Thursday, 30 October 2014

Just Say No! A new campaign to get answers for actors

There is a new Twitter campaign asking that actors be given a ‘NO’ from casting directors/directors if they have been recalled for a job but aren’t going to be taken any further in the casting progress. Give Us A No @giveusano believes an actor has the right to find out about a recall audition as a working professional.

Is this fair? Do actors have rights? Should we be allowed to get closure from a round of auditions so that we can focus on a new project? Or are we being too emotionally needy and demanding too much?

Closure is quite the buzzword these days – we can’t get over an ex or move on from a situation until we find this elusive ‘closure.’ Closure is defined as
an individual's desire for a firm answer to a question and an aversion toward ambiguity. 
How can we move through our day with a grey cloud of uncertainty about the ‘cast change for Cats’ looming murkily above us?

Let me describe a standard audition process; you have a first round (this can be through an agent or an open call where people queue up for hours around a theatre) There are so many auditionees at a first round that you only expect to hear anything if you are going to be recalled. This seems fair enough, it’s part and parcel of the lottery process. Recalls can be anything from 1 more round to infinity. One musical theatre actor had 8 recalls for Dirty Dancing only to not get the gig. Ouch.

Being recalled means you invest time and money into the process. Not to mention you start to plan your life should you actually get the job. (Yes, this is ridiculous, but actors cling on to any type of dream) There is the time taken to learn audition material and time to be taken off from your day to day work. There is the cost of potentially meeting a pianist to run through new show material, the cost of printing off a whole to script that’s been emailed to you and the cost of your Travelcard when you’re required to be at an early morning call. All of this up to 8 times.

Stop moaning precious actors, this is part of your job. We can put our train tickets through our tax etc but in America some actors are paid for the audition process. Because, as I said, it is part of our job. Are we asking too much when we already get to do our hobby for a living? Should we just be grateful to be seen at all?

When I first started out (11 years ago) I was always given an answer either way from my agent. Whether it was a first round or a final, I always had some kind of feedback and answer. It meant I found out what I could improve or just to stop waiting to see my agent’s name flash up on my mobile screen. I once had the (ill-thought) balls to phone David Grindrod in person and ask why I wasn’t getting an audition for The Woman in White. I was 21, out of work for the first time since Mamma Mia and naively thought that seeing he had just cast me, he would obviously love to chat to the little blonde ensemble girl! So I rang him and asked why? He asked ‘Well, can you sing a top C?’ I said, ‘No,’ ‘There you go then,’ was his answer. Very foolish, but at least I had an answer. I had closure. (And maybe a big blotch on my copy book at Grindrod towers!)

Is that what they're worried about? We can take it.

Now, you have to ask. This isn’t the fault of the agents because they don’t know either. Is too many of us or too little time? We know that the industry is saturated with people so maybe it takes too long to phone 100’s of individual agents. Maybe there aren’t enough people in the casting offices to do that. But isn’t that why we email everything now, to save time? Wouldn’t a quick cut n’ pasted courtesy email be enough to show an actor some courtesy? I think so, it doesn’t take much to make us happy. Even a What’sApp message would suffice.

The rise of social media plays a huge part in this debate. Perhaps the casting teams don’t have time to answer everyone before news is leaked online. “Amazing news guys.....sworn to secrecy, wish I could tell but I might be climbing a barricade soon, wink, wink!” you know the type of irritating tweets I mean! Cast lists are posted via theatre sites in seconds. I auditioned for a job recently and was politely waiting to hear 24 hours later, only to find on my early morning Twitter scrawl that the cast list had been announced. My name wasn’t on it so I could only presume I wouldn’t be doing it! Life is too fast-paced for old-fashioned manners.

Some actors get put ‘on hold’ for a job, or ‘pencilled in’ for an advert. This means they like you, potentially want you but are waiting for someone else to turn it down etc before you actually get offered it. It’s a little dangling carrot of hope that you live off from for days, weeks, months.....uh oh they just had an opening night so I’m guessing I’m not still ‘in the mix???’ A friend of mine is still ‘on hold’ for Wicked. It’s been 2 years now!

Humans don’t seem to be very good at cutting to the chase; we fanny about not wanting to hurt people’s feelings when the waiting actually hurts more. Maybe we should get casting teams to play the ‘yes-no’ game we played as kids......
Me - “You can only say yes or no.....did I do a good enough dance to get through? 
Them ‘ “Well, you could fit into the mix but, ummm....” 
Me -“No waffling please, stick to the rules of the game.” 
Them - “Ok, no.” 
Me - “Thanks, I can now get on with my life.”

As proven in ‘Mamma Mia’ ‘dot-dot-dots’ only lead to confusion, mistrust and frantic dance numbers. We like a firm full-stop so that we can start a clean new paragraph. Is that too much to ask?

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Can You Be More Specific? New spaces for theatre

The phrase 'site-specific theatre' may conjure up images of dodgy drama students attempting Greek tragedies on the high street or sitting in a freezing cold warehouse. 

But it seems to me that it may be enjoying a new lease of life this year.
I recently saw my boyfriend in a site specific production of a play in Oldham and read the press release yesterday for a new production of Sweeney Todd in London. So is this a new trend? Are audiences sick of sitting in a theatre with their £1 red binoculars and instead looking for something more stimulating?

So what is site specific? Let’s ask trusty Wikipedia.....
Site-specific theatre is any type of theatrical production designed to be performed at a unique, specially adapted location other than a standard theatre. This specific site either may be originally built without any intention of serving theatrical purposes (for example, in a hotel, courtyard, or converted building), or may simply be considered an unconventional theatre space (for example, in a forest).
When the location is meant to imitate, or is itself, the setting of the theatrical story (as is common with site-specific theatre), the performance may also then be called environmental theatre. Site-specific theatre is commonly more interactive than conventional theatre and, with the expectation of audience members predominantly to walk or move about (rather than sit), may be called promenade theatre.

We are used to seeing productions of Shakespeare plays in castle grounds or forests, these environments definitely enhance the theatrical experience or maybe we’re just enjoying the Prosecco on our picnic blankets too much. It certainly is a great way to spend a summers evening.

We saw Tennesee Williams’ The Hotel Plays performed at The Langham Hotel in London earlier this year and the new critically acclaimed ‘Here Lies Love’ at The National Theatre has audience members following the action around and dancing along!

Sweeney Todd from 21st October - 29th November
This new production of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd is being performed in a barber’s shop in East London and then moving the audience to London’s oldest pie shop. My lovely drama school friend Chiara is performing it in and I cannot wait to see it. The producer Rachel Edwards said “The shop is steeped in history and character - and as a producer of site-specific theatre, I instinctively knew this was the ideal venue for Sweeney, it was a great relief that Harrington's thought so too.”

So why are we craving a more interactive audience experience? People need to be constantly engaged these days, a result of numerous devices stimulating our consciousness 24/7 so maybe sitting in a chair for 2 hours isn’t enough? Films have become a more vibrant experience with 3D versions so maybe audiences now really want to be part of the action rather than just observing it?

As an audience member you do feel involved in the production. In the recent production of Thick as Thieves in Oldham by Hard Graft Theatre Company, we were sat in the living room of a man’s house that was being burgled by 2 amateur robbers. We were amid the bird cage, TV and all of the action so everyone had their hearts in their mouths when the doorbell rang, as if we were all going to be caught out! The play was actually performed in an old pram shop, the outside noise added to the experience, especially as police sirens went past. Perhaps casting two television actors was a clever move, being highly skilled in close-up acting work and subtle naturalism. I don’t think I would have had the same experience in a standard proscenium theatre, I wouldn’t have seen the reactions as clearly on the actors’ faces and I think it would have lost that ‘fly-on-the-wall’ sense of realism that was so strong in this production.
Steven Arnold as Steph in Thick as Thieves
(I may be biased but he was bloomin' brilliant)

Maybe that’s it! In this world of Big Brother, reality shows and ‘24 hours in this place or other’, we love to have a nose into people’s lives. There is more taboo about seeing a couple having an affair in a real hotel room and I suspect more horror about being in surrounded by cooking smells in a real pie shop having watched Sweeney Todd do his thing in the barber’s shop! The theatrical fourth wall acts as a barrier to observe whereas we seem to want to be ‘right in there’ seeing the juicy drama close up.

Just don’t start tweeting about it mid-show – coz the actors WILL see you!

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Fight for your Rights - passionate works of art reflecting life

I’ve noticed a recent trend in revolutionary inspired culture. A lot of new works of art are about speaking out, fighting for rights or against establishment. Pride the movie has enjoyed great critical success, Made in Dagenham the musical opened this week, United We Stand a new play about the 1972 builders strike in which actor, Ricky Tomlinson was involved.

Is it just a happy coincidence or does this say something about rumblings in life today? The news now tells stories of strikes popping up over the country; tube workers, teachers and this Monday, NHS workers in Bolton will be on a picket line for 4 hours over pay disputes.

I bloody loved Pride the film. I went with my Mum on a quiet Thursday afternoon and left feeling elated and inspired. Not only are the cast sublime (to me, Imelda Staunton can do no wrong) but it is a story that was relatively unknown amongst ‘Joe Public’, how? The battles fought by both the mining and gay communities are humbling as you sit munching a £5 bag of Malteasers. Real prejudice, real poverty and real dangers, all tackled with humour and pathos.

Made in Dagenham was a successful film and I hope that the musical will enjoy the same support. I saw the company performing on Sunday Night at the Palladium, belting out with banners lyrics of repression, frustration and determination. Women fighting to be heard, not an unfamiliar story to many women today across the globe.

Ricky Tomlinson spoke on Radio 4 about the play United We Stand; he collaborated with the writer to tell his story of being jailed as a result of being part of the first national strike in the building industry to beat the government. It is touring the UK this autumn and contains poetry from Tomlinson’s time in jail.
Ricky Tomlinson in the 1972 Builders Strike

I have always admired a drama school friend of mine who would go on anti-war rallies as a student and always sticks to his strong principles - but he was an anomaly in my social group.  In our parents’ generation (or so films like Forrest Gump or Billy Elliot would have us believe) people spoke out a lot more for what they believed in. Things have to become so unbearable that there is no other option than to fight. Do we take too many things sitting down these days? In my industry, actors often shout (well, project and support) when Equity does daft things but they rarely take action for fear of the hoards of younger, cheaper actors queuing up happy to step in and replace us. We have little solidarity in our union sadly because so many are desperate to work at any cost.

But outside of actors’ salaries, what about everyday life in Britain? Russell Brand recently spoke out citing a call for a ‘revolution’; whatever your feelings about this man with big hair and big ideas you can’t help but admire this passionate wordsmith. Maybe life is being to come full circle and we will be forced on to the streets once again as past generations were in the 70s and 80s. I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t seethe at the sight of today’s politicians smarming on our TV screens.

I feel ashamed that I don’t seem to have such passion burning in my belly. I have never marched with a banner or protested for a cause. The nearest I have come to revolution is climbing the barricades every night for 2 years in imaginary 1832 Paris at The Queen’s Theatre. Again, this glorious show celebrated its 29th anniversary this week, proving that audiences love to watch people fighting for what they believe in. That being said, I cannot deny the feeling of fire and puffed up pride an actor feels when marching in that infamous Les Mis ‘V’ formation so I can only imagine what it may have been like for the miners and gay rights activists in the 1985 Pride march.
My 2004 cast including my dynamic drama school friend
(I was there but cut off the left corner!)
Now that I am away from those wonderful barricades the only time that passion forces me to speak out these days is when my boyfriend fails to turn off the bathroom light or safely behind my windscreen as I yell at an inept gym-honed blonde-highlighted drivers of 4x4s in the villages of Surrey.  Hardly a worthy outlet for passion.
“....the purpose of playing, whoseend, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as 'twere themirror up to nature...”Hamlet - Act 3 Sc.2

They say that art reflects life so have we reached a time in our relatively passive society where speaking up is the only answer? Or do we just enjoy watching others do it?