where they ensure there’s one of every race, but a bit of diversity wouldn’t have gone amiss. And hey, maybe include at least one actress of an ethnic minority? Sorry, just a thought. I realise my lady views are pretty extreme.

But then there are also the small issue of the roles they’ve been given. The only person of any authority also happens to be evil. That’s some real nice work there, Hollywood. I’m not saying you’ve done it deliberately but still, c’mon. I’ve often mentioned the hair-tearing stereotypes when it comes to ethnic casting. If there’s a character who’s Middle Eastern then you can pretty much guarantee they’ll have terrorist tendencies or they’re in an arranged marriage. That’s it. That’s your choice. I’ve auditioned for a lot of Middle Eastern roles and not one of them has just been your normal, everyday kinda gal who gets crisps in her hair and falls over in shop doorways. Oh no. They’ve all either been terrorists or married to one or are somewhere in the chain of an arranged marriage where they’re either being forced into one, living through one or are suffering the after-effects of escaping for one. (I had to audition for such a role in a branch of McDonalds. It makes for quite the Happy Meal atmosphere when you’ve got an actress wailing about being burnt alive…) And the problem doesn’t seem to be any easier for Asian and Middle Eastern men because as far as I can tell, you often play a villain or a geek. Again, no regular roles for you my ethnic friend.

Much like the problem with the lack of diverse roles for women, I think that there’s such a lack of diversity at the top that this then trickles down into the work that is then produces. So far this year I’ve seen Prometheus, Spider Man and The Avengers at the cinema and, as far as I can remember, not one of these contained a part (excluding extras) played by an actress from an ethnic minority and they had very few parts played by men who weren’t white. I’ve also had a quick look over the blockbuster-type films I haven’t seen this year such as Men In Black 3, Snow White and The Huntsman, 21 Jump Street and Wrath of the Titans and there’s an alarming lack of ethnic actors, especially of the variety that possess boobs. The only film that has an extensive list of ethnic performers is, unsurprisingly, The Dictator, which is a film that essentially mocks the Middle East. However, for women the roles are still pretty poor. I haven’t seen it but the two main actresses within the film appear to be Megan Fox and Anna Faris and, well yeah, you know what I’m going to say…Other than that, there appear to be a small army of ‘Virgin Guards’ played by Middle Eastern looking actresses who seem to essentially play ‘sexy’ guards. As roles go, they’re not the ones that dreams are built on. 

As with every single other blog I write, I don’t have a solution to the problem that I’ve just carelessly launched into the air. And, as I’ve said countless times before, I don’t want castings to change just because everyone feels like they have to be seen ticking the right boxes. Creating a more diverse cast should be instinctive and shouldn’t need someone like me to keep wittering on about it. I don’t want to seem like an actress with a racial, sexist chip on my shoulder but if you give a girl a racist, sexist, shoulder-shaped deep-fat fryer and, apart from the sore, burnt shoulder, then the results are obvious. So please, Hollywood, do something quick because I’ve got very weak shoulders…

Monday, 16 July 2012

Never Late Is Better

The term ‘fashionably late’ has always bothered me. Since turning up in the world two weeks early way back in 1983, I’ve always been overly punctual for everything. If you ask to meet me at 3pm, you can guarantee I’ve been wandering around since 2.30pm desperately trying to not look like an over-eager date. Being on time is as instinctive to me as a cup of tea first thing in the morning and blogging as soon as someone mentions the words ‘unpaid’ and ‘nudity.’ Being late is a concept that I’ll never truly understand and one that means I’ll always have to accept a few less minutes in bed because of it.

So I was very pleased to read today that EastEnders have suspended and fined the actress Shona McGarty for constantly being late. Much like how Daily Mail readers like to read about the persecution of immigrants, I love to see the punishment of those who consistently insist on being late. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve been late for things in the past. However, I can honestly say that these incidences have only happened due to inadequacies with public transport, snow or once for work when I was still clearly drunk from the night before. I would even turn up early to my office job which I hated so much I’d spend most of my time there wondering just how many days off I could have if I threw myself down the stairs. And there would be days when I’d desperately try and be late. Once I’d got past the fury of watching people wandering in two or even three minutes late, I’d eye them up with jealousy and try to copy their behaviour in an effort to shave off a few precious seconds from my tedious day. But those endeavours would usually end up in me making a mad dash at the last minute as I started to panic and I’d end up arriving even earlier than usual. 

So it’s very pleasing to see someone being punished for lateness, especially in the world of acting. Chances are you’ve been affected by someone being late before. If not, it’s probably you that’s the problem. When people are late, it holds up everything. Rehearsals are often on a tight enough schedule as it is so if you’ve got some fool who constantly wanders in 30 minutes late, mumbling some vague excuse about their alarm not going off, it makes putting a show together a bit bloody difficult.  It’s an incredibly rude gesture to everyone else involved. It shows a lack of respect to those that have cast you in the role and are, hopefully, paying you and a big ol’ bitchslap in the face to the other actors who could’ve played the role equally well and would’ve turned up on time. And it’s a hugely offensive gesture towards your fellow actors who are relying on you actually turning up so they too can do their job. I was in a play a few years ago and my main scene was opposite an actor who was consistently late. The director’s way of dealing with this would be to either reschedule the rehearsals for the scene for the end of the day (meaning that we rarely ever got to them as a particularly spotlight-seeking actor would demand so much time on their scenes throughout the day) or to rehearse my scenes opposite someone else standing in. This was mightily unhelpful as it achieved very little apart from wasted time and an annoyed actor who, of course, just wanted to be working on his own scenes. 

I’ve seen very little action taken against those who insist on turning up hours after everyone else. At drama school we had the most appalling repeat offender who was so bad that he ended being taken out of his final show (although he has probably turned out to be one of the most successful  graduates so it clearly didn’t do him any harm.) The problem is that once you’ve got to the rehearsal stage, the hassle of getting someone else in is so brain-stretchingly tedious that everyone would rather just put up with it so the problem is never resolved. The cretin keeps getting away with their few extra minutes in bed just because casting is such a ball-ache it’s why you don’t see ball pools putting on shows (probably.) While training, if you turned up late then you were suspended for the rest of the day but once you escape its cushioned cocoon, that kind of punishment just isn’t practical.

And don't even get me started on people who turn up late to the theatre. I've been late for a show once and that's because there had been a multi-car pile-up which despite my poor driving skills, was clearly not my fault. However, I have trouble believing that everyone who turns up late and irritatingly apologises as the creep along their row has genuinely been held up. No, instead they casually make their way to the theatre, decide to get drinks after the final call has been made, then decide to have a quick wee and then finally noisily tiptoe in just so they can deliberately spoil my evening. 

I realise that I may be alone on this one. I realise that not everyone gets quite as worked up as I do over running a bit late. And I realise that my desire to put everyone on timed strings so that they’re always punctual is unethical and would bugger up Sliding Doors. But hey, maybe when we’ve rid the world of poverty, famine, disease and sexist castings we could possibly start enforcing punctuality as a legal necessity and I can find something else to harp on about…

Sunday, 15 July 2012


'We are an immersive, interactive show that is entirely volunteer-led.'

 This, my friends. is code for 'we won't be paying you a bean.' We know this. If you’re an actor, it’s highly likely that you’re fluent in the language of ‘You’re ok with not being able to pay rent, right?’ We’re highly adept at spotting the words ‘experience’, ‘credits’ and ‘mug’ and know in an instant that this means we’ll have to endure another month in a call centre or flogging theatre programmes or massaging pervy strangers in a club to keep us alive. 

Even those who’ve vaguely glanced at my blog will know that I like to complain about unpaid work. As an actor it’s a daily battle that’s getting worse as more and more companies get in on the act. Like skinny jeans, it’s a fashion trend that just won’t go away. But unpaid work isn’t just unflattering, it’s also demeaning, frustrating and utterly tiresome. But there’s one company who crop up time and time again. One ‘award-winning company’ who, for a few years now, have somehow got away with not giving their performers a penny. But now Equity have stepped in. Now You Me Bum Bum Train have more to answer for than just their ridiculous name.

If you’re even remotely interested in British theatre then you’ll probably remember the first time you stumbled over the name You Me Bum Bum Train. I first saw it, unsurprisingly, on a casting site. It’s a name that instantly tugged at my scowling muscles. It's a name that instantly sets my teeth on edge. And upon reading the description of the piece (which I’m fairly sure threw the word around ‘experience’ like cheap tinsel at Christmas) my scowl and itchy teeth set in for the longhaul.

YMBBT (if you think I’m typing out that name in full every time then get out of here, kiddo) was quite a revelation back in 2010. It was a simpler time when immersive theatre just meant the actors entered the stage via the audience. It was a time when actors were actors and audience members were allowed to sit back, maybe have a little snooze and choose just how much they wanted to take from a show. But now, we’re a lot more used to audience members being hoisted from their threadbare seats and being made to prance about like a very reluctant performing monkey. But back in 2010, YMBBT was new and it sounded a bit bloody exciting. A single audience member is treated to their own private show where they get asked to do all manner of things for a full 45 minutes. Unless the idea of audience participation makes you queasy in your bones, this sounds like a lot of fun so it's no wonder that tickets get snapped up extremely quickly.

But fun is pretty much where the positives end. Because the people behind YMBBT have set it up in such a way that it’s practically impossible to ensure performers are paid. If you’ve ever worked in fringe theatre then you’ll know the rule that if the cast outnumber the audience then you’re allowed to call the show off and dance down the street in your pants. Well, in YMBBT’s case, that means a show would never, ever take place and there would be a lot of street-pant dancing in Stratford. While most shows would draw the line once the cast gets into double figures, YMBBT hire up to 250 actors. Now that would be the best thing since people worked out you could put crisps between sliced bread if they were actually paying actors. But they’re not. Because they’re marketing this as a community piece that’s entirely run by volunteers, you earn the princely sum of nothing. And considering this is now a sell-out show that is backed by the Barbican and Theatre Royal Stratford East with support from the Arts Council, the Canary Wharf Group (click on the link and weep at the property they own) and the Stratford Renaissance Partnership, it’s concerning that there’s still not enough money to go around to at least keep the actors on a minimum wage.

The argument of YMBBT’s artistic directors is that it’s simply not feasible for them to pay actors and of course it’s not. When you set up a business plan that allows for only 16 paying audience members a day seeing the work of 250 actors and a whole load of crew members then you find there’s just not enough money to go around. So why put the show on? Why not scale it down until you get to the point when you can afford to pay people to be involved? Because they don’t have to. Because there are people that still want to be involved in this. Another one of their arguments is that despite casting their shows via actors’ casting sites, they’re not just looking for actors. They get all manner of people involved in their show you are just there for the ‘experience’ (that bloody word again.) According to this article in The Guardian, the organisers believe that paying people would ‘change the dynamic’ of the show. Apparently, if they start paying people then the whole show will be utterly ruined as their performers would be far too happy. You listening, Hollywood? Apparently it’s a lot more exciting when you don’t pay actors. Nothing creates a thrilling atmosphere quite like 250 performers worrying about where their next meal is going to come from. 

Because I could waffle on about this forever more until I write myself into an unpaid frenzy, I’m going to leave the final word with the excellently eloquent Samuel West:

“I can't support a working model where actors aren't paid at all. Otherwise the only people who can afford to be in those shows are those who have other jobs or savings or private incomes – and that alters the demographic of actors you can use, and eventually the demographic of the profession."

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Everything But The Girls

When the RSC announced their 2013 summer season yesterday, we all rejoiced. "LOOK AT ALL THOSE FEMALE DIRECTORS!" we cried as we danced around in the rain. We've all been waiting for some good news in theatre since MoylesGate and, for us ladyfolk at least, it seemed that this news was surely it. FIVE whole lady directors in one little season. Why, that news is almost unheard of. Add to this a new play by Tanika Gupta about Queen Victoria and it finally seemed like Viva Forever wouldn't be the only source of Girl Power in theatre. The whole thing caused Boyd to proudly announce:

"Next year has ended up, by accident, as a celebration of women in theatre...It has not been a conscious piece of positive action … but it is great that we are doing something about it with a concentration and intensity that is new for the RSC."

Well done, Mr Boyd, you can feel pride in your RSC swansong. You can feel wonderfully smug as ladies across the land sing your name in ecstasy. Or can you? You see, because I'm a cynical actress who refuses to see the good in things, I instantly started looking for the negatives. And wow, did I find one. Of course, my job is to see what's it it for us actresses and, if you take a quick look at the plays they'll be doing in this 'celebration of women' season, you'll quickly find that there's not party-poppers for us actors with lady bits. They've announced that the plays they'll be producing are All's Well That Ends Well, Hamlet (of course, it's now legal to have Hamlet in every bloody season in every bloody theatre), Titus Andronicus, As You Like It, The Winter's Tale, A Mad World My Masters plus new plays by Tanika Gupta and Mark Ravenhill. Now, obviously I don't know what roles the two new plays will involve but a quick tot up of the ones that do already exist and it seems that these plays contain a triumphant 85 named roles for the boys and a miserable 21 for us girlies. Now, unless the two new plays contain a whopping 64 female roles then it seems this celebration of women in theatre has very quickly become a rather exclusive members-only party. Much like the RSC itself.

I realise that this is something I rant and rave about on an almost weekly basis and I'm sure it's becoming tiresome to read but this is a problem in theatre that just doesn't seem to be changing. I'm bloody thrilled that they've got a whole host of female directors in because the representation of women in theatre is not just limited to those who prat about on stage. But I'm as bored of seeing the same-old, male heavy plays in the theatre as I am of seeing tweets about 50 Shades of Bloody Freaking Grey. And I realise that the RSC are a bit limited by Shakespeare's writing but they've shown they're capable of putting on new plays too so why not focus on that to ensure that women are being fairly respresented? Even when they do produce new writing, they've shown they're not to be trusted with female roles. Just take a look at the cast list for their new play A Soldier For Every Son - The Rise Of The Aztecs - http://www.rsc.org.uk/whats-on/a-soldier-in-every-son/cast.aspx Yep, that's 15 male roles and a paltry 3 female roles. Excellent work, RSC. Well frikkin' played.

Who knows, they've only announced the casting of Hamlet so far so maybe they'll be getting in lots of ladies to play the male parts. Maybe they'll surprise me so much that I'm forced to eat all the hats. Or maybe, just maybe, 2013 will just be another year where the men reign supreme and the women take their kit off.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Persona Non Grata

Oh, hang on, make sure you click on those boxes down the side that say ‘Bafta Experience’ and ‘Hollywood Experience.’ All done? OK. Close that website, let me waffle on about it for a few paragraphs and then we’re going to try and pretend that it never happened.

I was unfortunate enough to see that website yesterday. I lazily clicked on a link that someone tweeted after they were offering people their ’15 minutes of fame’ by being put into a real show. Now, I realised that what I read probably wasn’t going to fill my heart with a pleasing glow but I certainly didn’t expect to find something that would fill me with enough rage to blast Rock Of Ages far, far away into another galaxy where it belongs. It was with shock that I first read it. Surely someone wasn’t actually offering this? This had to be a horrible joke. But no, I very quickly discovered that it’s deadly serious. 

This is a worrying development. Now, I’ve been informed that this is being aimed towards audience members rather than actors which is supposed to make me feel better about the whole thing. And even if that is the case, why have they mentioned that you can put the credit on your CV? There is no way that is being aimed at anyone apart from those with an acting CV. 

“So you’re interested in the role of Account Executive with us here at Barclays. Now, let’s just have a quick look down the ol’ CV here. You’ve held similar roles at Natwest, HSBC and, now hang on, what’s this? You also played the role of Passerby Number 2 in an app-based soap? Now that’s very interesting…”

Not going to happen, is it? No one, apart from an actor desperate for credits on their CV, would mention a part they played during an ‘experience day’ that they paid well over the odds for.
Then of course we have the problem that if they’re getting people to pay to be part of their shows, that’s taking the place of actors they could be hiring. It’s one thing missing out on a role because someone is a better actor than you or is prettier than you or happens to be sleeping with the director but being overlooked because you haven’t paid £1995 for the role? Therein lies unfairness, madness and a whole lot of angry expletives that would make a whole whorehouse blush. Even if the roles are being written especially for those that have paid for it, surely that's still very unfair to actors who should never have to pay for a part in something, whether they can afford it or not. Can the organisers of this not see how unbelievably insulting this is? Instead of hiring talented actors who could probably help further their company and give them a better reputation, they’d rather take thousands of pounds off people and put those who’ve never acted before into their shows. Not only does it demean the acting profession but surely it demeans their work too as they clearly prize money over talent. They say that they want their offer to be featured on experience ‘Red Letter Day’ type websites as if that makes things better. I’m all for these things as I’m sure that it’s much fun pretending to be a racing driver for a day. However, when you buy your Dad the chance to zip around a race track for a few hours, it doesn’t mean that Jensen Button is bumped off the Silverstone Grand Prix starting list. If that was the case then I think we’d all be in uproar. But because it’s actors and because replacing us with friends, family or anyone else that want their ’15 minutes of fame’ is becoming more fashionable than ridiculous jeans that make you look like you’ve had a terrible accident, no one seems to think it’s a problem.

And that there’s the money that’s involved in all of this. The basic package costs £295, the ‘Bafta’ (wonder if they’ve even got permission to use the BAFTA name) package is £995 and then the deluxe ‘Hollywood’ experience is wallet-withering £1995. For that money you can play the role of an extra or a featured part, spend some time filming and then get to go to the wrap party afterwards. I hate to break it to these fools who fall for this offer but there’s a way of getting the exact same experience for free. All you need to do is visit Gumtree, apply for one of their dodgy acting jobs and you can get the true acting experience for no money at all! Why spend your hard-earned cash when you can be treated like a second class citizen for absolutely nothing? But of course, I’m forgetting that the ‘Hollywood Experience’ also offers the chance to work alongside a TV celebrity. That’s right, folks. For just shy of £2000, you too can spend the day wondering what on earth has gone wrong with your life while you watch an ex-Big Brother contestant desperately struggling with their lines and prancing around a set less glamorous than my damp-ridden, worm-attracting bathroom.

And what’s even worse is that when this company do hire actors, they don’t even get paid. I should know because I’ve auditioned for them before. The whole auditioning experience was an utter shambles, the director was rude to the point of refusing to even shake my hand and while performing the script with the producer, she spent the whole time checking her emails. And all this to just be paid expenses? Maybe this is just the kind of treatment they reserve for their non-paying actors. If you’ve forked out the same sort of money that you’d reserve for a luxury holiday then I’m sure the service you receive is impeccable. But still, I suppose it’s nice to know that whether you’ve paid for the privilege of being there or not, everyone’s in the same boat and comes away equally empty pocketed. It’d be nice to think that this money they’re making from these gullible fools might possibly go towards paying their actors but I realise this is very similar to the impossible dream I genuinely once had where I was drafted in to cover for Sid James in a new Carry On film.

I wish there was more I could do about this. Aside from tweeting about it constantly and getting others to complain, I’m not sure this insulting and depressing scheme can be stopped. Equity know about it but because they’re not breaking any kind of law, little can be done to stop them. I worry that other unscrupulous companies will see this idea and start to copy and we'll be in an even worse position than we are now where not only are we not paid but we also have to pay for the privilege of doing our jobs. For now, we just have to hope that no one falls for this rather evil money-making ways and the acting industry and try and keep an anxious grip on the last scrap of dignity that we’ve been left with.

Oh, and if you're wondering about the title of this blog, it translates as 'an unwelcome person' in Latin which, I think you'll agree, is pretty bloody apt...

Since posting this blog, the company have changed the wording slightly on their site to highlight that applicants will be working alongside professional actors. Also, the name of 'Bafta Experience' has now been changed. While I still don't agree with what they're doing and would urge people to steer clear of such an experience, I thank them for listening to my concerns.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Nude Behaviour

Casting: 'The series will be aimed at the male 18-35 market and as such our series will have a sexy look.'

I think it’s safe to say that that particular casting call is offensive to just about everyone. This casting is for a film being made which clearly thinks it’s being revolutionary by casting four women in the title role where they all get to play crime-fighting ‘badasses.’ And this should be fine. But aiming it at men? Putting the word ‘sexy’ in every single sentence? Suddenly the good intentions don’t seem so wonderful.

 There has been a lot said about the treatment of actresses in the last week. Firstly Equity spoke out about how theatres need to be doing more to ensure that castings are a bit more equal and don’t just give men-folk the spotlight. Then there was Sarah Woolley’s excellent article on sex scenes which you can read here:

Now I’ve talked a lot about the amount of nudity that women seem to have to partake in, especially on film. Just this morning I’ve read at least ten casting calls that have asked for women to either be beautiful, sexy or nude. That’s the role women have to play now. Of course, I realise that I’m generalising and I know that there are lots of lovely, intelligent parts being written for women too but you have to admit that the facts are there that are women are often expected to be the pretty ones while the men carry the story.
The constant call for nudity is a very worrying development. I’ve appeared naked on screen once, something I’ve spoken about before on my blog (but I’ll re-cap as I’m too lazy to find the post I mentioned it in.) It was while I was still at drama school and my director wanted me to go full-frontal but after a discussion that seemed to contain very little regard for my welfare or modesty, we finally came to a ‘compromise’ where I was allowed to keep my knickers on. Looking back I wish I’d asked for more but I was young and desperate to show the world that I was the ultimate in castable actresses. This should never have happened. Where were the tutors making sure that we all knew that our acting was enough to get us through this industry? They were nowhere to be seen. Despite only being a slight little thing back then, I spent the next two weeks barely eating as I was so terrified of the world seeing an ounce of flab on me. The scene was the first scene to be shot meaning that I was an absolute bundle of nerves. We were working alongside a film school so the crew was made up of people I’d never met before and it just so happened that the whole crew that morning was entirely made up of men who were much older than me. By the end I was a lot more comfortable but it’s not an experience that I’d ever want to relive again. What should’ve been a supportive environment while I was still training instead felt like a seedy experiment in how to make a newbie actress feel as awkward as possible. 

Of course, the problem is, as I’ve said before, that there still aren’t enough female writers and directors out there who are being given the opportunity to get their work made. Until television, theatre and film open their doors a little wider and let the ladies in too, women will constantly be relegated to playing ‘The Love Interest’ or the ‘Eye Candy’ or just ‘The Girlfriend.’ Despite the fact that women make up 50% of the population, we’re very much the supporting role when it comes to what audiences watch. Women have lead countries, they fight wars and they’ve made groundbreaking scientific discoveries. They write some of the most stunning things the world has ever seen and have written and sung some of the most beautiful songs that we’ll ever know. However, because women also happen to be bloody gorgeous and the men got in there first to write things and market things and produce things and direct things, we’ve been left to play the attractive set-dressing. 

Now I don’t know about you but I don’t want to be a naked prop while men get to have all the fun. Us girls just wanna have fun too, ain’t that right, Cyndi?

Monday, 2 July 2012

No Direction

Readers of my blog will know that there are many things I do like. If something falls outside the loved ones, crisps and Community circle then it’s probably safe to say that I’ll have something bad to say about it. So, you can probably guess what my thoughts are on monologues and what I want to do to people who dare ask me to prepare them for an audition.

If you’ve ever been or have attempted to attend a drama school then you will have encountered a monologue. Chances are you’ve spent hours, days, weeks scouring plays in the vain hope of finding a bit of speech that’s more than a few lines long that you could potentially perform to a panel of strangers. Once you find that said chunk of text, you then have to check that the character is of the same sex and preferably of a similar age. You then have to make sure that it’s not everyone else’s monologue of choice and once all those boxes have been ticked, you’re good to go. Time to get pacing around your bedroom and desperately learning someone else’s out of context words.

I understand why people ask you to prepare monologues as it gives them a chance to see you perform a decent amount of script and also lets them see how good you are at interpreting a piece of text. But really what it ends up being is an exercise in memorising a piece of text, working on it manically and getting just a few lines to a good enough standard to perform. It doesn’t show how well you work with other actors, how well you take direction or if you’re capable of natural-looking dialogue. So, you can imagine my annoyance when I was asked to prepare not one but two whole monologues for an audition.

Now, I find the times I actually get asked to perform a speech at an audition has dwindled as much as my ability to fight a hangover. I have a couple that I can whip out at a moment’s notice but they’re used so rarely that even they have become pretty dusty. But this casting had specifics. They had to be from specific plays so I was then faced with the frankly rather dull task of reading two plays that I’m not particularly keen on to find myself two whole new speeches to learn. They, of course, had to be contrasting in tone and finally, despite neither play having particularly wonderful female characters, I found my speeches. So the last few days has been spent preparing them so that they were ready for their great unveiling today.

I got to the audition to see a man in the waiting room refusing to leave until the casting director took his CV. It got to the point where he actually put it in her hand and in the end she gave in and asked him to come back later where they’d squeeze him in for an audition. He skipped out calling everyone ‘diamond’ and I scowled. A lot. Soon after I went in and after a brief chat, I was asked to perform my monologues. Did the first one, went ok. Had a ‘that was nice’ from the director. I stood and waited, expecting to be directed because that’s what normally happens. ‘So, can we see your next speech please?’ Oh ok. Obviously they’re going to see both and then work on one of them. I do the second one which is greeted with, ‘Well that was nice.’ Nice? Lovely and nice? You’d use more descriptive words for a blank piece of paper. So I stood again, waiting for my direction. Nope. Nothing. I was thanked for coming in and that was it. Time to be released back into the world. Not even giving a bit of direction and asking directors to at least try the speech again is really lazy. They have no idea how well, or poorly, I take direction. For all they know, I might enter a screaming fit of diva rage the second someone asks me to think about the emotions of the piece. 

So I’m back in the land of no upcoming auditions with a couple of unwanted monologues still aimlessly wandering around my brain. If anyone wants them then they’re yours for a cup of tea and a Wagon Wheel.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

The Pain Of Shakespeare

“Will is always present, always with me. We have a daily dialogue, and I feel close to him.”

Really, Ben Kingsley? Really? You have a daily dialogue with a man who has been dead for 396 years? Every waking day of your life you think and supposedly converse with a playwright? I think even writers themselves would agree that no one is that important. I fail to have a daily dialogue with my family, all of whom I love very dearly, so I’m amazed you find the time to constantly badger Mr Shakespeare. Will must be bloody livid. Imagine if someone you barely knew insisted on popping round every single day for a quick catch up? I remember when I was younger, a relative of ours used to insist on coming round every Sunday. The first few weeks it was fine but they’d insist on staying for hours and as we were too polite to ask them to stop, we took to hiding when they came over. This resulted in us crawling around the ground floor of the house to make sure they couldn’t see us from the driveway. I imagine Shakespeare often finds himself now having to do the same thing.

This gripe has come courtesy of this article in today’s Observer: 

Called, Shakespeare And Me, it encourages a whole host of actors, and one director, to wank on about how great Shakespeare is. Actors who have all had lovely RSC experience of working on lavish, well-produced Shakespeare productions. And that’s the problem. As with many of Shakespeare’s female characters, there’s very little diversity. Where are the actors who’ve performed Shakespeare on miniscule stages to an audience of three for no money? Where are the actors who can’t stand Shakespeare? Where are the actors who couldn’t care less if they never had to agonise over baffling lines of verse never again? Oh no. You’ve either performed for the RSC and think Shakespeare is bloody wonderful or you don’t exist.

I, for one, am not Shakespeare’s biggest fan. Don’t get me wrong, I think a lot of his writing is beautiful. ‘Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’ The construction is perfect and the fact that we still use his lines today is testament to what a talented writer he was. But what's even more impressive than his lines on love are his insults. Who can argue with lines such as, 'There’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune.'?  And the feeling you get when you crack one of his lines is joyous. When you finally get what he’s on about, you feel like you’ve been let in on one of the greatest jokes of all time. But Shakespeare can be utterly tortuous as well.

I’ve played some terrible Shakespeare roles in my time. I played Hero in Much Ado About Nothing while at drama school and I don’t think I’ve ever been so miserable in a play in my entire life. Of course, Much Ado About Nothing is all about Beatrice and Benedick. I mean, the ‘nothing’ actually refers to Hero’s lady bits, but Shakespeare really put all his efforts into Bea and Ben. Playing Hero means you spend a lot of time floating around at the back of the stage being talked about. It’s utterly tedious and really only serves as a lesson in listening. A character very similar to this is Perdita in The Winter’s Tale who I’ve also had the misfortune of playing. Again, despite a lot of the play actually being about her, she has very little to say and is overshadowed by other, better written characters.  Add to this the fact that my director for this play was so incompetent that of the three weeks we spent rehearsing the play (Monday to Saturday, 9-4.30) we only spent two days on the last two acts meaning that I received about as much direction as the owner of a broken sat-nav.

And watching Shakespeare can be tortuous too. Done well, and it is a thing of utter beauty. I saw Hamlet at the National a couple of years ago with Rory Kinnear playing the title role and I’ve never been so astounded by a performance of a Shakespeare play in my life. Despite the script, the lines felt new and modern and I was gripped from beginning to end. Compare that to Richard II at the Old Vic where I honestly considered throwing myself off the balcony just so I could escape the groaning pain of Kevin Spacey labouring over every single line. And let’s not even start on the performance of Pericles where I found myself needing a wee from 5 minutes in but unable to leave without walking across the stage. 

Oh, and modernising Shakespeare? If you need to set Antony and Cleopatra in 1990s Liverpool in the hope that audiences might understand it more then you’re probably best just leaving it well alone. Despite however many points you might have to back it up, Shakespeare didn’t write Cleopatra to be played by a woman in a shellsuit.