Saturday, 27 October 2012

Talking Workshop

Regular readers of my blog will know how much I despise workshop auditions. Those of you who are new to my inane, acting-related ramblings will have probably already picked up on just how much they make my skin crawl. A quick recap for those of you who have wandered onto unknown territory or just incase you're of forgetful mind, workshop auditions are the work of the devil. While they're wonderful for the casting team, they're hell on badly burnt toast for us actors. Otherwise perfectly charming actors are turned into monsters as the audition room is turned into a gladiatorial ring and suddenly shouting and over-emoting become the unwanted order of the day. Suddenly everyone thinks they need to overact and shout over one another just to make sure that they're the one that gets noticed. And the workshop audition I attended this week was really no expection.

I've attended many a workshop audition in my lifetime. They can be tedious - one I attended a while back asked us to partake in the counting game. To those of you lucky enough to have not played this game, it requires a group of actors to stand in a circle and maybe have their eyes closed. You then, as a group have to count to twenty. I know, I know, this sounds a tough ask for a gaggle of actors anyway but it gets worse. The point is that only one of you speaks at a time and if two of you say a number together then you have to start all over again. The director for this particular show was insistent that we make it which meant 30 minutes of this workshop was dedictaed to us essentially waiting around for someone to do a number two. Wonderful. And then there are the absurd ones. You haven't lived until you've been asked to get into a group of four and spend five seconds making yourselves into a collective electric toothbrush.

But the one this week was in a entirely different, utterly incompetent league of its own. Firstly, it was held in a church. And no, not the church hall or a little back room, THE ACTUAL CHURCH.  It was also held in such a residential area that if I were to get lost, I'd have had to knock on someone's door to ask for directions. It was essentially an open audition and it appeared that I was mainly auditioning alongside 16 year olds who were all obsessed with asking each other if their hair looked OK and whether everyone thought they looked old enough to get into a club. I was so old compared to these embryo-aged sprites that it was only a matter of seconds before I became the wise old owl and found myself being asked all matter of acting advice. What should've been an audition room very quickly turned into a thespian version of Prime Minister's Questions and, like Cameron, I lied my way through it like a trooper.

Just as I was telling a slip of a thing that Gumtree was definitely the place to find the best castings, we were finally called to take our place amongst the pews. And what ensued was a depressing 90 minutes of some of the worst improvisation that I've ever seen. I'm not saying I'm a master improviser, however I'm proud to say that the second someome asks me to pretend that I'm meeting someone for the first time, I don't suddenly launch into an argument. It was incredible the amount of shouting people did. Just because you want to get noticed, it doesn't mean you have to scream that someone's a bitch the second the scene starts. For one scene, we were asked to take on a high status character and, yet again, people just shouted and screamed at each other. And, for some reason, there were a lot of lesbian love triangles and strip clubs being created. Like the worst casting call coming to life before my very upset eyes, everyone seemed to think that the way to get noticed was either to pretend that they were getting their kit off or asking Kitty if she wants to have it off. Apparently showing a director that you're happy to wiggle your bum in the face of another woman is the key to getting work. Sadly they're probably right.

The worst part was when we were asked to create longer improvised scenes. We were put into groups, given 10 minutes rehearsal time (don't get me started on being given rehearsal time for an improvisation...) and told to create a scene. It was a shambles. Instead of just trying things out, the group I was in insisted on planning every single little line and move and look they were going to do and discuss just how many arguments they could crowbar in. Thankfully it seemed that every other group suffered the same fate and when it was time to watch everyone else's, it was messier than a Friday night in Harlow. Instead of showing the director just how good they were at performing, all they did was prove just how gifted they are at shouting over someone else's loud wails. And, to be fair, if that's the main criteria for the role then the director is going to have a tough job selecting just one.

I'm just hoping that the director decides they're looking for a scowling woman who has flashes of murderous twitches when a teenager starts to raise their voice over a lesbian foetus. If that's what they wanted then I'd be the most successful actress of all time...

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Virtual Reality

"Must be friends in real life."

This is the second time I've seen this sentence in a casting call in the last week or so. Apparently, us actors are so unreliable and so useless that we're now not even to be trusted to act out the supposedly simple process of 'friendship.' Because, y'know, none of us actors actually have friends. So, instead, casting directors are asking for 'real people' (the argument that actors aren't real people is reserved for another day) because it seems the process of acting is no longer to be trusted.

Like with prettty much everything, I blame reality TV. People have become so used to hateful, gag reflex-inducing shows such as TOWIE and Made In Chelsea that we're no longer able to cope with the idea of actors pretending on screen. Despite the fact that these shows are more fake than a 1970s Doctor Who set, the idea seems to be that unless it's real, audiences won't believe it anymore. And this is a properly worrying development. It used to be entirely acceptable for an actor to don their standard office-wear uniform and could convincingly play the role of a bored admin worker (heck, enough actors have done this in real life anyway.) Audiences bought that. Because they're actors and they can ACT like they're a bored admin worker. But now that's not enough. Now the whole bloody office needs to get in on the action. That receptionist who insists on having pilchards on toast every lunch-time? Get her in. The IT manager who has an unhealthy obsession with Post-It notes? Yeah, he'll do. And the marketing executive who insists on organising a bloody cake bake-off every single Friday? She'll be in it too.

And then, on top of this, these feckless, stapler-wielding fools will be getting paid. Now, of course, I can't get annoyed at anyone getting paid for work. That would be so utterly hypocritical that it would make even a politician blush. But, these people who are on a decent monthly wage anyway, are then getting our money on top of that. That's our Christmas bonus. So while they're off on their skiing trip, we'll be the fools who've been brought in by our temping agency to cover for them. So yes, I suppose in a way they're helping us get paid work but directors frown at the decision to put 'Post Room Assistant' on your CV. Of course, if you say that you were covering for Jimmy "y'know, that guy who you put in your eye-wateringly high-profile Christmas campaign" then I suppose it'll at least help you get a foot in the door. That's if they ever let us actors into an audition room ever again.

Interestingly, because of a lack of acting work (presumably because Lisa from accounts is taking all the jobs) I'm now having to look for office work so that I can afford to eat. Maybe this will be the best career choice I've ever made. Get down your local temping agency and your face could be the next one we seen on our screens.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Black or White

Let’s start with the fact that a playwright has actually had to ask for people to boycott theatres that allow the use of ‘blacking up.’ Let’s begin there. No, no, get out of your time machine. We’re not going back to the 1920s. In fact, you don’t even have to turn your calendar back to last week. Oh no. This is happening right now. At this very moment, theatres are getting the greasepaint out and waving it in front of actors’ faces like with a cheeky grin like it’s the most normal thing in the world.

But what’s worse is that people seem to agree.  A poll run by The Stage today has shown that 29% of respondents agreed that the use of ‘blackface’ in the theatre was completely acceptable. According to these people, it’s perfectly fine to ask a white actor to play a black role by applying black paint to their face. Apparently there’s nothing wrong with this. Apparently it’s not offensive. Apparently we’re supposed to be totally OK with all of this.

It seems that the people who allow this to happen don’t see just how insulting this is. By getting a white actor to ‘black up’ you’re basically saying to all black actors that they’re not good enough. You’d far rather get someone to PAINT THEIR FACE BLACK than find a suitable actor from the vast wealth of black actors out there. And I’m sorry but even if the amount of black actors in Germany (where this story originated) is so low that you’re finding it almost impossible to cast then I suggest you choose a different play.  And the issue isn’t just reserved to this particular piece of miscasting. It’s happening all over the bloody place. Look at the cross-gender casting at the RSC at the moment. I’ve ranted and raved about this in several blogs already so I don’t want to cover intensely well-trodden ground. However, this type of casting is just as insulting. I know that the RSC are doing it as they want to put on plays how they used to be staged but instead it’s just a big ol’ Shakespearean slap in the face to us ladyfolk. Female roles are hard enough to come by as it is so when box office smashing blokes are cast in those scant parts, it’s pretty damning. Despite what the RSC says it just feels like they’re telling us women that we’re not good enough to sell tickets or play female roles on stage.

And I appreciate the work that other companies are doing by either getting casts who are all female or all black or all Asian or all who prefer tea to coffee. But I'm not entirely convinced that it's really helping the problem. The issue should be encouraging more people from ethnic minorities to enter the profession (apart from youngish Middle Eastern actresses, that area is FULL…) and also into supporting new writing that is far more representative of the real world out there. This silly little planet of ours is far more diverse than all women playing mothers or prostitutes, all black men playing criminals and all Asian women playing those in arranged marriages. However, if you lived your life just believing everything that the world of acting tells you then, 1) get outside you fool and 2) you'd believe that those stereotypes make up this Daily Mail-esque apocalyptic world.

The German theatre in question has since denied any intentions to use the archaic technique of blacking up, saying they had learnt from previous productions that this is now unacceptable. Whether or not this is true, we may never know. However, it doesn’t excuse the fact that people out there still think it’s OK to do it. Oh how we like to think in 2012 that we are thoroughly modern and forward-thinking but, unfortunately, it seems like we’re being desperately held back too.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Ring Ring

I'd love to be able to blog about how fantastically well my acting career is going right now. I'd also love to regale you with tales of hilarious auditions I'd been recently attending. Heck, I'd love to tell you anything about my acting status other than the fact that I don't currently appear to have one. Currently my so-called talent as an actor is about as useful as Comic Sans on a CV. So, yet again I find myself turning to the subject of resting jobs. I'm sorry. If tales of telephones and headsets and bored actors upset you, I suggest you look away now.

Of all resting jobs out there, I'm a firm fan of the call centre. I know many of you hate them and I understand why. They're depressing and an absolute bugger to be on the receiving end of. But, for an actor, they're more flexible than a gymnast who's overdosed on cod liver oil. As an actor, working in a call centre isn't just a job, it's practically a rite of passage and, as someone who's most non-acting jobs have been heaving phone-based, it was only a matter of time before I found myself donning a headset and flogging conservatories.

Now, before I start, I should add I don't actually enjoy this kind of work. However, for me, it's the lesser of a lot of other evils. Also, when you've been screamed at for ruining someone's last ever Christmas, been held accountable for all the discrimination in the world against deaf people and received personal threats of having a brick thrown through my window, the call centre world holds very little fear for me. Yes, calling people up who don't want to be bothered isn't fun but it's a heck of a lot easier than standing out in the rain trying to get people to sign up to the charities they don't care about or teaching skittish three year olds how to jive.

Whether you're at a call centre that primarily hires actors or not, every single one will feel like a place that actors come to die. Nothing has made me feel like a perfomer more than sitting at a desk, logging into computer that records how many toilet breaks you take and being surrounded by legging-ed beings inflicting their rendition of Master Of The House upon everyone else. Despite the exterior being one of a chattering dressing room, an air of resignation and jaded careers lingers in the air. If our careers are mapped out then someone has run off with our A-Z, done a great steaming turd on it and asked a tired clown to return it to us with a big ol' red circle around our nearest call centre.

Working in a big call centre made me hate actors more than I thought possible. Internal messaging is the work of the devil and means you are constantly bombarded by messages pleading with everyone to come see their low-rent production/band/poetry evening, desperate calls for painkillers and requests for congratulations on being with their boyfriend for 4 months. You'll also have to endure everyone's acting biography from the second they stepped out of drama school and some of the most incredible answerphone messages known to man. You'll fall for the message that sounds like the person is answering the phone more times than you care to admit and an alarming amount of people will pick up the phone while you're halfway through a conversation about the intricacies of waxing. You'll very quickly learn that the glares you got when you walked in on your first day were in fact just tediously bored stares and it won't take you long to work out that you can waste a lot of time going to the water cooler every 5 minutes.

So next time you pick up the phone, think of the bored actor at the end of the line. They want to be there just as much as you do and, like most creatures, they mean you no harm. Oh, and know that the ruder you are on the phone, the more mockery you'll get in the office and a whole load of callbacks will be scheduled to come your way. You have been warned...