Monday, 19 March 2012

Ramble #9... 'I want to be alone': The Bad Peformance


Yep, we have all had one or will have one eventually. You will beat yourself up about it. Decide it’s time to quit the business and go sell insurance or even worse become an accountant.  Anything, as far, and remote as possible from that nightmare.

I recently had a disastrous performance on stage, so I thought. Came off stage at interval and did a Marlene… “I want to be alone!”  The Character wasn’t there. I had words were coming out of my mouth that had never been written. I was full of self-doubt if I was in the right section of the play.  “I’ll never step foot on stage again!” I whispered in the dressing room as I prepared for act two.

I took my curtain call to applause and not one piece of rotten fruit was hurled. I was told “That’s the best performance yet”, which then made me paranoid, what then were the others really like… fickle lot aren’t we!

You have to remember the majority of the audience have never seen the play before. So what would they know if you have missed lines, or transposed or exited the wrong door? … That’s right, nothing. Provided you have not shown it in your face or mannerisms.

O f course to avoid, ‘The bad performance’. Do your preparation. Get sleep, truly get into the character at the half hour call, if not before and simply put up that fourth wall and be there, be in that place at that time and ‘own the stage!’

Monday, 5 March 2012

Ramble #8 ... Time to make up


When I first started in theatre professionally, in fact well before that, there was only one theatrical stage make up that was THE makeup to use.

That was Leichner Stage Makeup.. yes, Greasepaint as in the saying ‘Roar of the crowd and the smell of the greasepaint.’ Or as it was later to become the title of a musical: ‘The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd.’

Anyway… This is what I was trained in and to me the smell, the feel, the stuff itself is a big part of live theatre. You knew where you stood with it. A No. 5 & 7, lake , blending powder and the powerful removal cream that was twice as greasy as the makeup itself and had a distinctive aroma all of its own. All of this wafting through out the dressing rooms and backstage.

There were a couple of theatrical shops that sold a full range of it in Sydney (Aust) and most ballet shops sold it as well. But….

Alas, these days, although the Leichner company still exists there are no longer any shopfront outlets selling this grandfather of the industry.

I have resorted to the modern non-grease makeup but it is nowhere near the same in quality or atmosphere.

I could not take it any longer… for my recent run on stage I wanted my old friends. So online I jump and a few days later my dear, dear friends arrive from London.

It’s so great that my young fellow cast now get to experience one of the essences of real live theatre; Greasepaint.. they will never forget it!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Ramble #7: My thoughts on the power of Christmas

The word Christmas conjures up different feelings, thoughts, memories and meaning in all of us. The mere mention of Christmas can send some of us into a complete panic, others into a state of euphoric anticipation.

Leaving aside all the hype and commercialism of Christmas that has slowly engulfed this day over the past centuries. Christmas as a stand alone day in our year has enormous power over us mere mortals;

The power to acknowledge our religious beliefs, if only for one day. The power to mend family ties and to create new family rifts. The power to reinforce our love or dread of family, friends and acquaintances. The power to embody us in the above mention euphoric feelings or plunge us into a feeling of complete depression.

Christmas has the power to invoke the majority of recallable memories. "Oh, I remember one Christmas when...." so-n-so did this or that or this or that happened. These memories can usually be recalled with vivid detail. I don't know any other day of celebration in our year that can produce this quantity or quality.

As kids, the mere mention of the word Christmas made us wide-eyed and full of excitement. Innocently, it was all about the presents and the attention. As we matured to teen age it was still about receiving presents but also experiencing the joy of giving. Maturing further, it's less about receiving and more on the obsession of the amount and perfection of the giving. The joy may be still there but the process to create it is less than joyful.

To spend this one day of the year alone, more than any other, must be soul destroying. For, apart from all hype, expense and hassle, we need Christmas. It reinforces that we are human and need to express love and friendship, compassion, loyalty, the feeling of belonging and of human contact. It's a catalyst for release that we have made it through another year and a fresh start is only a week away. It is the one day of the year that the majority of the world unites with a single thought.

Dickens when he penned; A Christmas Carol, did not write a mere children's story. He knew the power this day has on his fellow humans. He knew the power this day has for reflection of the past, present & future. He used it's power to teach his lesson.

So what ever Christmas means to you, may it's power be shared to you and yours from me and mine.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Ramble #6: The Christmas Gift

 Here's a little Christmas story I wrote a couple of years ago.. Merry Christmas to you all. [Christmas Eve 2011 - Australian Time]

Farming in the western reaches of New South Wales is not the most hospitable existence during drought. No rain for nine years has taken its toll on William Turner and his young son.

Kirby, aged seven and has never seen rain. Of course he has seen it in photos and movies and it is always the topic of conversation at the dinner table every night. But cool drops of rain trickling down his thin, sun browned face has not been a sensation young Kirby, as his Dad calls him, has ever experienced.

The farm still has two fields under cultivation. The remainder, well, William has told young Kirby they're just resting. Every morning young Kirby checks the water level in the tanks. This was once the job of his brother Edan. Four years his elder and a true farmers son. Edan was being groomed to take over the farm one day. This was never to be. Only a year prior tragedy struck at these same tanks. Edan slipped, hit his head and drowned without a sound.

Young Kirby is always mindful of this as he climbs the ladders to take the water level readings. Although still young, his understanding of the grief that followed his brothers death was way beyond his years. Farming in the west with the day to day responsibilities for survival matures the youngsters faster than their city peers. And the images of his mother, not at all a strong woman, being taken away after total breakdown, then news that she had taken her own life follows him with every rung and step he takes.

Evaporation is the enemy. Young Kirby knows the importance of saving every single drop. The crops must come first as they are the lifeblood of a farm. People second. They consume just enough as nature will allow to keep themselves going.

The outcome of his journey this day was not good. The unforgiving heat of the past few days, the hottest young Kirby could ever remember, had taken it's toll on their precious stockpile. And the water tanker was not due to deliver for another week. Two days before Christmas Day.

The tanker, which travels over a thousand kilometers to the farm with it's belly full of hope for another month, young Kirby sees as the closest facsimile to rain he has. The familiar sound of the engine, he imagines sounds like thunder approaching up the farm road. The ever increasing sloshing sound of the contained water. Then once unleashed, its unmistakable smell which in the dry hits your nostrils like a hammer and almost sends you reeling.

When young Kirby reported this find to his dad but then followed it with his young voice of encouragement about the tanker, William's weary body slipped to his haunches. He could not share in his son's hope for he knew there was no water delivery this month. Or any other month. The farm's credit had now been suspended and their bank overdraft had reached well beyond it's limit. Their survival now depended on bringing their meager two fields to maturity. A proposition that seemed hopeless.

William explained this to young Kirby in the simplest terms for his young mind to comprehend. Although having an understanding of the importance of money and it's role in farming, young Kirby only picked up on the change of his Father's voice. He had never heard him speak in such low and forlorn tones. He had never seen his dad's face so gray and drawn. With the shock of this change and the intake of what was just said, young Kirby was confused and didn't know what to say or do. His thoughts drifted immediately to his mother; a comfort zone till father spoke again. He never did. They both were silent for the remainder of the day.

Days pass and it's Christmas Eve. The situation is unchanged. No rain. Water low. Spirits devastated. William has decided to abandon a field giving their final piece of cultivated land a chance of saving their lives. Their water was now more valuable than anything on the farm. None could be wasted. None could be spared.

Christmas Eve has always, in the past, been celebrated with joy and hope no matter what the situation in the Turner family. The smell of baking, the excitement of one more sleep before Santa, the melodic sound of carols, the celebration of a special birth. This eve it was not to be. Only the smell of the unforgiving dust and unwashed sweat filled the air and silence was everywhere in the old homestead except for the sound of faint murmurs.

These soft whispers break William from his melancholy thoughts as he lies in defeat on the bed he once lovingly shared with his wife. The sound awakens his senses enough for him to follow it's origins through the house. His investigation ends at the front window that overlooks the verandah. Through the curtains he sees young Kirby on his knees in prayer bedside the worn hammock.

Tears make tracks down William's face through the caked dust turning it into dark mud as he listens in dumb silence to Kirby's words. Young words of optimistic hope. Words of polite requests for help and the watchful eye over his father. Words of love for his mother and brother for whom his heart is missing. And final words for the feel of rain. For this he has never had and this, if it was to be, would be the greatest gift of all.

Young Kirby then climbed into the hammock and drifted quickly to sleep knowing he and his father had done all they could. It was now in the hands of fate. And a new day. A new beginning. William silently sobbing, a human trait he has experienced far too often over the past years, crept quietly back to his bed. A boy, his boy had the faith to keep going. A faith, a man, should never lose.

Just before dawn, even before a single bird or animal has stirred for the new day. This special day; Christmas Day. Young Kirby half-dead in sleep from exhaustion and lack of water is slowly awoken by a patter on his cheeks. With eyes still unable to open, maybe it was through fear, he lay there as the feel and sound and smell of water drips down his entire face. The droplet sound is deafening around his ears, the cold on his warm face is almost like burning but in a pleasant way, his eyelashes and brows begin to fill. The building excitement can no longer be restrained. He opens his eyes.

His sight still blurry from sleep and the constant hammering of the droplets can only see a blanket of water. As they begin to focus another more familiar shape becomes clear. A shape that he has seen everyday. It was the rose head of the watering can. And beyond that, as vision became full through the light from the dawn. It was his father holding the can. His face with a beaming, long forgotten smile and eyes bright and full of love.

"Merry Christmas, Young Kirby. This gift maybe our last but you my son have given me something I thought would never return. It's going to allright. This day marks a birth in more ways than one"


Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Ramble #5: Don't act.... be!


Ask any of my students or the actors I have directed in the past few years, what is my favourite acting type saying and they all in once voice will shout: Don't act .... be!

Why don't act .... be? Because it's true.

The greatest tool for the art of acting I have learnt over all these years is exactly that. But it wasn't always the case. It took me a long time to apply this simple technique. simple when you know what you are doing and how to do it that is.  That's why I drill it in to all my young peers. I say it before they they do an impro, when they are dissecting a script, creating a character and it is the last words I say to them before they step on stage for a performance. If they get the idea now, they will give amazing, rich character performances in the future.

So what does it mean this don't act .... be?

The art of acting is perceived as learning lines and pretending to be someone else. True, to a point, but it is so much more. That's if you are interested in the true art itself and care about the journey you take your audiences.

Oh yes, you can get away with it. Thinking that your natural talent will get you through. Thinking that you only need to say your lines and not bump into the furniture. Thinking that there is nothing to this lark and you get paid for it. Not to mention the accolades, the publicity, the recognition on the street by complete strangers. But eventually you realise you are only fooling yourself and your audiences. You can actually become bored with the work but still love the perks. And believe me this will show. It will show big time.

How do I know this?... been there, done that! Just like any job, activity, sport, hobby you only get out of it what you put in.

It took me quite a few years to work this out. Yes, I became bored with the industry. For a long time I put it down to my fellow actors. No one in particular. Just the whole collection of them. The one way conversations, the constant bitching about the industry, directors, Australian shows (that they weren't in), the actor/actress that got the part that they auditioned for... the list goes on and on. It got to the point were I didn't like the company of actors. I didn't like myself much at this time either because I fell into this trap. A prime example of being a product of your environment.

So, what changed. What fired me up again. What gave me this amazing feeling every time I play a new role... would you believe: A television show!

'Inside the Actor's Studio' hosted by James Lipton.  Episode after episode of amazingly relaxed interviews with veteran actors as, Streep, De niro, Hanks, Hoffman, Field, Nicholson and the list goes on and on. Rich insights into how they develop their craft. How they get to their characters. How they ... Don't act but be the character. Be in every situation. Be in the moment all the way. Just be, be, be!

I certainly knew about all the techniques they mentioned and applied. Knew all about the tutors, their mentors and their methods that helped them on their way.  But what I didn't know, what I had only experienced once at that time, which of course I hadn't realised till I listened to their stories, was the outer body experience, totally engrossing yourself in the character that for the moment it is real.

I'm sure you have all read stories of actors totally living and breathing their character beyond the film/TV set or theatre stage. A wonderful lampoon of this was Robert Downey Jnr character in the film: Tropic Thunder. A tragic and to the extreme example would be Heath Ledger. His most amazing performance as The Joker came at a price.... so it is believed. George Reeves as the original TV Superman, as the story goes is another but I really think this is more myth than fact or acting technique.

Although I'm certainly not an advocate of 'taking your work home' beyond your pretend world. I do know that it can happen. Especially if it's a character that you really love playing, You have to remember that your characters still contain parts of you. They are always most certainly also made up of people you know. So slipping every now and then into your alter ego of the moment is always on the cards in the real world.

There are many key elements and techniques to creating a character. The trick is to try them all then use the one's that are you are comfortable with and right for you.  But never be afraid to stretch yourself. To try new ways. This is what keeps your characters fresh and gives you the challenge to keep you inspired.

For me: Observation. This is my ongoing 24 hour tool. I'm constantly looking and listening. Looking for walks, mannerisms, gestures, fashion sense, grooming. Listening to conversations. Which I found out the other day is now called 'earwigging' ... I call it  research. Listening to speech patterns, accents, inflections and the conversation itself.... although this is mainly as a writer See I can muti-task too!

The clothes (costume, wardrobe): This one is invaluable to me. i have developed many exercises for the kids and adults I tutor revolved around building a character piece by piece using clothing. Now, although the final decision on costume is made by the director. producers, costume/wardrobe master, you can still start with your own pieces. A Op-shop crawl is fabulous for this! Then when you receive your costume/wardrobe for real... the sky's the limit with your character building and fine tuning.

I think I better explain before I continue for the non-theatrical that may be reading this, which by the way I'm very happy you are, why I call it costume/wardrobe. In theatre and film  your clothes are referred to as costumes. In television they are referred to as your wardrobe.

Background: In your script/play you are given a descriptive character breakdown (hopefully) and through the story you will gain knowledge of their life past and maybe future aspirations. This is what the audience will also discover. But to give your character more depth and so you will truly understand 'where they're coming from' there are the pieces of their life that the audience doesn't see or hear about. These are in your head. developed by you for you only.

This technique involves taking what you know and expanding on it. Giving your character a life beyond the written word. A history prior to there first appearance on the stage/set. As i said the audience will never know any of this but it will help you ... be!

Now the trick is to be confident in still being conscience of all the technical requirements while performing this character, hitting your mark, finding the light, entering exiting at the right time on the right line etc. while at the same time it all being natural, believable and comfortable. Not only to you but your journey takers (audience) as well.

My final word, and I can hear my teen students saying "Thank god for that!', is a phrase I coined for being on stage/set as an actor;

"No matter how long the run has been. Speak as if the first time ever uttered. Listen as new to the ear and react as never felt before"


Thursday, 6 October 2011

Ramble #4: The Audition.. to die a 1000 deaths!


Ah yes... the dreaded audition. Some actors I know breakout into a cold sweat just by the mere mention.

Over the past 38 years that I have been in the biz, I have certainly lost count of how many auditions I have attended. It would now have to be in the top hundreds.

Now, I can only comment on the audition process here in Australia but I'm sure it's not that different all around the world.

The Cattle Call
Glad to say I haven't been involved in one of these for decades+ but newbies to the biz... don't worry, after all you have to start somewhere. Sitting in the foyer, reception, antiroom with 50 to 100 other actors all going for the same part can be very daunting. The room full of either the gushing polite, the solitarily quiet or the bombasticly boasting about their last role. No matter which, they all have one thought in common... 'Let it be me & not you!'

The Theatre (Theater) Audition
The most civilised of all auditions. Usually depending on the play, you have to prepare two short pieces. One drama & one comedy... some times one Shakespeare or classical. Always have these ready as your set pieces. Fully rehearsed and 'Owned by you' meaning you have the character, the moves, the motivation all set in concrete. These audition are usually in the theatre with you on stage and the director in the shadows of the house.. yes, just like in the movies! Depending on the director but this is a very gentle type of audition with plenty of time to calm down and relax into your pieces. I love these!

The TV/Film Audition
Not as civilised usually and can be a bit sterile. Once again depending on the director but they are usually on a tight schedule, unless you have been specifically requested to audition... this is such a buzz the first couple of times 'They asked for ME! The auditions also are based on a script you have been sent, if you are lucky. I have done many, especially TV commercials, which I will talk about next, where I have had to learn the piece in about 20 minutes at the audition.

The TV Commercial
As I said, hopefully you have been sent the script. These days it's a breeze. It's sent to you from your agent or the casting agent via email. When I started you had to trek all the way to your agent to pick it up. TV commercial auditions are less about your acting skills and more about: Right time, right place, right face. Anyone can get a TV commercial. Getting the second, third and so-on is the trick!

Audition Tips.

1. Try not to be too nervous but some nerves keep you honest.

2. Dress in character (especially TV comercials) I get 98% of the commercials I audition for because of this.

3. Show your personality and the 'REAL' you during the pre-talk with the director, casting agent etc.

4. Once you have done the audition.. forget about it. Don't worry if you got the part. Don't sit by the phone. Don't ring your agent every 5 minutes. NEVER ring the casting agent or director. I have found when I do this I get the part. When I do the above.. it's the death nell.

Hope some of this helps. Remember this is through my experience. You don't have to agree.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Ramble #3: ... it's history, baby!


I had to go to the city the other day (Sydney) to check out a venue, the theatre in NSW Parliament House, for a perfomance of one of my plays 'Under the Bridge' to be performed there in November.

I couldn't remember the last time I got off the island (Hornsby) to venture anywhere. I'm walking up George St... Now I should have preempted all this with: I love history. I don't mean history as in memorising the dates of the voygers of Vasco de Gama or great war battles, although there is nothing great about war. No, I'm talking about people history. The celebrated, the mediocre and the down right run-o-mill people in our past. The documented and the imagined.  That last statement will become clear in a moment.

 So as I often do as I walk, I start imagining the people past that have trodden this exact path. The famous, the infamous and the ordinary. I start imagining what my surrounding would have looked like in different periods of the past. Although Australia is a relatively young nation compared to the majority of the world. We still have a bit over two hundred years of it's citizens and visitors treading this exact same ground.

As far as Sydney is concerned, the birthplace of Australia, the ghostly footprints are significant. The great city builder Governor Macquarie,  the infamous Govenor (Captain)  Bligh certanly would have walked where my feet tred. The convicts, the ticket of leaves, the soldiers. Soldiers from all the conflicts.  On their way abroad, home on leave, back for good; it's over. Sqizzy Taylor, Ronald Biggs, Chrisopher Skase all would have walked this way. The ordinary people, although I don't find any life ordinary, of all eras, walking here, going about their day in 'the big smoke'.

I'm a fanatical plaque reader. I'll cross the road the read a plaque I've spotted. That's a strange thing to do! Hmmm... not really. Not when you believe that in this very brief, brief as in the big picture, moment that we are here in this world, you need to leave a legacy. Something to say I was here. Something that someone, in the disant future, will acknowledge. That's what plaque reading does.

Plaques are there for a reason. They are a celebration or recognition of something or someone. A legacy that was thought significant enough that it derserved a plaque.  Even if it is just for 'something' there is always people, citizens, just like you and me behind the reason. Folk, community minded enough to make it happen. In reading the plaque not only do I learn something but I'm acknowledging these people and their legacy to us; one of the generations in the "for generations to come".

A generation though, I find very destination orientated. A generation that is very point A to B. The journey and it's hidden treasures are rarely acknowledged. The wearing of blinkers seems to be the order of the day.

"Take the time to stop and smell the roses" an age old saying but great advice. First coined by... who knows! One of those gems authored by 'Anonymous'. But it's only anonymous because we don't know the originator. There was a being behind this thought.  Every time we say, write, read or think these sayings, poems, writings we are acknowledging their legacy to us all.

I always think of the Egyptian Pharaohs when I talk about legacys. Although their legacy was motivated by 'me', their ego left us with an enormous wealth of our past. Their belief of the after-world gave us a huge insite into their lives. The funny thing is they, in a way, got what they wanted. This after-world may not have been what they imagined. They gained their eternal life by never leaving this world because of their self indulgent legacy. They are still alive today through biographies, documentaries, movies, lectures. The writings contained wthin their monuments to them by them, the pyramids, are the grand-daddys of all 'plaques'.

 I can only imagine, as I have never treked to the ancient cities of the world... yet. Of  how my quirk of 'who walked or stood here before me' would be. Socrates, Ceasars, Shakespeare, Galileo, Jack the Ripper... I think you get the idea.

We owe our present to the people of the past. Not only the well documented, the famous, the well known but the people, the citizens, the individuals. Give them a thought every now and then. Acknowledge their great legacy. We owe them that much.