Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Hot and Cold

I'm taking my second break of the year, first heading to Scotland to pick up the Aged Parent, then off together to a week's holiday in Sicily. I've packed for hot and cold weather in equal measures. As soon as I'm back, I'll be starting a course at the Actors' Centre...

Monday, 17 October 2011

Accenting Differences

Earlier in the year I saw Emperor and Galilean at the National Theatre, a rarely performed Ibsen epic about the life of Julian, the last pagan emperor of Rome. Reviews were mixed, but I enjoyed it thoroughly apart from one niggle. That was the discrepancy in accents between Julian and his entourage and his best childhood friend (name forgotten and I haven't been able to identify it online). Julian and co spoke origin-neutral RP; Best Friend came out with Pure Scottish. That made their long-lasting friendship totally unbelievable - as unbelievable as if Julian and co were all Glaswegians and the Best Friend who had grown up with them somehow picked up LA street slang.

The problem is that people who grow up together spending years in the same social milieu always end up with the same accents. Any transplanted parent - a German in the UK, an Australian in Canada, a Geordie in London, knows that as their children become adults they will speak the language and dialect of their peers, not their ancestors. It is highly unlikely that bosom buddies who first met in childhood speak differently from each other. 

I am having the same problem with a dvd the Other Half and are watching of Children of Dune, a 2003 production that first aired on the Sci Fi channel. Sumptuous settings (mostly CGI, but acceptable) make up for erratic acting and a complicated plot (luckily, I've read the books, so I know what is going on; even with my ongoing explanations, the OH is struggling to keep up). Presumably to save costs, the cast is a mix of US, UK and European, which leads to a constant clash of accents. Yes, in an empire that is scattered over dozens or hundreds or planets, you are going to get diverse dialects, but couldn't the casting director group the accents together so that there was at least some conformity and believability - have all the Brits play the evil Corrinos while Americans act the heroes and the weirdly-accented Europeans are restricted to the rest of the galaxy?

This is not the first time I've come across this phenomenon, and each time I've been irritated by the director's failure to understand the characters that he or she is working with. Accent is as essential to character as age and physical appearance and to consider it irrelevant when casting a play or a film is disrespectful to both the script and the audience. And if you don't respect me as an audience, do not expect me to respect your sloppy work as director.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Bookseller! Actor! Housekeeper!

One of my favourite cartoons in the now-defunct Christopher Street, by the magazine's resident cartoonist Rick Fiala (no connection with the baseball player, for transatlantic readers), showed a couple in a restaurant trying to draw their server's attention by calling out "Waiter! Model! Actor!" There is always truth in jest, and the underlying reality was of course that the individual concerned was merely 'resting' between appearances on the catwalk, stage or screen.

I feel myself to be in the same position when confronted by this blog. Since last Wednesday morning, when I learnt that I was not going to be taken on by the casting agency I had auditioned for, my acting life has been on hold. Yes, I've perused the offers that have come through Casting Call Pro, but since I'm about to take a two-week break, accompanying the Elderly Parent on a trip to Italy, there's not much I'm available for. And so my attention turns back to my other two roles in life - as an online bookseller and - since I am at home most of the day while the Other Half commutes to and from work - housekeeper.

Both tasks are routine. One involves sitting at a computer and cataloguing books while waiting for orders to come in. The other involves getting up from the computer and processing dirty dishes and washing, superficial cleaning and watering the plants. Neither is particularly demanding and both allow me to listen to the radio (preferably the dramas and comedies on Radio 4 and 4 Extra) and music (either peaceful classical or various forms of chillout). And so the days pass.

By the time I come back from Italy, a quarter of my self-imposed deadline (get paid acting work, a serious agent, or quit within twelve months) will have passed. But my batteries will be recharged and I have two projects ahead of me: a course at the Actors' Centre that will take me through November, and a voicereel to make. Until then, however, the Actor part of me is resting, and while I'm away even the Bookseller and Housekeeper will take a break. 

Thursday, 13 October 2011

An art, not a science

To the Olde Rose and Crown in Walthamstow (pictured) yesterday to audition for agent Diane Marshall. Nice lady; pleasant, professional conversation. She enjoyed the monologue I gave her (Azdak from The Caucasian Chalk Circle, berating the local policeman who has come to question him about his poaching, and putting the wind up the fugitive who is hiding in his hut). But, I learnt this morning, she didn't want me. She had seen 22 people, the email said, and only wanted 10; I hadn't made the cut.

Of course I'm disappointed, but not immoderately so. I would have been surprised if my first audition with an agent actually got me onto their books. And I can imagine that most of the 21 others she saw had more experience and were therefore easier to promote.

What bothers me, however, is the lack of feedback. Was the deciding factor my lack of experience? Did my monologue reveal me to be an incompetent, unbelievable performer? Was it the fact that I did not express a strong preference for either stage or screen work? Was it my age? Am I not marketable? What exactly was / were my weak point(s)?

I wouldn't expect answers (and I haven't asked her the questions). Acting and casting are arts, not sciences. Any comment someone might make about my abilities is going to be subject and influenced by many factors I have no control over. So I simply have to accept that my first audition for an agent didn't work out and maybe my second, third and fourth auditions - should I get them - not work out either. Time to move on. What's for dinner?

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Cutting It

Up at 8 this morning to check my email, shave (a longer process than usual, because for the last ten days I'd let what's left of the hair on my skull grow and removing it took a good half hour - it also made me look 15 years younger), shower and head out to Cut Glass Productions in Kentish Town for a voiceover class. (Before you copy the image, make sure you acknowledge it's theirs...)

I had a good feeling about this course from the moment I booked it, if only because the price, at £38 for three hours, was a bargain. It was a bonus to find that only three of us were taking the class (we were told that there might be as many as 10, which would have considerably reduced our airtime but still been good value). The icing on the cake was Phil, our coach, who provided a wide range of scripts and encouraged each of us to stretch our voices. I ended up reading five scripts, to which were added the music and FX that gave my voice the final touch of professionalism.

First up was the strong Scottish accent to advertise - surprise, surprise - Scotland. It was the same script that I'd read at the dreaded (spit, spit, curse) London Academy last month, but this time I was able to give it a much richer sound. I was so good that when I heard myself give the phone number of the Scottish Tourist Board, I almost picked up the phone to book two weeks' holiday at my mother's Edinburgh bed and breakfast...

Next was a deliberately gobbledy-gook insurance advert which I presented in a bureaucrat's voice. That also went down well, and although I could spot several weak spots and mistakes, these could easily be eradicated in a second recording and I was, as YouthSpeak has it, Well Pleased With What I Done. Third was hard-sell for a Scottish pop band. That was a mistake - my voice was too old for the product - but it made me think that there were some hard sell commercials that I could do. Fourth was the weakest performance - a soft-spoken trailer for Magic Radio; not only was my voice lost behind the music, but it was weak and did not carry the seductive tones I was aiming for. Last came a narrative for a documentary about the candiru in the Amazon -  a fish that I had thought was legendary, but which apparently really does swim up your urethra and eat away at the inside of your genitalia. My fellow-students claimed they were sitting cross-legged and nervous as I described the torture in detail...

We didn't get copies of our recordings - for the sensible reason that they were rushed and did not convey either our or Phil's full talents. But I did walk away in a much more optimistic mood than after the London Academy fiasco, where £300 and two days had done nothing more than convince me that my voice was reedy and I had no talent as a voiceover artiste. The only problem that I still face is the "bubble" that I sometimes sense in my lungs, which can rob my voice of some of its roundness. It comes and goes unpredictably and today, annoyingly, it came. Nevertheless I still gave good voice. (As for the other two students, one had considerably more talent than me and will soon, I am sure, be in high demand; the other tended to be too theatrical but had definite reassuring tones when she toned down her performance.)

Next on my agenda, therefore, is a professional voicereel. I've seen them advertised at under £300, so I'm not keen to pay CGP's £360 (less deduction for the course already taken). I may end up back there, but I'll first spend time researching the studios available and listening to their samples to see what best combines cost and quality. But wherever I end up, I'm truly grateful to Phil for restoring the confidence that I had lost.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Back to Basics

I've been back in London for over a week and am still feeling the effects of my trekking in Morocco. It was very enjoyable and I'm pleased to say that despite my age, I was one of the most energetic in the group, even arriving back first at the end of the 20 mile mountain trek (from 1,900 metres to 2,400 and back down) that completed our three day marathon.

But while my energy levels were high in Morocco, they have plummeted since my return. A stomach virus that bothered me all last Sunday, as Ricardo and I first flew to London via Madrid and then suffered the Piccadilly line home, has disappeared, but left me with an unaccustomed lethargy that still lingers, while a bruised toe, although getting better, continues to bother me. These symptoms, combined with a week's worth of emails regarding acting, my bookselling business and general catch-up with friends old and new, have prevented me from updating this blog until now.

But enough mea culpa. There has been good news, bad news and expected news on the acting front. The expected news is that I have received no follow-up to the twenty or so parts that I applied for in the week before my departure and in the week since my return. It's the usual problem - I don't get called to auditions because I don't have experience, and I can't get experience till I get called to audition. (Even when I am called to an audition - as I have been twice - I don't get the part.) But it's early days and I still have another nine months to make good on my promise to myself to get paid work within a year.

On the other hand, I did have, before I left, a promised audition with UK Actors Ltd some time in the first week of October. Off I went to Morocco, with two monologues well under my belt (Azdak in The Caucasian Chalk Circle and an early Shylock), and the text of a third (Berenger in Rhinoceros), to learn at odd moments on the trek. I arrived back prepared for action, but to find no confirmation of the audition and no reply to my email asking for an update. UK Actors claims 40 clients on Casting Call but it does not have a website and I am beginning to wonder how professional they are. I will call them on Monday and report back.

The good news is that Diane Marshall of the eponymous agency has called me in for an audition on Wednesday, so the Rhinoceros may be put to good use. I have therefore been rehearsing it, along with the other two pieces, every day while the Other Half is at work. I'm not sure how clearly my nearest neighbours - who, like us, live on the 8th floor of a tower block - can see into our living room, but if they have been watching through their net curtains, they will have been bemused by the sight of me either pulling my hair out while staring at a door or remonstrating with the bookcase on the other side of the room. I don't enjoy working with animate objects as much as with real people, whose presence helps give my performance depth, but the furniture nonetheless allows me to explore each monologue and give me a framework of movement and emotion that I can use.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday I've opted to spend £38 on a three-hour voiceover class with Cut Glass Productions. I have no idea what to expect, but the session is cheap and will, I hope, give me a better sense of how to develop my voice than the two days I spent with the London Academy last month. That brought confidence in my voice to a low, but since several of my companions on the Moroccan trek told me they liked what they heard and I'm convinced there's a voiceover artist somewhere within me, I'm ready to give myself a second chance.