Saturday, 30 March 2013

The Crying Game

Airwaves, apparently. The strong minty chewing gum that you masticate and at the last moment, breathe out into your cupped hands so that your breath stings your eyes and tears begin to flow. That was the advice from Joe Keirs on Thursday, which he had picked up on some acting grapevine for when my character needed to cry. I had to express several other extreme emotions but it was only weeping that worried Joe; he needed to see real tears.

He needn't have worried. One of my few talents is to produce tears more or less at will. It doesn't happen instantaneously but it does happen in real time. The pressure builds up behind my eyes and water emerges and drips down my cheeks in either laughter or sadness.

Assuming it is sadness I'm expressing, am I actually sad at that moment?  Yes and no. Part of me is  mourning a loss - a relationship ending, someone dying - but another part of has gone into neutral and is observing my reaction. This acting is the opposite of the spontaneous emotion. Then an idea or awareness in my mind overwhelms my body and I begin to cry, but in front of the camera it is my body generating the emotion and sending it to my mind, part of which accepts it and part of which recognises that the situation is unreal and it so it does not need to be involved.

Which means that when the director calls "cut", I can immediately snap out of the emotion and scene and return to whatever I was doing or thinking about before filming began. And if he needs to refilm I can turn the waterworks on again. It is, after all, just The Crying Game.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Quick Change

What do you do when a cast member withdraws from a production? It depends on the play and the role (s)he was playing, but it's usually possible to juggle actors and characters and somehow muddle through.

It's a bigger problem when your cast member is presenting a 35 minute monologue and a month from opening night is forced to pull out. Which is what happened to Californian Lives. Alarm bells started ringing  a fortnight ago when illness repeatedly forced Barry Clarke to cancel rehearsals and we started to look for an understudy. By the middle of last week, however, it was clear that the understudy would have to perform.

My first action was to filter actors by age and accent (Californian) on Casting Call Pro. Thirty-five faces appeared. I started sending out emails, at this stage only looking for an understudy and not mentioning the play or theatre. Only one thespian was put off by the secrecy; most of the others replied within 24 hours, either expressing interest or pleading other engagements. I sent off scripts and waited. Not everyone responded to this second round and some of those who did decided the part was too much of a challenge.

By Tuesday four or five actors had declared an interest, but that did not necessarily mean a commitment to turn up to the Friday auditions. I needed to find more. So I announced the part on CCP and several others approached me, including a couple whose CVs I had already looked at but decided they would not be appropriate. By Thursday morning I had five definites and two possibles. By Friday morning there were six definites. On Friday afternoon, five people turned up.

The day started well. Our initial candidates had a good understanding of the script and the difficulties of portraying a character who in many ways is characterless. One was an American (good - no problems with accent) whose reading was acceptable and who took Emma (the director)'s direction. There was a Londoner who had spent years in Los Angeles and whose discussion of the script was impressive, but who read the role like Clint Eastwood in a spaghetti Western - hesitating - after every - word and - phrase. His gestures matched the part of a film cowboy, as did another applicant who spoke the part faster but with a Southern drawl that at times was difficult to understand. Then there was the large gentleman whose voice boomed and nearly deafened us; a pleasant personality and excellent for other roles (Emma's mind was reviewing future productions in which she could use him) but not reflective enough for our part.

Then there was John Vernon. We were not impressed when he walked into the room. Large, dishevelled. Nice smile, pleasant manner. Didn't quite answer my question about the character of the monologue in a way that suggested he understood every nook and cranny of the script. But hey, we've booked him in for the same length of time as we've booked everyone else so we want to hear him read the part. And he does. But he doesn't read it; he's memorised it and he's word perfect. And he's impressive. He has all the right intonation and breaks, everything in his voice and expression tells you that he understands the man he is portraying and the importance of the story he has to tell.

I'm impressed, and I suspect and later confirm, that Emma is impressed too. But I'm curious to know why John leapt straight from the first section, early in the script, to the second, which is two-thirds of the way through. And why he sat down throughout his performance. His answers are intelligent - yes, the two sections are from very different parts of the monologue, but there's an emotional link between them. And he sat for the first part because that was appropriate for that part of the script, and having gone straight on it was better to stay seated than suddenly stand up. Of course he would expect to move around for the whole play.

Emma goes into her analysis of the script as a whole and the sections we are reviewing. Emma is the kind of director who wants you to understand the motivation underlying each sentence, each word and, dare I say it, each comma. When she directed me last year, I hated what she was doing. Now, as the writer, I love it. It tells me that her understanding of the script leads her deep into the character and the story he has to tell; she brings out into my consciousness what was only in my subconscousness when I wrote the part. In short, she tells me that I'm a better writer than I thought I was.

John listens to Emma's quite lengthy exposition, then gets his chance to reprise the sections his learnt. I don't notice much difference but perhaps I'm paying attention to him in a different way. He's nervous, or perhaps his character is nervous, and that's good. And there is a darkness to John's portrayal - a darkness that was not apparent in his personality but which brings a much greater depth to the narrator that the others we see today. No, he doesn't look quite right - what we see is a not a gay man of a certain age but a man who doesn't take care of his appearance - but when I bring up this issue it's clear that this is only a transitory appearance for a short film he is scheduled to make. A haircut, a trim of the facial hair, a nice shirt tucked into slacks and we will have our Man In A Bar.

As soon he leaves and we hear him descending the stairs, Emma and I look at each other; we almost don't need to tell each other that this is the actor we want. Some actors give excellent audition but never progress beyond that stage, but with John's experience - decades in film, television, theatre and voiceover, not to mention stand-up - I'm sure we're on much firmer ground; he wants this part, he's capable of it and together Emma and he are, I am sure, going to bring my character fully to life. By six o'clock that evening, I've called to offer the part to him and he has agreed to the contract I send over. There are still issues surrounding publicity photos and informing the press and so on, but now that he is onboard a weight has been lifted from my mind.

All of us involved in Californian Lives are sorry to lose Barry and we wish him a speedy recovery. We are also very pleased that we have found such a good actor to replace him. Fingers crossed that there will be no other last minute surprises, but as things stand we have an excellent combination of actors for what looks like being a memorable production in one of the best-known pub theatres in London. Will you be one of those who sees it?

Friday, 22 March 2013


There are some quirky videos - ads, TV trailers and music videos - on the website of Joseph and Joseph, as I discovered when they emailed me earlier this week and asked me to consider playing the lead in Innocence, their first short film.

No, I thought. Quite apart from the fact that I'm reconsidering my acting career, I'm up to my eyes with a situation that has arisen with Californian Lives (of which more next week) and don't have time to take on new commitments. On the other hand, I like what their work. I like the script. I could change my mind if they could film it in a day... And pay me...

Well, yes, the reply came, they could. And they could. So why don't I drop down to Drink, Shop & Do in King's Cross and talk to them. Which I did. And over a Jack Daniel's, tea and an unidentified cocktail, we discussed character and script and locations and came to the conclusion that this was a part I wanted to do and they wanted me for. Filming is scheduled for next Thursday. And no, I can't tell you what it's about, except that it's the portrait of a solitary man . . .

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Coming to Life

Here's the trailer for Californian Lives. It gives a good idea of what the production is about and how good the acting is. The players involved (regrettably uncredited) are Barry Clarke (the man on the left), Robin Holden (the man in the centre) and Carolyn Lyster (yes, you've guessed it; she's the woman). Director of the theatrical production is Emma King-Farlow. Want to see the play? Click on the relevant links to the theatre or

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Buy One, Get None Free!

Booking is now open for the re-run of Clouds of Grey, this time as part of the opening season of the new Park90 Theatre in north London. Get tickets here.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Thinking Before I Act: III

As I was saying in my last post . . . What is the reward I get from acting and is it worth the effort I put into it?

At the back of my mind when I first went to drama school two years ago was the question: if I’m any good at this, will I make some money out of it? I knew that most actors spend their time not acting and very few earn a decent living from it. I wouldn't expect a five-figure income, but £5,000 a year would be a respectable amount to declare to the Inland Revenue.

Of course I haven’t made £5,000 in the last 15 months. I haven’t even made £1,000. Adding up all the rehearsals and performances, plus time at home learning lines, I reckon I spent the equivalent of 60 - 75 full-time days and earned about £600. Which works out at £8 - £10 a day. Which means, if future income reflects past performance, that there’s no prospect of my breaking the £5,000 barrier, far less £50,000, in the foreseeable future.

So I'm not making the moulah. Does that matter if the emotional reward from acting is the equivalent of gold?  That depends on what the emotional reward is. Yes, it's nice when I get a good review or a member of the audience comes up unsolicited and tells me how good I was. But having reached the point in life where I accept who I am and don't care much what others think of me, I'm not in the acting game because I need a boost to my self-confidence.

How about exhibitionism? I may not want the world’s approval, but I do I want its attention? There’s probably more truth in that line of enquiry. I’m not primarily an exhibitionist and I don't spend my life calling out, metaphorically or literally, Look at me! Look at me! but when I have something to say that I consider important, then yes, I want you and your neighbour and the woman on the Clapham Omnibus and everyone else to pay attention and then to go away thinking “my goodness, he’s right; I never thought of it that way, but that Martin Foreman has certainly impressed me. I must change my viewpoint immediately”. Except I don’t need to appear on stage or screen to fulfil that particular need; I can continue to entertain and inform (or bore and annoy) people through the articles, stories and plays I write.

Which brings me back to the point that the primary emotional reward I get from appearing in front of an audience or on screen is enjoyment mixed with pride. And the conclusion I draw is that it is a fine balance between the days and weeks of tedium and irritation of preparation (line-learning, rehearsing, sitting while others rehearse) on the one hand and, on the other hand, the minutes and hours of enjoyment and pride that acting has given me.

So, will I continue to act? I have one more commitment - Clouds of Grey - in May, which I am very much looking forward to; after that, nothing. But as long as I have that production in my diary and Californian Lives to promote, I'm not even going to consider acting or voiceovers. Whether or not I audition again is a decision I have yet to make - and if Californian Lives at the King's Head makes me a fortune, then the  decision may be made for me . . .

Monday, 11 March 2013

Change of Date

The re-run of Clouds of Grey at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park has been postponed until 9th and 10th May. Good news that we have an extra day. Come and see us.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Thinking Before I Act: II

Continued from Part I . . .

So why, I wonder, am I acting if it brings me more discomfort than pleasure? Shouldn’t I think before I act, before I make the decision to act?

Which brings me back to why I started acting in the first place. I moved back to the UK after my last stint of living abroad, in 2008. I needed an income, but not desperately, and started selling rare books online. It was pleasant staying at home listening to the radio, drifting between Radios 3, 4 and 7-which-became-4-Extra. When I had to think there would be classical music in the background; when I didn’t have to think there would be comedy or drama. I have always liked the pictures on radio – the opportunity that actors have to create characters with their voice.

I have a good voice, clear and pleasant, I told myself; I can mould it into various accents and comedy characters, so why shouldn't I earn a little extra income on the airwaves as a radio actor? I would surely enjoy it and it would supplement my income. Of course I couldn’t walk into the BBC or any production company that produced radio drama and expect to be given a part. First I would have to prove – to the world at large and to myself – that I could act. So off to drama school (part-time, short-term) I went, and there I discovered both that I had some talent and that I enjoyed performing.

From there I got carried away by the flow. You go to drama school, full- or part-time, then you start auditioning and look for an agent and you keep auditioning and you keep looking and you take whatever you’re offered and you suffer setback after setback and go on auditioning and seeking an agent and getting rejected again and again year after year until you either find an agent and regular work or you give up the whole idea of appearing on stage or screen. You don’t think. You just do.

Which is what I did. I had promised myself that I would spend a year acting, and if at the end of that year I had neither been paid nor found an agent, I would give up the idea. The year passed (last July, to be precise) and I had been paid and I had had interest from agents but no commitment. At that point I didn’t actively make a decision to keep acting, but just kept putting myself up for audition. I even found an agent almost by default and so I continued to call myself an actor, even in the dry months at the end of last year when no-one wanted me and contact with my agent was erratic (so erratic that he and I have since parted company).

Now the break enforced by promoting Californian Lives and, in July, Tadzio Speaks is my making me reconsider my commitment to acting. I have one more appearance – as Steven Marks in Clouds of Grey – in April, but I will not be auditioning or seeking an agent until May at the earliest. And it may be that I decide that it was fun while it lasted, but I won't carry on.

What it all comes down to, of course, is dedication. I could be an actor – stage, screen or radio – if I were determined enough, if the focus of my day from morning until early evening were finding work, making contacts, attending class, in short doing everything possible to get a part. But that kind of dedication requires a lack of interest in other activities, and my problem, from the perspective of acting, is that I enjoy the bookselling and I like the fact I am producing monologues that I have written and I have the idea for a full-scale play that I want to write when the current productions are out of the way. All these activities prevent me from making acting my priority.

Which means that if I am to continue acting, I will have to decide whether I am willing to put the total effort into it – on the one hand finding work, on the other hand the frustration and discomfort that goes with any production – that will bring about the reward it offers.

That’s one question I have yet to answer, but before I do, there is another question I need to ask. What exactly is this reward and is it worth the effort I put into finding it?

To be continued . . .

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Thinking Before I Act: I

Remember Clouds of Grey - the loud, violent thriller at the Moors Bar Theatre a month ago where I appeared as violent gangster / drug-dealer Steve Marks? Almost every night I came off the stage and mingled with the audience (I had to - if only to reach the accent), one or more spectators came up to me and said I was fantastic, truly frightening. As my character says "At the end of the I go home well satisfied, knowing I've made a difference. What's not to love?" A great feeling. Adrenalin high. Ego boosted. What's not to love?

Wind back a couple of weeks. I'm on stage practising a fight scene. I'm not happy. Just as I think my partner and I have got the moves right, the director, other cast members and crew complain that it's not realistic enough. We're going through the motions and it looks fake. I am not the psychopathic murderous bastard that I'm supposed to be. While my character may come across as a cuddly bear, I - actor Martin Foreman - am in a foul mood. I've had enough of this production and I want to chuck it in. But of course I have to be professional. I have to stay. A new fight scene is choreographed. I don't think it's an improvement, but what do I know or care? Let's get it over with. Let me get home.

Rehearsal days come and go. We're in a confined space with music blaring out at eardrum-destructive levels.  I don't complain. Everyone in the team except me and one other cast member is under 30. This is their show. This is how they relax. On the other hand, it's making me tense. I just want to lock myself away somewhere quiet until I'm needed, then come out and do my thing and go home. But I can't. For this play to work, I have to be part of the team. I have to socialise. Luckily there is not one person around me who is unlikeable. They may have different personality traits and skill levels, but we all get on together - much better than any other acting team I've been in. Which means that only person I can complain about it me, myself, moi.

Dress and tech rehearsals come and go. I have had a tension headache for days. I'm aware of a dull pain in the chest that I am sure is stress-related. I am desperate for this show to come and go, so that I can get back my life and relax again. I remind myself that I have, for better or for worse, put myself through this situation several times before. In the early performances of The Lower Depths, my heart would continuously thump fast and loud before I stepped onto the stage. I only appeared briefly in two scenes of  As You Like It but I felt stupid and out of my depth. And in several of the short films I have made I have worried that I was acting a fool instead of acting a part.

So why, I wonder, am I acting at all? If I have to spend weeks in a foul temper for the sake of forty minutes of pleasure, what am I doing here? What is the point? Shouldn't I think before I act - think before I take the decision to act?

To be continued...