Hell in the rehearsal room

Six years ago I had the displeasure of working with an insidiously passive-aggressive actor. Native to small towns rich in comfort-zone entitlement, this thankfully rare breed was one I had not quite encountered before, but one I certainly hope never to encounter again, and one that perhaps others have also met. There is fresh breath in sharing these experiences.

We that tread the boards have all met our fair share of the more common and harmless eyeroll-inducing diva, making inappropriate comments and demands that can be calmed and washed under the bridge. This is not they.

Scene: I had co-written, and was producing, a play. One of the cast was less than pleasant. Consistently late or absent for rehearsals with no reason or apology, including the tech-dress (turning up halfway through, in trainers, for the photo shoot, amongst a full set of Victorians, distracted and distracting as hell, subsequently demanding detailed feedback as though we were watching his performance and his alone as it would be in the show. Critical of others’ performances past the point of suggestion, forgetting that he was playing a minor, one-scene role, stealing off with other actors for private chats pre-show to make his own directorial enforcements and generally contributing a sickening kind of uneasiness to the room, this man was unbearable. But we bore it. He was alright as an actor when he didn’t let his ego take over (in case you doubt that they know best – improvisation needs to be capped when your director shows you the yellow card; if you don’t trust the script, you’re not doing your job properly.) We were as civil and professional as we knew how to be, and gave him as much as we could. We arranged extra workshops for him. Which he was late for. We exchanged hopefully reassuring glances and quiet words with the rest of the cast.

The main sticking point was the recording of the show. He wanted a copy, and he wanted it now. Now, as a general rule, we didn’t do that. We made theatre. I ensured recordings were made wherever possible for my personal portfolio, and, as a second priority, for the company (this had previously only mattered to me, and could, of course, have encroached too far and spoiled the live experience.) We were but three women, we worked full time, were in the middle of a crazily intensive six-shows-in-six-months programme, and we did not then possess that magical unicorn that poops out time enough to edit and send off copies of all our shows to everyone involved. Additionally, the company ran on volunteer power, and the kindness of friends, and our running and resources were heavily dependent on those people. Records of various shows and the means to edit them lay with the different people who could provide us that help at the time, and so editing the footage, even collecting it, meant coordinating our ‘days off’ (I’ve heard of these) with those who held the footage. I mention all this not to labour a defense but hopefully to shed some light on the process for others experiencing similar problems from either end. The task sounds simple enough, yes, if we were working 4/5 day weeks with regular hours and didn’t run a fucking theatre company in every spare minute we could grab. Days off consisted of the odd hour on a random day of the week in which I might lie in a little longer because I was physically exhausted, or one day in a few months when I actually had a full 24 hours in which no doctor’s appointments, laundry, rehearsals, meetings or chores were inescapable. On these days, because they came so rarely, I often literally needed to sleep all day. My brain required a few YouTube kicks before I made it downstairs, and after that everything was just a blur.

This ugly soul sent me a hideous, threatening email a whole year after the show closed, to reinforce just how angry he was that we had not yet provided him with a full video recording of his performance; a voluntary role he accepted without that caveat, which he then raised during the run. Such was his fury that we could not immediately deliver on his last-minute, never-promised request that he vowed a vendetta to upend our script, our experience of the show, and our reputation.

We would gratefully have accepted his withdrawal from the project at this point, and needless to say, certainly would never be hiring him again.

So goodnight unto you all, aggressive, strained egos seeking out a target. Take your leave. And everyone else – it is not.your.fault.

Advertisements

Acting is the lifelong sting of not being chosen

I wrote the following passage a few months ago now, and it felt a bit too ripe to publish in the heat of the moment, but the sentiment stands, and is, I imagine, something that recurs for other actor-creators too, and perhaps sharing it now it is at a safe distance can be of some worth.

—————————————————————

It’s been a while since I had something to say. It’s been a while since I had something to say that meant something to me. Since this blog has been less anonymous, I’ve also been less carelessly candid. It’s been a dry spell. But pain and writing have long been intertwined in my life, and right now I’m kinda hurtin’.

An actor dating a director, I’ve developed a nasty habit of typecasting myself. I am constantly hearing actors being ruled out for being too comic, too straight, too camp, too hulky, too silly, too homely, etc., etc. I’m sure this doesn’t make directors bad people, it’s just how they’ve learned to function efficiently. Conversely, in acting training I’ve always believed (was I taught to believe it? I don’t remember) that any great actor can perform any role. THE MAGIC OF THEATRE. If you believe it, they believe it. Etc. But… I’ve started to internalise the typecasting, physical and otherwise. Actors beware; if you’re going to put yourself on that side of the table and keep up the acting too, the perspective will take its toll on your ego.

Instead of being the go-getting ambitious actor I was a few years ago who created her own roles, writing new scripts every week for the fun of it with the tireless belief that each piece might be the next exciting project I got to act in, I’ve written less and less, and mentally cast myself in less and less roles. Why? I’m hearing myself say things like “So-and-so would be really good at that actually.” “I can’t do ____.” “My nose is too round.” “I’m not Hollywood enough. You want her instead. She’ll enjoy that.” Which is very selfless of me, bravo me. But no fucker else is going to be doing that for you, and they shouldn’t be either.

Now, I’ve long been in the habit of pretending I care less than I do, because it’s not cool to care. Not in interviews, not in auditions, not in relationships. “Oh, you care how this turns out? Um… O-kaayyyyy…” *Makes ‘help me’ and ‘crazy’ gestures at someone behind you, as if you’re so blind with crazy that you can’t see them.* I’ve been taught over and over that I’m not welcome at the party if I want the thing at the party.

Recently I discovered a TV series which made my heart sing and my brain buzz and I thought, “That’s it. That’s what I want to be doing.” It crept inside me and I started singing out loud and practicing accents and expressions and seeking out auditions and acting classes and agents again. (Don’t get me started on the endlessly deflating catch-22 of needing drama school to get an acting job to get Equity to get Spotlight to get an agent to get an acting job to get Equity…)

I suggested it to my partner while cat-sitting at a friend’s house, we watched it together, and it was all great fun and dreams were ignited. Kittens literally gamboled. And now that friend is making something in the vein of said musical wonderment, and they’re making it for someone else. And they happened to mention to my partner that they discovered it because he had watched it on their TV. So, not only am I not  in the running for my dream roles, (not putting myself in the running?) I’m being written out entirely from my own mini tale of self-pity about it. What am I left with? My own fucking ideas?  Have you forgotten what my brain’s doing to me? No thanks, I hate that guy.

I’m all for loving one’s own company, and building one’s own dreams, but fuck pretending not to care. I am fucking burning with want. It feels ridiculous to even have to say. I’m an actor, of course I want all the goddamn roles that have ever been written. I want to perform every classic as a one-woman show in downtown New York unused fire stations, I want to be shimmying across Broadway under the spotlight, I want to be standing next to Spielberg in photographs where he’s explaining how he wants me to do something emotionally complicated. I want all the lead roles, now and always, all the best and most demanding ones, all the ones that show range and give me a chance to be loved and hated  by committed audiences. And the funny ones.

And I will hunt those down. But it would be nice for the phone to ring sometimes too.

‘Arts Council Wanker’: a song

I look forward to hearing from any interested composers.

————————————————————————

Dear Sir Mr Councillor

I’m sorry I can’t write to meet your needs

‘Cause I know you need help looking after

People without legs in York and Leeds

 

And I’m sure that it’s a very worthy thing

But I don’t know about not having legs

 

And don’t ask me what the poor kids like

Apart from putting things on spikes,

I just don’t know…

I think that’s it…

 

I hear you say turn to the wrinklies

They have stories of old times to dramatise

And they are wise

 

But I don’t care about the war or Vicks or ginger cake

 

And I’m wise too

And I’m young

And I’m poor

And I’m disabled…

… Without ability to put on a good show with funding…

 

I’ve given out more than my share

Of plastic ducks without a purpose

In the street

That’s charity

 

Now it’s my turn

Please hear my cry…

… I’m two grand shy…

 

I don’t often make demands

I am a simple kind of girl

With simple needs…

…Don’t your heart bleed?

 

I don’t need drugs or operations

But I’ve broken my left wrist n’ arm three times…

…And I can rhymes…

 

I could have paid for singing lessons

Pyrotechs and juggling dogs

That’s all I want

That’s all I need

 

So forgive me if I’m not nice

And I cannot help you out

I do my best…

I give to R.A.G….

 

I don’t have anything big to say

No profound gestures of important themes…

I wear nice jeans…?

 

…Please give me some money anyway…

Victorian-inspired love letters

A few years ago I embarked on my first writing collaboration. We talked about sleep paralysis, something I had been suffering from recently, and brainstormed some story ideas based around my own personal experiences, some online accounts, and, of all things, Google Images. Now, if you’re not looking to write a gothic drama or a horror, ‘sleep paralysis’ are not words you should search on Google Images. It’s pretty terrifying, especially for anyone who hasn’t experienced it – on my own part, at least I recognised something in the images of goblin-like creatures sitting on the chest of the sleeper, the feeling of weight and suppression stopping you from moving when you feel like you’re awake when you’re not. It’s sort of validating.

The play we set about writing was a Victorian gothic, centered on a trainee doctor who takes up the job of visiting a young woman who cannot be roused from a deep, continuing sleep. The doctor gradually becomes obsessed with the woman, and writes her a series of letters. Cue us trying to get into the head space of the infatuated Victorian gentleman. The following are a few contributions of mine to that effect.

————————————————————————

As the sky knows the sun’s place, so your face comes back to me every day. I see that tricky smirk and attempt to eradicate all effect on my person, though alas this is as futile as drawing a thin curtain before the blazing sun, only for it to smelt and drop at the feet of one so utterly besotted by the captivating beauty of the unattainable.

————————————————————————

Like the sea tunes the great whale’s song, so the imperfections in your complexion form a rosy glaze that muffles all that disturbs the quiet of the world.

————————————————————————

While moons play idle games with waves, while buttered wings tease dew-tainted petals, my taunted fingers strive to reach you through idle words, to tease your hair through quiet conversations hung with poetry and pretty pictures.

————————————————————————

I am not poetic. I can do the occasional wordplay. But nothing permits for apt appreciation of the inches of your curves, the patchy come and go of your attentions, the coquette of a dapple on half your glistening eye. The apt half.

————————————————————————

God could not be aware of one of his most flawless creations having slipped through his hands and down to my realm, a pit of whirling fools delivered to the mercy of affectation such as lies in your alabaster stare. The vision of you haunts me through  restless nights, and I am strangely never more comforted. It is not completely that you are without imperfections, but there each inconsistency in your constitution is a perfection in itself, designed to renew my hopeful tendencies towards eros and all its pleasant relatives. Give me knowledge, ghost, of how I may be more often in your company, and one day in your favour. I am a dogsbody to your satisfaction.

Theatre Review: The Envelope Project

The Envelope Project

Friday 18 – Saturday 19 July 2014, Friargate Theatre, York

Image from ridinglights.org/envelope/

Image from ridinglights.org/envelope/

“THE ENVELOPE PROJECT is a writing project run by Script Yorkshire (York Branch) in which five writers were encouraged to take a step away from their own imagination by developing new one-act plays from anonymous stimulus material contained within an envelope. A picture, a place, a line of dialogue, a piece of music, a random object – these were the items that each writer found in the envelope they took away from that first meeting, and would provide the starting point for the script they would write and develop over the coming months.”

GOOD GRIEF – written by Richard Kay, directed by Ruby Clarke, starring Claire Morley and James Martin

Ruby Clarke’s short play had a tough role to fulfill in being first on stage – the crowd-warmer. Obviously, event organiser and writer Rebecca Thomson knew what she was doing, in starting and ending the evening with very strong pieces. Clarke’s voice is a thoughtful, compassionate one. Good Grief gave us an insightful glimpse into a relationship in different periods of its evolution, imposing on a pair of young lovers a weight that many carry and many succumb to – cancer. The short piece takes an inspired turn in the way the characters choose to deal with the illness. It’s a messy situation involving family, genetics, loyalty, perception, acceptance and the burden of taking responsibility for your choices without knowing if they will turn out to be the right ones. Perhaps the pair will never know if they were meant to be together, or whether cancer would have taken definitive hold of one or both of them. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. The story explored a situation I haven’t seen before, which is quite something to be said of new writing from our generation. It was considered, touching and empowered, and had an inspiring female voice at its helm. Points of contention for me were the difficulty in performing such a naturalistic script; it is never easy to fake laughter or physical intimacy, and I felt that it should have been the director’s decision to adapt these moments slightly to steer the play away from those inevitably awkward moments. These and the moment when the boyfriend’s mother started to sing felt rather ungreased and jarring, though with some work, I’m sure would enhance the story in the way Clarke hoped. The actors were all very likeable, though seemed much younger than their sentiments and language suggested. However, this did not detract from the emotional impact of the piece.

A SPORTING AFFAIR   – written by Alice Mapplebeck, directed by Rochelle Reynolds, starring Elizabeth Cooke and Thomas Cocker

Another incredibly likeable trio of actors, this time with a slightly more fractured script – I believe this was an early work for Alice Mapplebeck as a stage writer being performed in York, and the piece shows traits that a lot of emerging writers display. For example, there is quite a bit of to-ing and fro-ing that doesn’t seem to advance the story; characters keep disappearing into different rooms on various unelaborated errands, though it did add to the harmless charm of the characters that carried the piece. There was an odd sense of repetition of themes despite the very secular nature of the writing project behind the evening: a young pair of lovers going on holiday to the Lake District to save their relationship. No harm in this, of course – a York audience could easily relate. The relationship between the lovers here is somewhat inexplicable, given the disparity between their fundamental emotional needs. You find yourself half rooting for them though, if not as a pair then at least as individuals, and the brief touch of unflinching friendship between the sisters is really lovely. This was another piece that entertained me while setting off my imagination at the same time.

STONE – written by Helen Shay, directed by Marian Mantovani, starring Angie Shaw and Matt Simpson

I found this piece the black sheep of the bunch. Oddly endearing while being so alien to my own experience and encounters, this play had a sort of Jean Genet feel about it: in the hesitant, lilting relationship between the lovers, in the image of them dancing together in a tacky nightclub, in their shoulder-shrugging acceptance of life being something that just kind of happens to you. The writing was tough to work with; there were moments when characters ‘walked off’, staying just on the edge of the stage simply because they needed to hang about for the next bit of dialogue, and there were extended, meandering monologues. There was enough real stuff there, though. I still wanted to get close to these people, and to watch more of their elastic tie to each other. I can imagine a similar pair of characters making slightly less effort to be liked by the audience in a film by Mike Leigh.

NEVER HAVE I EVER– written by Rebecca Thomson, directed by Jan Kirk, starring Lucy Simpson and Alex Schofield & featuring Beryl Nairn

We’ve all played it. (Well, a lot of us have, especially those who have graduated from university or other periods of life in which drinking and parties are the unquestioned way of life.) The trap of our duo in Never Have I Ever in becoming something profoundly less in their adult life together than their adolescent souls promised before they came together is heartbreaking. Here, more convincingly than in Good Grief, the young actors conveyed a depth of character far beyond what one might expect from performers their age. The pair were captivating; Schofield chilling and Simpson so winningly vulnerable and honest that she invited protective instincts despite her clear wisdom. A bitterly sharp use of repetition of certain lines adds a poignancy to the dialogue, which earlier dances tentatively like the lovers. I saw in Becky Thomson’s touching and sadly relatable short play a snapshot of the naivety and disillusionment of intellectuals of our generation who are brought up to question and to hope, and later learn to live with the disappointment of the traditional kitchen sink drama that they have heard a hundred times and assumed they would avoid. A timeless story worth retelling in Thomson’s unique voice. I look forward to her next piece, as her writing is always thoughtful, structured and interesting, and tends to involve some clever and pleasing use of language.

S.O.S – written by Tom Straszewski, directed by Joe Steele, starring Ian Giles and Richard Easterbrook

The final piece of the evening was outstanding. By far the most accomplished of the evening, Straszewski and Steele pulled off a short play that superceded the accepted production values of community theatre. It should be said that they were onto a winner with their leading man. Ian Giles is a professional-standard actor who had the audience in the palm of his hand from the word ‘go’. His storytelling manner was simply superb, and he carried a thrilling, chilling story with nothing but a few wooden crates behind him. Refreshingly this story does not revolve around a couple, but it does evolve from the protagonist’s opening monologue to introduce Richard Easterbrook in the role of a retired seafarer, who claims the wonderful climax of the play. The sound design was clever, though perhaps under-used; it was a slight distraction to have the musicians sitting on stage, poised, so that we were always awaiting their next mischievous move. S.O.S. was exciting and inspiring, theatre at its best, and I couldn’t help but think just how lucky everyone was to be involved in it. Straszewski is a writer I would love to work with, and, failing that, I will be keeping a keen eye on his future works.

Overall, The Envelope Project was a fantastic showcase opportunity for all the artists involved, and a fantastic night’s entertainment and brain-and-soul-fodder. Here’s hoping for a 2015 revival.

Watch the trailer for The Envelope Project here

Read the blog here – hopefully we’ll see more appearing there one day.

Check out a gallery of production shots here on their Facebook page

Theatre Review: ‘Ernest and the Pale Moon’ by Les Enfants Terribles & Pins and Needles Productions

ERNEST-He-placed-his-hand-against-the-window-Karen-Scott-Photography--1000x666

Last night I went to see Ernest and the Pale Moon by Les Enfants Terribles & Pins and Needles Productions, at the Carriageworks in Leeds. Being a massive fan of both Edgar Allan Poe and Alfred Hitchcock, and having heard a lot of praise for LET, I was excited.

It’s definitely worth catching. It had all the makings of stage craft at its best: a capella and exposed, hand-made soundscapes, resourceful use of set, props, bodies and voices, and a multi-skilled (multi-instrumental) ensemble cast. The aesthetic and sound design were particularly clever and effective. The cast play cello, harpsichord and xylophones, and create other sound effects in between and during stints of heightened character acting.

Ernest (Anthony Spargo) was outstanding; a captivating, disciplined performer with impeccable ensemble manner – checking in via eye contact with his fellow cast before embarking on synchronised sequences, helping bodies in the dark rise from the dead to continue with their next task, and attacking a plethora of folio tools as a backdrop for another’s monologue with the same commitment applied to his own speeches.

Sadly Spargo rather shone above the rest, who, though hardworking, didn’t quite get the chance to impress us in the same way. Perhaps a flaw in the script rather than flatness on their parts – they were clearly talented. The surreal, at-times-Berkoff-esque style chosen to tell their tale takes 100% commitment and gusto to pull off, and sadly this was only emanating from Ernest. Again, perhaps the only character with room for this to really soar, but the others were slightly flat and awkward in proximity to it.

The revisiting of scenes from different perspectives was exciting and satisfying – one chance we got to watch Spargo perform choreographed sequences repeatedly, with precision. The story was carefully unravelled, building bit by bit, preparing us perfectly for the unveiling of new scenes, including a truly chilling climax that did allow performer Rachel Dawson a moment in which she made your stomach heave with Ernest’s sickening, panicked guilt.

ernest-snap

It seemed, given the effective use of repetition in the rest of the show, that they’d had to make compromises for one performer who wasn’t quite up to scratch, which was a real shame. Maybe they joined rehearsals late? Maybe they just weren’t as convincing in carrying out what was actually meant to happen? I was inclined to see a comparative lack of professionalism, given a couple of mis-matches with the fellow cast, and even some real character-breaking flicking of hair out of eyes, during an isolated clockwork-people sequence.

These were tiny things really, but they show up like sore thumbs on stage, especially next to the other talent. I never felt quite safe in their hands, like one should when watching a show – this was a different feeling to the chills and thrills we obviously should have been experiencing – the problem was that I couldn’t quite forget where I was and just enjoy the experience. Perhaps a problem with timing, too many slightly awkward pauses despite a habit of “quick, shout, pronounce!”-style narration, which forms a big part of my love-hate relationship with traditional theatre.

That being said, it was reassuring as a theatre-maker to know that even the most renowned companies don’t always quite hit the high notes, and there was more than enough there to make me want to follow Les Enfants Terribles and come back to see what inventive, imaginative visual feast they come up with next.

Also, the audience was pretty shockingly sparse, and that can really kill a performance that would otherwise be electrifying. An underestimated percentage of the success of a live performance lies in the buzz of a full room, and I do feel that we weren’t really doing our fair share.

For more information and a show trailer, visit the company’s website:
http://lesenfantsterribles.co.uk/shows/ernest-and-the-pale-moon/

Edinburgh Fringe

It’s been a while since I felt I had anything news-worthy to document, but I have just come home from Edinburgh Fringe Festival – a new landmark for my theatre company, and a unique personal experience.

It was my – and our – first time at Edinburgh. We went to the Brighton Fringe earlier this Summer, but the atmosphere was very different there.

I don’t know where to begin in relaying the events and the feelings of the Fringe, but I’ll start with this: we got very lucky! We had an incredible team of people working on the show who all managed to not only perform a musical every day for fourteen days, but also to live together for that whole time, and to sell the shit out of the show on the Royal Mile in the hours before each show. This was something we expected to have to do, but not to enjoy doing. We had so much fun getting creative and individual in our approaches on the Mile that it only served our enthusiasm and energy leading into the show each day. The Mile was definitely as much fun as performing the show was, which is fantastic to say, given that before we arrived, we saw it as a daunting chore that was necessary to get more than one audience member in the room.

I’ll leave the rest of the company talk for that blog. Suffice to say, for now, that we had a great time.

Personally I saw Edinburgh as a working holiday. Any performance I got to watch was a bonus, performing and marketing was a priority. However, we settled into a group routine fairly early, and it was a wonderful break from reality. Mornings were comfortable, making-up and warming-up was communal, and evenings were free and chilled. People would mill in and out of the shared apartment asking each other’s daily plans and tagging along in a pic-n-mix style. We all ate together each night. We shared stories and laughs and skills. We learned little bits about each other. We got emotional. We got drunk. We all lost our voices. We made faithful use of our homemade ‘survival kit’ gifted to us by the friend who couldn’t come along.

I saw a lot of free comedy, most of which was terrible, some was alright, and some quite good. I saw a couple of dance/physical theatre pieces, both of which were completely my cup of tea and very accomplished and beautiful. I went to an immersive piece set in a séance which had even me, a supposed immersive-theatre-maker, fooled for a while. That, I really enjoyed. I saw a couple of shows I couldn’t pick out much positive criticism from at all – a few things that made me question the process of a show getting to the Fringe. I saw Scroobius Pip do some spoken word, with (spoiler alert) a rendition of the Duck Tales theme tune that will now never leave our god damn minds. I saw some amazing ‘geekbox’ing by Shlomo. I saw a feminist adaptation of a classic Greek tale. I saw an all-female Titus Andronicus.

I couldn’t have asked for more. I can’t wait to go again.

IMAG2169