Monday, 30 April 2012

Cattle Call

Auditions have been thin on the ground recently, so I perked up on Saturday morning when Casting Call Pro told me I had a message and the message told me I had an audition for a paying speaking part on Sunday afternoon. Here was the script. Could I confirm? Of course I could.

Sunday afternoon sees me strolling leisurely through north London, quarter of an hour early for my audition in a youth club. Ahead of me someone else is going in, almost certainly  for the same part. There's a queue. I'm third in line. While waiting to be seen, I look round a room full of  men and women in their fifties, all apparently for the two roles on offer.

The couple ahead of me, apparently together and auditioning for each role is miffed at the fact that they thought the audition was 4.30 -  the same time I had for my slot. No, says the young woman checking names. The call is for 4.30. Call? Yes. We're going to photograph everyone and then have pairs go through their lines. The whole process should be over in 90 minutes. The couple protest, surely there is some mistake, we have individual auditions, but the young woman is insistent. As the same information gets repeated and questioned several times, the queue behind me grows longer.

The couple move on. My name is taken. I spot a player from a previous production and go to say hello. When 4.30 comes, we are shuffled upstairs to be photographed and then again asked to wait. The atmosphere of discontent amongst the dozens of people waiting is almost palpable.

The process seems pointless. The roles being cast are for minor characters in a short scene in a  pilot - characters who will not appear in future episodes. The company, which has an impressive website and track record, seems to have offered an "audition" to anyone who applied for a part, when it could have saved its own time and ours by calling in five or six, maximum ten, candidates for each part. Or if they insisted on seeing everyone, it would have been helpful to inform us that the process would take 90 minutes and we were not being offered separate audition slots. We thought we were being invited in as professionals offered speaking parts, and found ourselves subjected to a cattle call as if we were extras. All this process has done is create extra work for the casting director and his crew and generated unnecessary ill-feeling among people who want to work for them.

As we wait, there are mutterings in the ranks and threats to leave without being seen. But of course none of us goes. We all want a part, no matter how small, in what may turn out to be a success - a part which will not only pay but which will look good on our list of credits. So even as we grumble to each other, we line up and wait for our turn in front of the camera.

I'm paired with Viv, who's pleasant and professional. We rehearse a couple of times and chat about this and that. After more than an hour's queuing and waiting, we are let in to do our 90 seconds filming. I give a  performance designed partly to emphasise the comic side of the character and partly to make myself memorable, in the hope that even if I'm not wanted for this part, I might be suitable for another role.

We'll see. I'm not holding my breath, but I haven't identified the company or the semi-famous name behind it because there is that minimal chance they will want to use me. And to be fair, a representative of the company did have the grace to apologise to everyone when it was clear we felt we had been badly treated. I don't think it was intentional, but it was the kind of basic mistake that a professional company shouldn't make - and won't, I hope, make again.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Sixty percent

The calls for audition on Casting Call Pro have been coming in at the rate of three or four a day. I have been applying for one or two of these. (The days when I would apply for any student film, just to get the experience, have gone.) Needless to say, I haven't been getting many offers lately.

That doesn't matter too much, since I have four monodramas to get to performance status. This will not be the first time I have written and produced a play - way back in 1995 my partner and I shared the production, writing, direction and starring in a quirky piece called The Benefactor - but it's the first time I've written one since becoming an Ahctor and since I've learnt a considerable amount about pacing and content and style and so on. So today has been spent completing the first draft of Angel, a monologue by a tormented priest (is there any other kind? - and no, it isn't about paedophilia).

In its current state, I reckon it's about 60% performance quality. The framework is there - the emergence and development of ideas - but two major faults remain. The first is wordiness. What reads well in short fiction - long, sonorous sentences with unusual grammar or words - seldom works well on the stage. That means I am looking for language which suggests thought and argument without it sounding like a philosophical tract. The second problem is emotional rhythm - maintaining the audience's interest by raising or lowering the emotional temperature. This obviously depends on a combination of the writer's (me) skill with that of the performer (also me). I think I can do it, but it will take several more drafts, combined with the skills of the director to get me to that goal.

Well, that's a problem for another day. I'm setting Angel aside to look at an easier task - the conversion of another story, Los Feliz, to stage performance. Ten more weeks to go, four plays to write, actors and director(s) to confirm, publicity to generate. 'Twill be an interesting spring....  

Thursday, 26 April 2012


Can Tyne Daly sing? In comparison with me, of course, she sings like a nightingale, but so does the rest of the world. In comparison with an everyday opera singer, definitely not. And in comparison with late career Maria Callas, whom Daly represents in the Terrence McNally play Masterclass? Probably about the same.

Suave Toddfrey and I took advantage of a special offer to see the play last night in its final week at the Vaudeville Theatre. Todd, whose enthusiasm for the stage surpasses his ignorance of the same topic, had expected a musical but had to be content with the arias of cast members Naomi O'Connell, Dianne Pilkington and Garrett Sorenson and the piano-playing of Jeremy Cohen. (Were they good? Well, I thought so, but I can't tell a High C from a Low Blow, so don't count on my opinion.) Never mind, both he and I were duly impressed by the two hour play in which Maria Callas, towards the end of her life, after she was no longer able to sing, offered students the benefit of her knowledge and advice.

The star of the show was of course Callas-Daly, and the actress gave a stellar performance as the operatic superstar. The class, predictably, was little more than an opportunity for the diva to reminisce about her life and to sprinkle liberal advice as to how to achieve divadom (basically have an ego that overwhelms all other egos that challenge it - and it doesn't do any harm to have some talent as well). How closely the McNally-Daly depiction of Callas resembled the original article, I couldn't say, but that wasn't the point. What we were watching was as much development of  ideas as a portrayal of an individual. What is the cost of great art to the individual? To those around them? To those who wish to be great artists?

I always judge how well I have an enjoyed a play by how much or how little my mind wanders during the performance. On this scale, my appreciation was well up in the 80% to 90% range. When my thoughts did set off on their own, they followed one of two paths: (a) to ask myself how much dedication I have to the stage in comparison with someone like Callas - and to realise that without that dedication my performances are likely to remain second rate; and (b) to remind myself that I have four one-player dramas to write and that in each of them I have to ensure that pacing and rhythm maintain the audience's attention throughout. That's quite a task. Which explains why I spent this morning on the pages of the first draft on the first and most difficult conversion-from-story-to-drama that I have to undertake.

Finally, the theatre was full last night, with a mostly middle-aged crowd. It was also full - as far as I could tell from the queue exchanging vouchers at the box office - of people like ourselves who had been given a special deal. It seems that West End productions that are based on ideas and drama, rather than spectacle and soapstars, are unable to draw big enough crowds without substantial discounting. An unsurprising, but depressing idea...

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

One Man Show - or Two, Three or even Four

We've paid our money and we've booked our slots. Thanks to Robin Holden, a fellow actor in last month's The Duchess of Malfi, four of us from that cast are now scheduled to appear at the Solo Festival of one-(wo)man shows at the Lord Stanley theatre in London in July. It was Robin who read the first-person narratives in my short story collection First and Fiftieth, (cover left, extracts here) and who suggested that several of them would make good monodramas (including a comedy). He wanted to act one, why didn't I do another? and from there the idea grew. Bringing in more actors meant that the more pieces we performed, the more publicity we would get. And of course the more pieces we performed, the more publicity I would get as the writer.

So far, so easy. But nothing is achieved without work and work never comes without challenges. The first problem I faced, as featured in my last blog, lack of a director. I'm too new at this acting game to direct myself and I need someone to provide an outside perspective and to help me stretch myself. But since that posting, some names have come up and I'm confident that I'll soon be able to announce who I'm working with.

The second problem? Getting everyone involved together to confirm our roles and how best we can work together. The expression herding cats comes to mind. Just getting a reply to an email can take several days and  finding a time that five people can meet together seems more difficult than developing a means of time travel. I reassure myself - perhaps prematurely - that  we have three months to get our various acts together and - cliche warning - I'm sure it'll all be all right on the first night(s).

What I should be turning my mind to is scripts. First-person narratives that work well as short fiction don't always translate easily onto the stage. With two of the pieces, there is little problem, because they were written as a story told over dinner or at a bar. The other two, however, are stream-of-consciousness, which allows for more arcane vocabulary and long sentence structures that would send the average audience either to sleep or towards the exit. My first task should be to rewrite them in a style that appeals to listeners and watchers rather than readers.

The most challenging piece is the one I have chosen for myself. The setting of Angel moves from a priest's house to a car and from the car to a restaurant in a way that may not be easily recreated on the stage. The story also features a second character who will have to be suggested, not acted. Most difficult of all, the "reveal" comes in the middle of the story as it now stands. To solve all these problems, I can foresee several drafts before I get the tempo and the ambience right. Perhaps I should begin now ...

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Direct Me To Stardom

I have been applying for auditions since I came back from Thailand two weeks ago, but with no response so far. Even the parts for which I think I'm eminently suited for, which more or less state "bald guy, looks 50, Scottish / RP accented, strong presence, minimal experience acceptable", have resulted in nothing more than a single - and appreciated - "sorry we can't use you" reply.

So if Mohammed won't go come to the mountain, the mountain will set off for Mohammed. If a director does not seek me out, I will seek one out and persuade him / her to direct me in a 30 - 45 minute one-man show put on as part of a series in a London pub theatre later this year.

The play we work on together will be based on one of my short stories (yes, in my wild middle age I had two novels and two collections of short stories published), and adapted for the stage.

I have two in mind. One is an older man reminiscing about an encounter in his youth - an encounter that he has forgotten about but which he now realises was highly meaningful. It is based on a famous piece of literature, although the audience do not realise it until halfway or more through the play. The overall mood is reflective. The second story involves a middle-aged man in a position of authority torn between two opposing demands on his life. This is a much more aggressive piece and may cause considerable discomfort in some of the audience.

Is there a London-based director out there who would be interested in discussing this and choosing one of these pieces? Ideally someone who is not afraid of ideas and emotions and the interaction between the two. Who has an understanding of the murkier caverns of the human soul and who can bring out both the joy and pain of life. Who's willing to take a risk with an actor with as little experience as I have? If so, I'd like to meet them.

Money! I knew I'd forgotten something important... It's profit share. I can guarantee some income, but it's unlikely to be more than £50 to £100 for several days' work. So why do it? Out of love for the theatre, I suppose. Because the stories I'm offering demand to be told. Because you like me and we get on well together. For whatever tickles your fancy. But if you're interested, get in touch; I'd like to talk. Contact me at martin @

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Not home but away

I'm in Scotland for a week, visiting the family and far, far away from London auditions...

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Short films - long productions

Regular readers and fans (Doris and Sid Bonkers of Neasden) will remember that my very first casting after I started auditioning at the end of last year was for a short film, "The Players". In late December five actors and at least twice as many crew assembled in the freezing basement of an unused building in an anonymous part of Central London to shoot a ninety-second film about a surreal poker game.

That was quickly followed by small parts in two more films in January. The first was as a drunk in a bar in a music video where the star was a large teddy bear. The second was as a corpse in a student film in what I thought was going to be a sensitive exploration of a young man trying to rebond with his father, but which turned out to be a slasher film. (The glaringly obvious clue I had missed was the fact I played a mutilated corpse.)

My fourth stint in front of the cameras was in March, when I was chauffered to West London to feature in (well, to be in the foreground of) a Paddy Power commercial.

Now it is April. Behind me I have these four films plus two theatrical productions. Ahead of me? Nothing. Not even an audition for understudy in a Punch and Judy show on Clacton Pier. With no personal appearance scheduled, I would have liked to keep Doris and Sid (and any passing internet surfer) happy by pointing them in the direction of my film work. But four months after I first sat under the spotlights, nothing has been completed. Nevertheless are some updates:

The short film ("The Players"):
My first project - which has an imaginative premise, atmospheric setting and the potential for development into a series - had post-production problems. In early March they announced a new colourist, so I'm hopeful that the final cut will be announced soon. That's me on the right, pointing, on a set designed by Jane Brodie.

The music video ("Animal" for the Californian punk band Against Me):
There is a "making of" short film on Youtube shot in Shoreditch Courthouse. I don't appear in it, but the bear and I had a brief encounter in another locale.

The student film ("Witness The Beginning" or "Act I" - I've never known which is the title):
Their Facebook page ( is regularly updated and on 29 February they announced they had finished filming. Given that this is feature length, it will probably be several more months before it is completed - and given my minimal role and their shoestring budget, I'm not expecting to be invited to the red carpet reception or to have endless flutes of champagne pressed into my hand..

The Paddy Power commercial:
Sometimes my naivete and ignorance surprises me. It was only after the day of filming this advert that I realised that Paddy Power commercials were designed to shock and even be banned... Which explains why my finger was asked to do what it was asked to do. (Will my mother ever forgive me...?) The ad is scheduled to coincide with or appear earlier than the Euro 2012 football championships. I expect it will be on time. More details later.

And that's it for the moment. I'm off to Scotland for a week. It's not quite a holiday and I'll still be hunting for auditions and promoting myself where I can, but don't expect in-depth or exciting blogging while I'm away...

Friday, 6 April 2012

Who is David Reid?

All the reviews I have seen of the Old Vic production of The Duchess of Malfi have been in the four-to-five star range - not surprising for a company that consistently offers professional and entertaining theatre.

With one exception. What's On Stage gives the Old Vic five stars, but only one of the four comments below agrees with that number, with the others giving it two or three stars. Including an unknown David Reid, who says that in the Greenwich Playhouse, "Alice De Sousa was a much better duchess and the production there far more ingenious and bold". A pity he didn't add a comment about my own contribution to that production . . .

Thursday, 5 April 2012

I'm Back . . .

Yesterday, after a mere 16 days in Thailand and Singapore, it was strange to be walking through Heathrow and getting on the tube to central London. Who were these people? Why weren't they smiling? Why did everything seem so dull?

Today my old life is gradually falling into place. I'm more than half-way through the 100 or so emails that were cluttering up my inbox and the floor and tables of my office are only slightly more cluttered than usual. On Monday I have to go away again, this time for a week in Scotland, but that's part of my regular routine. What's important is that my focus is now back in the UK and on acting.

Not that there's much to focus on... I had a pleasant email from Shirane Belahsen telling me that I hadn't landed the one-man Chekhov part I auditioned for last month (see 15th March blogpost), which surprised me not. Apart from that I have no auditions and no work pending. I have applied for several parts on Casting Call Pro that seem ideal for me - including as a PI in a sci-fi spoof film (apart from spoof, the idea reminds me of the fabulous Dark City), as an aging soldier and something in an Edinburgh production that would allow me to see the festival for the first time in years. The main question, however, is: do directors see me in the same magnificent light in which I picture myself?