Reviews!

June 7, 2016 | Filed Under Acting, General News, Reviews | Comments Off on Reviews! 

“I don’t quite know how to take praise. It makes my eye red.” – Topsy-Turvy, Mike Leigh.

The Brighton Killers has finished its stint at the Brighton Fringe, a run of sell-out shows (all, er, seven of them) to triumphant reviews: 5* from Remote Goat, 4* from Reviews Hub, 4* from Broadway Baby. Flattering words such as “mesmerising” and “surprisingly affecting” were bandied about regarding yours truly, which is all very cheering.

It’s important, of course, to remember that reviews don’t really mean anything other than that one harried reviewer, rushing from one Fringe show to the next, enjoyed that particular performance. If you put too much weight on good reviews, you’ll be devastated by a bad one: really, you can only ever aim to meet your own and your director’s ambitions. Anything else is pandering.

Percy Lefroy Mapleton was a corker of a role to play, it must be said: Mapleton, a real person, was convicted in July 1881 of murdering Isaac Frederick Gold by shooting him (non-fatally) in the neck, slashing him up with a razor and throwing him out of a moving train into the Balcombe tunnel, and all for a pocket watch and the meagre contents of Gold’s purse. He was arrested, released, and arrested again, then hanged at Lewes prison. The role consisted in the main of a 15-minute monologue, detailing his initial lies to the police, the true tale of his crime, and finally the harrowing details of his final night on Earth, leading up to and past the moment of his hanging.

For an actor, it’s a bit of a dream part: a rollercoaster ride through cockiness, self-aggrandisement, exhilaration, guilt, bitterness, and finally abject fear as the scaffold looms. And the icing on the cake? The place where I start the story was in a lavatory in the police cells under Brighton Town Hall – the very same lavatory down which Mapleton had attempted to flush his razor and the stolen purse upon his arrest.

I already knew that it would be a pleasure to take part, as I worked (and had a ball) with the rest of the cast last year on a farce called The House – indeed, The Brighton Killers was written specifically for us by Nigel Fairs after we could not secure the rights to re-do The House. We’ve put the play to bed for now, but there are plans afoot to resurrect it and take it on tour in the fullness of time – watch this space…



Surviving Actors Expos

February 11, 2014 | Filed Under Acting, Dubious pearls of wisdom, General News | 2 Comments 

“If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the consumer, you’re the product.” – Anonymous.

So on Saturday, I attended an event called Surviving Actors, an expo stacked full of “opportunities” for the aspiring/struggling/stalled actor. I specify this type of actor, because the place was full of people selling things that beginners may not know they need, and other things besides.

This may be no surprise to many of you. There’s half a dozen of these things every year – Surviving Actors, The Actors’ Expo, Perform!, etc – generally between January – April, and they’re all either free, or cost very little. The people who pay for it are the people selling you stuff, and what they’re buying is a room full of potential marks. Here is my quick (and probably not 100% accurate) tally of the various services available:

  • 5 Casting organisations (i.e CCP, Spotlight, etc)
  • 4 Photographers
  • 4 Book sellers
  • 4 Showreel providers
  • 6 Resting job recruiters (virtually all telesales or T.I.E.)
  • 8 people offering a variety of courses
  • Miscellaneous

Miscellaneous included accountants, presenter training, some sort of health supplement pyramid scheme, and a whole raft of people selling advice, offering media managing packages, NLP training, US visa deals, etc. Virtually no-one on any stall (a few photographers aside), it should be added, was upfront about any costs unless they were specifically selling tangible objects on the stalls. After all, the sizzle is always free: you’ll only find out what’s in the sausage when you’ve decided to buy it. In terms of practical, proactive things to do, it was a bit slim on the ground: there were no agents there to meet. There were a few cardboard dropboxes with casting directors’ names on them, into which you could chuck your CV and headshot, but that’s it. This was a marketplace selling the one thing we all want: opportunity.

Now, some of these products are essential: if you lack headshots, you need to get them done, and unless you’re lucky enough to know a professional photographer who knows what is required of a headshot, then you have to pay for it.

If you feel untrained in certain aspects of performing (or indeed, all aspects), then here’s where you can find out about stage combat courses, horse riding courses, Meisner courses, voice workshops, acting workshops, and so on.

In addition to that, stalls selling plays, technical manuals (voice warm-up exercises, intros to Method, what-have-you) and the many variations on Contacts have a valid contribution to make to any actor’s career, and their utility comes from the actor’s willingness to use them, not the actual quality or purpose of the product.

I suppose, if you’re struggling to find a resting job that’s working for you, then stalls where you can sign up for teaching acting or manning call centres also serve a legitimate purpose (though I personally think there’s something rather sordid about selling someone lessons in how to earn money, which some places seemed to be offering).

All the casting resources were there, too. I initially baulked at finding stalls for Spotlight, Casting Networks, CCP, Star Now, etc., but of course the reason they’re in attendance is because not everyone knows about them. While I’ve been around the block long enough to know that this is where the jobs are to be found (even if vanishingly few of the ones not advertised on Spotlight are actually decently paid), anyone aspiring to act for the first time would find an event like this an invaluable resource. God, I wish I’d known about something like Surviving Actors when I graduated in 1998; back them, the full extent of careers advice I got at university was “(Technical) TV jobs are advertised in the Guardian on Monday, acting jobs are in The Stage on Thursday. Good luck!”

There’s a legitimate need for all these things, and it’s handy to have them all in one place. You could argue that companies that sell courses play on actors’ insecurities to make their money – that it’s easy to blame your continuing lack of success on a lack of skills, or on just not being good enough, so you invest in their course to feel better and more confident. Doubtless, that’s how some of the marketing works, and there’s nothing wrong with that per se; in my opinion, it’s far better to address your own insecurities by attending a course in an acting method that works for you, or in a new skill, than it is to simply stew in your own fears and self-doubt – that way lies a self-destructive spiral.

It’s the other things that trouble me, such as the showreel services. As I understand it, a showreel is a small highlights clip of work for which you have successfully auditioned, which shows off your abilities to good effect, and which demonstrates that someone out there has taken a chance on you. It’s not just a demonstration of your abilities: it’s a stamp of approval from people in the industry. Surely, therefore, a showreel for which you have paid (usually an exorbitant sum of money) demonstrates merely that you have deep pockets.

Then there are the people promising you a US working Visa, trips to Hollywood, the chance to audition for casting directors of shows like Homeland, Breaking Bad, etc, but only if you sign up to their organisation, all of which will cost you literally thousands – at the end of which is no guarantee that you’ll get anything more than a busman’s holiday and a series of polite but firm rejections.

All this before we get to the people selling marketing packages, mentoring programmes, and the like. The basic tools actors need in this day and age are:

  • A headshot
  • A website
  • A business card
  • An e-mail account
  • A showreel
  • A voicereel (if you want to work in V/O)

Optional extras include a Twitter handle, a FB professional page, and other social media bollocks. This is what we need. We all know that this is what we need. The only thing stopping us from getting it all is our own lethargy or luddism. So why would you want someone to empty out your pockets in order to put it all together for you, ESPECIALLY as less of your personality will come through to a potential employer looking through their identikit guff than something that you have thoughtfully put together yourself that best reflects your personality?

“Ah (I have decided to hear you cry), but what if I don’t really know about website design, and social media management, and all that?” To which I reply “You’ve got Google, haven’t you?” Look up actors’ websites – anyone with decent SEO management will be fairly easy to find. In doing that, you’ll see some that you like; and some that you don’t like. Thus fore-armed, you can put together a lot of the material you need for a website, and then all you need to pay for is someone who’ll help you put the skeleton together, and the hosting. OR you can just find an on-line website generator like WordPress, and spend an instructive afternoon or two wrangling your own (like this one, which a web-savvy friend and I put together in two afternoons).

And this is my real issue: there are SO MANY people at these events marketing stuff that you don’t need, and all of them use a hard sell to make you feel that your career is doomed to failure unless you buy their formula for success – “Get our showreel!”; “Buy our full marketing package!”; “Meet Hollywood casting directors!”; “Learn to be a presenter!”; “Study NLP and you’ll psyche your way through auditions!”; and so on. The trouble is that these are garnishes sold as main courses: it’s such a dicey career, full of uncertainty, and dead patches, and self-doubt, that we actors can come to crave solutions and guarantees: some talisman or secret formula that’ll make us successful. And they just don’t exist. Success comes of hard work, tenacity and professionalism, and occasionally, a giant dose of luck. You can’t just buy it off the shelf.

I’m not even going to start on the stall promoting a bogus health supplement pyramid scheme.

The only thing I saw actually set up to benefit actors in the whole place was an organisation called MAD Trust, which is a charity set up to promote AIDS awareness amongst the acting community, and to raise money for a hardship fund for actors with severe illnesses. They are, of course, after your money too. But at least they’re putting it to good use.

Actors are, by and large, shagged for income. It’s hard, therefore, to be in a room full of people all trying to make you poorer, whether you’ll benefit from the exchange or not. After ten minutes, I felt like a chicken that had unwittingly strolled into a foxes’ den.



The Actor’s Questionnaire: Jamie Thompson

February 5, 2014 | Filed Under Acting, Actor's Questionnaire | Comments Off on The Actor’s Questionnaire: Jamie Thompson 

So here’s a thing: every week, I’m going to be sticking up answers to a questionnaire I wrote from a different actor whose career is at about the same stage as my own. Hopefully, they’ll give an illuminating sense of what it’s like to be an actor in the trenches. If you would like to take part in the questionnaire, drop me a line and I’ll send it to you. This week: Jamie Thompson.

jay8

Name: Jamie Thompson
Location: London
Playing age: 35-40
Type: Dads, professionals, tall people.

http://www.spotlight.com/7658-0160-5126
http://twitter.com/JTLondonActor
http://www.StarNow.com/JayThomp

Why did you become an actor?
It’s the only thing I’ve ever really thought I was half decent at. That, and it’s the best job in the world.

How long have you been acting professionally?
7 rollercoaster years.

Do you prefer stage/screen/spoken word?
Technically the mediums are very different, but really it’s all the same to me – It’s storytelling. So as long as I’m telling the story, I don’t mind the medium.

Is acting your sole form of income/creative expression?
Unfortunately I’m not at the stage yet where I can rely solely on acting work, although it’s obviously the goal. I love to write as well, and I teach drama through various companies. I dabble a bit in music, but the music is personal and my own thing, I’d never release anything.

What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do on set?
Fake masturbation on stage. Actually quite liberating, but I’m glad my mother wasn’t there!

What is your stance on paid/unpaid work?
Well I won’t be a hypocrite – I’ve done unpaid work to build up a good showreel, and some (what I thought were) interesting theatre jobs.
For an actor with zero credits? Yes, if you like the project, can spare the time and it doesn’t cost you anything, then go for it – as long as it enhances the type of characters you see yourself playing, and the quality of the finished product is likely to be good.
For an actor like me, 7 years down the line? No, I refuse to now.

How do you find roles?
Apart from my agent sourcing work I wouldn’t have access to otherwise, I use various casting websites such as CCP and StarNow. Also, I have lovely friends who write roles for me!

How do you approach a role?
With a very open mind. It’s difficult when you’ve been cast to know if what you did in the audition was exactly the right thing, as there might have been some other reason than just your acting that you were cast! So I try to forget the audition to a certain extent and approach things freshly. Just reading the script/play without judgement is a good start. If it’s a film script I chat to the director ASAP as it’s usually the only time you’ll get his/her attention fully before you walk on the set. It’s your chance to iron out character issues and find the common ground between their expectation and your approach. If it’s a play, I’ll try to attend rehearsals as off book as I can be, depending on the length of time between casting and rehearsals beginning. Then it leaves time to play with the role and talk with the director. I’m usually quite relaxed about finding the character as I trust that they will appear if I do the leg work/research beforehand.

What would be the single biggest piece of advice you would give to any actor?
Have a sense of humour and balls of steel – you’re going to need them! Also, be nice and respectful, especially to tech people (stage management, lighting, sound etc.), as you’d be surprised how many actors have lost future roles by their reputation for being difficult to work with.

How do you cope with quiet times/self-doubt?
Sometimes I don’t, is the honest answer. Friends in the business understand and can generally help you get rid of the black acting dog. But ultimately you just have to remember this is a creative choice, no one said it would be easy. Grin and bear it, work as hard as you can with every opportunity and at the end of the day, laugh! It’s only acting, it won’t kill you!

What’s the next big move in your career?
To get the film I have written made.

Whose footsteps would you most like to follow in, career wise/who do you admire the most?
I like the sand that has no footprints, so I’m going in that direction.

What is your single best/worst experience as an actor (on the job or off)?
My best experience has to be Rep Theatre in 2007, as it proved to me that I could do 6 plays in 6 weeks and still come out with my sanity and pride. As a new actor at the time I’d faced the challenge and won!

Do you have anything coming up?
A release of a short Film by Giant Jack Productions called ‘KIT’, and pre-production on a short film called ‘Flat Of The Blade’, written by Edwin Flay [aw, shucks! – Ed.].




Courses for actors

February 3, 2014 | Filed Under Acting, Dubious pearls of wisdom | Comments Off on Courses for actors 

“Study, find all the good teachers and study with them, get involved in acting to act, not to be famous or for the money.” – Philip Seymour Hoffman, 1967-2014.

Not as apposite a quotation as I might have liked, as this post is not about courses in acting, but about courses for actors: whether for the acquisition of skills, or casting director workshops, or to expand one’s knowledge base generally. I’m writing about courses today because I did three of them, for various reasons, in the last seven days:

  • I am currently studying stage combat with Rc-Annie every Tuesday, and will be until April when I will (as long as I’m not truly inept) be taking an exam in unarmed stage combat, rapier and dagger, and short sword (17th century fencing, not Roman gladius).
  • On Saturday, I attended a casting director workshop with Gemma Sykes.
  • On Sunday, I attended an acting workshop run by David Westhead, via My Million To One.

Stage Combat

I’m doing stage combat, because despite my scrawny frame and aversion to sports as a child, I’ve always loved being physically active. I try to go climbing whenever I can, I used to fence for my school (until acting got in the way and I was able largely to ditch sports altogether), and even though I don’t have great posture or masterful control of my body, I love stage fights and physical work onstage. I genuinely feel that what holds me back in these areas is a lack of confidence, rather than an innate lack of facility for it. I did a day-long course with Rc-Annie in 2012, looking at firearms handling for actors – everything from the legal implications of guns on shoots/stage, to SWAT tactics for room clearance, to disarming methods that look good on-screen. I liked them a lot, and so they were a natural choice for getting my stage combat skills up to scratch.

Stage fighting is like an accents workshop, or clowning, or improvisation – they’re about the acquisition of skills that enable you to expand your repertoire, and therefore your casting bracket, and therefore employability. I spent 3 months learning archery in 2012, not that it’s yielded any work so far (and I grit my teeth whenever I see someone with a bow on-screen, because half the time they wouldn’t hit a barn aiming like that, etc, etc). I’ve done two courses polishing my Gen Am (general American), which is as good as it’s like to get until I start working on it every day.

But more than learning simply to make yourself more employable (which is a perfectly legitimate aim), you should try to take pleasure in the learning. To be able to do something today that I couldn’t do yesterday fills me with glee. When I was first taught how to kick someone in the bits safely, I was demonstrating it to everyone who’d stand still long enough to listen! I love acquiring a new skill, just as research is my favourite part of writing, or preparing a character. I cannot understand an actor who doesn’t Google every damned thing they don’t understand in a speech or a set of sides; who gets cast in an adaptation or as an historical figure and doesn’t bother learning everything about them that they can; who can even bear to learn the lines without knowing they understand them innately. To be an actor is to get a chance to taste the whole breadth of human experience, to breathe life into the meanest and the mightiest of characters: if you try to do that without bothering to understand how your character came to be the way they are, I believe you will fall far short.

Casting Director Workshop

Full disclosure: I actually did this because I won it in a competition run by Talent Circle (linked, though site seems to be down atm). However, I did pay for a casting workshop with Gemma Sykes last year, so I knew roughly what I was getting; I thought it couldn’t hurt to refresh her memory of me; and also I got to read a role against type, as she had already seen me read a role to type in the past. It was fun – the standard of actors was, in my opinion, higher than it had been last August, I got to exchange business cards with a few people, and show off my actually very solid cockney accent (hard to believe if you’ve only been exposed to my dulcet RP tones).

Actors tend to fall into two camps with casting director workshops. They either argue that a chance to meet a CD is a chance to meet a CD, whether you’re paying for it or not, and you should grab it; or they argue that it’s a lousy state of affairs that one should pay money for the chance to be at the forefront of a CD’s mind on the off-chance that they’ll be casting something you’d be suitable for in the following week or so, and that no other industry in the world expects the cattle to pay for the market. I think there’s merit to both sides of the argument; ultimately, though, I’m a pragmatist, and will take whatever edge I can get.

To a certain extent: like everyone else, I’m pretty tight for cash most months, and can’t afford to spunk £30-40 a time on meeting someone who may well never call me in for a job. That’s why I believe the best thing you can do, if you’re going down the paid course route, is target the CDs you see. Last year, I saw three: Sarah Leung, Dan Edwards and Gemma. I chose these three specifically for the projects they cast: I tend to get looked at for period dramas (‘cos of the voice, the ‘tache and the face, innit): Sarah Leung casts independent and art-house films (most notably Children Of Men), while Dan Edwards and Gemma have had hands in casting Mr Selfridge, Ripper Street, Downton Abbey, Musketeers, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell… the list goes on. Exactly the sort of stuff I would be well-suited to, so if there’s anyone I should get myself in front of, it’s these people.

Once you know what you’re getting from a casting workshop, there’s certainly no point doing random workshops, because you’re not likely to learn anything new after a while. So, if you’re going to take that route, be picky! Don’t go up in front of Irene East if you’re not interested in theatre work; likewise, don’t go up in front of Leoni Kibbey if you’re not interested in ad auditions. Your resources are limited, so marshal them and target them accordingly.

One last note on Dan Edwards’ workshops: he gets everyone up individually to do their audition bit, and coaches them on what to improve, and what to strive for. He then gets everyone up again, and does not pass a word of judgement the second time around: he just sends you a link to a video of all the audition pieces the next day. THAT was eye-opening, and fascinating, and disconcerting, and… if you’re ready to learn honestly from your mistakes, it’s superb. That would have been worth every penny, even if it hadn’t been run by someone casting roles in some of the best UK TV going. If you’re still at the stage of hankering for a taste of what a serious audition is like, I would heartily recommend it.

Acting Workshop

This was a surprise one: an actor friend called Monty Burgess told me about it; I honestly thought it would be two hours of someone sharing their fluffy, rose-tinted reminiscences of a pleasingly cosy career in the bosom of the acting world. It struck me as a fun thing to do, and a chance to meet a few people. Also, coming as it did through the splendid My Million To One project, it did not cost me a bean (beyond the £1 it costs to join MMTO in the first place).

I was deeply wrong. David Westhead got us up on our feet and pushed us through two hours of status exercises, the ultimate object of which was to give us tools for finding clarity and certainty in addressing character when the material isn’t clear, or when the director’s more concerned about his shot composition than what people are actually doing in the scene. The exercises revealed how disparity of status between two characters can create comedy, or reveal hidden tensions; and also how hard it can play a lack of passion about something while still being compelling. It was a great, unexpected pleasure, has given me some excellent ideas for addressing ropey scripts, and ALSO had all the networking benefits I had hoped for.

————-

To conclude: it’s highly unlikely that you will always be working. Christopher Eccleston apparently went three years without work once. David himself said how he attended the premiere of Mrs Brown in New York, flew home, and signed on at the Hornsey dole office, and did not get a scrap of work for eight months – mere days after being told that he’d just done the film that would get him worldwide exposure. In that time, you can occupy yourself in many ways – you can write, you can slave away saving up money to enable you to go on a barely-paid theatre tour, you can sit despondently and stare at the phone, praying for a call that may never come. Me, I’m going to keep learning. For the future, and for the pleasure.



Advert auditions

January 27, 2014 | Filed Under Acting, Dubious pearls of wisdom, General News | Comments Off on Advert auditions 

“Commercial castings are a law unto themselves – leave your ego at the door and just go for it.” – Andy Nyman, The Golden Rules Of Acting.

I heard a story once about a guy up for a year-long ad campaign for an extremely big product. Global, you know? And he passed the audition – along with one other guy. They got called to set, turned up in their cabs and were told to just sit on a sofa and wait. After ten minutes, someone came out, looked at both of them critically for a minute, said “That one,” and pointed to the other guy. Guy #1 got driven home, paid his daily shoot fee. Guy #2 got £55k and a year’s exposure worldwide.

As an actor in the trenches, yet to establish a career of going from one prestigious TV job to the next, the majority of auditions I get through my agent are for advertisements. They’ve got me a couple of beauties in the past – The National Theatre, a feature film, a drama-documentary, etc – but mostly, I’m up for advert jobs. They may be big campaigns (I once got a recall for a two-hander campaign that would have paid £65k in buyouts, only to be pipped at the post by someone really rather well-known), or they may be one-offs running for two weeks, but they make up the majority of sensibly paid work that I get called in for.

This is not, as far as I can tell, a failing of my agent, as they’ve got me auditions for more interesting things than my previous agent did (see above); it’s just the nature of the beast for most jobbing actors. Wages are generally coming down for actors across the board, as there are more and more of us scrabbling for work and undercutting each other – it’s a buyer’s marketplace, and they know it – but a decently paid campaign running for, say, 600 repeats can pay the equivalent of 6-12 months’ service industry salary, which is why we’re always happy to get a call for one.

So how do you approach an ad audition? It’s a tricky proposition. Half the time, you won’t get sides; you’ll be told to turn up looking suave/scruffy/posh/whatever, and be handed a basic script on the spot – or nothing at all, just do what you’re told when you go into the room. Generally, advert auditions require you to commit, completely and wholeheartedly, to something humiliating. Some examples:

  • Mime riding a horse while trying not to sneeze (done that).
  • Dance like Michael Jackson (done that, too).
  • Play a piece of baguette like it’s a harmonica (I dread to think how many people had slobbered on it before I went in).
  • Be a camp drill sergeant whipping a bunch of dancers into shape (got a recall for that).
  • Ride a bike around the room. We don’t want any stunts, just wide circles, figures of eight (I got pencilled for that one, despite barely being able to ride).

After a while, it can all start to feel a bit like this (by the splendid Cardinal Burns, for whom I played a few very minor bits and pieces in their first TV series).

And here is my shameful secret: in 3.5 years of acting professionally, I have never been in an ad campaign that screened. I landed my second ever ad audition, they filmed it, but it never screened (and no transmission means no buyout fee). I’ve been pencilled for about eight, and cancelled a few days before for a few others. It gets hard, after a while, to go into an ad audition believing you can get the job with a track record like that. That’s when you need to remember one cardinal rule: whether you get an ad or not has nothing to do with your abilities as an actor.

The Michael Jackson-dancing ad? Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho Libre) was directing that. Apparently, he fought with the company execs to be able to see me again. A Hollywood director, hired specifically to deliver a kooky, off-the-wall product, wanted to meet me for this job, but I still did not get it, because the company didn’t like my face. Honestly, I think the main reason he liked my face was because I was beardy and bespectacled, just like he was at the time (he was a very nice man, btw).

I know it may sound it, but I’m not bitter. No, seriously, I’m not. Guy #1, above, has the right to be bitter. Other than an extreme example like that, there’s no point in being bitter, because (a) it changes nothing except your own state of mind (which gets worse), and (b) it’s got nothing to do with you, and everything to do with the brand. If you fit, you fit. If you don’t fit, you don’t fit. You choose your outfit (I believe in dressing for the part, as long as the part’s not, you know, Batman), you go in, you make your choices and you stand by them (but not to the point of ignoring direction), you do your job, you go home and you forget about it.

I had an ad audition this morning, my first of the year. Felt pretty good going in (despite the best efforts of the Northern Line to make me hot, sweaty and late). Liked my chances, looking at the other guys auditioning. Still puzzled by how I even got in the room, given that the breakdown references were Kevin Spacey(!) and George Clooney(!!). But when it was done, I did a couple of chores in town, I came home, and I forgot about it. I looked for another role to apply for. Had a cup of tea. Fussed the cat. Read a bit of Wolf Hall. Wrote this post. And put it behind me, clearing the decks for the next opportunity to come in.



A daily routine

January 13, 2014 | Filed Under Acting, Dubious pearls of wisdom, General News | Comments Off on A daily routine 

So this year, I’m trying to evolve a daily routine. When you’re an actor, unless you’re profoundly fortunate/successful (delete as appropriate), you’ll likely spend a lot more time looking for work than, you know, doing it. In the times in which you are not acting or earning that month’s rent, it is essential to have a routine, so that when that all-important audition calls, it will not find you croaking, hunched, and blinking mole-like in the daylight, while wearing slippers, Saturday’s underpants and an ex-girlfriend’s strappy vest top, with bags under your eyes and orange Wotsits dust liberally coating your three-week-old castaway beard.

So, my proposed 2014 daily routine:

  • Get up at 9am, no excuses.
  • Do some exercise – some sit-ups, some chin-ups, some press-ups.*
  • Do some semi -supine, because lying down and trying not to do anything at all is essential after doing some exercise.**
  • Do some vocal warm-ups, to keep the voice mellifluous and beautiful.
  • Have a shower, get dressed, have a cup of tea and face the day.
  • Answer any outstanding e-mails.
  • Browse casting websites, apply for any jobs that turn up.
  • Work on the current screenplay, or if it’s not coming that day:
  • research the next one. Always have a second project on the go.
  • Have lunch. Dip into the casting sites every so often.
  • Do a household chore as a way of having a screen break.
  • Research IMDB Pro for possible casting directors to write to. In it to win it, shy bairns get no sweets, etc.
  • Casting sites again. Write a blog post. Look into networking options, workshops, training opportunities. Repeat options 7-12 as appropriate.
  • At 6pm, STOP. Give yourself the freedom to enjoy your evening, safe in the knowledge that you’ve spent the day working diligently at your career.

Of course, it doesn’t always work out like this. So far, it’s been closer to:

  • Get up by 11am (this is crucially important, however tempting it may be to hide in the dark warmth under the duvet until 2pm).
  • Look at the chin-up bar and whimper.
  • Sod the semi-supine, you’ve spent the whole morning lying down already.
  • Fail to find the voice book you bought LAST FEBRUARY, you slacker.
  • Splash water on the face, front and forks, get dressed, have a cup of tea and feel guilty.
  • Browse casting websites – Spotlight (to torture yourself, wondering if your agent has stuck you up for anything good), CCP, Star Now (pff), Equity (hah!), The Stage (double hah! Didn’t spend three years studying film to become a teacher, thankyouverymuch).
  • Gripe on Facebook about all the unpaid work on offer.
  • Stare at the screen blankly, willing a scene to come into existence.
  • Check the casting websites again. Wonder mournfully why half the applications you send don’t get read.
  • Read a screenplay you find online – it’s research, right? ‘Course it is! That’s how you learn, folks, by studying the best.***
  • Check the casting websites again. F*ck me, there’s a paid job! Yeah, it’s only NMW. Sod it, go for it anyway. Load up the form letter, give it a tweak, send it off.****
  • Have another cup of tea. Watch a film and call it research. Feel guilty.
  • Rinse and repeat until 7pm, when you finally crack, boot up some computer game, and go to bed at 2am feeling guilty. Your career is doomed, your future is doomed, even the cat thinks you’re lazy, and looks forward to the day you die and she can eat you.

Onward to victory!

So as you can see, I’ve got a sure-fire play for success planned out, and I’m working it like Dustin Hoffman in a shiny suit. Actors! Writers! Other freelancers! Do you have any great hints, tips or suggestions for keeping on top of the crushing ennui of your daily lives and actually making progress? Share them here! And if you feel you need advice, I’ll be happy to take all calls, and my advice comes at no charge, because we are all rising together. Just not before lunchtime, and give me two days’ notice of a face-to-face, so I can shave and brush the wotsits dust off my face.

 

*In With Nails, Richard E Grant tells how, on the advice of his agent, he spent six months in the gym toning his physique, got the part of Withnail, and was promptly told to let it all go again, because Withnail is a wreck. My belief is that it it’s better to stay trim and then let yourself go to hell if need be, rather than to be an out-of-shape sad-sack and suddenly have to get fighting-fit in three weeks. Not that I’ll ever get cast in something that requires me to be fighting fit, but hey.

**Semi-supine is a part of Alexander Technique, which is a big part of having a neutral posture. My posture used to be bloody shocking, but after months of AT, it is now merely bad. Mostly, it’s just an excuse to lie down.

***This is actually a really good thing to do, both as an actor and a writer, and I’ll come to why in a future blog post. I hear you salivate with anticipation.

****If they want a bespoke letter, they can pay more than £5/hour.



A fresh start for 2014

January 6, 2014 | Filed Under Acting, General News, Screenwriting | Comments Off on A fresh start for 2014 

So it’s the start of 2014, and once more I resurrect the blog from the ashes of what once was. The problem with the old one was that it had no purpose – it was more a diary than anything else, a random collection of minor triumphs and disappointments.

And who needs to read any of that? The web is full of underemployed actors whinging about their trials and tribulations already.

So the new and improved purpose of this blog is to write the experiences of a jobbing actor in the trenches. I’m going to feature Q&As with other actors in my position; links to helpful online resources for actors; and a place to pool helpful advice, tips, stories, observations and thoughts on how to do the job well – on everything from leeching the meaning from every last word in one’s sides to how to keep smiling and being productive in one’s darkest days.

There will also be some stuff in here about screenwriting. I love screenwriting. One of the most important things to do as an actor is to find ways to keep yourself feeling positive, especially if you’re in a dry patch/had a run of bad auditions/feeling low generally. Writing does that for me, and helps me also to understand how to read a script – what telling details the writer has inserted that you may otherwise have missed, which can help you sharpen your characterisation; what clues it can give you about pacing and delivery; how to spot a project not worth pursuing; and so on.

I’m looking to do updates once a week; if there are any specific topics you would like to see covered, let me know.