Thursday, 30 May 2013

Many wrongs make a right

Last night four of us from three different culture backgrounds were in the Trafalgar Studios watching the hit comedy The Play That Goes Wrong. We were all impressed. A combination of slapstick (doors opening unexpectedly, actresses being hauled up walls in undignified positions, moving corpses), verbal dexterity (including the first time I've heard "fa├žade" being pronounced rudely), speed, confusion and all the other stereotypes of farce (characters trying desperately to maintain their cool while chaos whirls around them) came together in a perfect storm of laughter.

The play in question is Murder at Haversham Manor, being presented by Cornley Polytechnic Amateur Dramatics (or some such group). There is a corpse, a detective, an aging butler (played, of course, by a young man with white stuff in his hair), a beautiful young woman (played by someone who can't act, in contrast with the others, who can only overact) and several upper-class young men braying appropriately. Plus various stagehands who appear at inappropriate moments. Props get mislaid, ornaments fall off walls, lines get mixed up - and repeated and repeated and repeated - and so on.

Yes, we saw something similar in Noises Off, but Romeo and Juliet isn't the only play to feature young lovers. Plus, it's only an hour long, which is exhausting for the actors who have to repeat it twice a night (and who have to clean their clothes and faces of the various liquids and substances and cosmetics with which they end each performance), but it's just the right length for an audience who need a rest after so much laughing.

On at the Trafalgar Studios till 1st June

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

The Sun Has Set

The final performance of Californian Lives came to an end shortly after nine on Sunday evening. Robin Holden ate his last burger in the Los Feliz diner, John Vernon drained his last drink in the shadow of Ben and Joe's and Carolyn Lyster watched her last Sunset. Half an hour later, cast, director and writer / producer, plus family and friends, were all ensconced in Strada on Upper Street.

We're all justifiably proud of ourselves. We had a great show, with great reviews and truly appreciative audiences. The only fly in the ointment was that the theatre was never full. Part of that was my responsibility; as producer I should have worked harder to get audiences in, but as producer my talents lie far more in organising behind the scenes than in promoting whatever I'm involved in. Yes, I used social media and paid publicity, and yes I paid for a P R person and yes, I lobbied the King's Head to become more involved in promoting a show that was taking place on their premises, but we could all have done more or been more efficient. But that's in the past and I should spend  time now searching for a co-producer whose primary talent is getting out there and promoting whichever production we have to hand.

Will the sun rise again on Californian Lives? We've all told each other what a great show we have and the actors all say that they have only started to get into their characters and they want to bring them to more and bigger audiences. But as always happens at the end of a production, individuals go off on their separate tangents and without confirmed dates - or even with them - other, better, offers may appear - a West End role, a Hollywood part. So that by the time we book another theatre, this or that player may not be available and director Emma King-Farlow has already said that she won't have time to direct a replacement, although she may allow for an assistant director to follow her lead. Which means that the odds of this production being revived are considerably less than one in two.

There I go again, with my native Scottish pessimism. But that won't stop me looking for other venues (we have a half-promise of somewhere later in the year) and even if this production falls apart the show could definitely be resurrected with other actors and other directors and more than once. Watch this space . . .

Friday, 24 May 2013

Last Chance (at the Saloon)

Californian Lives comes to the end of its run this Sunday. Which is why I'm posting this notice. And yes, you can have a drink in the bar of the King's Head before, during and after the show. See you there?

click > > TICKETS STILL AVAILABLE < < click

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Hold My Hand (Partner Wanted)

No, not the romantic kind. I'm already happily domiciled and don't think I could live in a polygamous relationship. (But if you want to change my mind, offers on postcard to . . . )

What I'm looking for is a co-producer. It's clear to me that in Californian Lives and possibly other theatrical pieces that I am working on, that I have a dramatic, and possibly commercial, hit on my hands. The next step should therefore be: take it to a wider audience. Which means finding another venue. Which might mean finance. Which definitely means phone calls and research and meetings and being assertive and bothering people until we persuade them to work with us.

All of which I am constitutionally incapable of doing. I deeply dislike promoting myself or my work. I have this strange belief that if a product is worth something, other people will recognise its value and clamour to get it. If the creator of the product is pushing it, then it's a sign that it's no good. When I do promote myself I get stressed. So I do it badly or not at all.

Which is why we (Arbery Productions - aka my humble self) and Californian Lives are looking for a co-producer. Someone who will front the organisation while I scuttle around the back looking after the accounts and the schedule and in other ways greasing the machine. Someone based in London. Someone who doesn't expect a salary but a percentage of income. Perhaps someone who's new to producing and who wants to get involved in the theatre without risking their own money. If you think you fit the bill or know someone who does, let me know. And no, they don't really have to hold my hand.

Friday, 17 May 2013

By Special Demand Only

Regular readers of this blog (all four of you) will have noted both a change of header and a change of profile. This is no longer Martin Foreman's acting blog; it's my theatrical blog. And as well as removing my age from my profile (you don't really need to know how old I am, do you?), I've de-emphasised the acting part of my activities.

The same regular readers will understand why I have taken this step. It has been clear to me for some time that although I enjoy being on stage or in front of the camera, the pleasure I get from performing has never outweighed the effort and time I (like every other actor) have to put in as part of the preparation - seeking out new roles, preparing for auditions, preparing for rehearsals, waiting around while others are rehearsed or scenes or set etc etc.

If I were getting large amounts of money for my acting, I'd go through the boredom and stress with a smile on my face and a song, albeit off-tune, in my heart and I'd spend considerably more time looking for acting work. But that ain't going to happen. There are plenty of other actors of my build and type, many of whom are better than me, for whom money is a lesser consideration and who are less put off by the preparation to perform.

Which brings me to my second reason for not pursuing acting. I have some skills, but I'm keenly aware that I'm not as good an actor as I would like or could be. I stand in the wrong place, I forget directions, I don't convey the right emotion, I stumble through my lines. Not always; not even often, but enough to make me aware that I am not fulfilling my task. I know I could be a better performer, but that would require investing time and effort and money that I don't really have on what would be a gamble (no guarantee at the end of the process of a leading role in the West End or Hollywood).

In short, I don't have the fire in my belly to make acting the sole or primary interest in my life. Which means that although I will continue to peruse jobs on offer on Casting Call Pro and Spotlight, I will seldom apply for roles. That doesn't mean that my acting career is definitely over - I still get contacted by directors who see my profile and ask me to audition. If there's money in it, I follow the lead. But now my primary interest in the theatre / radio / film concern at the moment is writing and producing and it will be these that I mostly cover in this blog.

What's coming up? The last three days (four performances) of Californian Lives at the King's Head in London - click the link in the column on the right. In July there will be a short run of Tadzio Speaks, of which more shortly. And then my leading role (yes, as an actor) in the short film Innocence, which is currently in post-production. In other words, plenty to be going on with . . .

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

New insights

We're halfway through the run of Californian Lives and last night's performances were the best so far. I'm taking part of that on trust - I was in the foyer for Robin Holden's Los Feliz - but John Vernon's Ben and Joe's and Carolyn Lyster's Sunset were the most impressive I have seen - and I'm convinced I will see better yet.

As reviews and audiences confirm, those who see Californian Lives are almost always captivated by the stories and personalities portrayed, but only I have seen almost every performance and how the actors reveal more and more of their characters. Last night the wryness in Vernon's Man in Bar was stronger, his invisible drinking companions clearer, while the contrasts between young and old, cynics and romantics, the bar and the world outside became almost three dimensional. Similarly with Lyster's grandmother; her emotions have become more vivid as her unseen children come fully alive and her invisible husband inevitably ages.

Of course I claim the credit for creating these characters. But I am thrilled to see depths in each that I had not noticed when I first typed them onto the screen. Not that I necessarily agree with all that I see. Holden's Man in Diner conveys a more unpleasant personality than I would if I were on the stage. But that is fine. Enabled by director Emma King-Farlow, he gives a strong performance which holds the audience's attention from start to finish. He enhances both the text and my enjoyment of it.

Vernon's says that changes in his performance come from complete familiarity with the script. As his mind no longer has to focus on which words or actions come next, he is free to explore nuances in each word, line and action. He has always told his story well - the impact of the arrival of a young stranger on a group of older men - but the professionalism of his early performances has given way to a deepening emotional involvement with each of the characters he describes.

While Vernon has relaxed into his role, Lyster says she remains terrified by hers, although you would not know it. I have never seen her give a poor performance and now she is filling the stage. There must be a disconnect between her conscious mind, seeing every performance as a combat she has to win, and her subconscious, which has fully absorbed her character and which cannot help but depict both her and those around her.

I would like to be more definite and give specific examples, but I can't do so without giving away key elements of the plot. So let me leave it there, with my thanks to all concerned for the new insights and pleasure they have given me.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

It's all in the mind

Reality, that is. In both senses of the word. What's out there is only our interpretation of what's out there. The only thing we can be sure of is what goes on in our own heads. Right?

No, I don't really want to get into a philosophical discussion and anyway my opinion tends towards the opposite view - that there is a reality outside us which we can never fully comprehend. The reality we create inside ourselves has a good chance of being a delusion. Besides, we're usually not very interesting - each of us is little more than a collection of ignorance and prejudices that we disguise as rationality.

I fell into this reflective mood yesterday evening at a performance of Seth Jones' Reality, a two-act play that, like some dramatic TARDIS, has a tendency to drop into a theatre for a couple of performances and then dematerialise again. (Seth, I should point out, gave me the role of Steve Marks in Clouds of Grey, which will likewise exist in a second incarnation for only two nights at the Park 90 theatre next week.) Reality is about a woman whose inner demons and angels manifest themselves on stage. Neurotic, psychopathic, schizophrenic, mentally ill - I'm not sure which, if any, of these epithets apply - she argues with herself, commits violence on her (female) lover and encounters a therapist - not necessarily in that order. The writing is intelligent, the drama holds our attention and there are sizzling performances by all five players (it would be invidious to pick out any, so I won't mention Katharine Beresford, my acting partner in Clouds of Grey) and my attention was held throughout.

But . . .  it wasn't my Reality. I'm lucky, I suppose, in that I have few, if any inner demons (and certainly no interior angels). I get through daily life with the minimum of fuss and my self-doubt is manageable. I'm aware of my faults and have a reasonable opinion of my virtues. And because my interior life is relatively calm and ordered, I have little interest in it, except to occasionally look it over and wipe off any dirt, in the same way as I keep my kitchen reasonably clean.

Which means that other people's struggles with the voices in their head and their difficulties in dealing with the world around them do not engage me emotionally. I'm interested to see the characters on stage, but they do not touch my psyche. I suspect many others will have the same reaction, which means that while Reality will resonate strongly with people whose inner lives range from unsettled to chaotic, no matter how good the writing or the performances, it will not reach as an broad audience that its creator and performers would like.