Monday, 4 November 2013

Miss L's 2013 Newsletter

Right, first an apology to the three people that read my blog. Sorry for not having written anything in so long. The last time I wrote, open letters were just things that nosey neighbours did, clocks were still very much forward and we were blissfully unaware of what a Penis Beaker was. We really had no idea how lucky we were.

So, because it’s been so long and I’ve therefore collated a few subjects that I can’t be bothered to write a full blog about, I thought I’d do you all a little newsletter instead. Excited? You bloody should be.

Why haven’t you been thrusting your thoughts on to us for ages?

Well, as I’ve touched upon how long it’s been since I last wrote one, I thought I might as well explain why I haven’t bothered you with my mind ramblings. The fact is that, acting wise, 2013 has been about as kind to me as a goblin who has a thing for stealing crisps. For whatever reason, the world has not wanted a piece of me this year and this means, rather worryingly, I can count the amount of auditions I’ve had this year on 2 fingers. And when you’re so out of the loop that you’re pretty sure the loop is just a myth, writing about what’s inside the loop can be a tad tricky.

Being an actor that can’t even get auditions can be seriously embarrassing. It’s easy to blame the acting world – Hallowe’en, clocks going back, fireworks and a glut of pumpkins are all very valid reasons at the moment…but spouting those excuses continuously gets seriously tiresome. But it’s true that, for me at least, the industry has been tough this year. Just this morning, when checking a casting site for work to apply for, I found just 1 paid job a staggering 25 unpaid jobs. And that’s what it’s like every day. At the moment, I’m lucky if I can find 1 paid job a month to apply for. So it’s hardly surprising that I’m close to becoming a world record holder in the art of resting. I will admit that it’s getting me down somewhat so I’ve decided that 2013 is being written off and 2014 will be embraced with turkey and stuffing heavy arms in a couple of months.

No More Drama

All-round misery bringer Michael Gove has announced that ‘soft subjects’ such as drama could well be scrapped at GCSE level. As a, supposed, actor this is terrible news. To see schools lose these subjects would be utterly heartbreaking. Whether or not you go into a career in the arts, these subjects are so important in schools. As someone who was actually pretty shy at school, drama pretty much saved me. A quadratic equation can’t help you get up and feel confident speaking in front of other people. The Periodic Table can’t help you listen to others. And the Spanish for ‘There’s a rat in the corner of the room’ can’t help you do an interpretive dance to Orinoco Flow (true story from my drama GCSE days…)

I know to some people drama classes at school are seen as doss subjects where you get to muck about for a few hours but they are so much more than that. They teach you confidence and understanding and that there’s more than one way to express yourself. Not everyone’s parents can afford to send them to extra-curricular drama classes and not every town has these facilities. For some kids, drama classes at school are the only chance they get to do something a bit different. And the thought of ‘that bit different’ being lost from our schools’ curriculums is very sad indeed.

So, if any of the arts subjects meant anything to you while you were at school – whether they helped you speak that bit louder, taught you the oh-so important skill of being to improvise on the spot or were just a relief in days otherwise filled with writing equations down, then please sign this petition to help save them:

50 Years Young

The glorious National Theatre turned 50 this year and because the BBC is still something that should be hugged and protected, they aired the celebration on Saturday. For over 2 hours, scenes from the best bits of the last 50 years were recreated. It was glorious. A true celebration of one wonderful institution being aired on another one.

But there was a problem. There was a quite serious lack of women. It became obvious very quickly that female playwrights were woefully represented. In fact, in the end only one female writer was used (Alecky Blythe who wrote the absolutely stunning London Road) whereas three David Hare plays were used. Now I realise that there have been more male playwrights over the last 50 years so, of course, more will be represented but it was sad to see such an imbalance.

However, what I hadn’t realised was the difference between the male and female roles being portrayed that night. Because of such incredible performances by Dames Judi, Maggie and Joan, it felt like there were thousands of women on stage. However, the numbers tell a very different story. If you take the credited roles from the cast list then there were 112 males roles being played and just 47 female roles. A rather sad statistic.

I don’t want to be down about the National’s celebrations because it’s a wonderful thing and it’s a theatre that should be constantly applauded. It creates magical, affordable theatre and has produced so many fond memories for so many people. It’s the reason why so many people have chosen a career in the arts and is a constant source of inspiration. All I say is that I hope their 100th birthday is one where all those in the arts are celebrated equally.

Bloody hell, crack a smile, eh?

And now, because this has been a bloody miserable blog, here’s some highlights from my Casting Call Woe Tumblr…

The film is based around a woman having a bath, while a very small crocodile wanders around the bathroom.

You will be playing the role of a rubber duck.

Jesus vs Dracula.

Leaf Blower Massacre 2.

Carb conscious gay party boy who gets assaulted by Mr Whippy.

Over and out, lovelies.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Survival Tactics

“And what do you do?”

This is a question that should make me want to swing from the rooftops. I should want to grab this person, hug them and delightedly tell them that I do the best job in the world. Ideally, I’d be doing so well that they wouldn’t even need to ask what I do for a living. So why, when facing this question, do I feel my soul shrink away along with my knowledge of economics and my desire hang the washing up?

The fact is, it’s quiet at the moment. Maybe not for you. I really hope not for you. But for me it is. I haven’t had an acting job in quite some time. Why? I don’t know. As much as I probably should, I’m trying not to look inward. I’m also trying not to look outward and blame the rest of the world. To stop myself from either screaming at the mirror or screaming at everyone else, I’ve had to come to the conclusion that no one is to blame and that it’s just ‘one of those things.’ Na├»ve? Maybe. Not likely to achieve in me getting work? Almost definitely. Healthier? I certainly think so.

But it got me thinking about how we cope during these quiet times. How you can stop yourself from spending every waking hour wondering where it is you’ve gone wrong? When you find yourself not able to do the job you love, how do you stop yourself from becoming a shrivelled up scrap of bitter?

One of the biggest survival tactics is making sure that you fill all this sudden spare time with good things, and that includes whatever it is that you have to do to make money. I’m exceedingly lucky that I have a brilliant job that is massively flexible and that I also enjoy.  But even before then I’ve always tried to make sure that my resting job is something that doesn’t make me want to cry for the rest of eternity. I’ve found that letting people know you’re flexible for work is always a good thing. It’s meant I’ve worked on the phones at a takeaway (not the greatest job in the world but it meant free meals and also the embarrassment of accidentally calling Holborn Police Station to tell them that we were out of vine leaves.) It’s meant I’ve worked for a record label (I got more paper cuts than I thought imaginable but I did get to witness a terrifyingly music-savvy office listen to a new track and compliment it only to realise, 30 minutes in, that the record was stuck.) And yes, I’ve done call centre work but I made sure it was for a tiny company that didn’t seem set on selling my soul. The work is out there, you just have to be a little bit open about what you want to do. Basically, if you’re not selling your soul or your body (unwillingly) then you’re probably doing OK.

But you also have to make sure that you’re keeping even the feeblest grip on the job that you love. I know that some people find that working in theatres or teaching drama can help as it can make you feel that you’re still involved. Personally I find writing hugely beneficial. It keeps my brain ticking and although 99.9% of it is utter rubbish, coming up with a phrase that makes you smile can be all that you need sometimes. If I was blessed with the gift of writing plays then I would but sadly the evidence of 8,492 opening pages of things I’ve written and angrily discarded is enough to tell me that it’s not for me. Or, if writing or teaching or selling ice creams ain’t your jazz bag, then go to classes. Sometimes they can feel like pulling teeth or teaching your grandmother with a Guinness World record in sucking eggs to, well, suck eggs, but they at least make you feel like you’re doing something. Even if that something is running around a freezing church hall pretending to be a goat hiding from the Mafia.

But most of all, don’t feel guilty for indulging yourself when you need to. Being self-employed can make you feel that you need to be ‘on’ all the time. That you’ve got to be constantly looking for work and writing to people and checking emails and bloody networking. You don’t. If you find yourself on a Wednesday morning in need of 3 sharing bags of Doritos and Uncle Buck then do it. Yes, you’ll feel guilty for the first 10 minutes but rest is equally important and will ultimately make you a happier and more employable person. The other afternoon, after a morning of trawling websites desperately looking for acting roles to apply for, I found myself on the sofa in my pyjamas watching The Karen Carpenter Story. I followed that up with a nap. No, it didn’t get me any work but not feeling stressed for just a few hours is worth its weight in gold, silver and Giant Cadbury’s Buttons.

You might’ve read this blog post and thought it was all a bit self-indulgent. That’s because writing it is one of my survival tactics. Thanks. 

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Accentuating the Negative

I’ve never been good at accents. Any attempt at an accent results in people wondering when Ireland went on a gap year trip to South Africa, Peru and the moon, their wonderings quickly followed by a letter summoning me to a tribunal for crimes against voice. So watching Peaky Blinders on BBC2 this week called for my biggest hypocrisy hat. Not only do I have no idea what turn of the century accents should sound like but I also couldn’t pretend to be from Birmingham even if my parents had flung me out the day I was born and ill-advisedly asked Ozzy Osbourne and Jasper Carrott to bring me up (although I do think the world is missing an act who performs rock versions of insurance claims…)

But Peaky Blinders got me thinking about accents and what dodgy terrain they create for actors. I’ve never been blessed with a good ear for accents. In fact, all I really have is a bunion for them, awkwardly and painfully trampling on them wherever I go. The general consensus, whether correct or not, was that some of the voices on Peaky Blinders were on the dubious side of believable. I’m not going to write a blog about that because, frankly, I don’t have any idea on how realistic they really were. Despite how I may look some mornings, I can safely say that I wasn’t around in 1919. But I do want to talk about how tricky changing your voice can be.

My heart sinks when an accent is called for in an audition. Interpretive dance? No problem. Pretending to be a tortoise playing the harmonica? Bring it on. Reading two sentences with a German accent? OHGODWHEREISTHEDOOROUTOFHERELOVELYTOMEETYOUBYE. And, for some reason, I never seem to get any warning of what my voice box will be asked to deal with.

I’ve spent many years wondering what my speciality is. I can’t sing, I can’t really dance and, as we’re learning, I certainly can’t pretend to be from somewhere else. But what I can do a good impression of someone who isn’t phased by accents. As is the problem with most actors, we’re pretty bad at saying “No.” Whatever is thrown at us, we’ll smile sweetly and have a damn good go at it. So that’s always been my approach with accents. I mean, I could just hold my hands up and say, “Look. I’m not blessed with an accepting ear and phonetics classes made me as sad as a dieter at Cadbury’s World, so I’d really rather not.” But I don’t. Instead, I take a deep breath and bloody go for it. Very occasionally something alright comes out but usually I just end up roaring something that ends up with me being forever known as The Pitchy Racist.

And then there’s the reactions that I have to cope with. I’ve had winces, looks of surprise and, more than once, I’ve been congratulated for somehow creating an accent that managed to retain a lot of my own. After each failed audition, another accent is scratched off my CV. The only reason I haven’t had an audition in so long is because it’d be impossible to go into minus accents. Honest guv.

The problem with performing in a voice other than your own is that you’ve got to sustain them. We can all say ‘conjunctivitis’ in Geordie and we all know the beercan/bacon trick but once you go past a few sentences, that’s when it starts on its round the world trip. And of course, especially when that accent is being performed on camera, it’s also got to persist through take after take. Tiredness starts to set in and the need to get the take right becomes far more important than whether your voice might actually start becoming offensive.

But still, those accents were bloody awful, weren’t they?  

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Getting The Job

Tonight, we all (I’m classing everyone on my Twitter timeline as ‘all’) to find out which actor got a part. Actors, so I’m told, get acting roles all the time, but this one had a whole TV show dedicated to it. There were interviews, montages, talking heads, all in honour of an actor getting a job. Which is nice. But it’s not the usual way. Actors getting jobs is very different.

Peter Capaldi said that when he found out he got the role as The Doctor, he was filming The Three Musketeers in Prague. Which, of course, is totally how we all find out when we’ve got an acting job. Right? Yeah, maybe not. It’s been a while since I found out I got an acting job but here are a few that I can remember. In fact, if I got a pound for every time I worried that I'd never get an acting job again, I'd start worrying a lot more as it's clearly very profitable. But here are a few times that I can remember...

I actually missed my very first acting job offer. Due to Orange being all manner of incompetent swines, my phone stopped telling me I was getting calls and failed to let me know of any voicemails. I thought I was going through a particularly unpopular patch, having just left drama school and watching the last few pennies of my student loan drift away. But no, in the midst of the 25 voicemails that flooded in on morning was a message from a director offering me a job. It was at a big theatre and would’ve been a lovely start to my career. But sadly, by the time I found out about it, another actress had been offered the part.

So, I waited another 2 months for my next job offer. It arrived, rather wonderfully on my birthday. I was blow-drying my hair when an email came through to say I’d got the lead role in a play in my hometown. I was seriously excited. It was a lovely part, decently paid and I could show all those terrors I went to school with that I was doing alright. Despite getting back to them and confirming that I’d love the role, it took them three weeks to get back to me…to say that the show was being cancelled…

I’ve also found out I’ve got acting work while I was locked out of my flat, while driving back from the audition, on the tube and while in bed. The fact is, it doesn’t really matter where you are or how it’s done. Whether you’re in Prague filming for the BBC or you’re sat at home in your pyjamas, the thrill is always the same. The thought that this could be the job. This could be the one that makes you. The realisation that you’re doing alright, that maybe you did pick the right career. Who needs a dedicated show on the BBC when you’ve got that?

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Acting & Loneliness

There's been a lot of sad news surrounding the acting industry this week with the tragic loss of three actors in the space of 7 days. Sadly, these losses are experienced by people every day and, of course, aren't exclusive to the acting industry, but with three occurring in such a short space of time, it does make the industry look inwards.

I don't know what had happened to any of these actors, or in fact any others who we've lost far too early, so I can't comment on what must've been going through their minds or look at individual cases. But what I can talk about is just how lonely acting can be sometimes. As an actor, although I still maintain that a group of actors should be called a 'whinge', you feel foolish for ever complaining about your job. Other people are out there saving lives (I presume that anyone who isn't an actor is saving lives) while we're sat at home wondering why we didn't get the role of a tortoise (true story.)

From the outside, acting looks like a wonderfully fun and social career and it is, when you're in work. When you're working, you've got a lovely cast and crew to spend, usually, far too much time with and you build up a little community. You get a wonderful feeling of solidarity and like you can take on the world. But as soon as the project is over, you all wander off full of promises that you'll all keep in touch. And maybe you do. For a while. But then others will move on to new jobs and become part of another temporary family and soon you're lucky to get a 'happy birthday' on Facebook from someone you previously spent a good 80% of your life with.

The problem with acting is that you often can't win. You're either constantly in work and find yourself spending far too much time away from treasured loved ones or you're hardly in work and spend a lot of time padding around the house wondering where you've gone wrong. If you're in work then you feel like you're not allowed to complain, even if you find yourself playing a role you hate or working with a cast you just don't get on with. You feel like you can't whinge about it because, hey, at least you're working. But being in work brings its own stresses as well. There are often very long, unsociable hours involved and if you're doing unpaid work then you often find yourself trying to juggle a day job alongside it meaning you're often exhausted and have no time for anything else.

Acting is an incredibly singular job and constantly forces you to look at yourself. If you're not getting work (or not getting the work that you want) you can blame the current state of the industry for as long as you like but you will find yourself staring in the mirror and blaming yourself. Maybe we're just not talented enough or we're not attractive enough or we need to lose weight or maybe we're just not that likeable? All these thoughts stick with you and it's therefore no wonder that actors start to feel down. And often, unless you're friends with other actors who are in the same boat, it can feel like you have no one to talk to who might understand.

I think social networking does a lot to help. Yes, it can be annoying when you've got one of those 'friends' who insists on posting every single career success when your CV is as barren as a garden during a hosepipe ban but it also helps to know that you're not alone. Speaking to other actors on Twitter has taught me that it's never just me constantly despairing at this often ridiculous job and that there are coping mechanisms. I know that a lot of actors have found great solace from joining groups such as the British Actors' Network on Facebook and setting up regular socials to make sure that a real network of support is out there.

As well as their wonderful legacy of work, I hope that Richard Gent, Paul Bhattacharjee and Cory Monteith, along with all the other actors that have departed too soon, have left us with the courage to reach out more and make sure that no actor ever feels like they're alone.

Friday, 12 July 2013

The Easiest Job In The World

"Wow. Being an actor must be really hard."

I hear this a lot. I think most people say it upon hearing that someone's an actor and I hope it's not just reserved for me when they look at my pitiful CV and can't think of anything else to say. I usually mumble something incoherently that demeans the hard work I've put in over the last 8 years to being a fully-fledged rester. They then think wistfully about their boring job and healthy bank balance and wander off to book another holiday while I'm left wondering if the free bar is still running.

But being an actor is hard. It's bloody hard in fact. What other job forces you, on a daily basis, to consider whether you're more suited to playing:

A cautious orange male hippo


Nude ghost

But, of course, all that hard work is worth it because when we do get work we're extremely well looked after. In fact, when looking at casting calls, I feel bit embarrassed about just how much we get in return for our work. The uneasy feeling of privilege sweeps across you when you realise you could be working with diamonds such as these:

Payment: Free food & entry to a raffle.

You'll preferably make a nice cup of coffee when we're all a little hungover at rehearsals.

No pay but the actor with the best outfit will win a prize.

It's not the levels of cheap alcohol we consume that leaves actors red-faced, it's the sheer embarrassment at just how well we're treated. And then there's all the people that we get to work with. When we're looking for work, we're constantly being reassured that being an actor is the safest job in the world:

We'd be delighted to take a clipping of your hair just for effect.

You'll be able to stay with the Director and DOP in his parent's house.

I'm seeking an impersonator who can act as my mum when me and my mum cannot meet up.

How can a job be difficult when we get to associate with such folk? And you can never complain about a career choice that lets you maintain constantly maintain such high levels of pride. Jobs such as these act as a wonderful reminder that we chose the right path:

Must be willing to have a condom full of condensed milk thrown at her face.

She is painted silver (nude), wears an elephant mask and is coated in gravy.

Please be prepared to muck in with the crew on the day as your role won't be significant. 

The director hopes to highlight George's distance from Jane by never having her in focus.

See? It's super easy. And you know what's even easier? Getting the job. In fact, it's madness that we're not working every single day of our jazz-hands filled lives:

Actress: You could prepare a monologue. Actors: You don't have to prepare anything.

To avoid time-wasting, the director's requested full-frontal nudity in the audition.

And when we're not working, it's so lovely to know that a filmmaker's main priority is bettering all the actors out there. Our well-being is at the forefront of their minds meaning that our reassurance levels are being constantly topped up:

We can pay for any cosmetic surgery she may require for the movie. 

I may require you to eat less that what you normally eat to perform well for the role.

But, of course, maybe I'm just being picky:

There's something unnerving about her. Maybe she's just read too many books.

All casting calls are taken from my Casting Call Woe Tumblr. A terrifying look at really horrible and horribly real casting calls.