Monday, 28 January 2013

Gunning for us

Two hours before the opening of a play is not when you want three vanloads of armed police storming your theatre, pointing semi-automatics at your director and forcing one of your stars out of his car. But it can happen to the best of the shows.

A simple explanation. Because of the layout of the theatre, actors sometimes have to walk out into the street, round the corner and through a back alleyway to get to the other entrance. And sometimes actors have to take with them guns. Plastic guns. That could only hurt a fly if pressed up against one on a window pane. But when a passerby sees someone - possibly a black someone, which in itself is unfortunately suspicious - rushing out of a bar, gun in hand or pocket - they are not going to stop that person and say, in a polite voice "excuse me, young sir, but is that gun plastic or are have you just committed or are about to commit a heinous crime?". They are more likely to call the police. Which they did.

Most of the cast and crew were oblivious of this unhappy event, as we sat eating pizza in a nearby restaurant, but we got the full story on our return to the theatre and the sensible warning - which had been issued before but which had not necessarily impinged itself on our consciousness - to hide any theatrical weapons when on the street. And the director decided to buy a few more guns so that there would be spares at both entrances, thus obviating the possibility of troubling the good men and women at the Metropolitan Police once more.

Oh, did I say it was the play's opening? Yes, it was. Did the play go well? The audience seemed to love it and several of us were singled out for congratulations afterwards. Was I happy with my performance? Not particularly. And the directors' opinion? Well, we will hear tonight.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Breaking legs

First night tonight - Clouds of Grey, a quick-moving drama in which I play an aggressive thug. In this case the old adage "break a leg" almost applies, since violence will be done on stage, although I am not sure that any legs actually get broken. Despite warnings, one of my friends is coming to see it this evening. Others, who have passed the age of 35, have decided the play is not for them. The theatre is almost certain to be full, however, because Clouds of Grey has the noise, the violence and the humour that inevitably lures young men with testosterone levels higher than their IQ - in other words most males under 30.

Me? I'm enjoying myself. The character I'm playing may have the intelligence and morals of a rabid snake, but there's enough range in the part for me to stretch my acting muscles. Besides, I even get some laughs. Want to decide for yourself? Watch the trailer:

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Another side of me

A long day's rehearsal yesterday. Despite my sore throat (partly from a cold, partly from shouting - yes, yes, I know, I have to conserve my voice), I was in a good mood because I felt that the big fight scene in which I was involved was now just right.

Fool that I was. At the moment when I thought we were done, Director Seth and Actor Barry express their dissatisfaction and decide to rechoreograph the central element. Am I happy? No. I'm tired and bored and want to go home. So out goes the uppercut and in come some other moves. I don't think they work, but I go through the motions rather than say anything. We do that a couple of times, have a break, then run the whole scene again. I am in a foul mood - but that's good, because my character Steve is in a foul mood and my emotion feeds his. And suddenly not only does the scene work for me, but it's easier and the audience (the rest of the cast and crew) are loving it.

When I finally go home, I reflect on how much my acting - of this particular character at least - has improved in the last two weeks. My portrayal of this violent thug has gone from hesitant and intermittent to full on. I have truly become Steve Marks. Friends who come to the play will see a very different person from the one they think they know. It will be, I am sure, my best acting so far. So, make your way to Crouch End this Sunday or one of the days which follow... (for details and to book, click the link in the right column)

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Malice and Humour

I'm a nice guy, according to director Seth Jones. Which means that I'm not vicious enough in the fight sequence. Seth demonstrates the kind of fistblow he wants me to give. I am slightly disturbed by the glint of sadism in his eye - and reassured by his emphasis on safety, making sure that neither I nor my opponent gets hurt. It's the appearance of violence he wants rather than to have his actors hospitalised each night. Advice comes from other actors and I replay the action, this time with sound effects. It seems to work. At least we have another four of days of rehearsal to get it right.

Shortly afterwards, in the same scene, the emphasis changes. Seth wants humour. I provide it. Seth is satisfied. I'm still uncomfortable about the level of malice I have to convey, which reassures me that I am indeed a nice guy, but I'm also aware that this kind of acting has to pull me out of my comfort zone. So, today it's back to the fight scene. I've got a headache and wonder if I'm developing a cold. That's enough to put me in a bad mood - and I'm sure I can use that mood to get closer to the anger and violence that I have to portray.

In the meantime, here's my ugly mug on the outside of the bar / theatre. Don't forget, you can still get tickets at £8.80, including booking fee, by clicking on the link on the right.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Young and Old

Socrates Dragging Alcibiades from the Arms of Voluptuous Pleasure, c. 1791
by Jean-Baptiste Regnault (part)
Yesterday's rehearsal of Clouds of Grey was lit and music-backed. The keyboard-player Dave and guitarist  .... (sorry, guys, I should know your full names) have put together a series of themes that go with the different characters and situations in the play. I thought that the sound would put me off, but on stage I hardly noticed it and watching other actors perform it was clear how the music and lighting enhanced the story and action.

As expected at this stage of rehearsals it was a slow day, and the first in which we ran through the whole play. It was also the first time that all the actors came together, since directors James Tobias and Seth Jones have been working on separate scenes with different characters in different locations.

Watching the whole play for the first time - apart from a couple of scenes at the end  -  allowed the story to come together in our minds. Yes, we've read the script, but all actors focus on the scenes they are in and only the best and keenest have a clear understanding of the whole play if it is not a piece that they have seen or worked on before. So now we know what's going on - more or less, because as Seth (with his writer hat on) reminds us, there are always uncertainties, and even he is not sure about every character's actions and motives.

Seeing the play in its entirety reminded me of the wide gap between Youth and Age. I am by far the oldest person in this production and probably more than 20 years older than the next in age; most of the cast and crew are under 30. So it is not surprising that this is a young person's play. The story involves cops and villains and a mysterious manipulator; sadism, violence and death are pervasive. What we are is a cartoon or a video game. It does have an underlying morality, but a morality which is more mechanical than organic, routine rather than deeply-rooted.

I'm not complaining. All art ranges from the popular, mindless and ridiculous to the eclectic, intellectual and sublime. This play aims to entertain rather than inform, to shock rather than reassure, to appeal to the young rather than the old. I appreciate and enjoy being part of it, because it is giving me an opportunity to extend my acting ability, bringing me more friendships and revealing more insights into the world of youth and theatre. It's going to stun audiences, but it's not a drama that I would invite elderly relatives to see.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Shout About It!

I have a temper. I lose it occasionally. Much less often than I did in the past. Like many others, I express it in inverse proportion to the seriousness of the situation - the less important the situation is, the louder my voice.

I don't lose my temper for long. I can be furious one moment and calm a minute later. The rational part of me quickly resumes control and reminds me that anger is natural but debilitating. It creates more problems than it solves and leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth and mind. I'm also aware, now that I near the end of my sixth decade, that it can be physically harmful. It raises blood pressure and increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. When I'm angry, I can feel the pressure in my chest and skull - not serious enough to be concerned, but enough to remind me to cool down pretty quick.

Because of the physical changes in the body when someone becomes angry, for some people anger can be addictive, almost enjoyable. Like a sneeze, an orgasm, scratching an itch or a bowel movement, the nerve receptors that register pressure, pain and pleasure are closely linked. Shouting at you brings heightened sensation in my body; it makes me feel good. I'm going to keep on doing it.

Steve, my character in Clouds of Grey, gets angry a lot, but it's only in the last few rehearsals that I have found that anger and let it explode, yelling at or hitting those who displease him, threatening all and sundry as the mood takes him. Uncovering this layer of his character gives him more depth and makes the interactions with others stronger and more realistic. At the same time, director Seth Jones is continuing to add ideas and layers to the action, creating a play (or rather, half a play, because the other half is being directed by James Tobias with other actors in a secret location...) that should draw in the audience, entertain and shock them. Definitely something to shout about.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Still here...

I know, I know, a week is a long time in blogging...

I've been busy, with rehearsals for Clouds of Grey (reminders: show details available clicking on the second picture on the right, and tickets for the 2 hour show only £8.80 in advance online), the book business and personal life. The last is the least interesting. The Other Half and I went to IKEA on Thursday to buy curtains and curtain rods, thinking we'd have them up that evening. What we didn't reckon with was the fact we were trying to attach them to an outer wall that was either iron or concrete and which steadfastly resisted the drill. (Probably a good thing, coz we're on the eighth floor and don't want to bring the building down...) Investigating and implementing the alternatives has taken us three days and the new curtains won't be up until Tuesday at the earliest.

But you don't want to know about that, or about the lesbian classics that I bought on Friday and will be uploading to my website and Abebooks over the next week, or the time I've spent researching and responding to actresses who want to audition for Californian Lives. This is, after all, primarily an acting blog. So about acting I will write...

Which leaves me with several choices. I could say everything is going fine and the rest of the cast are wonderful and it's going to be a fantastic production that will take me first to Elstree and then Hollywood; in other words boring. Or I could bitch about the director and fellow cast members. But I'm not the bitching type. Or tell you they're all fantastic colleagues and I'm unworthy to be in their presence. But I don't do sycophancy. So I'll do what I always do, which is talk about how I am interacting with the process and in the process I may drop a comment about the others I'm working with.

Where I am at the moment is roughly where I would expect to be a third of the way through the rehearsal period. I more or less know my lines, cues and blocking, but I'm only partly (pun intended) into the part. There are two major problems. Firstly, the accent still comes and goes, but I had a half-hour session with Terry Bresson at the Actors' Centre yesterday which was very useful at identifying which parts of my Scottish accent were still coming through my Mockney; I think I will be able to be full-on London by the time the show opens. Secondly, I'm not fully aware of my character. I know he's an evil bastard (and that's on a good day), but I don't yet know him well enough to be sure of his emotions and responses on a second-by-second basis. Which means that I'm not always responding appropriately to other characters on the stage. Which means I still have work to do.

Of course there are other issues - the choreography of a fight scene, manipulating a curtain (don't ask - come and see the show), dealing with props that haven't yet materialised and so on, but overall I'm not too concerned at this point. I know director Seth Jones is tearing his hair out because the production hasn't reached the level he wants it, but he has a clear vision of where we should be and hair-tearing comes with the job. We are all, cast and musicians, moving in the right direction, even if some of us are moving faster than others.

So now it's back to promoting the show... £8.80 (booking fee included) is fantastic value for a two-act production. It's a quirky, surreal, violent drama, with live music, that just might surprise you...

Monday, 7 January 2013

By Gad, Sir

Stop me - or skip the next paragraph - if you've heard this one before...

The story goes that the Duke of Wellington, on the eve of the battle of Waterloo (we're talking the 1815 head-to-head with Napoleon and his troops, not bands of commuters fighting to get on the 18.15 to Hounslow) cast an eye over the dregs of society that made up the British army and uttered the immortal words "I don't know what effect they will have on the enemy, but by Gad, sir, they terrify me."

I was reminded of Wellington's words this afternoon during the first rehearsal for Clouds of Grey. I was on stage in a confrontation between my character and a member of the local constabulary, with the director and other actors watching. Out of the darkness someone commented that I was very scary. Well, I thought, if I have that impact on the rest of the cast when I'm still uncertain of my lines and cues, it looks as if the audience is going to get their money's worth of thrills . . .

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Accents Away

I'm off to Scotland for another short break. May struggle to keep my London accent alive while surrounded by my native dialect. Back in London on 7th for the first rehearsal for Clouds of Grey (have you booked yet??? appropriate links in the top pic right)