LAMDA week three – letting go

As the physical theatre classes have increased with intensity, the singing classes introduced me to the wonder of my ‘head voice’ (quite a revelation for me actually!), and the scene study sessions frustrated me more and more with my general crapness, I have discovered the importance of ‘letting go’. If last week I made the decision to be brave, this week I have been focusing on the result of being brave – letting go. Letting go of me, of my habits, of my fears and insecurities, of all the emotion pent up inside, straining to get out and be freeeeee. When I say letting go of me, I’m not talking about wiping the slate clean completely, just being able to get to a state known as ‘neutral’ and knowing how to return to that state before getting into character. Sitting on the tube, walking through London, eating my breakfast, I will remain as me, with all the wonderful (and not so!) little things that make me me. But in the studio, the rehearsal room, or backstage, before I transform into Viola, Rosalind, Portia, I can shake off me and find that neutral state, then let the character in.

During our work on neutrality with the wonderful John Bartlett, we had the brief chance to do some mask work. Normally this takes weeks or even months to work on and build up to, but given the brief nature of the course, we were given a sneak peak into this wonderful world and the creative possibilities it opens up. We each chose a mask, as much on impulse as possible, then spent a few minutes getting to know our mask. I ran my fingers over its face, felt the prominent cheekbones jutting out, the deep eye sockets; brought it close to my face and rubbed my cheek against its. I held it above me and looked up at the look of a parent; held it below in my arms – the look of a child; held it behind me – the look of a stranger; lay down on my side with it – the passive look of a lover. Once acquainted with our masks, we closed our eyes and put them on. Unfortunately, my eyes being stupidly close together, I struggled with some discomfort to see properly out of the mask; indeed at the end of the session, as I pulled the mask off, my left contact lens, which it had apparently dragged out of my eye, fell into my palm – ouch! However, this aside, the effect of the mask was a powerful one. We were told not to sink and pull it down to us, but rather to lift ourselves to it. Walking around in neutral, executing actions on impulse, listening to what our bodies wanted to do and where they wanted to go, and listening to what the mask wanted to do, we were transformed. I felt my body move automatically, without any conscious thought, as if controlled by some other power, some other force. It was a strangely liberating experience, that loss of conscious control, that letting go.

Our group chilling during a line run at rehearsal – first time using the panorama function on my new camera so the pic’s a little messed up in places!

In my physical theatre and movement classes my body is becoming more and more attuned to letting go, and in my voice classes too, as I drop all the tension I normally carry across my chest (seems all those years of ballet weren’t a good idea after all) and let my breath sink in deeper. The problem I’m facing is putting all this hard work into practice in the rehearsal room. Working on a scene with Viola and Olivia from Twelfth Night (me playing Viola), I’m finding it takes so much time in each session for me to open up and let go of myself. Once I manage to do this, the effect is obvious, and suddenly the scene has an energy and life it was lacking before. One can only presume that, through drama school training, you develop the means to put into practice all the techniques you learn without having to consciously bring them up and go through the exercise each time. I have faith that, if I work hard and open myself to every creative possibility, this could happen. However, for the meantime I need to get this scene nailed by the end of this week, and for this I just need to let go.

The music video shoot – one girl, two outfits, three cameras

The day of the long-awaited music video shoot arrived. With equal parts nervousness and excitement I began the day, a little high on caffeine and eager to do a good job. The director’s vision for the video greatly impressed me from the moment he first described it over a month ago, so I guess I just wanted to do it justice, and show that his decision to have me onboard was the right one.

Although as a child I could sit still for hours, as I’ve got older I’ve become increasingly more fidgety, so make-up required me to wander off in my mind to one of the many stories that are normally meandering along in there in order to quell the urge to jump up after ten minutes and start running around. There’s always the odd unavoidable twinge or jerk however, which usually happens just as the make-up artist is carefully tracing an expert line of thick black eyeliner. Make-up artists, I’m quickly discovering, are angels in disguise, with the patient of a saint, a surgeon’s steady hand and the ability to hide even the darkest of under-eye circles (something which, part due to my aversion to bed-time and part due to genetics – thanks dad – I suffer from).

The shoot involved sequences showing the two sides of a woman – the light, coy and more ‘innocent’ side and the dark, sexy, animalistic and dominant side. Admittedly, we are multi-faceted creatures and there are more shades of grey than one could begin to count, but from a male perspective I think these are the two strongest images, and served the lyrics of the song perfectly. They also made for a thrilling day for me, having the opportunity to explore both sides of my own femininity to extremes I would never normally go.

My sketch of the two costumes – light and dark. No, I can’t draw hands, but figured they looked weird enough without a head or feet, so excuse the claw-like attempts I have included here.

The light sequences were shot first, and in a white floaty ballet outfit I felt soft and graceful and completely at home, dancing a little, keeping movements flowing and, well, balletic. Although I’ve been told I can flirt outrageously, I can assure you it’s never intentional, and when there’s a guys I really like I’m normally running in the opposite direction in horror at the prospect of actually talking to him. (My boyfriend is the exception but my good friend Merlot had a lot to do with that.) Thus, when the director asked me to be more teasing and flirtatious, at first I wasn’t sure what to do! When you’re more used to the vastness of the stage and having other actors to play off, suddenly being asked to freestyle it in front of three cameras in a small room with the focus all on you can be quite daunting, even for a trainee actor! I found the key was to relax, imagine myself as this girl in this situation – there’s a guy she likes but she doesn’t want to be too obvious, so she keeps checking if he’s looking at her and smiling coyly, inviting him to make a move – and the rest took care of itself. I even had fun!

The dark sequences were shot after lunch, and these I was much more nervous about. Lunch was low on carbs as I had to fit into… shock horror… a corset! Now aside from the fitting for the shoot I have never worn a corset in my life, and I can safely say you’d have to pay me a lot of money to wear one again. Apparently men think they’re sexy. Anything that crushes your diaphragm, pushes your stomach down into your intestines and basically tries to asphyxiate you is not sexy. Period. Matters weren’t helped by the fact that I spent the first ten minutes trying to put it on back-to-front.

Geared-up in the corset, pants, stockings, suspenders – the lot – I inched my way back into the studio (large movements would have spelled disaster for my already suffering rib cage). I thought I looked ridiculous, but apparently women spend money on this stuff to look sexy for their men. I still need convincing. Maybe it’s just the concept of thinking of myself as ‘sexy’ that’s just too weird for me to grasp. After initial direction as to the type of moves we were after, I was again asked to freestyle. I realised that with the director operating all three cameras he had his work cut out, so the more I could get into character and use my own initiative, the easier it would be on him, and ultimately the more successful the shoot would be. I’ve done very little camera work but I think it’s a valuable lesson to learn that people simply don’t have time for you to spend an hour getting into character, and there’s certainly no time for self-consciousness to creep in. There’s a job to be done and everybody’s there to get it done. I imagine the best actors to work with, from a director’s point of view, are those that can get on with the job and deliver the results without needing their hand held, so I plan on being one of those actors.

The director put on some rock music to help me get into the mood, which turned out to be a godsend. With this stimulus I got into character easily, and was moving from one sexy pose to another in no time, my eyes flashing with primal sexual desire at the camera. And the more I transformed into this sexual being the easier it all became, but the key thing was it wasn’t me. Well, obviously it wasme, but it didn’t feel like it was me. It felt like I was someone else, and that other person was confident and dominant and squeezed herself into a corset on a regular basis, and was very comfortable with thinking of herself as sexy. And that, folks, is the magic of acting.Becoming someone else, or at least feeling like you are. The key, of course, is knowing yourself well enough to return to being you at the end of the day.

When I see the final cut I know I’ll be amazed – partly at the artistry of the director, producer and general creative genius-in-one, but also at that woman I see on the screen, flickering from light to dark, coy to prowling – as I remind myself that woman’s me.