Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Know Your Audience

“Oh, crap. My phone has run out of battery. Never mind, I don’t need my phone for the next few hours because I’m about to watch a play and be entertained by people.”

That’s what this fool should’ve thought the other day as he went into a Broadway play. Alas, he didn’t. Instead, he joined the legions of appalling audience members that continue to plague actors.

Ok, ok. That sounds a bit harsh. Now, don’t get me wrong. Actors would be lost without an audience. Without them, we’d just be prancing around for the hell of it. That’s not performing, that’s just a Wednesday night in your bedroom. And you can’t put that on your CV. Believe me, I’ve tried.

But I can pretty safely say that all actors have an audience horror story. From the late Richard Griffiths ordering a woman out of the auditorium because her phone went off to to Patti Lupone stopping mid-performance to yell at an audience member for taking photos (something which, rather ironically, was audio-recorded and uploaded here…)

Then there are the stories of couples having sex in auditoriums. And, of course. Who doesn’t get turned on by a good proscenium arch and a cracking safety curtain?

So what is wrong with audiences? Is it that we now watch too much TV and are so used to shuffling and eating and chattering through a whole box set? Are we all so ridiculously important that even a couple of hours in a theatre can’t do without us blustering about? And heaven knows, theatre is trying to keep up. Tweeting seats, immersive productions and even online streaming of productions so you can still prat about at home without worrying that your decision to eat a whole family bag of Doritos is putting off the actors. And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe audience members just don’t know the line anymore? Sometimes they're being expected to get up and be involved and other times they're expected to sit still for hours on end in stony silence. 

The optimistic actor in me (that’s the one that applies for acting jobs and puts ‘running’ as a skill on my CV…) likes to think that it’s because the audience become so engrossed in our performance. Your parading on stage as a demonic horse (yep, I’ve played that role) is so mesmerising that they forget they sound like a horse eating a multipack of Hula Hoops. I want to believe that, I really do. But I’ve been performing while a man sighed so heavily that I nearly blew off stage so, sorry optimistic actor, I think you’re wrong.

So is it audiences being rude or, as actors, do we need to stop being so precious? Historically, theatre audiences were far more boisterous. I’m sure Nell Gwynne was up against far more than someone’s phone going off or a quick fumble in the front row. As actors, do we need to just get on with it? Or should an audience member's rudeness be addressed for all to see? Like being asked by your teacher to share your little joke with the past, is it right to call these things out? Do we owe the rest of the audience a flawless performance or, actually, do they love being part of this confrontation? 

But going back to our man in Broadway...y'know, sometimes we need our phones in the theatre. What if we can’t afford the programme but we need to know what we’ve seen whatshername in before. Have you tried concentrating on Coriolanus while you try and why you work out thingy carrying the stick? And what about those terrible plays? No, you don’t need a phone because you’re going to be that guy, sat in the back row with your face lit up like a Glo Worm toy. But, dammit, watches are stupidly hard to see in the dark. Just a quick sneak to see what….OH GOD, HOW HAS ONLY 20 MINUTES PASSED?

So, here are a few little rules…

1.)  Leave that bag of Salt & Vinegar McCoys at home
2.) If step 1 is too difficult then learn the valuable art of sucking crisps.
3.) Check your phone is on silent
4.) If step 3 is too difficult then cut all ties with your friends and family before heading out
5.) Remember the set is not for you. Actors don’t just randomly walk into your places of work to use your things, so don’t do the same to us.
6.) If step 5 is too difficult then I think being outside might be more your thing.  

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Have you thought about...?

As actors, we're all used to hearing a few very familiar phrases. So, with a little help from Orange Is The New Black, here's a handful of them... (Warning: this may contain spoilers. Seriously though, you should've watched it all by now.)

"So when are we going to see you in EastEnders?"

"I can't pay you, but..."

"Been in anything I might've seen?"

"Have you tried writing to Downton Abbey?"

"I have a friend who's an actor."

"Why don't you get yourself a better agent?"

"Is your agent like the one in Friends/Extras?"

"So what sort of acting do you do?"

"Have you thought about doing acting as a hobby instead?"

"So when are you going to get yourself a proper job?"

Saturday, 4 July 2015

From Hero to Zero

Acting is a fickle friend, at best. Stand-offish, cruel and with very little regard for your best interests, acting is the friend that you don’t hear from in months and then calls you drunkenly at 2am, expecting you to drop everything to go and pick it up. And so, for my day to day needs, I have a zero hours job as well.

Now, in theory, I’m dead against zero hours work. They offer works very little security and are often low paid. In fact, acting is probably one of the worst zero hours jobs out there. So, for some ridiculous reason, I took on another. But the problem is that, as much as I disagree with zero hours work, it’s well handy for actors. Flexible, low-commitment and the ability to drop it quicker than the agent of an actress who dares call out sexism in the industry.

So I joined the other million people in the UK and took on a zero hours job last year. And at first it was great. I got all the work I could possibly need. I was, tirelessly, working 50 hour weeks because my acting career had apparently decided to go on one of its regular sabbaticals. But, just like an acting job, you know it’s eventually going to come to an end. And it did. Very suddenly. A few weeks ago, my day job joined my acting job and now they’re both off having some grand time on a hot sunny beach somewhere. Probably. I keep telling my rent he should go and join them. Trust me to pick a rent with a fear of flying.

As Oscar Wilde nearly said, “To lose one job may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”

But that’s the problem with a day job. You focus so much time on making money (and probably having to claw back money from the last period of carelessness) that you take your eye off the acting job. And believe me, as soon as you let acting get out of your sight, it will be off like the awful friend that it is, looking to see who will look after it next. And all the lost posters and rewards in the world won't get it back. It'll come back when it's good and ready, drunkenly at 2am...

Of course (and I have to say this because I think my bank balance might be listening) it’ll all be fine in the end. I know this because, like all owners of an acting career, I have hope. Hope and a pair of comfy pyjamas.