Monday, 27 August 2012

Smile, You're On...

Last July (2011), I gave myself a year in which to become an Actoh, defining success as either getting paid for my work on stage or screen and / or getting an agent. I achieved the first of these goals in January and have been paid several times since; the second has just come to fruition.

I have approached agents regularly over the last twelve months, with little success. The first hurdle I had to overcome was the fact that I was not on Spotlight - the list of professional actors used by most professional agents. I couldn't be on Spotlight because I didn't have enough paid work to qualify. Fortunately, some agents on Casting Call Pro did not demand membership and some of those responded to my enquiries with a "we are interested" email. The next hurdle was moving from that email to a meeting; for many agents interest soon died and out of the ten or so positive responses I received, I only met four face to face.

First was agent A, for whom I auditioned before I had even been offered a role. Not surprisingly, she did not want me. Agent B was after my first short film but before my first stage appearance. He asked to be kept informed of my career, accepted an invitation to see me in The Duchess of Malfi and did not turn up. I eventually dropped him from my mailing list. Agent C saw me in The Duchess and said he would sign me up as soon as I got Spotlight membership. He also wanted me to see his partner. I  never did meet the partner. Agent D saw me in my worst performance of Angel and offered to sign me immediately. Always suspicious of people who tell me how well they have done and how fantastic I am, I was both chuffed and wary. My suspicions turned out be well-founded. A couple of days later a petulant response from him to an email I had sent inspired me to research him online, where I discovered he had form in persuading wealthy and naive individuals to part with their money for little or no reward.

Agent D did one good thing for me - reminding me of the importance of Spotlight membership. Within a day of rejecting him I had completed the online forms and registered with the website (see link right). Within a week of registering with Spotlight I had a long meeting with Stephen Cornwell of Smile Talent. A week later he confirmed that he wanted me on his books. I confirmed I was happy to work with him and thus his logo now appears on this blog (see right) and all my acting websites.

First impressions? My generation, thorough, professional, the right balance of modesty and confidence. We are moving forward a little slower than I had expected, but since I wanted a quiet month, I'm not complaining. Besides, he had warned me that after a period of cutting down on his work because of illness he is now significantly expanding his list, which means many other demands on his time. But I'm optimistic that he will represent me much better than I could represent myself. Now there are two major tests ahead - will he get me the auditions / castings, and will I get the work? You will hear...

Postscript, 5th October. Now that you've read to the bottom of this post, could you do me a favour? Tell me why you are here. This is the by far most popular post on this blog and I haven't a clue why. If you can spare a minute, send me a comment, even if it's only to quote the search phrase that brought you here.  Thanks.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Could Do Better

I had time to see two plays on the Edinburgh Fringe: a one man play based on the diaries of painter Keith Vaughan and Joe Orton's The Erpingham Camp. Both held my attention - which is an achievement for the Fringe - but neither was worthy of recommendation.

Locked In, written and acted by Peter Scott-Presland and directed by the unfortunately named Randy Smartnick, presented various episodes from Vaughan's life from 1939 to 1977. We saw him helping the victims of an air-raid, appearing before a conscientious objector tribunal, had up in court for making a drawing that might be used to help the enemy, on various (homo)sexual adventures abroad, diagnosed with liver cancer and killing himself with an overdose. Anyone of these themes could have been explored in depth, instead of the superficial picture that was drawn for us, offering no more than frustrating glimpses into a complicated and unhappy life.

What was the impact on this pacifist of being in the Army Medical Corps? Scott-Presland did not tell us. Presumably his sexual adventures started before his 40th year, and if they didn't, why not? Was only fulfilled abroad and with teenagers? What was the relationship between his sexual activity with others and his unusual masturbation patterns? Can't answer any of these questions. How long was he an alcoholic? Haven't a clue. How did the various aspects of his personality come together? Your guess is as good as mine. Would I have known he was an artist apart from the artfully-arrange flecks of paint on the tablecloth?  Probably not - not once in the script was there any reference to his wielding a paintbrush.

If the script was mediocre, so too was the acting and direction. Scott-Presland's performance was in a single key, more appropriate to a reading of the diaries than the representation of a life. Nor was he helped by the music that frequently intruded - music that was more interesting than the acting and held the attention for as long as it was played. Meanwhile at the side of the stage we were offered a slide show of Vaughan's paintings only tangentially related to the script.

Moving on.... The Erpingham Camp is one of Orton's lesser-known pieces and for good reason. Despite the revolt of its holiday campers, the play's marriage of the ordinary and the absurd in a 1960s holiday camp never reach the dizzy heights of Loot or What the Butler Saw. The play is not helped by Fourth Monkey Theatre Company's curate's egg of a production where a motley crew - some more talented and appropriately cast than others - rush through their paces. Worst were Erpingham (I can't find the actors' names, but he's not the man in the picture) and the Padre; the former shouting every line in a monotone while the latter mugged his part throughout with a stupid grin that belied the gravitas that the role demands. Best was Riley, although even he sometimes overdid the mugging   I could also complain about small details of dress and props that brought 2012 into what was supposed to be a 1960s production - including hairstyles and designer stubble. As a student production it passed muster - which is about the right level for the Fringe.

Now I'm on my way back to London and with my new agent - of whom more details anon - hoping to get back on stage and in front of the camera soon. At that point I will have to submit to equally aggressive reviewing. Well, I should know not to give it if I can't take it....

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Actors Actors Everwhere, But Not . . .

On the train to Edinburgh where I am about to spend a week. At the Fringe? No. At the Festival? No. The Book Festival? Not that either. With the family. I might be able to get an afternoon or evening off, but it's unlikely. Besides my experience and expectations of the Festival in all its guises are not that great. The really good productions on the Festival, are usually sold out long before my dates are confirmed. The best productions on the Fringe require word of mouth, a willingness to spend hours in queues or online and the luck of finding a few seats still available. Plus the fact the Fringe in recent years has become saturated with stand-up comedians, who are pretty much all the same - predictable and therefore unfunny.

Worst are those who can't perform without four-letter words. I don't have a problem with swearing as such - a day seldom passes in which I don't find myself expleting a shit or fuck - but repeated use of four-letter words demonstrates a lack of intelligence and imagination. If you keep coming back to the same vocabulary to express yourself, then you either don't have much to say or you don't know how to say it. 

The last time I saw a performance at the Festival was two years ago when three of bought tickets for a troupe offering a comic look at Scotland's history. What we got was fifty long minutes of embarrassingly amateurish, childish and unfunny performances.

But hope lingers, even in this aged breast, and I have seen good, serious theatre on the Fringe and I may do so again. Family obligations permitting, I will dip my toe in those waters again this year. Besides, at the back of my mind is the crazy idea that I might bring my one-man shows to the Fringe next year and I should remind myself what goes on, if only to stop myself doing it...

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Not Wanted On Voyage

I like auditions. Most of the time. Even when I don't get the part and I know from the start I have no hope of getting it, I enjoy the process of meeting others, discussing the play with them and giving the part - either an audition piece I have prepared or some lines they sent me - my best shot.

So it was yesterday. As devout readers (all four of you) know, I was up for a part as a grizzly sea captain in Jim Cartwright's allegorical Bed. I turned up at the old BBC offices, chatted with Cecily and assistant Paul about the part, swore that when I grew my hair and beard I did indeed have the aged look, and launched myself into the monologue - a sequence in which the Captain finds himself at the centre of a storm at sea. I emoted, my voice thundered and whispered, my emotions ran the gamut from fear to defiance to loss to happiness. After several days' preparation and wondering whether I could do justice to the part, it was a thrilling experience to be reminded that in front of a live audience I can indeed bring a character to life. No bones about it, I showed Cecily and Paul what a demn fine ector I could be.

Man O'War Bay, Dorset
All in vain. Cecily was too nice to say no, but it was clear from the polite and friendly - rather than enthusiastic - discussion, that I was wrong for the part. The main problems? I assume them to be that I look too young for the part and I have the wrong accent. She wanted South-West England instead of the Scottish I came out with - and, apart from throwing in the occasional Oooh Aaar, SW English is not something I can do. Plus the fact I can't be in London for the callback later in the week. So almost certainly Not Wanted On Voyage.

Never mind. I have another audition this evening. For a bodyguard. Done it before. Can do it again. Shave the head, switch to cold, inhuman look, and there I am. Piece of Cake.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

All at sea

I have an audition on Monday for a part in Jim Cartwright's Bed. It's an intriguing piece about seven old people in a vast bed, allegorical, metaphorical, amusing and sad. I'm up for the part of the Captain, whose big speech is narrating a scene where he's caught in a storm at sea.

Sounds easy, doesn't it? But the more I revise the speech, the more difficult it appears. Firstly, there's the voice and accent. I have to sound old, but loud enough to carry. Do I go English and weak (in character) or Scottish and strong (ditto)? How do I avoid a monotone or a routine crescendo? Bring life to such lines as "There's a dead dog on the deck spinning around and around in the skud"? When I read the lines (no time to learn them) in the privacy of my living-room, I sound fake, strained. The contrasts in mood do not come across. Instead I sound like the hammiest of actors.

The only light I can see is the fact that I often (unfortunately not always) do better in front of others than on my own. An audience somehow gives life to my character. In the meantime I'll spend the next 48 hours going over the lines, strengthening my voice, trying different paces and emotions. You never know, it might just bring the Captain to life.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Bowing Out

I'm not sure of the point of an audition for a speaking part where you are in and out on a conveyor belt. I turned up yesterday in Soho for the mathematician-propagandist role and all the director wanted was for me to say my name and lines to camera and then leave.

Of course I can do that. But how do you want the lines? This is a comedy. Do you want straight face or exaggeration? Wide-eyed craziness or Germanic sobriety? In short, you may not want to speak to me as an individual, but do you not want an idea of the range of my abilities? does it occur to you that I might be able to bring something to the part? At least I got to wear the bow tie . . .

And so, in less time than it takes to cast an extra, I came, I spoke and went. But the afternoon was not entirely wasted; I had time to go shopping, book-browsing and meet the Other Half for coffee (technically speaking, hot chocolate) before going home again.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Official Announcement

It's official. I won the Best New Writing Award at the Solo Festival 2012. Thanks again to those who brought the plays to life. 

Meanwhile... I have another audition today. The casting note says mathematician, but the samples of script they sent through suggest propagandist. In both cases, I suggest a bow tie is called for.

Friday, 3 August 2012

It's Quiet Out There . . .

. . . but quiet is good. I'm enjoying being in charge of my own timetable and spending much of my free time clearing out cupboards that I promised myself I would clear out four years ago. Part of that process is transferring hundreds of old video cassette recordings to computer. They're mostly old films recorded off the television in the 1980s and 1990s, which means the recordings aren't perfect, but the adverts are full of nostalgia.

I haven't been idle on the acting front. As noted last week, I'm now on Spotlight, although the number of jobs going through is much less than I expected and I'm suited for very few of them. (I'm the right age but the wrong look for the father figure that comes up most often.) At the beginning of the week I had a long meeting with an agent. I liked him, but I'm still waiting to hear if he likes me, and I'm not sure if that's a good or bad sign.

a famoso, bem-amada Rita Lee
Tomorrow morning I have a callback for a lead in a feature film, which sounds good, but it's one of those films where everyone is just starting in the business and no-one will get paid. They may not want me, but if they do, will I want to give up two weeks of my life for the possibility of future fame? On the other hand, every audition and callback is an opportunity to test myself so, for that reason alone, I'm looking at the script and preparing myself to act the civilised sadist.

Then there's the aftermath of the one-man plays I wrote. Apparently I've been awarded the prize for best new writing. Of course I'm pleased but I haven't yet got the certificate and the Solo Festival website hasn't announced it officially. When that happens, I'll broadcast the news more widely.

In the meantime I shall spend the next week or two practising what Rita Lee - that well-known Brazilian popstar - preached in one of her hits in the early 1980s: nada melhor do que não fazer nada / nothing better than doing nothing. Enjoy the weekend, whatever you're doing.