Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Know Your Audience

“Oh, crap. My phone has run out of battery. Never mind, I don’t need my phone for the next few hours because I’m about to watch a play and be entertained by people.”

That’s what this fool should’ve thought the other day as he went into a Broadway play. Alas, he didn’t. Instead, he joined the legions of appalling audience members that continue to plague actors.

Ok, ok. That sounds a bit harsh. Now, don’t get me wrong. Actors would be lost without an audience. Without them, we’d just be prancing around for the hell of it. That’s not performing, that’s just a Wednesday night in your bedroom. And you can’t put that on your CV. Believe me, I’ve tried.

But I can pretty safely say that all actors have an audience horror story. From the late Richard Griffiths ordering a woman out of the auditorium because her phone went off to to Patti Lupone stopping mid-performance to yell at an audience member for taking photos (something which, rather ironically, was audio-recorded and uploaded here…)

Then there are the stories of couples having sex in auditoriums. And, of course. Who doesn’t get turned on by a good proscenium arch and a cracking safety curtain?

So what is wrong with audiences? Is it that we now watch too much TV and are so used to shuffling and eating and chattering through a whole box set? Are we all so ridiculously important that even a couple of hours in a theatre can’t do without us blustering about? And heaven knows, theatre is trying to keep up. Tweeting seats, immersive productions and even online streaming of productions so you can still prat about at home without worrying that your decision to eat a whole family bag of Doritos is putting off the actors. And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe audience members just don’t know the line anymore? Sometimes they're being expected to get up and be involved and other times they're expected to sit still for hours on end in stony silence. 

The optimistic actor in me (that’s the one that applies for acting jobs and puts ‘running’ as a skill on my CV…) likes to think that it’s because the audience become so engrossed in our performance. Your parading on stage as a demonic horse (yep, I’ve played that role) is so mesmerising that they forget they sound like a horse eating a multipack of Hula Hoops. I want to believe that, I really do. But I’ve been performing while a man sighed so heavily that I nearly blew off stage so, sorry optimistic actor, I think you’re wrong.

So is it audiences being rude or, as actors, do we need to stop being so precious? Historically, theatre audiences were far more boisterous. I’m sure Nell Gwynne was up against far more than someone’s phone going off or a quick fumble in the front row. As actors, do we need to just get on with it? Or should an audience member's rudeness be addressed for all to see? Like being asked by your teacher to share your little joke with the past, is it right to call these things out? Do we owe the rest of the audience a flawless performance or, actually, do they love being part of this confrontation? 

But going back to our man in Broadway...y'know, sometimes we need our phones in the theatre. What if we can’t afford the programme but we need to know what we’ve seen whatshername in before. Have you tried concentrating on Coriolanus while you try and why you work out thingy carrying the stick? And what about those terrible plays? No, you don’t need a phone because you’re going to be that guy, sat in the back row with your face lit up like a Glo Worm toy. But, dammit, watches are stupidly hard to see in the dark. Just a quick sneak to see what….OH GOD, HOW HAS ONLY 20 MINUTES PASSED?

So, here are a few little rules…

1.)  Leave that bag of Salt & Vinegar McCoys at home
2.) If step 1 is too difficult then learn the valuable art of sucking crisps.
3.) Check your phone is on silent
4.) If step 3 is too difficult then cut all ties with your friends and family before heading out
5.) Remember the set is not for you. Actors don’t just randomly walk into your places of work to use your things, so don’t do the same to us.
6.) If step 5 is too difficult then I think being outside might be more your thing.  

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Have you thought about...?

As actors, we're all used to hearing a few very familiar phrases. So, with a little help from Orange Is The New Black, here's a handful of them... (Warning: this may contain spoilers. Seriously though, you should've watched it all by now.)

"So when are we going to see you in EastEnders?"

"I can't pay you, but..."

"Been in anything I might've seen?"

"Have you tried writing to Downton Abbey?"

"I have a friend who's an actor."

"Why don't you get yourself a better agent?"

"Is your agent like the one in Friends/Extras?"

"So what sort of acting do you do?"

"Have you thought about doing acting as a hobby instead?"

"So when are you going to get yourself a proper job?"

Saturday, 4 July 2015

From Hero to Zero

Acting is a fickle friend, at best. Stand-offish, cruel and with very little regard for your best interests, acting is the friend that you don’t hear from in months and then calls you drunkenly at 2am, expecting you to drop everything to go and pick it up. And so, for my day to day needs, I have a zero hours job as well.

Now, in theory, I’m dead against zero hours work. They offer works very little security and are often low paid. In fact, acting is probably one of the worst zero hours jobs out there. So, for some ridiculous reason, I took on another. But the problem is that, as much as I disagree with zero hours work, it’s well handy for actors. Flexible, low-commitment and the ability to drop it quicker than the agent of an actress who dares call out sexism in the industry.

So I joined the other million people in the UK and took on a zero hours job last year. And at first it was great. I got all the work I could possibly need. I was, tirelessly, working 50 hour weeks because my acting career had apparently decided to go on one of its regular sabbaticals. But, just like an acting job, you know it’s eventually going to come to an end. And it did. Very suddenly. A few weeks ago, my day job joined my acting job and now they’re both off having some grand time on a hot sunny beach somewhere. Probably. I keep telling my rent he should go and join them. Trust me to pick a rent with a fear of flying.

As Oscar Wilde nearly said, “To lose one job may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”

But that’s the problem with a day job. You focus so much time on making money (and probably having to claw back money from the last period of carelessness) that you take your eye off the acting job. And believe me, as soon as you let acting get out of your sight, it will be off like the awful friend that it is, looking to see who will look after it next. And all the lost posters and rewards in the world won't get it back. It'll come back when it's good and ready, drunkenly at 2am...

Of course (and I have to say this because I think my bank balance might be listening) it’ll all be fine in the end. I know this because, like all owners of an acting career, I have hope. Hope and a pair of comfy pyjamas.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Lesson The Pain

I realised this morning that, give or take a couple of weeks, I graduated from drama school exactly 9 years ago. Bloody hell. Gnarls Barkley was at number one with Crazy. We’d only seen 2 series of The Apprentice. The best mix up on TV had just happened when Guy Coma ended up accidently on BBC News. And, like it knew there were a whole new bunch of actors in need of procrastination, Twitter arrived…

But, after a few hours of dicking about on Twitter, it got me to thinking about the lessons I’ve learnt in those 9 years. There are fair few supposedly wise words that I’ve kicked to the curb; chiefly that a pair of character shoes and a character skirt are a wise investment. I can only assume drama schools suggest buying these so you can own something that gathers more dust than your acting career.

However, a fair few have stuck and, because I’ve got a spare hour and blogging time is scarce these days, I thought I’d share them with you.

Lesson 1: KKK

Now, when we were told at drama school that we should consider the KKK when looking at potential jobs, I was shocked to say the least. I know the industry is rather in favour of white actors but, really? They went on to explain that when you’re faced with a job offer (it took a while longer to learn what one of those was, sadly) you should consider the 3 Ks:

Kash (hey, we weren’t at drama school for our excellent spelling anyway…)

I must say, I dismissed this at first. When you graduate and you stare into the awful void that you thought would be your glittering career, you, sometimes foolishly, take on whatever job you can get your hands on. But it’s wonderful for those jobs you’re just not sure about. So, when in doubt, see if you can get at least 2 of the 3 Ks covered. And it kinda works. Of course, you can never be entirely sure and we’ve all had those jobs that we thought would be fun but ended up being an utter nightmare (hello eating dried apricots on a riverbank at 2am…) but it’s a handy little technique for those of us who are a little less decisive than we’d like to be.

Lesson 2: We all have our own career path

This was a tough one to learn. You spend your 3rd year determinedly planning your career. You’ll do a spot of TiE first because, y’know, that’s totally the done thing. Then you’ll do a bit of fringe theatre, a few short independent films…and oh, that’s what I did do. However, that’s when it all starts to fall apart. I thought I’d then do some TV, maybe a major advert and then, obviously, Hollywood would be ready for me and I’d be sorted.


Now, that totally happened for some people in my year. Others got the massive film job instantly and haven’t stopped working since. Others got a TV job immediately and then never worked again. Others gave up the second they graduated and I now get to log into Facebook and look at the houses they own and the holidays they go on. But the majority of us just toddle along our own little road. Sometimes we’re striding along looking fabulous, sometimes we’re stumbling around drunkenly and other times we’re sleeping at the side of the road while surrounded by biscuit crumbs and cups of tea. At some points our paths will cross and at other times it’ll take us out somewhere horribly remote. But I now find having my own path rather comforting. Yeah, maybe I don’t look after mine as well as I should. I’m sure others get more money for the upkeep and others are more resourceful but I like mine just the way it is, potholes and all. Which takes me on to my next lesson…

Lesson 3: Don’t compare yourself to others

This has been the toughest one of all to learn. It seems straightforward but, believe me, it’s bloody hard to not compare yourself to others when you’re sat on the sofa, you’re wearing your oldest pyjamas, you’re picking crisp crumbs out of your hair and you look up to see one of your drama school mates looking a bazillion dollars on TV.

If we didn’t compare ourselves to others then we wouldn’t be human. I don’t care how sorted you say you are, if you say you don’t sometimes look at someone else’s career and then look at your barren CV on your barely functioning laptop and wonder where the hell you went wrong, then you’re a liar.

The point is that, when you see someone else doing fabulously, you don’t beat yourself up over it. Yeah they’re on TV playing a part that you’d kill for but have they ever got to pretend to be an electric toothbrush in a church hall in Derby? Sure they’ve been listed in that ‘Ones To Watch’ article but have they discovered that Papa John’s Special Garlic sauce makes the filthiest, most glorious topping for macaroni cheese? See? You’re doing just fine. You might want to get your cholesterol checked out but, seriously, YOU’RE FINE.

So there we go. 9 years and 3 lessons later and here I am. Sat indoors on a sunny Saturday afternoon wondering where the next acting job is coming from. But I have biscuits in the kitchen, tea on the go, Netflix on the telly and a pair of pyjamas that will last longer than any of the acting careers of my peers so, y’know, my path ain’t looking too bad right now…

Sunday, 26 April 2015

I Got 5 On It

When it comes to auditions, I’m the Queen of Screwing Up. I’ve fluffed more lines than a hungover actor on opening night. I’ve managed to nearly take out a casting director by over-zealously sitting on an office chair. I’ve managed to misinterpret instructions to the point that I’ve ended up putting everything in the room into a massive pile. I’ve turned up to a 3 hour movement workshop in the tightest jeans known to man. I’ve had an eye infection for a casting for an advert where only my eyes would be visible.  But this week’s faux pas might just be the worst…

It was a recall for an advert. I’ll be honest, I’d bloody love it. I remember when we were at drama school, it was the done thing to say that you’d never do a commercial. Everyone considered themselves above such things. Yep, we’re all above earning a few thousand quid for a day’s work. How I long to go back to a time when we all thought we were superior to bill payers.

So, yes. I kinda wanted this. I’ve booked a holiday and it’d be really nice to be able to afford to sleep in something other than a tent made out of my silly idea that I can actually afford to leave the country.

I’m currently on a pencil. For those of you who have jobs that don’t involve moping around hoping someone will cast you to play a tree, a pencil is the pain in every actor’s life. Sometimes, if you’re really lucky, you’ll be a heavy pencil. A heavy pencil is really only something interesting to actors, stationery shop owners and staff at The Pencil Museum. I was told to pencil a total of 6 different dates, one of which was in the past. I really hope that’s the first test for when they’re casting the new Doctor Who… But anyway, I jumped through a number of hoops until I found myself in the ridiculous position of being pencilled for a recall that might not be happening. It’s this kind of precarious shit they should be teaching in drama schools, not how to be a bloody llama.

Finally, my recall was confirmed. Hooray.

It was going to be in arse-end of London. Boo.

I turned up to the venue and it was at one of the numerous audition venues in London which is a myriad of identical rooms that are attached to identical corridors. I was vaguely pointed in the right direction and was then left to my own devices. I’d been given the name of the room and had been directed to a corridor with three rooms, none of which were labelled. Which one to go with…

Room one contained 8 dancing men.

Room two contained about 20 ballerinas.

Room three contained 2 men breakdancing while wearing roller skates.

Oh, right. I’m not at a recall at all. I’m at my own worst nightmare where I must face up to my total inadequacies as a performer. Good-o.

I fannyed around, wondering where on earth I was meant to be. A head then poked from out of the Starlight Express meets Flashdance room.

“Are you here for the recall?”

Oh god. Why has a room where there is roller skating happening got anything to do with me?

“Don’t worry we’re sharing the room.”

With relief, I start waffling on. I make some bad jokes. I keep talking. I then find out that I’ve managed to bleat on over the skaters’ recording.


Once they’ve done whizzing around and making me feel like heffalump, it’s my turn, thankfully sans skates. I do my bit to camera. All good. Feeling optimistic.

I have a chat to the casting director, who’s lovely, she puts her hand up and, in my relief at not having to skate, on finding out that the casting director is nice, in getting through an audition without nearly killing someone, I high-five her.

I then hand over the script and go on my merry way.

I feel confident. Heck, I might just get this job.

I’m stood on the train platform feeling pretty bloody good about myse-


She didn’t want a high-five. She put out her hand to take the script back off me.


I’m now that person. So bloody cocky that I high-five casting directors after an audition. I might as well have waited for the other actors to arrive, cocked my leg and marked my territory around the whole production.

So that’s another casting down the drain. Surely that’s worth a high-five?

Sunday, 8 March 2015

All We Want

Actor. Actress. It does not matter. Whatever you want to call us. Thespian. Performer. Pain in the arse. Finder of free bars. Populator of call centres and front of houses. Pyjama wearer. Rester. You name it, we probably answer to it. In fact, that’s our job. To answer to your latest whim. You create the character, and we become it.

We’ll play heroes, villains, innocent bystanders who get caught in the crossfire. We play mothers, fathers, children and, heck, we’ll even play their pets if we’re desperate enough. We’ll play people who once existed and we’ll play imaginary beings who could never live. Whatever you ask of us, we’ll often do with very little question. You never know, if you’re lucky, we might not even ask if you’ll pay us.

But what we do ask, is that you allow us to be equal. Regardless of our gender, our race, our sexual orientation, our age and our ability, we just ask that you keep us equal. Please, kill your stereotypes. Women do not need to fulfil a teenage boy’s fantasy that, because it has remained unfulfilled into middle-aged manhood, has to be created on screen. Regardless of what you may think, we can wear clothes and we can speak and we can be older than 22.

That part you’ve just written. Does it need to be a white, able-bodied straight man? Does it really? Go outside for a few minutes. Yes, of course, those men are out there. But, thank Christ, there are a whole lot of other people out there too. People who deserve to be represented. People who watch things and want to see people like them on screen. People who don’t identify with men who went to Eton.  

We all want to play everything. Let us be your lead role. Give us a character that extends beyond our breasts. Allow us the chance to be remembered for something other than looking great in a bikini. We’re not here to eradicate men from the picture. The rest of us just want the same opportunities. The same chances to match the fact that we’re all doing the same job.

We’re not all the same. We’re gloriously different. Each one of us brings wonderfully different things along with us. We just want the chance to show the world what we can do.

We’ve been expected to play bit-part tokens for too long.


That’s all.

That’s fair.