Sunday, 15 April 2012

University Challenge

I have always harboured a secret desire to be an Oxbridge university student.

If my A-Level English tutor is reading this I expect him to scoff and wonder why I fought so vigorously against his advice in 1999 and headed straight to drama school instead.  Well I was blinded by dance routines and showstopping ballads Mr Long!  But I now see, with the luxury of hindsight, that you were right as I find it increasingly hard to apply for Journalism jobs without those precious qualifications.

But back to my University aspirations; I have to admit that they are not purely intellectual.  I am a romantic at heart, seduced by sunshine and such idylls (it drives my “down to earth” boyfriend nuts!) so it is the lifestyle surrounding the Oxford and Cambridge universities for which I yearn.  Not 2-4-1 vodka redbulls in a local Wetherspoons or rallies about world peace but I dream of cycling around a beautiful city on a bike with a basket full of intelligent literature wearing a blazer and brogues!  Just like an extra in the Inspector Morse TV series!

And this week a small part of my dream came true as Avenue Q descended on The Arts Theatre in Cambridge.  The first thing I did was hire a bicycle; pedalling between my digs (a gorgeous family home with homemade bread and granola – oh yes!) and the theatre and using it to explore the stunning city.  My fellow company members nicknamed me “Granny Danny” as they watched me wobble off after the show but did anyone else discover Granchester Meadows where Lord Byron once roamed before diving into what is now known as Byron’s Pool across the fields?  No, I think not!  But this is coming from a lady who asked for National Trust membership for my 30th and is happily old before my time!

My hire bike was fairly basic so I did suffer from a bruised backside for a week but it was worth it to indulge my lost dreams.

As for work; the theatre was lovely but teeny tiny.  All our dressing rooms were underground and opened into a green room communal area; it was like being in the Big Brother house.  With a lack of oxygen and natural light we microwaved our dinners and slowly went delirious in our own company.  As the wing-space backstage was so tight our crew ended up taping huge pieces of foam onto the walls because we had a habit of exiting the stage and running straight into them in our haste– a step closer to proving my point that a touring lifestyle is akin to an asylum.  Padded walls, no natural light and the same 20 people day in and day out (I have even had electric shocks via my acupuncture from the physio, remember? See my blog “where did those balls fall.”) - all we are missing are strait-jackets. Talk about a university town challenge.

But I am not one to bite the hand that feeds me, without this tour I wouldn’t be experiencing all these parts of the UK and getting to pretend I am a Cambridge undergraduate!  We’re in Oxford in two weeks and I’m taking my own bike complete with basket– a Masters Degree here I come!

Monday, 9 April 2012

Actress meets Journalist - who's side am I on?

When you attempt two careers it is often to compliment differing sides of your personality and you may expect, as Kipling said, “east is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet.”  This could be true if you are an aspiring fashion designer and plumber but being an actress and journalist, well these twains certainly do met, just ask any witness at the ongoing Leveson Inquiries! 

But back down to my level of celebrity, (e.g., recognised in my local pub because I always order the exact same dish from the takeaway....oh the shame!) as I am currently being actress during the week, I have encountered many journalists interviewing me just as I have grilled actors in the past with my journalistic hat on.

I have decided it is much harder to be on the actress side.  Yes, a journalist has to research their interviewee, find an angle, create questions and be engaging as you attempt to keep your subject away from Draw Something on their iPhones but you do get the excitement of writing the article.  As the subject, it is often your fifth interview of the day promoting the same product and you find yourself saying the same stock phrases and wondering when someone will bring you a glass of water before you keel over.

You also have to navigate a minefield of questions whilst keeping your professional face on.  I am still fairly new at this and often fall foul of myself as I become relaxed and chat away (or maybe that’s a sign of a good journalist who has allured me into this state of relaxation in order for me to slip up? I should take note!)

As an actress in my early 20s I made some rookie mistakes; I stupidly let slip the address of the radio DJ interviewing me because I’d seen him in my street, whoops!  And I brazenly cited my negative views on reality TV stars and “Find a Maria” programmes during an early morning phone interview but I am ashamed to say I may have still been drunk from the night before.  Ah well, the call never came from Lord Lloyd Webber demanding I retract that statement if I ever want to work in the West End again so it can’t have been that bad!

I need to learn from my man who is fantastic with the press; you see his professional face and smile come on but he doesn’t appear fake or uninterested.  His easy-going chat punctuates what I’ve come to realise are his stock phrases and stories, disguising the fact that he’s said it all before.  It is a real art and I admire him for it because it is exhausting!

On the Avenue Q tour we are currently doing press calls for each new venue.  TV, radio and newspapers; all with puppets and whilst doing 8 shows in 5 days, no wonder we all look shattered and need to be surgically detached from Trekkie Monster and Lucy The Slut.  But we need to sell tickets because performing to 6 nuns and a Yorkshire terrier on a Wednesday matinee is soul destroying!  So “Hi Ho Hi Ho it’s off to press calls we go.......”

These press calls differ from normal interviews because the press mainly want to meet the puppet characters, therefore we are required to do voices and manipulate the puppets.  Journalists often don’t know who to look at and have put microphones under the puppets mouths only to later wonder why the sound quality isn’t great!  One journalist couldn’t have been less interested; he prefaced the interview with the request to be funny and witty to match his usual content and then asked us to list the songs in the show.  Bearing in mind we were on a breakfast show before the watershed, the songs we could list in Avenue Q were limited so it was a rather dull answer!

Maybe working on both sides of the net should make me more mutually empathetic.  I should aim to create more exciting questions as a writer for tiresome actors and try to appreciate the journalists struggle instead of raising my eyes at the thirteenth same question of the day!  Although, as I sit 30 minutes into an interview with stabbing pains in my shoulder and a burning thumb joint trying to make witty puppet banter, I have to be honest and admit I am currently on the side of my actress self!

See the link below for examples of my learning curve in the interviewee business.