Monday, 30 January 2012

The End of the Beginning

Yesterday was the last performance of the first run of my first appearance on stage since I was a spotty-skinned, spotty-brained youth many decades ago. And of course I fouled up in the speech that I have come to hate:

Oh no, for the duke's daughter, her cousin, so loves her, being ever from their cradles bred together, that she would have followed her exile or have died to stay behind her. She is at the court, and no less beloved of her uncle than his own daughter. 

Easy, isn't it? Every time I rehearsed it in front of a blank wall, I got it right, playing to the audience as directed and using hand gestures to distinguish between "she" Rosaind and "she" Celia. Then I would go on stage and every second performance my mind would go blank as the attempt to explain to the audience confused me. So again last night I ad-libbed to cover my foul-up (against the director's note) - and this time the audience wasn't amused. I recovered by the end of my short appearance, but I have come to loath this minor role of Charles the Wrestler and will be happy if I never see him again.

I then restored my reputation and confidence with my final appearance as Jaques de Boys (let's forget the noise in the dressing-room as I kicked the box before entry). For the first time I felt it had real power behind it and I was aware of the potential within me for strong and serious parts where I don't have to play wordgames - an impression reinforced by dear Kate Glover in the post-run party, who told me that for the first time she felt the potential menace in my stage presence.

So this is the end of the beginning. The last week has been exciting and nerve-wracking, stimulating and depressing, boring and informative. I'm aware that my performances so far have been inconsistent, but I'm also aware I did not wholly disgrace myself and I didn't damage the overall production. I'm glad I've got so far and I'm grateful to all those who gave me the opportunity and supported me both off and onstage. To name-check (in addition to the already-mentioned Jeffrey Ho and Daniel Yabut) patient director Marianna Vogt, smiling S M Davey Kelleher - and I'm not going to add any more labels except talented and friendly, to the following, with an apology where I have not been able to find a link their profiles - Will Wheeler (Orlando), Ryan Wichert (Oliver), Bryan Merry (Adam / Sir Oliver Martext), the very special (ok, she's an exception) Kimberley Maloney (Le Beau / Audrey), Clare Langford (Rosalind), Gabrielle Curtis (Celia), Jeryl Burgess (Duke Frederick), Yvonne Riley (Duke Senior), Catriona Mackenzie (Amiens 1), Tracey Pickup (Amiens 2), Owen Nolan (Corin), Kate Glover (Jaques) and Kate Bancroft (Phebe). I hope to see you all again - and work with you if you'll have me.

Friday, 27 January 2012

It's Official: Are You Following Me?

Remember the mutilated corpse? Me, I mean, last Saturday. Head back on a chair, with my eyes cut out and my throat slit. The only part of me that moved being my hand falling off my knee when my "son" discovers his father's dead body.

I got paid for that part. The money landed in my bank account yesterday. All £12 of it, for two hour's acting work (well, let's be fair; 45 minutes acting, 45 minutes preparation and 30 minutes waiting for the film crew to turn up). That means I have now been officially paid to act - or my arm has. The first goal of my year - to be paid for appearing on stage or film - has been met. Now for my second goal: to find an agent.

The film, by the way, is Witness The Beginning. Here's more information.

Yesterday was a busy day. I turned up for the 12.30 call at the doomed Greenwich Playhouse, without time for lunch. There'll be a break about 2.00, I thought, enough time for me to skip out for a sandwich. I thought wrong. For five hours, under the beady eye of the glowering Bruce and schoolmistress stare of the steely Alice, we were blocked and reblocked. In the first act I'm one of the Cardinal's men - appearing and reappearing to add menace to his presence. Hunger apart, it was a worthwhile afternoon. Unlike As You Like It, which was rehearsed bit by bit in a classroom in Holborn, I could see from the start the coherence and strength waiting to be brought out.

Which doesn't mean that the show I'm currently in lacks these qualities. It's sold out, and last night was the best performance so far. I even raised the first laugh of the evening, in my short speech where Charles the Wrestler is explaining to wicked brother Oliver that Rosalind has not been exiled with her father, but remains at the court with Celia.

It's a confusing piece, where neither character is named and they are only identified by ambiguous "she"s and "cousin"s. The direction calls for me to play it to the audience, using my hands to demonstrate the difference between the two young women. Doing so, however, confuses the wrestler and annoys his patron, and last night, as he turned away in irritation, I ad-libbed "are you following me?", which brought out the laughter.

The good mood continued throughout the evening. In a strong cast, it's invidious to pick out individuals, but the comic element was particularly helped by the skills of Jeffrey Ho, playing the hapless Silvius in love with the contemptuous Phebe and by Daniel Yabut's capering. And of course there are the shenanigans with the other lovers and exiles in Arden, whom I'll cover in later posts. They all came together again last night, and the strongest cheers yet at the end of the show had us all running back in for a second ovation.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Not Bad

The second night. The theatre was overbooked and extra chairs were brought in, further reducing our limited stage. I fluffed a line in my first scene as I addressed my second speech to a silent audience - an audience which stayed silent through the wrestling match and long into the first act. Only with the entrance of dismissive Phebe and lovestruck Silvius did we hear the first murmur of appreciation. In the second act there was occasional laughter, although less than the night before. At least when I came in for the final scene, the audience was still attentive in the overheated room and the final applause was genuine.

I left the dressing-room to get the tube home and found myself face to face with friend Todd who had come, unannounced, to see the production. He was genuinely flattering about my own limited roles and the production as a whole and I was genuinely flattered that he had taken time to come and see me.

Back home I found myself unable to sleep. I'm not sure why. Now the run is underway, any tension should have dissipated, but my mind kept revolving round lines from the play and other things in my life, none of which are problematic, but which for reasons unknown my mind could not let go off. When the Other Half rose at 5.30 for his morning shift, I tried to stretch out without him, but in the end I gave up and shortly after 6 got up to deal with the piles of emails and books that have been waiting for days and weeks to be dealt with - so maybe that's what churning my subsconscious.

Meanwhile, the first review has come in. Mary Tynan, in is generally complimentary, although she credits the wrong actress playing the part of the evil duke. My attention is moving on, to my first rehearsal, today, for the Duchess of Malfi, being held in the doomed Greenwich Playhouse. And I now have six (count 'em, six!) followers on Twitter. Is there any reason why you aren't one of them? @actserious

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Second Night

At sixteen I was Private Smith in a school production of The Long and the Short and the Tall, a laconic Northern Englishman in the jungles of Malaysia surrounding by the advancing Japanese army. I stood on stage, gormless, reciting my lines with the enthusiasm of a metronome. I didn't need anyone to tell me that my acting was awful and I resolved never to tread the boards again.

Memory tells me that was a one-night production. Skip forward 40+ years. Last night, I appeared on stage in public for the second time, in two short roles topping and tailing As You Like It - as Charles the middle-aged Scots wrestler and Jacques de Boys the young (!) son of old Sir Rowland. In the first I got laughs - unexpected but not unwelcome; in the second, I held their attention. In short, I acquitted myself well.

In my downtime - almost 2 hours, I sat in the dressing-room reading the paper and doing Sudoku, watching and chatting with fellow thespians as they exited and entered. Laughter and applause drifted through the blackout curtain from an overflowing auditorium. At the end of the show, we trooped off after the curtain call, to be hauled back in again by ongoing applause. In short, it was a very well received production.

I was tense but not nervous, a little bored during the long wait off stage. I don't do happy - at least not in real life - but I was content and pleased that I had taken this step to explore acting at this late stage in my life. As I add another credit to my short CV, the next step is to take the phrase "would-be" off the heading of this blog. Now I know I can call myself an actor.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

And Back Up

When you reach bottom, there's only one place to go... Yesterday we were in the theatre running through the tech, then the dress. My threatened sore throat didn't materialise and my mood gradually lifted as the day went by. I even had a positive note from the director, which didn't surprise me, as my confidence was back where it should be.

Today is the first night. Am I nervous? No, because I haven't had time to think about it. Rushing around the past few days left me a pile of emails and paperwork to deal with all morning. Now the Other Half is dusting the living-room and making me feel guilty I'm not helping with the housework. First night nerves may arrive tonight - and almost certainly would arrive if I had a significant role - but at the moment All Is Well

Monday, 23 January 2012

Roller Coaster

The past few days began well, went downhill, back up, down again, up, down and now really down...

First was the first meeting of The Duchess of Malfi cast; three hours in the doomed Greenwich Theatre with Director Bruce, Producer Alice and various members of the technical crew. Highly professional and a sense of being back in school, with strict rules and firm timetables. A good start.

Then came another rehearsal for As You Like It; the details are already foggy in my mind, and I do not remember any particular problem, but I came home out of sorts, and went to straight to bed for a long, pleasurable sleep.

Saturday morning was an audition in a venue near my home for a music video. I would be the barman, a role I'd enjoy. I won't hear for several days, and even if I don't get it, I made, I think, a good impression.

On to As You Like It, a speed-through. The young cast around me rushed through their paces, enjoying every minute. I fluffed my lines, majorly, and left the stage angry with myself. The fact that all the other older actors found the experience unpleasant and some coped no better than I did, didn't lighten my mood.

From there to Snaresbrook to be filmed as a mutilated corpse, discovered at my desk by my son returning home. The only part of me which moved was my arm, flopping off my knee when he touched me. Uncomfortable but fun.

Back home, exhausted, I thought I'd sleep, but the speed-through failure rankled in my mind and I tossed and turned for hours, angry with myself. Sleep, when it came, was spasmodic and I woke up in the morning in a foul mood.

To Holborn again for another run-through of AYLI. My lines were better but not perfect. My presence was stronger but I again fluffed lines, again the director pointed out faults and again my confidence fell, to its lowest point yet. From Holborn to the White Bear to paint the set. A relaxing evening and my mood improved, but again I was pleased to get home and collapse into bed.

A good night's sleep until 6am, when I woke with a sore throat, dozing fitfully until I finally woke up. I now sit at the computer, catching up on emails, with a headache and a sense of dread. Today is the Tech, followed by a Dress. I know I will be competent, but everyone else will do well. I know the director will criticise whatever I do. I know I will be in a bad mood. I know I will come home with a worse headache and a more painful throat. I know that opening night, tomorrow, will not be the best start to my stage career. At least I also know that my parts are so small that no matter what I do, I will not harm the overall production.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Win Some, Lose Some

I'm lazy and a tad insecure. I like life to be certain, to know what's happening and what's about to happen and to have my days planned and unchanged. Life, for some obscure reason, doesn't play by my rules.

When two groups of film-makers say they want to use me on the same day and it seems possible that I can shoot one in the afternoon, then shoot to the other set to shoot the other in the evening, plus attend a morning audition, of course I spend twenty-four hours juggling emails and text messages and phone calls to make sure it will happen. When everything is in place, I twitter about it (reminder - I still have painfully few followers - cheer me up by joining #actserious). Of course it doesn't work out because my afternoon shoot is moved to the evening, so I have to be replaced. It would be poetic justice if the evening shoot gets canceled as well...

Meanwhile, today's As You Like It rehearsal has been called off. Bad news in that I needed the rehearsal to secure myself in the role. Good news in that it gives me time to relax and to go to two parties tonight - one being the wrap party for last year's film, The Players, the other being a reunion of Poor School colleagues last year. Not that I will be out late - I have a costume fitting and the first meeting of the Duchess of Malfi cast tomorrow morning, followed by the AYLI rehearsal in the afternoon. So many performances, so little time...

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Faster, Faster, Faster!

An almost-full run-through of As You Like It last night. Umbrellas were harmed during the making of the play and my magnificent white and purple shade was retired - principally because we don't want to advertise the Siam Commercial Bank in a play set in London.

My director's note was the same as always - speed it up. I take the point that the play cannot drag, but the instruction runs counter to my intuition of the part - a gossippy middle-aged Scotsman always speaks slowly, relishing each point that he is emphasising. But the director is Queen and I'll spend half an hour or so tomorrow with a microphone, recording the speech both at my usual speed and much faster, to see if I can get the same personality across when I'm whipping through my lines.

The play as a whole is definitely emerging from the mist. We have several minor stars, including Touchstone, Audrey and Silvius, who will all hold the audience's attention and make them laugh. Orlando is the epitome of the sweet, gormless youth, with his brother Oliver as a strong presence. Rosalind and Celia are also coming to life. No-one, it seems to me, apart from perhaps my good self, is less than competent. 

Meanwhile, I learn of the imminent closing of the Greenwich Playhouse, where I appear in The Duchess of Malfi next month. Bad news for the Galleons Theatre Company, which has been in residence for 16 years, but good news for me, since the DoM is likely to draw full houses.

And I keep busy in other ways. An audition a short film for Saturday morning and a short part in a film promotion as Corrupt Cop are both confirmed. More details to come.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Heaven or Hell?

I've betrayed all my principles by joining Twitter as #actserious. Follow me into this cyber equivalent of heaven or hell ...

Thanks to for the armed tweeter

Friday, 13 January 2012

Definitely Definite

On Wednesday afternoon I'm walking along the canal with the Other Half, when I get a phone call from Bruce. Good news. He's got the other actor and now has the 2 bodyguards / executioners / keepers he needs for The Duchess of Malfi. My role is confirmed. Of course I'm pleased. A four-week stint at the Greenwich Playhouse, even if my lines are minimal, is an opportunity to be seen, an opportunity to become embedded in an acting company and a valuable addition to my credits.

Bruce starts to give me more details about the script he has sent me - since amended. I realise, not for the first time, that the strong silent type that he appeared at my first audition is only one of his personas. There are times when, like my mother, he likes to talk. I tell him that I'm not in a place where I have either the script or the facilities to take notes and the conversation comes to an end - only to resume an hour later for reasons I have already forgotten.

My cock is definitely a-hoop - and I mean that in the most non-sexual sense - so when I return home and find an email from a fellow cast member in As You Like It, with a copy of an email that has apparently been circulating among the acting fellowship for the last few days, that Bruce is Desperately Seeking Two Actors, I'm more amused than annoyed to realise that he was apparently still looking for a couple, when he already had one of a pair in me. Well, he might have got twins who looked better together in which case he could have chucked me overboard (wrong play, I'm thinking of The Tempest: see below). Anyway, we've had one more phone call - again I've forgotten what about - and that email has sunk into cyber-oblivion. The important thing is I have secured the best role so far in my short career - and the Other Half has accepted my b*gg*ring up our holiday with good grace.

Finally.... Four of us from As You Like It went to see The Tempest at the White Bear (where we will be performing in a fortnight) last night. An amateur production, with a confused overview (what was going on with the make-up and costumes?), three good performances, several mediocre, and one so bad that it must have come from The Art of Coarse Acting. Of course, I should not be too critical. It's quite possible that we will give the same impression in our turn...

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Backwards, Forwards or just Round and Round?

A full evening's rehearsal last night. The first time the whole cast (less one absentee) has been together. There are fifteen of us in the room and I see faces I don't remember seeing from the read-through. Before the start I have three quick run-throughs of my dialogue with Oliver, a clear and confident performer. I've known the lines for weeks and I'm word perfect in my flat or on the bus, but each time with him and in front of others I still stumble and stutter. Third time round, however, all flows well and the lines appear to have finally embedded themselves.

The first 90 minutes are taken up with Acts 3 and 4, in which I do not appear. As the play comes to life - far from perfect, but recognisable as a performance - I begin to get an idea as to each individual's ability to act. Among the men, Orlando has the greatest range of emotions and expressions, Touchstone clearly enjoys playing the fool and Silvius does the love-struck shepherd to perfection.

The older women enunciate clearly and give crisp performances, as limited by their role. Audrey also is a definite character, but I have difficulty understanding some of the others. Perhaps the full range of my hearing is going as I get older, but in this show, as in every acting class I attended, there have always been some women whose diction and adenoidal tones wrap their lines in aural fog. (And in this production one of men is also thick with nasality.)

But I'm a lowly cast member, here to impress, not to criticise. When Act 1 rolls around and I find myself alone on stage with Oliver, my mind again suddenly empties and the words come half a second too late for comfort. I flail, and try not to show it. It gets no easier when Oliver speaks; during his denunciation of his brother, my stock of expressions - shock, surprise, anger, respect - emerge in no particular order. Finally, I leave the stage, not even sure I am walking properly.

I don't do despair, but I am plunged into annoyance and uncertainty. This is so small and simple a role and I am finding it so hard to do. When I return for the fight scene and the assistant director interrupts to straighten out the entrances, I do not fully understand what is being said. Information is pouring through my head, taking with it whatever certainty I had. At least we get through that scene more or less intact and that is me done for the day.

The notes are brief - my only fault, it seems, was to sway too much when talking with Oliver; as the wrestler I should be more grounded and display more confidence. That much I think I can do. As for my overall performance, I have no idea whether my acting has moved backwards, forwards or just round and round. But it's time to leave and with a sense of relief I get the bus home, hoping that Saturday, when I am next called for rehearsal, will be better.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Definitely Maybe: Maybe Definite

To Billericay yesterday and a wander up and down the bleak Radford Way (large tin boxes housing salesrooms, fitness centres and other impedimenta of post-industrial suburbia) before finding Creative Blast. Pleasant conversation with Darryl, who of course will not take me on but wants to follow my developing career. Well, it's a step upwards from previous agents who have politely said thanks but no thanks, and I head back into London with a sense of having inched a little forward towards the light.

In London I get two phone calls within an hour from Bruce of the Greenwich Playhouse. No, he can't commit to using me in The Duchess of Malfi, because the play won't work with only one of me and he's still waiting for confirmation for the other bodyguard. Which means that my travel plans (the Other Half and I intend going back to Thailand for three weeks in March) are still up in the air. In the meantime Bruce sends me the script, heavily amended from Webster's original. I find my part much smaller than I expected, on stage for few scenes and with no more than four lines, in place of the ten or twenty I had inferred from earlier discussions.

Am I still interested? Well, I like the idea of a four-week run and the discipline that involves, plus the opportunity of being seen, even if only as part of the scenery. The downside is that it b*gg*rs up our holiday; the Other Half is sympathetic to my wanting the role, but his sympathy might dry up if he sees how little I get and how much he has to give up...

Monday, 9 January 2012

Classic Pantomime

To the Rosemary Branch Theatre last night for the last performance of the (adult version of the) pantomime Beowulf, presented by Charles Court Opera. The cast of seven, plus musical trio, gave a pitch perfect (in every sense) performance, complete with cross-dressing, farce, audience participation, dreadful puns, over-the-top costumes (in particular Grendel's constantly changing artificial arm), double entendres and puppets. The free glass of champagne, on top of whatever other alcohol had been drunk in the bar before the show opened, helped the hilarity but was not essential to the fun.

This was the second production I'd seen at this small theatre on the fringes of Islington (Hackney lurks on the other side of the road). The first was I am a Camera at some point last year. Both were excellent. On the other hand, I hadn't realised, until our neighbour in the Rosemary reminded me, that it was the second Charles Court Opera production I'd seen. About a year ago a group of us had seen a slimmed-down version of HMS Pinafore at the King's Head in the heart of Islington and had not been particularly impressed. This production more than made up for that disappointment.

Now it's time to switch off the computer to head into Essex for my meeting with the Creative Blast Agency - on a day when I have been turned down by another agency without a meeting. Am I optimistic? Not particularly. But at least I'll get to see some of Billericay...

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Not My Number

To the National Theatre with suave T, candid  K and stable C. We have front row seats in the circle for Mike Bartlett's 13, which at one point was billed as an atheist, sci-fi epic and later described on the NT website as a Flash Forward type drama: "Across London, people wake up from an identical, terrifying dream."

Of course we couldn't refuse such hype, particularly when tickets were only £12 each, so expectantly we sat down, obediently we switched our phones to silent or vibrate and eagerly we waited for the spectacle to begin.

"Let's not make a judgement yet," said C in the interval, almost 90 minutes later. "It could all come together in the second act."

"Well, for twelve quid front row seats it wasn't too bad," was the general opinion when we emerged into the evening twilight, "but hardly memorable."

This being the National Theatre, the acting could not be faulted. The problem lay with the writing - a state of the nation piece complete with the obligatory personal dramas being played out against a backdrop of social unrest. The key question was should Britain join with the US in invading Iran to prevent it going nuclear? with opposing viewpoints championed by the prime minister (female, not that it mattered) opposed by a messianic champion of the people - and of course they had a common tragedy in their past.

Mixed into the plot were an atheist academic, a grandmother with Alzheimer's, a god-fearing mother afraid of her own daughter, and young couples finding and losing each other and several other story strands, none of which were more than mildly interesting. The London they represented was almost all Caucasian - very unlike the London in which I live. The shared dream was an irrelevance which was never explored and if there was a conflict between atheism and faith it was so brief that I was unaware it had passed. This was drama that tried to say everything, and ended up by saying almost nothing. And as a backdrop, as in previous NT productions, the set once again revolved and rose and fell from scene to scene - less because these movements were integral to the story than, it seemed, because the designer wanted any excuse to play with his or her toy again.

Tomorrow I'm going to see Beowulf, an adult pantomime at the Rosemary Branch Theatre. It'll be interesting to see how it fares in comparison...

Friday, 6 January 2012

Pas possible

Well, as I half-expected, Arnold got back to me a couple of days ago confirming that he could not get the crew together for the only dates that I was available to film, and he's going ahead with the French version only. The subtext is that he's looking for another actor to do the English serial killer on dates that I will not be free for. Eh bien, c'est la vie.

Meanwhile, back in London, the rehearsal schedule for As You Like It picks up. On Wednesday I turn up for the wrestling scene, to realise that no-one has brought the all-essential umbrellas. We use the collapsible variety, damaging one, and schedule a quick run-through for Thursday lunch-time. I also have a couple of run-throughs of the one-page dialogue Charles has with Oliver. Although I was word-perfect on the bus coming in, I stumble over my lines and Marianna is not pleased. I feel like an amateur, and schedule more time with Oliver on Monday. At least on Thursday, with full-length umbrellas and left to our own devices, Oliver and I achieve a fair semblance of a fight.

The weekend approaches and I'm in the sixth week of a mild cough/virus that has severely reduced my energy levels. I still have to prepare my audition for Monday afternoon, get up to speed with Charles for Monday evening and learn my Jaques de Boys for Tuesday evening - as well as go to an exhibition tomorrow and the theatre on both Saturday and Sunday evening. Luckily, I have no other commitments. Unluckily, that means I have no income . . .

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

As You Like Me

Three weeks before the first night, publicity for As You Like It begins. The official poster is unveiled - at least emailed out - and requests for headshots and bios are issued.

Am I excited? No. I don't do excited any more. But I am mildly pleased. And surprised to realise that opening night is only twenty days away. That should be enough time to learn my few lines well enough to allow them to appear natural on stage. Not to mention the umbrella wrestling that will need to be rehearsed frequently in the final week. With luck, none of the cast and no members of the audience will be harmed in the making of this fight.

So, come and see me if you will, for all of 10 minutes at the beginning of the play and another 5 minutes at the end. The 90 or so minutes in between should also entertain. Details here.

As for other projects... The Greenwich Playhouse has not got back to me. The likelihood that it will go ahead? 75%. The French video director told me he is still sorting out dates. Likelihood? 50%. And the Billericay agency audition has not yet confirmed a time. Likelihood of being taken on? 25%. Not bad odds for someone who six months ago had only a dreadful school play and four days' acting class to his name...

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

A Blast in Billericay

A new year, a new invitation to audition for an agency. This one's called Creative Blast and it's based in Billericay. That's right, Billericay. In Essex. It's only the second time that an agent has offered me an audition and I've obviously agreed to go. But Billericay? Well, let's not be prejudiced. Any agency is bound to be better than none. And any agency that's willing to look me over deserves the opportunity to do so. So next Monday, at a time to be confirmed, I will be on a train to Essex where I hope my Creativity will make the appropriate Blast...