Monday, 31 December 2012

Cheap as chips

A reminder that £8.80 (booking fee included) gets you a two-hour play, violence and surrealism included, in sunny Crouch End. Seth Jones' new play Clouds of Grey opening 27 January. Details here. How can you resist?

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Older Actress Wanted

The official announcement will be sometime in January, but provisional details for my next production, Californian Lives, are already online at arberyproductions.co.uk. It's an evening of one-actor plays in April - May at the well-known King's Head theatre in London. Two of the plays are already cast, but we're still looking for an older woman with a generic US accent for the last part. Auditions in mid-January. Small payment guaranteed. If you know anyone that might be interested, there are more details here.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Going Swimmingly

The Lido on a rare sunny day 
I live about 20 minutes walk from London Fields Lido where, two or three times a week, I swim 1,500 - 2,000 metres. (Yes, non-stop, in 30 - 40 minutes, which is reasonable for one my age.) The advantage of the walk is that I can learn my lines for Clouds of Grey. Which means that I have been walking along the road mumbling such memorable lines as "What the **** are you doing here?" and "Put Channel Four Racing On".

All is going well - even (groan) swimmingly. I  have most of the lines committed to memory (with a thank you to writer-director Seth Jones for allowing us leeway on the script, which gives us actohs the opportunity to develop the characters to suit our individual talents). The problem now is that to fully embed the lines, I need to say them in character at normal to loud volume. Uttering threats of violence at the top of my voice, even in a deserted street, will not win me many friends. Which means that as I stroll along the suburban streets, my voce is more sotto than forte. Well, never mind, rehearsals start in ten days time and then I will be able to shout and swear to my heart's content.

[For new readers: Clouds of Grey, a strange, testosterone-driven drama, is on at the Moors Theatre, London N8, from 27 Jan to 5 Feb. Advance tickets are on sale at £8.80 each, including booking fee, which, for a full-length two act play, is a deal that is unlikely to be heard of again. Book here.]

Meanwhile, looking further into the future, a contract has been signed for Californian Lives - a production of three of my one-person plays opening at a well-known venue in April. Details to come very soon.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Yule enjoy Christmas

Yule Log from trendytree.com
As an atheist, I don't do Christmas. Which means I don't go to church and sing carols. But that doesn't mean I'm not celebrating. The winter solstice is an excellent excuse to get together with friends* and indulge in food and wine - both sparkling and mulled. Throw in a few presents and some games and we're celebrating Yule, the traditional winter festival of northern Europeans. So, while the Other Half and I enjoy ourselves, I hope all my regular and occasional readers enjoy this holiday season.

* No, I haven't forgotten family - I'll be joining them at the beginning of the year.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Ensuring insurance

In addition to learning my lines for Clouds of Grey, mostly on my walk to and from the Lido, I've been negotiating with a well-known London venue to put on a production of three one-person plays next spring. All seemed well until last night, when I received the contract to sign. Problem. I need liability insurance in case any part of the production causes injury to anyone else. So, the contract goes unsigned while I get insurance. It turns out to be not that expensive, but it means having to sell another ten tickets to break even.

Meanwhile, back at Clouds of Grey, me an' Sergeant Banford are 'avin' a chat, which, coincidentally, involves another kind of insurance . . .

photo by Lauren Wright; with Barry Brosnan 

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Not Hobbit-Forming

The Other Half and I live together comfortably, enjoying some cultural activities together and having very different tastes on others. (Do I want to spend half an hour a day checking up on celeb gossip in his homeland? No, thank you very much.) So when we sat through the two-and-a-half-hours of The Hobbit in 3D in Islington Vue on Monday evening, I spent half the time thinking "this is a load of manure" and wondering how I could express my opinion of the film without denting his appreciation of the tale.

But when the lights went up and I turned to him, I could see the disappointment writ as deeply in his face as it probably was in mine. After the grandeur of all three episodes of The Lord of the Rings, what we had just seen was a run-of-the-mill Hollywood movie where the computer-generated images, the restless camera and the repetitive violence could not disguise the hollowness and the cynicism that lay at the heart of this prequel.

The OH's first comment was the pointlessness of the 3D. I agreed. Unlike Avatar, where 3D was obviously integral to the conception of the film from the start, the third dimension in The Hobbit appeared to have been grafted on at the last minute. It seldom gave the film depth, either literally or figuratively, in the end detracting more from the story than it gave.

The main problem, however, lies much deeper - or rather, does not lie deeper, because this film has no depth. It has taken a simple children's story (The Hobbit, unlike The Lord of the Rings, was written for children, not adults) and, in order to make as much money as possible, has added on all the superficial trappings that make a Hollywood blockbuster - weak, clichéd characterisation, lots and lots of computer graphics, camera techniques that never allow the attention to focus on one individual or action for more than a second, fighting and running and fighting again - and which destroy the integrity and fail to pierce the depth of what could and should be a moving and epic story.

Peter Jackson had a choice. He could, in one 150 - 180 minute film with thoughtful characterisation, no unnecessary introductions (such as Galadriel, not in the original book) and fight sequences reduced to their original length, with CGI kept to a minimum instead of dominating the film, have made a movie that recreated and rivaled the splendour of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Instead of which he has produced a turkey for Christmas. But what does he care? His bank balance is healthy and that's much more important than the integrity of the story he has butchered.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

What's My Line?

I'm just about old enough to remember the last days of What's My Line, a television programme in the 1950s where someone came on and mimed their job and a panel of celebrities (yes, best beloved, they had celebrities back then) had twenty questions to work out what they did. (I'm probably confusing this game with Twenty Questions, another staple of the period, but that's not the point.)

If I were on What's My Line? today, my mime would be sitting in front of a computer and typing, occasionally getting up to make tea or coffee or filing or binning some papers about building repairs, Virginmedia pricing, special offers from Sainsbury and the like. Of course the panel would not guess my profession, unless they were unusually insightful or devious. Because the answer would be "I'm an actor" and when they asked me what typing or filing had to do with being an actor, the answer would be "I'm not typing or filing or making tea. What I'm actually doing is not learning lines."

And that is exactly what I have been doing for the last few days. Not learning lines. (Which means that the true answer to the question "What's My Line?" is "I haven't a clue", but, clever people as you are, you've already worked that out for yourselves.) I'm finally beginning to feel guilty about it. Not because I'm under any immediate pressure to know my lines - the first rehearsal isn't until 7th January - but because I'm aware that the sooner I know the words the sooner I will be able to get into the character. And that's the most important part of the job...

Ah well, perhaps tomorrow. Now, however, it's time to stop typing and go and make that tea...

Friday, 14 December 2012

Wright Crazy

photograph by Lauren Wright
Me as Steve Marks in the upcoming Clouds of Grey. Now I know what gives the Other Half nightmares . . .

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Mug Shot

To the Moors Theatre last night for the publicity photos for Clouds of Grey. I had given writer / co-director / co-producer Seth my next, chest and waist size for the white shirt my character wears and he produced a garment that would have been ample for Arnold Schwarzenegger at his most pumped and which had room for both me and any passing homeless waif. Luckily the leather jacket disguised the size and allowed me to strike a variety of poses for photographer Lauren.

There were five of us on set: villains Andrew St Clair James and myself, police Warren Brooking and Barry Somebody (full name still not up on the website) and mysterious individual Phillip Piggott all striking appropriate poses. In my case that meant, among other things, toying with a (real) knife and telling photographer Lauren in graphic detail exactly how I would wield the weapon in her flesh. Which quickly brought that part of the photoshoot to a quick end.

In the meantime I had blotted my copybook by spilling a container of "Creme Puff Gay Whisper" make-up (I kid you not) all over the floor of the gents' toilet. I was using it to take the shine off my pate, and not, as bar-owner Andy possibly suspected, laying a trail to lure the drag queens in Crouch End into his establishment. Mind you, having never visited the bar in drinking hours, I might have been taking coals to Newcastle. And after resurrecting that old simile (if you're old enough to know how it arose, I'd keep quiet about it), I'll get back to learning my lines. Luckily for this aged brain, Steve has a limited vocabulary...

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Murder Mystery

I've just read through the script for Clouds of Grey for the third time - and I still don't fully understand it. It's complicated and intriguing and not all the characters are who they seem to be. At least I now (think I) have answers to some of my early questions, such as exactly who dies? when? how?, but other uncertainties remain.

With luck I'll fully understand what is happening by the time the play opens. As for the audience, I can tell from the script that even if they are confused by the plot they'll be absorbed and intrigued by the production - and anyway, it's a reasonable bet that the average bum-on-seat will be brighter than me. Maybe one of them afterwards can explain things to me if I buy them a drink...

I'm not complaining. I like a bit of confusion and mystery in my plots, which makes me a sucker for David Lynch's work. I can watch Twin Peaks, Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive repeatedly and not complain - even if I find myself wondering whether we have moved forward and backward in time, whether such a character has become someone else or is simply being portrayed by another player and whether I'm watching reality, a dream or something in between. (The only exception is Inland Empire, which disappeared so far up its own plot that I gave up on it about hour into the three-hour marathon.) So I'm looking forward to seeing how Clouds of Grey develops and how the various stories and characters come together - and that offer of an after-show drink remains.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Me and Vinnie Jones

Seth Jones, writer, director and, I begin to think, stage manager and all-round gofer for Clouds of Grey, has been in touch with the cast regarding our costumes for the photo shoot on Wednesday. My attire - and, I suspect, my character - are based on that scrotum-squeezing pride or pariah of the football field, Vinnie Jones. The same VJ, of course, who later appeared in several films, most notably in the Cockney caper Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

When up for the part of Steve Marks, your neighbourhood thug, I had imagined myself as Bob Hoskins, wearing a semi-stylish trench coat, perhaps topped by a trilby. Jonesy, however, has decided to dress Mr Marks in the leather jacket and white shirt as modelled by his namesake in the picture here - neither of which I own. And so our director is either going to rifle through his own wardrobe, or that of his flatmate / landlord / neighbour, or actually buy the items of clothing under discussion. I look forward to donning them on Wednesday.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Back - Not Yet On Track

A week ago I was in Edinburgh at the start of a weekend celebrating my 60th birthday. It seems that a fantastic time was had by all. I appreciate the effort that so many people made to travel to the Scottish capital at a time when most holidaymakers are heading south.

Now I'm back in London, but still catching up with thank you letters, emails, post and all the clutter that accumulates when you're away for even a few days. Which means that my posting on this blog and - more importantly - my learning lines for Clouds of Grey are behind schedule. By Monday, however, I should be back on track. Have a great weekend.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Party on

In Edinburgh with family and friends celebrating sixty years of life and (more or less) one year since I started acting (in The Players, a short film that has yet to see the light of cinema screen or youtube). Normal service will be resumed in about five days time...

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Moors Murderer

I got the part of Steve. Thank you, Seth (and James and Rochelle and Jas). Which means that you can see me at the Moors Theatre in sunny Crouch End, from 27th January to 5th February. Prepare for . . . dramatic pause and drum roll . . . "Murder, suicide, Kidnap, domestics, gambling, sour deals and more.When two bodies are found contorted on the streets it is a job for Inspector French and Sergeant Branford. It seems a cold cut case with the arrival of an old villain coming out of prison. But none on the streets know what walks beneath them. Each character holding secrets, each character involved. An action packed drama with many questions to be answered. A dark, dramatic and epic murder mystery."

Sunday, 25 November 2012

What a difference a stage makes...

Yesterday I wrote that I was losing my acting muscle. I was about to go to an audition and felt totally unprepared. I wasn't drowning in the depths of despair but I was shuffling through the shallows of .... fill in whatever synonym comes to mind of boredom, lack of interest, lack of confidence .... unshertainty. Then I took the 271 to Holloway Road and the 91 to Crouch End Broadway, walked up Park Road, into the bar / theatre and everything changed.

I had told myself to go in in character, so on with the mockney accent, the wide-eyed expression and the broad shoulders. A friendly conversation with writer / producers / directors / actohs Seth, James and Rochelle about the play-that-they-don't-want-to-tell-us-too-much-about-but-there's-a-strong-Tarantino-influence and then I was on stage giving my spiel to a dying woman. And I was in character. And there was laughter from the writer / director, followed immediately by the statement "I'm loving this characterisation" and all was well. I came to my final line "what's not to love?", bounced off the stage and down to adulation. Would I try another part? The mysterious Creator. Would I? Of course I would. Five minutes later...  that was great, now can you do it differently. Of course I can. Not perfect, but it's a sight reading and producer James loves it, he loves it.

So, forty minutes after I drag my feet in to the audition, I leave walking on air. I'm aware that S, J and R are going to see other actors who may be better than me or give a characterisation that is even closer to what they are looking for, but no matter. Even if I don't get the one of the parts - and I really hope I do because this play looks fun - I know my acting career is not in a coma; it's just dozing.


Saturday, 24 November 2012

Not using it, losing it

A while back I wrote that I was only occasionally updating this blog because I was so busy acting. Now I am writing that I am only occasionally updating this blog because I am so busy not acting...

Since the beginning of November I have had one (repeat one) audition. Eight days ago, as previously reported, at the Royal Festival Hall. I didn't get the part. Later today I have another audition (as a killer - what else? - in a profit share in a theatre in Crouch End). I don't think I'll get the part. After that, nothing.

Because I'm not using my acting muscle, I can feel it beginning to wither. I've been rehearsing my audition piece for the last week (the one that starts with the "Stupid Bitch", through the immortal "And then I shot her stone fucking cold dead. BANG." to end with the thoughtful, but sparsely, punctuated "And believe me this line of work pays well. So what's not to love?") and it's not working. I don't feel it. I'm acting, not being. The lines vanish from my mind no matter how often I repeat them. I'll go in there this afternoon and give it my best, but my best isn't nearly as good as it should be.

At the back of my mind I tell myself that if by some miracle I get the part - if all the others up for audition contract sudden and repeated attacks of vomiting that keeps them out of the running until I appear on that stage - it'll work out all right. Rehearsals will bring back my confidence and ability and on opening night I'll be a Star (at least whatever passes for a Star in Crouch End). So I'm not ruling myself out entirely. But I'm not expecting much.

Meanwhile, Agent Stephen has called to tell me my Equity membership application is on track and he has been putting me up for various roles. But on track is not arrival and putting up has not led to casting calls, so no progress there. As for the plans to produce the one-(wo)man plays, one theatre has turned us down; two others have placed us on hold and the rest aren't replying. Motionless there too

The good news is the rest of my life is busy. Late this afternoon an old friend from Rio de Janeiro is coming to stay for a few days, then he and I and the Other Half head up to Scotland for my birthday celebrations. I won't be back in London until early December, so don't be surprised if I don't post another entry until then...

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Film Fam

So there I am at the Royal Festival Hall looking over the script of a short film. I'm auditioning for Gary, the drug baron. Run-of-the-mill, but I'm not really into it. It's another Londoner and I'm not going to shout out "you dozy cunt" in a Peckham accent while surrounded by the cultured crowd of the South Bank. I'll do what I can and meanwhile read the whole script so I can put my character in perspective. Simple story, young-men-on-council-estate-up-to-no-good. There's just one thing I don't understand; what's this word "fam" that crops up from time to time? It seems to serve the same function as "mate", "my man", "mucker", "pal", "bruv", but it ain't no word used down my manor.

I head home, have lunch, out to the Rosemary Branch Theatre to meet Cecilia Darker to discuss putting on the one-(wo)man plays I've written. The conversation goes well, once we get rid of the title Loss, which I've never been happy about, although I can't think of a better one. Back home again, working on the bookselling. Evening comes and the Other Half and I settle down to Attack the Block, which I recorded a couple of nights ago. It's run for barely a couple of minutes when there's that word again. Fam. What is this?

A minute's research on the internet tells me the word has been around for at least four years. And yes it means "friend", and yes it's derived from "family". I don't like it. It sounds stupid, reminding me too much of the French word "femme" and its connotations (at least from the 1960s) of effeminacy and lesbianism. But what annoys me most is the fact that the word has existed for some time and I am not aware of it. I call myself a writer, I graduated in Linguistics, I pride myself on the use of slang in my writing, but this very basic and apparently common in some social strata word has escaped. More confirmation that I'm getting old and out of touch. Depression time.

At least I appreciated Attack the Block. A nice little film with well-placed touches of humour, believable characterisation and realistic dialogue that will seriously challenge anyone that lives outside the M25. In-jokes, such as the reference to Wyndham Towers and its neighbours. Excellent acting by young non-actors, particularly the youngest, Sammy Williams and Michael Ajao. I'm a fam, sorry, fan. The flipside is that it is depressing to think that the violence and drugs in the film are reality for too many young people. Then I remember that life is depressing anyway and there's no point in losing sleep over it. Time for bed and a good book.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Stupid Bitch

Two auditions coming up. One for a short, unpaid (of course...) film, as a drug baron. Tomorrow at the Royal Festival Hall, which is not necessarily a good sign. It's the second time I've been called in there. The first was two or three months ago for a similar role. It's difficult to give a good performance when sitting at a café table with noise and bustle around you. I think I did quite well, but I didn't get the part. You can detect my lack of enthusiasm, but there's a reason why I'm going. I may now have several films under my belt, including three that are in post-production, but in only two of them do I have any lines, and my total word-count for both films is an amazing twelve words or fewer (including the memorable "Gawd lives in the sewers!" which remains one of the best lines I have ever spoken).

Audition two is in just over a week, for a profit-share theatre production. Gang leader (what else?). I've been sent the audition script - written by someone who is either dyslexic or an appalling speller and who either has no access to spellcheck facilities (computer? literate friend?) or who doesn't care about what s/he has written. The first two words - "Stupid bitch" - are spelt correctly, but when spelling and punctuation are so bad that they frequently distort or destroy meaning (such as using "there" for "they're" and failing to use commas and full stops to indicate ideas), you have to wonder at the playwright's overall ability. A play is about communication and you not only have to able to communicate your ideas to an audience (which this script may do - I've only seen one speech) but you have to communicate your words to your actors. If your script is so badly put together that the actors are not sure what you have written, then you're off to a bad start. If you have pride in your work and you know that your spelling is abysmal, or you're uncertain about it (and if you don't know the difference between "your" and "you're" then you know that you're in trouble, or you know what your trouble is...), then get someone to proofread what you've written before you send it out. Otherwise, you're giving the impression that you're not very good at your job.

Having redrafted the script so that it now makes sense, I'm learning my lines, starting with the "Stupid Bitch", through the immortal "And then I shot her stone fucking cold dead. BANG." to end with the thoughtful, but sparsely, punctuated "And believe me this line of work pays well. So what's not to love?" Let's hope they love me...

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Finding Faith

Months ago I spent a l-o-o-o-n-g day in Clapham as an extra on a Paloma Faith music video - 30 Minute Love Affair. I got paid and then forgot about it until three days ago when an article on the singer in the New Yorker reminded me I had once said hello to her. So I went online, looked up YouTube and found this:



It's a pleasant number nostalgically shot in a nightclub where singer Paloma and the pianist eye each other across the gulf of late-night punters and high-kicking burlesque dancers. If you don't blink around the 1 minute 9 second mark, you can see yours truly with a wispy beard quaffing some drink. And if you're paying attention around the 2.14 and 2.22 marks you can see the rear of my round head punctuated by my sticking out ears.

My only quibble (apart from why doesn't the video feature more of me?! me?! me?!) is why does the video start and finish with Ms Faith entering and leaving a gay porn shop? (If you're a gay Londoner, you probably know exactly where in Soho the shop stands.) A minor point; the music draws you in, the images transport you into a dream world appropriate to the song. Watch and enjoy

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Those Who Can't Act...

The old adage goes: "those who can, do; those who can't, teach; those who can't teach, teach teachers..." How about those who can't act? "Can't" might mean without any talent or it might mean talented but prevented by circumstances from displaying that talent. Whatever . . .  My situation at present is that I can't act - either because I'm a hopeless actor and all potential casting directors are aware of that fact, or because the roles are not available and / or directors are unaware of my existence and my incredible ability to move audiences to tears, to laughter or to the exit.

But if I can't act, I can get involved in other ways. I'm currently trying to put on a production of Loss, an updated evening of the one-man plays (this time including one woman) at a fringe theatre somewhere in London next year. There are two major and several minor hurdles to overcome before this becomes reality - most importantly, raising funding of about £7,500 and finding a theatre to host the three-week run. Naively, I thought that several theatres would be happy to host such an event, until reality kicked in that they have not just an income but a reputation to maintain - and letting just anyone come in and put on a show isn't necessarily the best way of building and keeping a regular audience.

So, after several weeks of contacting theatre managers and the like, I am no further forward in my goal. It's true that one prime venue hasn't turned us down and another, slightly off the beaten track, is willing to talk, but  the hard reality is that an evening of one-(wo)man shows - especially under the title Loss isn't the most exciting of draws.

My job is to convince them - and not only them, but the general public, to support this event. We're planning to crowd-fund it - £10 will guarantee you a seat; £15 will guarantee you a seat and a glass of champagne; £20+ will guarantee you seat, champagne and a share of any profits. Not a bad bargain, we think, but you might need persuading. So, maybe we'll change the title, talk up the stories and the cast, promise you an evening of laughter and tears, to bring you, the curious punter, in. You never know, you might enjoy yourselves... More details anon.  

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Free Yoghurt

My commercials agent sent me an email and text message on Friday evening with an appointment for a Tesco commercial casting on Saturday lunchtime - place and time specified. The part? A grandfather. Well, I'm not the grandfatherly type, but the fact that someone had seen my mugshot and specifically asked for me was surely a good start. And when I turned up in Soho and discovered the casting was in the Giles Foreman studios, I told my rational self that this was fate not coincidence.

Well, not really. I found myself in another cattle call - a corridor full of people of various ages. The young woman handing out forms told me that we were being seen first come first served, which meant that it was an hour after my "appointment" that I finally walked in to the makeshift studio. (I wasn't the only potential actor / model / whatever duped in this way - around me were several other Victor Meldrews unimpressed by the system. I just sat and read the Aldous Huxley, Those Barren Leaves, that I had brought with me.) 

There were two youngsters. One had started shaving. The other - the director - looked as if he was still excited by the fact that his parents had let him come into town on his own. First impressions aside, they were friendly and helpful and if the fates are kind, they should, on those grounds alone, go far.

My task was simple - to come into shot, scoot an imaginary dog off an armchair, sit down, sprawl and eat a Christmas pudding while watching television. As an old man? I asked, prepared to dodder. No, said the Boy Director, they were casting for all kinds of family members. Fine. I prepared to play the role of dodgy uncle and looked forward to finding a silver threepenny piece in my piece of pud. But since this was a rehearsal and the pudding had better things to do, a yoghurt played the role of understudy. Similarly, in place of Her Madge on the screen was some kill-em game set in the usual anonymous urban wasteland, lit up every second or so by an exploding gunshot, bomb or pulverised body. I imagined myself watching an old Morecambe and Wise and reacted to the screen and pudding as I was told for about 90 seconds or more and that was that. 

Hands shaken, exit made. As I walked out, I told myself that the fact they had wanted me to stay for so long was a Good Sign, but who(m) was I kidding? By the time I hit the street again I was so hungry for my real lunch that I almost forgot where I had been. 

Friday, 2 November 2012

Grim Faced

Opening my email two days ago I came across a couple of pictures taken by Nurhak Karayol on the set of O Sole Mio, a film I made in September, in which I played bodyguard Mike. I'm not sure how I come across in the film - it is still in post-production - but I was pleasantly surprised to see that through Nurhak's lens I look serious rather than my customary villainous. (Or what do you think from this portrait here?)

I put the pics up on my website and as I was doing so, I realised that almost every picture in the gallery shows me with the same grim expression, the only difference being the clothes I wear for each character. I'm not sure this is good news - it suggests that I have only one basic mode of acting - and honey chile, that just ain't the truth!

So, for variety, I've added one more picture to the gallery, which shows me with eyes and mouth gawping like a credulous frog. You never know, that might be the image that gets me the part in the West End play that gets me noticed by the casting director who recommends me to the Hollywood Giant who calls me in the middle of the night to offer me the role of Judi Dench in Shakespeare on Ice, the 3D Spectacular. But don't hold your breath; it won't happen soon.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

My second favourite activity

Sometimes you think a film you have made is never going to be seen in public. Two weeks ago, as I wrote in an earlier blog, The Players got to the starting line - the editing process is complete and now it is awaiting its first screening. Two days ago, I learnt that the music video Against Me: Animal has finally been uploaded to Youtube. I make a very brief appearance in the opening scene, indulging in my second favourite activity. Enjoy.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Exit Stage .... ?

A few months ago I noted that I had not been blogging because I was too busy acting to do so. Happy Days! In the past few weeks I have blogged little because I have had little to blog about. After the commotion of producing the one-man plays in July, the time off in August and a flurry of filming in mid-September, I find myself twiddling my thespian thumbs and taking stock of my acting career.

I have two / three potential sources of work: Casting Call Pro, Spotlight and my agent. CCP offers mostly profitshare theatre and unpaid film work, although it occasionally comes up with jobs that offer real money (£150 a day for example). To be sent details of paid work, the monthly fee is £20.40. In the 10 months I have been on CCP, I have found perhaps a dozen jobs, mostly unpaid. Altogether, I have probably received about £70 worth of work through the site. So, yes, I'm paying out more than I get in, but since even the unpaid / profit-share jobs on offer are sometimes interesting, I don't mind the expense. But £20 a month is my limit, which means I will not spend more money on similar acting websites, especially since they do not offer the kind of work I want. (Starnow, for example, specialises in reality television and extras work, neither of which interest me.)

But while less than a year ago I was applying - and sometimes being auditioned - for many interesting theatre projects on CCP, such work seems to have dried up. There are always student / unpaid films, but I have come to the stage of been-there-done-that-and-I-don't-need-the-t-shirt so I no longer apply for them unless they look Really Interesting, which they haven't in recent weeks. The one exception was the GBH2 film, of which more below.

What about Spotlight? Well, I only joined them a few months ago. Much of the work that comes through is inappropriate for me (despite the fact they have my profile) - often including dancing and singing, which I am incapable of. When I first joined I did apply for the occasional job, and heard nothing; I wasn't surprised, but I appreciated the ability to contact casting directors directly. However, once an actor is taken on by an agent, s/he is no longer able to apply directly for work through Spotlight, but must "nudge" their agent to do so on their behalf. I have nudged several times but still have not been put up for any part.

Which brings me to my agent. Agents, in theory, deal directly with casting directors and get the paid work which does not come up on websites. It was a running joke among the semi-professional actors I met in the last year, that as soon as an actor gets an agent the work dries up. That has been my case as well. But it's early days and a four-figure contract would make up for four months of inactivity.

Perhaps the issue is not CCP or Spotlight or an agent but my own attitude. Acting is a vastly overcrowded profession and if I want to get ahead I have to push ahead. And that means Ambition. Dedication. Drive. None of which I am over-endowed with. I have neither the overconfidence nor the underconfidence to push myself in every possible direction - spending hours online looking for work, going to acting classes when I can afford them, calling friends to ask them what is happening, what do they know, schmoozing with previous contacts who have given me work or auditioned me. There are other things going on in my life which take up my time and give me satisfaction - the bookselling business, housework, family - and deflect me from pursuing acting as a full-time career.

Which brings me back to GBH2. As regular readers may remember, there was a well-paid role in a feature film there that I was shortlisted for audition for. The problem was I had to submit, via Youtube, a clip of myself acting the role. Which I never made. There were lots of reasons why - or more accurately, lots of rationales - including a number of previous engagements during the days that I could have made the film, but the truth was that I was not confident enough in my own acting and my ability to put together a good three-minute clip. A face-to-face audition I could handle; the hassle of putting together a film was too much. And so I let the application die.

Which makes me wonder: I've got this far in last eighteen months (when I took my first acting course). Do I want to go further? Do I decide I can't be bothered? Should I aim for centre stage or exit stage left?

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Bloody Lawyers

The voice, distorted, drawls, is the speaker drunk? There is a sense of outrage underlying the slightly-accented baritone. He's protesting that honesty is essential, and the world is full of bloody lawyers. He quotes Shakespeare, but we are not convinced. There is something sinister about him; this is not a man you would want to meet or cross.

still from Myles Painter's  Grander Designs; view clip here
Our sense of unease is heightened by the fact we cannot see the speaker or his audience. We are staring at a recently-abandoned room where a tv monitor is playing, a windowless room for interviews or interrogations. The screen is small and the images unclear - an empty house or a series of abstract geometrical shapes; there are no people. We seem to be in a world where living things have vanished and only ghosts remain.

Back in the real world... This is art. We are watching a video installation by the artist Myles Painter and the voice is mine. And as with much conceptual art, meaning hovers between the creator's vision and the viewer's response, and the more time and thought the viewer gives to the artefact, the greater is the reward. It's too late for you to go and see it, however, and the video has not yet surfaced on Myles's website. To give you a flavour, there is a clip on my website - click the link under the image to see it.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Poker Face

The first time I was cast for a part outside acting school was last December. If you scroll back through this blog - keep scrolling, keep scrolling, or follow this link - you will find a post, Muscle Memory or More, describing the day I and others spent in a very cold basement making the short film The Players. Five men sit around a table in an almost silent, very strange poker game. What's going on? What does it all mean?

Keep It Tidy Productions: producer Mark Driver; written and directed by Ben Garfield

I have made several films since then - mostly short, although I have been a corpse in a full-length feature. This is the second to be completed (the first was a student film and I won't embarrass either myself or the makers by mentioning it here) and there is no guarantee that the others will see the dark light of cinema or the harsh glare of YouTube. Although cast and crew have received a copy, I don't know when The Players will receive a public airing but I will keep you informed.

On other matters cinematic... I am, as usual too late to book many films at the London Film Festival, but the Other Half and I are going to the National Film Theatre this evening to see an example of a rare species - a serious Thai film, In April The Following Year, There Was a Fire (สิ้นเมษาฝนตกมาปรอยปรอย). About 50 films a year are made in Thailand, mostly downmarket comedies or horror; you don't have to be Siamese to appreciate them, but it certainly helps... And yesterday we had the misfortune to see Snow White and the Huntsman on dvd. Good production values but poor script, wooden acting (even from the usually excellent Charlize Theron as the Wicked Queen) and bad editing. Not recommended for adults or teenagers. Tonight, I hope, will make up for that disappointment.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Film Fun

Back in London picking up the strands of my acting life...

I've been shortlisted for an audition for a part in a feature film, playing a secondary role as an aging prisoner unable to escape the violence of his past. Not exactly Shakespeare, but there's Real Money involved and of course I'd like the part. But instead of turning up to meet the director et al face to face, they want candidates to audition via YouTube / Vimeo. That's the problem. It means (a) learning the lines, (b) finding a decent camera (mobile phone is ok, they say, but I disagree), (c) getting the Other Half or a friend to film me and (d)  setting up a YouTube account. It's a hassle, and only worth it if I have a serious chance of getting the part - and of course I have Doubts About That.

Life should be easier than this. I should have an assistant to make these decisions for me. In his / her absence, give me a couple of hours to think this through...

Friday, 5 October 2012

Tell Me Why

I'm in Scotland for a week visiting family. Monitoring the casting websites as usual. One event on the horizon: an audition for an important part in a feature film, date to be confirmed.  

I  have nothing more to report, except.... As the numbers of readers for this blog pick up, I wonder what attracts them to it. I know that most of those who see this and other posts do not follow everything I write, but land on one post or another as a result of some search. For some reason, the post I wrote on 27th August, about my new agent (Smile, You're On), is the most popular, with hundreds of people landing there. Which makes me curious. What is so special about that post? What is the search phrase that takes people there. If you are one of those who read it, or if you came to this blog for any other reason, will you please Tell Me Why?

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

What A Difference A Line Makes...

Agent Stephen calls me last night from his personal mobile and, amongst other updates that I cannot yet reveal, advises me to be careful about the unpaid film roles I accept. He's right, of course, and I've been telling myself that it does me little good to appear in a non-speaking role for no money. Several days of my time have been dissipated thus in the last fortnight and every moment I spend sitting around on set is time that would be better spent working at something more likely to earn me money: viz my book business. An unpaid speaking role is acceptable because I can use it in a showreel, but non-speaking for free in other than special circumstances, such as a personal favour for James Cameron, is not worth my time.

Billions of years in the future,
the remnants of humanity struggle to survive
Having confirmed that decision last night, I was not in the best of moods this morning when I set off for another such role, this time as a psychopath. It would only be for an hour, the director had assured me when I had accepted the offer a couple of weeks ago, but early this morning she had emailed asking if I could extend the time by three hours to appear in another scene. Well, I'm basically a nice guy despite appearances and I said yes. The first scene went quickly and easily; all I had to do was stand still and grunt occasionally in my cell in a Victorian asylum. (Said cell in reality is a hostel room in a South London Buddhist centre.) But then I had to wait 90 minutes in the café while the second scene was set and, although I had Brian Aldiss' Hothouse to pass the time, I was impatient to leave and get to our second set.

Back on the street, my impatience mounted as we faffed around Elephant and Castle trying to find both an entrance to the underground station and a missing crew member. Nor was I  reassured by the new set: an office block corridor, where we were filming apparently without permission and the knowledge of those around us. Tired of this amateur affair, I was eager to get home. Then we began to film. This time I had a line - five short words whispered in Mockney: "Gawd lives in the sewers". And I began to enjoy myself.

It was the line that did it. My character came alive. I could feel and vocalise him. I was fully involved and all the earlier irritations vanished from my mind. It didn't matter - well, not much - that we filmed retake after retake. I was having fun, gripping the Hero by his shirt front, staring madly into his eyes so close that our noses brushed, and stomping off into the sidelines. Nor did it matter that time was passing. I was Acting again.

Acting yes, but not for long. In less than an hour I was out of there, £1.30 in profit ("travel expenses and keep the change"). Twenty minutes later I was on the tube, back in Victor Meldrew mode (who were all these people? why did they have to keep chattering in my ear in a language I couldn't understand and which reminded me of verbal diarrhoea? why did one of them have to deliberately throw his newspaper to the ground? why are individuals so interesting but people en masse so unpleasant? and so on). Once more at home, however, I remembered that the hassle was worth it. What a difference a line makes.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

A Head of the Rest

On Thursday evening I'm in the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall, apparently for an audition. I'm a little suspicious, because auditions tend to take place in specific rooms rather than public spaces and the idea that I should join the milling crowds on the off-chance of meeting whoever might want to hire me and giving them a speech from Henry V or reeling off whatever lines they have for me, doesn't quite gel. In fact it sounds more like a practical joke played by some reality tv programme and I wonder if the mass of humanity around me is suddenly going to stop moving, turn as one, point in my direction and say with an evil laugh "Ha, you didn't get the part!"

The reality is more mundane. I call contact Nely and two seconds later she scurries over and takes me to director Paul, who is sitting at a small café table with a notepad. The crowds around us fade into the background and we discuss the project and why he wants to see me. The role I'm up for is White Suit Assassin and what attracted me to him is my head.

Me on a good day: picture from 3dbuzz.com
I've been told I have a unique look before. Usually it's my face that's commented on, but sometimes it's my head. Which means I'm not being chosen because of my acting talent, but because I look like some space alien who is trying, not always successfully, to pass as human. I may have applied enough make-up to hide my green or grey skin (the colour depends on the time of year and whether I am in rut or oestrus and no, you can't check my tanline), but there's not much I can do to hide the enormous smooth skull perched above my too-pale eyebrows. And that's what directors want.

Or some directors. The next day I learn that Paul of Kill Mode has gone for another actor. (Swizz, curses!) But as you all (should) know, I've already strutted my head in two short films in the last ten days and I'm scheduled to do so again on Tuesday. Not to mention the audition I did on Friday, the outcome of which I still have not heard. Paul may not want me and I may not be being paid, but at least I know I am still A Head of the Rest...

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Stars in my eyes

Turn up at 9am yesterday in a basement at the mouth of the River Lea for The King Is Dead, a short film in which I play the Body Bag Man - the sinister figure who comes in at the end to - yes, you've got it - bag up the bodies of nasty criminals who get in the way of an even nastier criminal. Into the changing and make-up room, shake hands with the figures being powdered and begin to settle in.

My costume - self-supplied, with black shoes, trousers, shirt, jacket and tie - is fantastic, says Giulia the Costumier. My bald pate is soon powdered. I stroll out, get coffee from an eager assistant and fail to avoid snacking on the biscuits. Look around, work out who is cast and who is crew. Those faces I saw being made up earlier are familiar. The younger one in particular. I recognise those ears, that brow. Just like that actor who's appeared in a few tv comedies, and I've seen him on stage in a Tom Stoppard. The older one, too, although I can't place the face.

I sidle over towards a callsheet on the wall to check the cast list (the same callsheet I hadn't bothered to look through the night before). I was half right. The older one's name isn't familiar, but the younger one's is. A B-list Celeb. Seems pleasant enough. I wouldn't notice him in a crowd and he isn't drawing attention to himself.

Filming starts. I have an easy task, coming in, pausing in the light flooding through the door before coming forward to survey the scene before me. Bagging up the victims. No dialogue, but the adrenalin is pumping, the crew are enthuiastic and it's clear I'm part of a team creating a strong scene.

But not the whole team. For the first time on a set I notice a division between the stars and the nonentities, between those who speak and the silent extras, between the names emblazoned at the start of the film and the names that march across the screen at the end. Each time there's a break the four leading actors huddle together, talking shop and never addressing an unnecessary word to others around them, surrounded by an invisible force field. They are not rude to anyone and it's only natural to spend time with people with whom you have a lot in common, but I am slightly annoyed because their behaviour reinforces a - yes I have to say it - caste system that is unnecessary on a small film. Why can't they behave like most people would, making small talk for a few minutes with others around them? You don't have to get involved with anyone and you may even come across someone interesting, someone you may want to get to know better.

The day draws inevitably to a close. The leading actors leave with weak smiles and perfunctory thanks. When I follow shortly afterwards, I hope my farewells to crew and remaining cast come across as strong and sincere. Walking back to the station, I reflect on my contribution. Yeah, I like what I did; today I done okay.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Typecast

Killer in Grander Designs, completed last week. Head Bodyguard in O Sole Mio, wrapped yesterday. Thug and body bag man in The King is Dead, filming tomorrow. Bomber or White-Suited Assassin in Kill Mode, for which I am auditioning on Thursday. Gangleader in Got-Got, for which I am auditioning on Friday. Psychopath in unnamed film for which I have a provisional booking on Monday.

Simple minds will have worked out that there is a pattern emerging here. (Actually, there are two patterns, since none of these projects is paid.) I should be pleased by the attention. Everyone keeps telling me I have a memorable face, which is why I keep getting these castings. It's not a face I'm particularly fond of  - I prefer the one I had decades ago when I was Not Badlooking (that's me on the shores of Lake Titicaca in 1980)  - but it's the face that I'm stuck with and if it gets me work, then I should be pleased. It's just that I would like to be the Good Guy for once, as I was in The Lower Depths three months ago. Three months? It feels like a year.

But I have to keep going at these parts until I get enough credits to impress someone - a director, a producer, a fanbase - that I am worthy of greater roles. And then, when Martin Foreman is a Name To Be Reckoned With - the roles will come - pardon the pun - rolling in. In the meantime, if you want an ageing criminal / tough guy / executioner who'll work for expenses and the biscuits and crisps and pizzas and other junk food that delivers future heart attacks and diabetes, I'm your man.

As for paid work, well, I'm relying on my agent for that, but, in that well-known phrase, I'm waiting for him to return my call....

Monday, 24 September 2012

Not Easy, Not Energetic, Not Enthusiastic

It's early in the morning of my fourth day shooting O Sole Mio - a pleasant short comic film about a couple of  lovebirds set in an Italian restaurant. I'm one of two bodyguards to the heroine's father. (I know, regular readers - all three of you - are already aware of these facts, but in best tv serial tradition, new viewers readers have to be brought up to speed.)

Ten hours ago I expected to be on set at this time and so I dragged myself out of bed at 5.15, breakfasted, showered and shaved, and was about to tie my shoelaces when an apologetic text came through from producer / assistant director Diogo that I wouldn't be filmed before 11. I ought to have gone back to bed for another couple of hours, but the thought of undressing, half-dozing, being woken just when I really was falling asleep and getting dressed again didn't appeal, so instead I'm sitting at my computer with a mild headache and no energy for the day ahead.

A generic Italian restaurant
similar to the one we are filming in,
inserted because I couldn't find a more interesting picture
I'm not enthusiastic about this production for a number of reasons. I am putting in a lot of time for no financial reward - traveling to and from the set and hanging around doing nothing. So far I have appeared in five shots, which have taken not more than fifteen minutes out of the more than twenty-four hours I have devoted to this project so far. My sleep patterns are all over the place and the constantly changing schedule has meant that I missed a film at the BFI that I had wanted to see and already paid for. I'm calm and friendly on the exterior but grumpy underneath.

Worst of all, I'm annoyed that I can't be annoyed - the crew, film students at Ealing, may have been chaotic in their planning, but they are friendly, considerate, apologetic for the inconvenience they are causing us and generally Nice People. And they are putting together a good short comedy that will almost certainly get the crew and the leading actors noticed and further work. 

My main problem is with myself. I am not happy with what little contribution I have made to the project so far. It should be easy. My role is formulaic. Like all but one of the cast I have no lines. All I have been asked to do so far is a couple of reaction and movement shots. No-one is complaining about my contribution. Yet, yet... I feel like a fish out of water. I do not feel the part. I suspect that the camera sees not the monolithic figure of an ageing, cynical bodyguard, but an ordinary man who isn't quite sure what he is doing. Is my expression hard enough, am I the stereotype that this kind of film requires? Have my eyes moved smoothly, as the director instructed, or jerked as it felt to me that they did? Was my stance strong or weak? How do I convey in two seconds all my character and his impetus at that moment - his boredom, his single-mindedness, his need to protect the young woman against her will, his contempt for her suitor, his impatience with his colleague?

In other words, I am reminded again that acting is not easy and the more I do it, the less confident I become. And yet I can't stop myself. I have two more productions and an audition pencilled into my diary in the next eight days. None of them paid, but all of them a challenge. I'm obviously trying to prove something to myself. What that something is and whether it will make me happy is a question for another day.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Lothario in Limbo

It’s two-thirty in the morning and I’m sitting in a large black rented car on a street in Bath outside what appear to be the city’s only two late night eateries, where groups of scantily dressed young women and merry young men (a couple of whom have bared their chests for some reason forgotten in the night) are gorging on saturated fat and bloated E numbers while pontificating on the state of the world or making suggestive remarks that they hope will lead to greater intimacy. (Actually, I made the last part up because I couldn’t hear what anyone was saying, but I’m sure that the conversation of drunken twenty-somethings hasn’t changed much in the decades since I was in a similar situation.)

Lothario was a character in Don Quixote.
This is  a picture of  DQ with Sancho Panza.
By Pablo Picasso, of course.
Across the road sits a pile of filming equipment – stands, lights, tripods, tracks, cases and ominous silver metal boxes of the kind you see in sci-fi movies where the Evil Scientist has to transport a glow-in-the-dark concoction from his secret laboratory to the sewer or office building or airline terminal where he will release it in the expectation of destroying or taking over the world. Behind me, snoring gently across the back seat, lies Vauxhall, a fellow thespian who has decided, on the basis of a couple of remarks I made earlier in the evening, that I am lover of the female sex of such prodigious talents that I am a second Lothario. Vauxhall is unaware that earlier in the evening on our way to Bath, I revealed my sexual and marital status to our producer-driver, Diogo, while he, Vauxhall’s attention was absorbed by one of many football matches that flooded out of his iPad that evening.

I am, I realise, in Limbo – the place between Heaven and Hell populated by beings that are neither vicious nor virtuous and which exists for a length of time that has neither beginning nor prospect of end.

The evening started well – Diogo, Vauxhall and love-interest Hannah and I met up in Ealing at 5.45 as planned for the drive to Bath for the exterior nighttime shots of O Sole Mio – and then, in the tradition of filmmaking everywhere, went slowly downhill. Slowly, I said. I’ll gloss over the detour to pick up unnecessary umbrellas from a place to which Diogo did not have the key, and the fact that it took us several additional miles wending through London traffic before we found the M4. Despite these inconveniences, we got to our destination in plenty of time to get into our costumes and make-up and wait.

And wait. And wait. More than four hours had to pass before I had my three minutes in front of the camera – the period of time needed for my short reaction shot. Vauxhall, had more to do, running through the streets and knocking someone over, but he too spent most of his time standing around or in the car, where he either slept or reviewed alternative arrangements for The Talent that might have produced an extra hour’s comfort at one or other end of the long night. But our input was short and once it was over, focus returned to lovebirds Hannah and Adam, for their second stint of filming, this time a few streets away.

And so the hours passed and I was bored, bored, bored, and recognised the wisdom inherent in my Other Half’s implication that I was wasting my time acting for no financial reward at all. This is the last time, I told myself. Well, the last time apart from the two more days I’ve agreed to spend on this film and the evening provisionally scheduled for next week and the possibility of a day long-shoot (yes, unpaid, unpaid) the week after. Besides, haven’t I in the last couple of days applied for at least two more – unpaid, of course - projects on CCP that took my interest? Well, apart from all these, this really is the last time I’m going to give so much of my time for so little reward…

Yes, I've made a mistake and will need
to Tippex it out. And I have a couple
more answers I haven't filled in yet,
but it's a start.
Of course I’m looking my response is purely personal. For the film-makers, particularly the crew who probably spent ten hours on the streets shooting scenes from every conceivable perspective that did not involve a helicopter or a submarine, it was, I assume, a very busy and productive night. And the lovebirds on whom the film focuses did more than their share of running through the streets of Bath and kissing, then running and kissing again, and again. (I wondered, but did not ask, whether they would prefer to spend more time running or kissing, and whether they would agree on the answer …)

It’s just that I’m getting old and increasingly selfish. I like to be productive and once I’d finished the Evening Standard Sudoku (an even tougher one than usual) and the crossword where you have to substitute letters for numbers and got bored with the Private Eye cryptic crossword and spent an hour listening to the World Service and stuff myself with junk food simply because I was restless and it was there, I had run out of things to occupy my mind and all I wanted to do was stretch out in my own bed. And it’s difficult to maintain enthusiasm for a project in the middle of a night that feels like it might never end.

But I’ll be there on set tomorrow, even though I’ve had to cancel a couple of things I wanted to do this afternoon and evening because I will need to get to bed early for a 4.30am wake-up. And I know I’ll enjoy myself even, in a perverse way, while I’m bored, but still I would be much much happier if I actually got paid.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Bath and forth

To Ealing this afternoon, to meet fellow-cast and crew to be driven to Bath in the evening for night-time exterior shots for O Sole Mio, the (yet another unpaid) short film in which I appear as Mike, the chief bodyguard. We have been warned, since autumn is approaching, to wear warm clothes, which means my thermal underwear will be coming out of eternation (that word almost exists). I expect to be back home around 4am. The Other Half is not impressed. He doesn't understand that We Actohs have to Sacrifice Ourselves for Art. He might change his mind when this film goes on to win hundreds of awards and the supporting cast go on to star in Major Hollywood Movies. Or not....

Monday, 17 September 2012

Let's Lose Money!

I'm exploring the possibility of putting on a three-week run of three of my one-man plays at a fringe theatre in London next year. They would be Ben and Joe's and Los Feliz, hopefully with Barry Clarke and Robin Holden reprising their successful performances from July, and Sunset, a piece for an older woman, which exists in story, but not yet script form. And yes, you've noticed that I would not be reprising my role as the priest in Angel. This is not just from modesty, but from bitter experience that to be both actor and producer in the same production is to be overworked, underrewarded and highly frustrated.

It's early stages and I have only got as far as researching theatres, finding out which ones are available, what they cost and which productions they will accept. The most promising at present is a pub theatre in Zone One. I had initially balked at the price - £1,500 a week - but after sitting down and working out the figures, I realised that it would be possible to break even at around 25 seats a night, and the actors might even get some money for their pains. (Another theatre, in Zone 2, far from the Underground, wanted £450 a performance; it was the same theatre that made me and half a dozen others who had paid for rehearsal space wait outside in the cold for half an hour beyond their scheduled time and neither apologised nor offered a refund when, after repeated knockings and phone calls, someone finally decided to come out from their warm office inside to open the door.)

Assuming we do go ahead, we will need investment of £5,000. I cannot afford that amount of money without a guaranteed return and of course there is no guarantee that any money will be returned. (Remember the three-quarters empty Vaudeville Theatre last Thursday - how much money, I wondered in the interval, were producers Thelma Holt and Bill Kenwright losing?) So the money has to come from elsewhere, the customarily-named "Angels" - people who gamble with unwanted cash in the one in ten chance that they might see some return. If we go ahead, I shall be asking for 50 lots of £100, with the slight possibility of getting a profit on their money, and the much greater possibility of only getting ten or twenty percent of it back. Watch this space...

In the meantime, I have received the script for O Sole Mio, the short film in which I am to appear as Chief Bodyguard Mike. We shoot on Thursday evening, Saturday and Sunday. It looks easy and fun. More anon.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Blast from the Past

To the Vaudeville on Thursday and a three-quarters empty theatre, to see Jenny Seagrove et al in Noël Coward's "forgotten" Volcano - a play that (as far as I can tell) had never actually been performed before. I expected a 1920s piece, somewhere between the melodrama of his Vortex and the sophisticated comedy of design for living. But this play was written in the mid 1950s and is set on the verandah of a colonial house on a small Pacific island where a group of British plantation owners fall in and out of lust and love with each other. (Special mention here to Simon Scullion's sumptuous set, which immediately pulled me back to the various tropical lands - Brazil, Thailand and elsewhere - that I have lived or worked in.)

The play has not been kindly received - Michael Coveney of What's On Stage being particularly waspish, while Michael Billingon of The Guardian and Fiona Mountford of the Evening Standard teetered on the fence of boredom - and it's not difficult to see why. This is Old Style Theatre, where actohs and actresses enunciate complete sentences clear upper-class English (even if the upper-class tones of the 2010s have shifted somewhat since those of the 1950s) and always wait politely for the other person to finish before beginning their own speeches. Everyone is well-dressed and looks naked at the odd moments they find themselves without a stiff drink or cigarette in their hands. The native servants are never seen, but are either Treasures or Traitors, depending on whether their cooking is marvellous or they have driven away without permission in the plantation landrover. And adultery - real or imagined - seldom overwhelms the stiff upper lip (and heaven forfend that any other part of the anatomy should be similarly stiff). The contemporary world of crumbling Empire and Cold War does not intrude; we are in Somerset Maugham's timeless world where the Old Country is as much memory as reality and where references to flights to and from London seem very out of place.

In other words, Volcano creaks, loudly, and for the first quarter of an hour or so, as widow Adela rebuffs yet again the advances of Casanova Guy, I was more critical than compliant, telling myself that both actors could do a little more to make their characters believable (Jenny Seagrove was competent, but Jason Durr's performance, with directed or self-chosen, was too much of a caricature). But as friends, strangers and Guy's wife Melissa (the excellent Dawn Steele) enter, the pace picks up. Inevitably, Guy turns his attentions to another, waspish comments abound, the Volcano erupts and unexpectedly there is a brief but strong whiff of homoeroticism. My attention was fully held for the rest of the play and I happily watched developments unfold and joined the enthusiastic applause of the minimal crowd when the final curtain fell.

That does not mean I was blind to the play's faults - which other reviewers have helpfully delineated in order to drive away the potential audience. It does mean that I am a sucker for / a fan of British middle-class, middle-brow, middle-century literature and drama - Coward and Christie, Mackenzie and Maugham. I like to retreat into a world where lives are comfortable, order is maintained, emotions are suppressed and Everything Comes Out All Right In The End. And so too, it appeared, does the middle-aged to elderly audience around me. But that audience is in a minority now and Coward's star - with the exception of regular revivals of Design for Living, Hay Fever and Private Lives will continue to wane.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Now You Hear Me...

...Now You Don't

To Soho at 6pm yesterday to do a voiceover for Myles Painter as part of an "ongoing collaborative video project" by Peckham Artist Moving Image 2012. I was playing the part of a man who may or may not have killed his wife and who is answering police questions. The original brief (as I may have mentioned - I can't remember whether I've written about this before and in New Post mode it's difficult to see what has already been posted, which probably doesn't matter anyway because few people who read blogs do so in a linear fashion or remember what has been written before, so I might as well repeat it again here, with apologies to those who have read and remembered it before, and now apologies to everyone else who is reading and is bored by this long and totally unnecessary digression, which would have saved everyone time and trouble if I'd put this post into the draft folder and checked what I'd written before so that I wouldn't have to repeat myself here, or rather I would have repeated myself here but so artfully that it presented the information as new to new readers and as refreshing to older - in the sense of previous - readers)....

As I was saying... The original brief was for an upper class voice with a slightly foreign accent and in the end Myles decided that my dulcet Scottish tones were foreign enough for the people of Peckham. Come judge for yourself. The show is on 19th - 23rd September at the charmingly named Foodface Unit, DGE CIP House, 133 Copeland Road, London SE15 3SN. More details here.

From there the long trek out to Ealing again, home of hundreds of happy hatchling film-makers, this time as a call-back for the short comedy O Sole Mio, where they want me for chief bodyguard, Mike, a non-speaking role in a film where only one of the characters speaks. It looks fun and easy; all I have to do is look threatening, which is my natural look. The downside is that it is three days of filming, including a day on a bus to and from the city of Bath, for no pay whatsoever. It'll be a great film, they promise, shown at festivals all over the world. Well, yes, maybe it will and maybe it won't; in my short career as an actor and my decades-long career as a mostly human being, I've learnt to lower my expectations to maybe getting through the next twenty-four hours (when I got home the Other Half was watching a series of documentaries about Top Models Who Had Fallen Into Drugs And Degradation, which kind of reinforced the point that whether or not there are Ups there are always Downs). Of course I said I'd do it (we're back at the film again, after another digression), on condition that if a paid job comes in (Hah!), I'd pull out of the project.

So after the glamour of the acting world yesterday, it's back to reality today. I have to do some minor plumbing. The first question is, where is the master tap? I've lived in this flat for four years and I still don't know...

Sunday, 9 September 2012

This and That

As soon as the metaphorical curtain came down on my last performance at the Lord Stanley in July, my enthusiasm for acting began to wane - so much so that I was unperturbed by the idea that I might never appear in front of the camera or on stage again. The fact that nothing was coming through from my agent did not help. Nevertheless, I continued to go through the motions of monitoring Casting Call Pro and Spotlight and applying for parts, and on Friday I had two auditions. One, by telephone, was for a voiceover and the other in person for a short film; both, surprise, surprise, were unpaid. I didn't expect to get either part, but the fact that I enjoyed both experiences, combined with a reunion with several acting friends, was enough to revive my thespian ambition to the extent that it has recovered consciousness, although it is far from lively.

Picture from goodmenproject.com
To my surprise, I was offered the voiceover. It's an interesting role - 10 pages of script as a man accused of murdering his wife, which will play as part of an artist's installation later this year. The description had called for an Upper Class voice, which I offered first, later modifying it with a slight Central European accent, another specification. In the end, however, the artist, Myles Painter, decided he wanted my natural Scottish undertone, which makes it easier for me. I'm looking forward to the recording, which takes place this Wednesday, because it will stretch me and it is the first real voiceover I can put on my CV.

The second audition on Friday was also Interesting (a word which, my other half reminds me, I use too much). It was for one in a series of short films and before I met the director I had the impression that he was young and hoping to make a name for himself. In fact he was middle-aged and, it appeared, with considerable experience in both the UK and Hollywood. The part had called for a pompous theatre director, but when I acted pompous I was told to stop acting and be myself. In itself, that wasn't a problem. The evidence of this blog notwithstanding, in real life I am friendly, relaxed and very forgiving - and that appeared to come across in the second reading I gave. At that point, the slight frost between us melted and we chatted about this and that for a few minutes until I left. On my way back home, however, I was aware of two emotions: pleased to have got as far as the audition, but also annoyed at being placed on the back foot, when the preparation I had put into what I thought the role demanded was taken as a defect rather than a bonus.

My mood lifted even further today with an email from a director whom I had seen earlier in the year. A very good audition, I thought, for Lilies, as a hardened criminal in prison confronting a priest about a case of child abuse. He had remembered me and wondered if I was interested in a part in the large ensemble piece, Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens. In the natural course of events, I would have said yes, but the piece requires singing and there is no way, ever, that my voice can be made to sound musical, so regretfully I declined. But I like the man's choice of productions and if he remembers me again it may be third time lucky.

One other piece of (non-)news... The positive reception for my one-man plays at the Lord Stanley inspired me to think about a three-week season in 2013. I would produce, not act in, three plays - Los Feliz (diner talking about the last woman he fell in love with), Ben and Joe's (middle-aged man talking about events at a gay bar) and a new play, Sunset (grandmother talking about her life). Last week I started looking for fringe theatres to hire, specifically asking about cost and availability. The cost, I assumed, would be in the region of £1,000 a week, which would work out as £150 - £200 per performance. That in turn would allow some profit for marketing, props, rehearsal time and - gasp, gasp, even some money to pay the performers, assuming audiences of 50% or more.

Hah! Was I self-deluded? I was indeed. Not all the responses have come in, but with rates so far being quoted as £450 per night or £3,500 per week (and I'm not sure whether VAT is added onto that), the likelihood of covering costs, far less paying players, comes close to zero. I will continue to look for possible venues, but it looks as if that little plan may fall by the wayside. Unless there's an altruistic angel somewhere out there...?


Monday, 3 September 2012

Next appearing....

....

I'd like to fill in the blank, but I can't because I don't know where or when my next appearance will be. Either I haven't got the hang of this agent business, or this agent business hasn't got the hang of me. In the last few weeks it seems that parts for actors of my type are as scarce as an endangered species. Nothing has yet come from my agent and very few of the notices from Casting Call Pro and Spotlight are applicable to me. I have managed to get one audition for later in the week for a small unpaid part in a film, but that's all the news on the acting front.

That means I find my attention wandering from the stage and screen. Most of my working time in the past couple of weeks has been spent on my bookselling business - preparing a catalogue and cleaning up the website. I've also been using the time to continue the process of decluttering my flat; in the last week I have managed to reveal several more surfaces in my office that have spent the last year piled up with papers, periodicals, publications and paraphernalia. This summer cleaning has left me feeling self-satisfied, but I'm concerned that my enthusiasm for acting, my connections and my talents are beginning to ebb. Before the Actoh in me dies, someone please throw me a metaphorical lifebelt and start giving me virtual resuscitation...

Monday, 27 August 2012

Smile, You're On...

Last July (2011), I gave myself a year in which to become an Actoh, defining success as either getting paid for my work on stage or screen and / or getting an agent. I achieved the first of these goals in January and have been paid several times since; the second has just come to fruition.

I have approached agents regularly over the last twelve months, with little success. The first hurdle I had to overcome was the fact that I was not on Spotlight - the list of professional actors used by most professional agents. I couldn't be on Spotlight because I didn't have enough paid work to qualify. Fortunately, some agents on Casting Call Pro did not demand membership and some of those responded to my enquiries with a "we are interested" email. The next hurdle was moving from that email to a meeting; for many agents interest soon died and out of the ten or so positive responses I received, I only met four face to face.

First was agent A, for whom I auditioned before I had even been offered a role. Not surprisingly, she did not want me. Agent B was after my first short film but before my first stage appearance. He asked to be kept informed of my career, accepted an invitation to see me in The Duchess of Malfi and did not turn up. I eventually dropped him from my mailing list. Agent C saw me in The Duchess and said he would sign me up as soon as I got Spotlight membership. He also wanted me to see his partner. I  never did meet the partner. Agent D saw me in my worst performance of Angel and offered to sign me immediately. Always suspicious of people who tell me how well they have done and how fantastic I am, I was both chuffed and wary. My suspicions turned out be well-founded. A couple of days later a petulant response from him to an email I had sent inspired me to research him online, where I discovered he had form in persuading wealthy and naive individuals to part with their money for little or no reward.

Agent D did one good thing for me - reminding me of the importance of Spotlight membership. Within a day of rejecting him I had completed the online forms and registered with the website (see link right). Within a week of registering with Spotlight I had a long meeting with Stephen Cornwell of Smile Talent. A week later he confirmed that he wanted me on his books. I confirmed I was happy to work with him and thus his logo now appears on this blog (see right) and all my acting websites.

First impressions? My generation, thorough, professional, the right balance of modesty and confidence. We are moving forward a little slower than I had expected, but since I wanted a quiet month, I'm not complaining. Besides, he had warned me that after a period of cutting down on his work because of illness he is now significantly expanding his list, which means many other demands on his time. But I'm optimistic that he will represent me much better than I could represent myself. Now there are two major tests ahead - will he get me the auditions / castings, and will I get the work? You will hear...

Postscript, 5th October. Now that you've read to the bottom of this post, could you do me a favour? Tell me why you are here. This is the by far most popular post on this blog and I haven't a clue why. If you can spare a minute, send me a comment, even if it's only to quote the search phrase that brought you here.  Thanks.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Could Do Better

I had time to see two plays on the Edinburgh Fringe: a one man play based on the diaries of painter Keith Vaughan and Joe Orton's The Erpingham Camp. Both held my attention - which is an achievement for the Fringe - but neither was worthy of recommendation.

Locked In, written and acted by Peter Scott-Presland and directed by the unfortunately named Randy Smartnick, presented various episodes from Vaughan's life from 1939 to 1977. We saw him helping the victims of an air-raid, appearing before a conscientious objector tribunal, had up in court for making a drawing that might be used to help the enemy, on various (homo)sexual adventures abroad, diagnosed with liver cancer and killing himself with an overdose. Anyone of these themes could have been explored in depth, instead of the superficial picture that was drawn for us, offering no more than frustrating glimpses into a complicated and unhappy life.

What was the impact on this pacifist of being in the Army Medical Corps? Scott-Presland did not tell us. Presumably his sexual adventures started before his 40th year, and if they didn't, why not? Was only fulfilled abroad and with teenagers? What was the relationship between his sexual activity with others and his unusual masturbation patterns? Can't answer any of these questions. How long was he an alcoholic? Haven't a clue. How did the various aspects of his personality come together? Your guess is as good as mine. Would I have known he was an artist apart from the artfully-arrange flecks of paint on the tablecloth?  Probably not - not once in the script was there any reference to his wielding a paintbrush.

If the script was mediocre, so too was the acting and direction. Scott-Presland's performance was in a single key, more appropriate to a reading of the diaries than the representation of a life. Nor was he helped by the music that frequently intruded - music that was more interesting than the acting and held the attention for as long as it was played. Meanwhile at the side of the stage we were offered a slide show of Vaughan's paintings only tangentially related to the script.

Moving on.... The Erpingham Camp is one of Orton's lesser-known pieces and for good reason. Despite the revolt of its holiday campers, the play's marriage of the ordinary and the absurd in a 1960s holiday camp never reach the dizzy heights of Loot or What the Butler Saw. The play is not helped by Fourth Monkey Theatre Company's curate's egg of a production where a motley crew - some more talented and appropriately cast than others - rush through their paces. Worst were Erpingham (I can't find the actors' names, but he's not the man in the picture) and the Padre; the former shouting every line in a monotone while the latter mugged his part throughout with a stupid grin that belied the gravitas that the role demands. Best was Riley, although even he sometimes overdid the mugging   I could also complain about small details of dress and props that brought 2012 into what was supposed to be a 1960s production - including hairstyles and designer stubble. As a student production it passed muster - which is about the right level for the Fringe.

Now I'm on my way back to London and with my new agent - of whom more details anon - hoping to get back on stage and in front of the camera soon. At that point I will have to submit to equally aggressive reviewing. Well, I should know not to give it if I can't take it....