Thursday, 22 June 2017

On Cloud Line

It’s well known that, as actors, when we meet someone, they’ll almost definitely ask if you’ve been in anything they might’ve seen.  This may come as a surprise to some people but we don’t actually just sit outside your living room window, keeping track of all the programmes you watch, entering it into a central database so we can all cross-reference our CVs with your viewing habits. Once that line of conversation goes nowhere, we’ll go down the, ‘Got any work coming up?’ route, a similarly short and futile pathway to head down. It’s at this point that I’m most often asked what the best acting job is that I’ve ever done.

Now, this is a question I often struggle to answer. Is it the painful months of touring schools playing an 8-year-old? Was it the play that was held in a venue that was so poorly protected from the elements that we went in one day to find actual snow drifts on stage? Was it the summer season that paid so poorly that I was forced to live off tinned soup for a month and the height of luxury was value gin mixed with cheap sparkling water and the tiniest drop of cassis?

Of course, I’ve had some amazing jobs too. I’ve starred in adverts alongside comedy heroes, I’ve put on my own show in Edinburgh and graced the stage with proper legends, I’ve even got to wear an Aldi warehouse jacket, but I realised this morning what the actual best acting role is that I’ve ever played.  It’s none of the jobs I previously mentioned.  It’s not a job that involved loved celebrities or endless supplies of pizza or even my own trailer. It’s not even the job that warranted my own police escort. And, if you’ve read my essay in The Good Immigrant, it wasn’t even the time I got to play Jack Frost. No, it was the time I got a line in the local pantomime.

‘So what did you do in Munchkinland Mr Scarecrow?’

That was it.  I’ve battled for so much more, lamented over a lack of lines and the unfairness of it all.  I’ve dreamt of starring roles and endless heartfelt monologues but nothing has made me happier than that one line.

I remember being taken to one side and being told that I would be getting this line.  For a quiet but confident 8-year-old child, this was quite the responsibility and I treated it as such.  Looking back now, I realise this part wasn’t given to me for any particular acting ability that I had, I was just a sensible girl with a loud voice who could be trusted with such a thing.  If I was told to be somewhere, that’s where I would be.  I’m very much the same now but sadly acting roles don’t seem to be handed out on your scale of dependability.

I treasured that line like I would a tiny kitten.  Those words were precious and demanded my full attention.  I’m embarrassed to say that in my professional career I’ve had thousands of words, acres of dialogue, hours of verse, and I’ve treated none of them with the respect that I held for that one pretty inconsequential phrase.

‘So what did you do in Munchkinland Mr Scarecrow?’

It was a line that probably didn’t even need to exist but I’ve never felt so important.  I remember I got to stand in the wings with the man who played the scarecrow and I basically felt 12 feet tall. I mean, I was a tall child for my age anyway but this made me feel practically Amazonian.

A line.

A precious line.

A line that had been given to me and no one else.

I treated that role like I was Olivier going on at the Globe. I wasn’t being paid, only getting a few snacks in between the matinee and evening performance, but I felt like an A-lister.

That’s the level of pride I want to feel for everything that I do now on. 8-year-old me has set a high standard, but if it was good enough for her then it’s good enough for me a quarter of a century on. If she had been asked if she was up to anything at the moment, she wouldn’t have coyly muttered that she only had a line in the local panto, she would have summoned a fanfare and boomed it from the rooftops.


So, when I next catch myself belittling an achievement, trying to talk down something just because I think it’s insignificant, I’ll remember her and be proud, as proud as an 8-year-old with a line that’s spoken in front of 50 people in a dusty school hall.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Spinning Plates

During my day job a while ago, I was asked if this is what I did for a living. I was explaining that no, not technically, although it did take up most of my time.

'Oh, what else do you do?' 

I explained that, really, I was an actor. 

'Oh, so what acting work are you doing at the moment?' 

'Well, nothing at the moment.' 

I starting explaining that I'd recently done a couple of things, a couple of corporates, some role play, a voiceover job. 

'Have you got any acting work coming up.'

'Not right now but you never know.'

I suddenly realised that, to this stranger, I might as well have said that I was an astronaut. No, NASA don't know anything about me but I saw some stars recently and I'm pretty sure that I spotted the ISS flying past although it could have been a plane. 

I think there are two very distinct stages of being an actor, There are the times when you can very proudly declare, 'I am an ACTOR,' as someone luckily asks what you do for a living when you're in a whirl of auditions and acting work and emails asking for your availability. Then there are the times when you mumble, 'Well, technically I'm an actor,' as someone unfortunately asks what you do for a living when you're in a whirl of day jobs and commuting and emails asking if you fancy coming back to your old call centre job. 

When you're in your proud stage, it's glorious. THIS is what you expected at drama school, this flurry of spinning plates, you're doing it so expertly and you realise that this is what you're born to do. Then suddenly you remember that you have to eat off one of those spinning plates, then you see that one has a crack in it that needs mending and, oh, here comes someone else spinning the same plates as you but, hang on, where did they learn that Triple Platter Spin into Double Saucer Dive? It's then that you realise you're all spinning those same bloody plates from Ikea and you realise that you've been trying to keep them spinning for so long that you're not 100% sure what happens if you just stop.

Stopping is terrifying. Everyone thinks you're a plate spinner. You've dedicated your life to being a plate spinner. Your parents gave you money to go to plate spinning school. Everyone you went to school with knows you're a plate spinner. All the other plate spinners compare their plate spinning to yours and you know that if you stop spinning, everyone will assume that you're not very good at plate spinning anymore. 

The thing is, there are many reasons to stop spinning plates. It might be that want to try a new technique, or maybe you fancy a break so you can save up for some better plates or maybe, just maybe, your arms are just fucking tired. 

I made a decision a few years ago to not beat myself up over a lack of work. I worry sometimes that this attitude makes me a terrible actor, that I'm not committed enough to the cause. Social media can make you feel that if you're not living and breathing your acting career as well as making mnemonics to remember every casting director for every show in London right now then you're doing it wrong. The truth is, since I made this little pledge to myself, I've never been happier about my career. Sure, I'm not going up for the biggest acting roles but I also don't make myself feel like a worthless piece of crap every day either. 

I think I've realised that I like doing a little bit of everything. 

*rewind back to the spinning plates*

I'm a big fan of the picky tea. Or the bits plate. Or bits and pieces. Whatever you called it in your house, it's that tea that you'd have on a Sunday evening. A bit of cheese. Some crisps. Maybe a little sausage roll or pork pie. Some carrot batons. You might add some cherry tomatoes if you're not me. A gloriously crispy and tangy pickled onion. Nowadays it will also include some olives or artichoke hearts, some hummus and those bloody quinoa crisps that are too addictive for their own good. It's a beautiful fridge buffet that although looks like a mish-mash of leftovers, is actually a stunningly thought-out thing of all the things you enjoy. It's comforting and lovely and satisfying and, best of all, 

That's the plate that I want to keep spinning. Some acting work. Some writing work. My day job. Trawling casting call sites. Role play. Dedicated time to watch Drag Race. Thinking up excuses so I can blame a lack of acting work on National Sandwich Week or International Leaf Day. It's taken me eleven years to realise that this is how I like to do things. It might not make the most successful actor and it might not always give me the most exciting answers when someone asks if I've got any acting work coming up but, for me, there's less stress, I enjoy it and sometimes, just sometimes, there might be a pickled onion. 

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I've recently set up a Ko-fi page where the idea is that, if you like what someone does, you treat them to a virtual cup of coffee by donating them the money of what a coffee would be in a reasonably pricey cafe. I'm not a fan of coffee, I'm more of a tea person myself, and, to be honest, just people reading, sharing and commenting on what I do is payment enough but sometimes going through these casting calls requires much tea-based comfort so, you know, it's there if you fancy it... ko-fi.com/castingcallwoe 













Sunday, 19 March 2017

Laying Bare

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon this casting call..







Of course, I laughed. Everything about it is bloody funny, from the idea of being festooned by the occasional crab to being the Meryl Streep of stunt corpses. But, as this beautiful dead woman lies on our examination table and we investigate further, we quickly gain an insight into a huge issue on how women are portrayed.  Setting these hilarious little crabs aside, there is a huge problem with the casting of the Beautiful Naked Female Corpse.

Dead, naked women pop up regularly on casting websites. If they're lucky, they're not being shagged...









What these roles do is boil down to what is essentially wanted from a female character: attractive, naked and silent. Little thought has gone into the character. In fact, there's no character at all. Just a body to be gawped at, fleshy set dressing, a goose-pimpled prop. I'm starting to think that drama school is failing women in not teaching them how to get their kit off and learn how to keep as still as possible for as long as possible.









Reading these casting calls is utterly heartbreaking.  I'd find it easier if I didn't come across these so often but they are everywhere and it's reducing women to literally a piece of meat, a role that could be played by a mannequin. What's incredibly sad is that, often, the actress is cheaper than a mannequin. Pose this role as incredible experience, wonderful showreel material, some easy work, and save yourself a few pennies in the process.







I've never paid a dead, naked woman. I have, however, played a woman in a coma. I joked around at first, at how I was just getting to lie around all day in bed. The crew joked that I could have been horrendously hungover and it wouldn't have mattered. But then there's the horrible realisation that anyone could do this. There's no acting involved, nothing to draw on, nothing to feel proud about, you just lie back and think of what the heck you're doing with your life.









So why are there so many? Why, every time you watch a crime drama, is there a scene been played out as a woman lies there, nipples out, like a meaty coffee table? We have a woman, the victim, shown at her most vulnerable. She has no lines, no personality, she's just a thing to be referred to. Maybe, if she's lucky, there might be a flashback where we see how she dies, because if there's anything we like more than a dead woman, it's seeing that naked (obviously) woman being tortured...


But what angers me more than the nudity, the lifelessness, is that they're still, so often, required to be beautiful. Even in death, even after unspeakable murder, she must still remain magnificent. She is a woman, and even on the mortician's slab or dragged into a ditch, she must fulfil her duty as stunning set dressing.


Look at that last one. She's dead and yet she's still seductive, still beautiful, still a sex object. She's a piece of attractive meat that is there to be fucked. They mention that the actress needs strong acting skills, presumably ones that allow her to remain lifeless while she reminds herself that she deserves better than this. 

It was recently International Women's Day, a day that we clearly still need to have because this is how the world still sees women, as nothing more than a mannequin. My hope is that, by the next one, the Beautiful Naked Female Corpse will no longer be the role I see on a daily basis. We are not slabs of meat, we're not lifeless sex objects and, my god, we are not to be festooned with occasional dead crabs. 



I've recently set up a Ko-fi page where the idea is that, if you like what someone does, you treat them to a virtual cup of coffee by donating them the money of what a coffee would be in a reasonably pricey cafe. I'm not a fan of coffee, I'm more of a tea person myself, and, to be honest, just people reading, sharing and commenting on what I do is payment enough but sometimes going through these casting calls requires much tea-based comfort so, you know, it's there if you fancy it... ko-fi.com/castingcallwoe 

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Back to Basics...

I was talking to someone the other day about setting my blog up and I remembered that I did this for any actors who were out there wondering if it was just them going through this, just them wondering if they were finding it hard, just them realising they've seen this episode of Homes Under The Hammer before. So I thought I'd go back to that today, to look at the real root of being a resting actor and not working.

Not really working can be hard for a number of reasons. Of course, there's the financial issue because, you know, tea doesn't buy itself. Then there's the morale issue because not working leads you to questioning what on earth is wrong with you. Then there's the question of whether you can still really call yourself an actor. My acting work over the last year or so has been very few and far between, to the point where, if someone asks what I do for a living, I could just as meaningfully say lawyer, doctor or brain surgeon as I could actor. I've had a couple of jobs here and there but nothing something my mum can tell distant family members about. I've done corporates, I've helped train lawyers and I got a TV acting job that didn't end up happening (one day I promise you an EPIC blog about that), and that's it.

Looking at why I've had such little acting work, and without dwelling too much on my level of talent, there are a few reasons. One, there's hardly any. I know it's cliché to say that it's really quiet right now but it really is quiet right now. Then there's the fact that I have to earn money, I have to do a day job so that I can eat and live and make sure that I've got enough clothes. Having to do a day job means I can't take time away from that to do unpaid acting jobs, not that I want to do unpaid work anyway, but sometimes unpaid stuff is all there is. Then, of course, I've been able to do other things. Writing, creating a Casting Call Woe show, watching every American boxset under the sun, they've all taken me away from acting.

I think what I've learnt in the nearly 11 years since I left drama school is that it's all about finding a balance. In the last few years I've learnt to be a bit easier on myself when it comes to the amount of acting work I do and not to beat myself up over a lack of it. Yes, I do more of my day job than I'd maybe like to and I'd love to dedicate more time to writing and creating things but, as balances go, I'm actually not that down about it. Of course, if I could then I'd make all my money from performing and writing but the performing work isn't there and my writing isn't at the level it needs to be so, right now, this balance works for me. The fact that I get to do any acting and writing work at all is, honestly, a bloody honour and I feel incredibly lucky to do what I do.

A friend of mine recently got a few of us together to, in the face of all the horror that's going on right now, look at what we're doing and how we're getting on. It's a way for us to learn from each other, help each other and just talk about what's going on in our lives and how we want to improve. I honestly can't recommend it enough if it's something you're able to do. Just making a list of what we see others do that seems to work and something we'd like to employ in our daily lives, something actionable and possible and that might make a difference but won't mean the end of the world if it doesn't. Acting can be such a stupidly tricky little beast where it often feels like things are out of your control so doing something where you can have the slightest grasp is a blessed relief.

So if you're at home wondering if it's just you, it's not. Believe me. I know it's hard and sometimes we don't get the chance to do this but remember to not be hard on yourself. Sometimes we have to be, sometimes we have to remind ourselves why we chose to do this and to stop being so bloody lazy (that episode of Stranger Things will still be there tomorrow) but we also have to be nice to ourselves too otherwise there will be nothing of us left to do that short film in Droitwich about a reincarnated llama with a murderous past. And you do not want to miss out on that opportunity...

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I've recently set up a Ko-fi page where the idea is that, if you like what someone does, you treat them to a virtual cup of coffee by donating them the money of what a coffee would be in a reasonably pricey cafe. I'm not a fan of coffee, I'm more of a tea person myself, and, to be honest, just people reading, sharing and commenting on what I do is payment enough but it's there if, you know, you fancy it... https://ko-fi.com/A478KN0

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Thoughts Every Actor Has Doing Their Tax Return

January, a month of detoxing, curling up indoors wondering whether the sun will ever return and, if you're self-employed and disorganised, a time to cry over receipts and spreadsheets.  Yes, it's tax return month, and here are the various thoughts you'll probably have while doing it.

1.  It'd probably be better to just go to prison.


There will be a moment, usually when you're trying to hold a fraying receipt up to the light to work out whether that's an eight or a zero, that it'll dawn on you that if you went to prison then you wouldn't have to be doing his.

2.  Next year I'll put my log in details somewhere safe.


Seriously. Every. Bloody. Year.  'Oh, I know, I'll just write it on the back of this envelope that I'll definitely keep in the same place until next year.  I'll just put it on top of all the other envelopes that I've also written past log-in details on.'  Seriously, I've done this.  I'm an idiot.  After 10 years, I've now learnt to keep them in a draft email, on my phone and in the back of three different notebooks.  Next year I'm getting them tattooed on each limb.

3.  I will do this earlier next year.


You will think this. You will tell yourself that you will definitely get this sorted as soon as possible next year. Ohh, you'll show Moira, won't you? Come April, you'll smash that tax return, won't you? Of course you bloody won't. Come April you'll be embracing the possibility of sunshine and the possibility of maybe having a drink outside. The only thought you'll give that pesky tax return is whether those drinks are deductible after you drunkenly pledged that you'd show those directors what they've missed out on.

4.  Keep. Track. Of. Earnings. And. Spending. Throughout. The. Year.


I had this thought during my first tax return and it's one of the very few things I've stuck to. Seriously,  this helps. I have a boring file on my laptop with all my tax things tucked away and in there is a spreadsheet wishing I'd explore their full potential because all I do is put self-employed earnings in one tab, any PAYE earnings in the other and then my spends in the third. It's boring but it makes me feel super-organised. Plus it avoids the need to trawl through bank statements come tax return time, and anything that prevents me from seeing just how much money I spend in Itsu and Japanese Canteen in Holborn is something I'm all for. And on that note...

5.  Why do I spend so much money on...?


When you do find yourself working your way through your bank statements, cringing at any payment made between the hours of 2am and 5am, you'll start to see a pattern. Maybe it's daytime Ubers, maybe it's post-10pm KFCs or maybe, like for me, it's the alarming amount of £10+ payments made in Itsu (yes, I'm always there on my own. No, I don't think one Hip, Humble and Healthy is enough). Anyway, whatever it is, there will be something that just keeps cropping up. Maybe you hate yourself enough to tot all that money up and see just how much you're frittering away on overpriced miso and then think about what more meaningful things you could have spent that money on. I don't suggest doing this. Doing a tax return is awful enough without beating yourself up over a few unnecessary splurges in Whole Foods over a year ago. Did you enjoy that eye-wateringly expensive raw almond macaroons at the time? Great, then move on.

6.  Thank heavens I don't earn more.


This is the one time of year that I'm thankful for not earning enough to do nice things. Imagine having so many bloody acting jobs that you had to work out what you'd earned from all of them and then pay tax on it. Being a rester has its perks because even the HMRC self-assessment team don't care about how many days you've spent sat at home in your pyjamas eating Chipsticks.

7.  Why the heck don't they teach people how to do this at drama school/uni/anywhere?


When I was at drama school, tax returns were mentioned in very much the same way that Theatre in Education jobs were, they are inevitable but the less you know, the better. This is the sum of what we were told about tax returns at drama school...get an envelope for each month of the year and put all your receipts in the corresponding envelope. Now this is good advice but you do really need to let people know what to do next. I do worry about the class of '06, all found some 60 years later, dead amongst a sea of yellowing envelopes, each housing a desperate attempt to claim numerous Health and Happiness boxes, their poor families faced with a terrifying tax bill. Do I benefit from pre-owned assets?  Was I not domiciled in the UK and claiming the remittance basis? WHY THE HELL AM I BEING ASKED TO MAKE A PAYMENT ON ACCOUNT (this is the most terrifying thing in the world when it first happens)? Maybe drama schools are better now, maybe other drama schools are just better than the one I went to, but seriously, these things need to be taught. It's bad enough that you're churning out swathes of unemployable buffoons each year, don't make it worse by making them criminals too.

8.  Seriously, is prison that bad?


We've all watched Orange Is The New Black and thought that, overall, it actually looks okay. Obviously it's not but, come on, you might get to be friends with Taystee...

9.  Next year I'm going to pay someone to do this. 


I will never do this because I'm cheaper than value brand baked beans but there have been times when I've been on the phone to HMRC for 2 hours because I entered ONE BLOODY DIGIT WRONG on my log in too many times and it then locked me out where I've thought it would be preferable to have someone else pour over my pathetic earnings. Then I remember how many bowls of chicken tantanmen I could buy from The Japanese Canteen for the money I would spend on an accountant (yes, I know they can save you money in the long run) and I continue to patiently sit on hold and listen to The Boy Is Mine on the harpsichord for the nineteenth time.

10.  At least I only have to do this once a year.


Unless the introduction of quarterly tax returns happens and we have to go through this palaver EVERY THREE MONTHS. Time to start saving for that log-in tattoo. At least it would be tax deductible, right?


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?"