My actor’s showreel

In the digital age, every emerging actor needs a showreel. Back in the day, if you wanted to get an agent you had to invite them to come see you in the flesh, acting in a play, but these days we have the internet at our fingertips. With agents’ and casting directors’ days getting even busier, they are just as likely, if not more, to click on a link on Spotlight to view your showreel, than trek out to whatever tiny theatre space above a pub you’ve saved up your meagre earnings to hire. This is not me dissing such venues – they’re the bread and butter of what we do and some of the most innovative and inspiring theatre I’ve seen has been in a black studio space above a bustling pub – but many agents just won’t travel that far from where they’re based unless they have an inkling it’s going to be worth their while. Which is where the showreel comes in….

This is our chance to give a taster of our talents, to hook the agent, pique their attention, and basically show them we can act. With this in mind, at drama school last term we were encouraged to put together our own short showreels and upload them to our Spotlight profile. Choosing the right material to film proved perhaps the biggest challenge – something not too emotionally heightened, outlandish or risqué – and then there was the task of trying to choose a location that worked well both for the action and on film, getting the lighting and sound levels right, and making sure we didn’t film over anybody else’s clips! It was a fantastic learning experience, and after a spot of editing training we all gave it a go.

I downloaded a free 30-day trial of Final Cut Pro so I could edit at my own leisure, but I have to say trying to edit footage on an 11-inch Macbook Air screen was not the easiest of tasks! You can watch the final edit below. Although it will suffice for the moment, I will be re-doing the showreel before our industry showcase in September. I don’t feel I did my best acting at all as I was still getting used to working in front of the camera rather than on stage (everything has to be brought down a few notches, and you certainly cannot lie to the camera!). The two clips also don’t show enough variety as they are rather similar, and in hindsight, they’re probably not the best scenes for my casting. So please be gentle! I’ll be posting the new and improved showreel on here later this year, so watch this space! Meanwhile, enjoy (yes, that is my best grumpy face to kick us off)…

Surviving Actors 2015

Few opportunities seem to exist for experienced and new actors alike to network for free and find out more about their industry for a fiver. Surviving Actors is one such opportunity. This year’s convention took place a few weeks ago in London. With a manic few weeks at drama school I’ve only just found a moment to blog about the day, but I definitely think it’s still worthwhile sharing my experience of the event.

The event itself was free to attend, then each workshop or talk was £5 each, so for £25 I got a day of networking, meeting potential employers for non-acting-paying-the-bills jobs, and five sessions – bargain! The sessions I booked covered marketing yourself as an actor, screen acting, working with a director, developing the right attitude to survive in the industry, and what happens in the casting room.

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The marketing talk I attended was led by Lloyd Trott, editor of the Actors and Peformers Yearbook

 

Aside from being an extremely useful day for a rookie actor with very little knowledge of the industry, it was also inspiring. For the first time I really started to feel a part of something bigger, outside the sacred walls of drama school. There are other actors out there, yey!! Actors who aren’t just my friends and coursemates, but complete strangers who I may or may not work with in the future. It’s unlike any other industry I’ve come into contact with in my life. When I was working in corporate communications I went to the odd marketing or communications conference, where I found it interesting meeting and chatting to other professionals in the area, but I never felt a real camaraderie with them, nor was there that almost tangible zing of excitement at the thought that many of these people I was meeting for the first time might become colleagues and creative partners. I suppose it’s down to the creativity element – these are people whose talent and imagination are things I want to tap into, and with whom I’m hungry to share my creative process and ideas. Of course, it’s also an industry where reputation is everything, and where it really does pay to try to be nice to everyone.

The hall of exhibitors featured stands for Equity, Spotlight, various publishers, photographers specialising in headshots, an accountant, and various non-theatrical companies who employ actors. The latter included a call centre, sales company, and several teaching agencies employing actors as teaching assistants. The latter is definitely something I’m interested in as a back-up career, and with nine months’ experience teaching English to primary school children in Madrid I have some relevant experience. My mum’s a retired teacher, so maybe it’s in my genes!

At one of the publisher stands I bought a copy of this year’s Actors and Performers Yearbook, after attending the marketing talk that Yearbook editor and RADA dramaturg Lloyd Trott chaired. I also picked up a copy of ‘Voice into Acting‘ by Christina Gutekunst and John Gillett. Christina is our voice tutor on the MA Acting at East 15, and an absolute gem. Aside from bringing pure joy to my day with her colourful scarf and hat combinations, she is a brilliant teacher whose methods have opened up my voice to a depth and richness I never thought it possessed.

Acting and the theatre, film and television industry has often felt like a closed members-only club for which I’ve only got a visitor’s pass. Getting a place at drama school did go some way to upgrading that pass, at least in my mind, but I still feel like I’m on the outside looking in. At Surviving Actors, however, for the first time I felt like I was on the inside, that I was a fully paid-up member. Admittedly, I’m still in training, our industry showcase is still six months off, and I haven’t yet upgraded from student to full membership of Spotlight and Equity. However, for several hours that Saturday I strode around calling myself an actor, and it felt good.

 

 

First term of drama school done!

Term one of drama school is done and dusted, and with just a few days of the Christmas holidays left I thought it was about time I did a blog post about the course so far! My original intention was of course to blog regularly about my drama school adventures, but it has been a whirlwind so far with barely time to sit down, let alone open the laptop and get writing. So apologies for the radio silence…

One of the beautiful willow trees by the pond at drama school – yes, we have a pond!!

I can’t say much about what we actually do on the course, as there’s this kind of Fight Club thing where we keep schtum about the details of what goes on in classes and rehearsals. It’s partly to respect each other’s privacy and safeguard the honesty and safe space we’ve created as a group, and partly to keep our shared experiences as something sacred within the group. There are many things we experience that people outside of the course won’t understand or be able to relate to, and of course for people who will be starting the course next year we don’t want to give away any surprises. There’s a lot to be said for experiencing something fresh and for the first time, rather than knowing about it in advance and having time to build up preconceptions that you bring into the room.

What I can talk about is the personal discoveries I’ve made during the course so far, and how this has helped my development as an actor. First of all, let me make something clear: drama school is HARD. It is hard work, it is hard emotionally, it’s hard physically, and it challenges me in a way I have never been challenged before. It is also amazing, and the most eye-opening, soul-enhancing thing I have ever done.

There have been several times when I’ve been whimpering to my boyfriend on FaceTime, telling him I just want to come home. There have also been many times when I’ve felt like there is no other place I would rather be. I do think the hardest thing for me has actually been being apart from him, not having my best friend there every evening to run home to and tell about my day and get a big hug from.

The second hardest thing has been the sheer volume of work involved. The work of a professional actor is not easy, therefore it makes sense that your training to be a professional actor isn’t easy, however I wasn’t prepared for the amount of information my brain would have to hold, or the amount of line-learning, research and regular practice that I would need to fit into very little free time. Well, once you’ve done all that there is no free time, but with only a year to get us industry-ready, every minute counts.

I don’t think I’d realised before coming here how much work is involved in being an actor, or how hard actors work, at least the good ones. In preparing a role there is a great amount of research and preparation to do before you even get to the rehearsal room. There is a lot of work to do to get the role in the first place. And if you don’t quite feel like putting in the blood, sweat and tears, you can betcha someone else will!

But please don’t take these as negative aspects of the training. They’re quite the opposite – drama school is the place to be tested to our limits, to try and fail and try and fail again, to discover just how crazy this industry is and how hard we need to work if we want to be a part of it. This is why we train. We also train to discover who we really are, underneath all the many layers of protection we have carefully built up over the years, under the various masks we like to wear depending on our mood. We delve down into the deepest, darkest recesses, put the key in the rusty lock and creak open that long-hidden door, then step into the room of secrets. We face our demons and we learn to love them, for they are what have made us who we are today, and who we are today, right here, right now, is all we have. A body in time and space.

Through my training I am rediscovering the person I am, warts and all, and learning to be comfortable here. I am also embracing the importance of my spine in supporting my speech, exploring new languages of movement with my body, discovering a depth and strength of voice I never new I had, and learning for the first time how to really read a play. If there is one word to describe this year most accurately it is a ‘journey’. A journey from amateur to professional actor. A journey from running away from my fears to embracing them. A journey that hopefully I will be blogging about a bit more regularly from now on……!

Improvisation workshop: a spot of devising

You may have realised by now that I’m a big improvisation fan. Earlier this year, when the sun had not yet fought its way through the clouds and the persistent gloom still hung heavy in the sky, a group of actors traipsed through a dark winter night to get to an improvisation workshop. It was run for members of the Southsea Shakespeare Actors by the brilliant Vincent Adams of Soop, resident theatre company at The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre, Havant. Soop run regular improv workshops in Havant and Southampton.

Last week, the sun beaming down on us, we once again headed to the Southsea Shakespeare Actors’ HQ for another evening of improv antics. Our band was a little depleted in number due to the England match, but we still made up a respectable gathering.

Vincent Adams, photography by Dan Finch, courtesy of Soop

Vincent Adams, courtesy of Soop

Vin started the evening by asking us to each write down the topic for a political speech on a piece of paper. These were then folded, collected, and placed on a table at the back of the room to be used at various points throughout the workshop. By the end of the evening each of us had had a go at one of the topics. We selected a piece of paper at random, then had to speak for 45 seconds on that topic, in the form of a political speech. The piece of paper I chose said the importance of rabbits, prompting mention of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit, the latter signifying the importance of the arts in Britain, and my pledge to focus on the arts where the current government has made more and more cuts, with a brief less than complimentary mention of Michael Gove thrown in.

We also played a few games including hidden agenda and the one word game, but the highlight of the evening was getting to do a bit of devising, and direct it. We all walked around the room at a speed on a scale from one to five, one being as slow as possible without stopping, five being a very fast walk. Once we had run through the five speeds with Vin, we then chose one of these and moved around the room at our chosen speed. One by one we were asked to continue while everyone else froze and gave us a few adjectives to describe the kind of character or mood this speed portrayed.

We then decided as a group on a setting for our devised piece – a cruise ship. We wanted somewhere where you would get a group of random people together who may not necessarily all know one another, but in an enclosed environment, rather than in the openness of a street. Vin went round the group asking us who we were – I decided that, as I’d chosen a speed of 5, the head of entertainment would be a sufficiently stressful and hectic position to match this pace. Of course at this stage we no longer had to move around at our chosen speed, it was more to give us a starting point for a character.

Vin asked me to play a directing role as the others got into position for the first improvised scene. I decided on a few key moments of action that would each form a scene, and we gave the first one a go. Vin gave them three minutes for the first scene, then we stopped and decided what worked and therefore we wanted to keep, and what needed changing here and there to make the whole piece work better. It was a fantastic experience, getting a glimpse into the process of devising and how a director approaches this kind of performance work.

The workshop lasted for two hours, and in those two hours it was as if I completely forgot the outside world existed. In that safe and wonderful environment of play I was in my element, and it was quite a shock coming back out into the daylight and the ‘real world’. I left HQ feeling tired but happy, and with plenty of creative ideas dancing round in my head.

‘Human is enough’

I was at an audition the other day where I had the pleasure of meeting Andrea Brooks, course leader of the MA Acting at East 15 drama school. The key piece of advice she gave us during the audition, especially when directing our pieces, was: ‘human is enough’.

When preparing audition speeches we so often tend to focus too much on how to stage the speech. We worry that by the fifth line we haven’t moved, so we put some movement in. The movement isn’t motivated by anything in particular other than the fear of remaining too static. This of course leads to meaningless movement and a performance based on artificial staging decisions rather than truth.

What Andrea is saying makes perfect sense. Strip back all the extra stuff – the artificial gestures, the unmotivated movement, the ‘my character is feeling angry so I should clench my fists and frown to show this’ – and just let the basic human truth of the situation speak for itself. I have adopted this phrase as a sort of acting mantra, and hopefully it will help me produce more organic and truthful performances from now on.

Aaand…. action!

Last week I acted in my second short film. The first, although of merit, was a student project. This time it was the baby of lawyer-cum-producer Derek Parsons. With the amount of time and care put into the project apparent from the start, the stakes were higher.

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The plot of the film was enticingly grisly. I play a young woman who has a fight with her overbearing boyfriend and meets an unpleasant end. The challenge of choreographing the fight scene convincingly enough was an instant attraction for me. A few later additions to the script, providing a nice little twist, only made me more interested in the project. That and simply the chance to get more experience on set made the whole thing a wonderfully valuable experience.

When time is so tight, as with most shooting schedules, it became clear how important it was to always be listening and ready. There was no room for messing about, as there often is in play rehearsals. I tried to remain focused and attentive, and did my best to follow any instructions ‘to the T’.

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The intimacy of working in a small space with a crew of people all doing their bit quickly turns strangers into friends. I had a wonderful time working with these people, and within a few hours I was massaging fellow actor Cassells’ temples, my stomach was acting as a prop for cameraman Phil’s screen, and I was quite happy to lie there with a duvet over my face while I played dead, surrounded by a room of people. This is the beauty of acting, and of the business itself – it breaks down barriers and builds a bond of camaraderie and trust. You need to get on and get the work done in a short space of time, so there’s no need for the usual social restrictions.

Jackson, the actor who plays my boyfriend in the film, is a fellow member of the Southsea Shakespeare Actors (SSA), but we hadn’t acted together much before the shoot so it was nice to work more with him and get to know him a little better. I also enjoyed chatting with the sound guy Steve, camera assistant Jo, photographer Milos, makeup artist Blaise and actor Cassells, and watching Sam, the DIT (digital imaging technician, but yes, DIT is funnier) at work with the footage. It was a pleasure for me to work with a professional actor (!!), and likewise I revered cameraman Phil. You could tell this guy knew exactly what we was doing, and when he was ready to shoot you shut up and got ready to work. It was fascinating watching him and the rest of the crew work. I feel like us actors have the easy bit to do!

Julia, the production assistant, was an absolute joy, right from the first introduction when she grasped my hand in both of hers, to the hug goodbye. She made sure we were always comfortable, and was always ready with a smile.

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My part in the film was shot over one evening and a full day. During the evening we shot two scenes including the fight, which left Jackson and I absolutely knackered. We gave it all we’d got, but were still surprised at how tiring it was just pretending to fight.

During the full day’s shoot I spent a lot of time playing dead, which is more difficult than you would expect! The main thing was to try to hold my breath and not blink while the camera was focusing on me, and then sneak in a blink and breath as it moved its focus elsewhere. There’s a point where I’m under the duvet, which I was rather nervous about as I suffer from mild claustrophobia. However, I didn’t want to make a fuss and be difficult, and knew it was needed for the shot, so I just tried to breathe steadily and keep calm, and got on with it. Blaise, the makeup artist, gave me a deathly pallor, which at first gave me a shock every time I looked in the mirror. However, I gradually got used to my new look! That doesn’t meant to say I wasn’t glad when we took the makeup off and I returned to my usual skin colour – I looked positively radiant!

The whole experience was fantastic, and so useful for a fledgling actor. Getting the chance to be a part of Derek’s creative vision felt very special, and the energy on set left me buzzing and wanting more. I’m so excited to eventually see the final cut!

My first acting paycheck!

This week I received my very first acting paycheck. Until recently, everything I’ve done has been purely for the love of it (well, and to gain experience to boost my acting CV, along with trying to improve as an actor). However, I recently had my first professional acting gig with Thursday’s Child, a new play by local playwright Clare Campbell-Collins.

The all-important envelope

The all-important envelope

Earlier this week, the cast (three in total), director and playwright got together for a little catch-up, and the chance to give Clare any feedback about the version of the play as it was performed. It was lovely to see everyone again, if not slightly surreal. Since the last performance back in March, my character Anne has been floating around somewhere over my shoulder, still hanging on and not sure what to do with herself. Seeing everyone from the play brought everything back, and suddenly I felt Anne stop hovering and seat herself comfortably but firmly on my shoulder, watching everyone and waiting for her turn to come back into the action. There are plans to bring the play back for a few more performances in the summer, which pleased her very much. Continue reading