Monday, 26 March 2007

If in doubt, leave it out

Here’s news of a couple of films that we have people involved in. Donna Air is someone we go back a fair way with and she took a principal part in the picture ‘Bad Day’, shot last year.

There’s now a teaser trailer for it which may be found by clicking the link
Watch out for this one when it gets released.

Another film in which I was involved together with a number of past members is ‘Halal Harry.’ This has been nominated for the East London Film Festival and will be shown on Friday 20th April at the Genesis Cinema, Mile End Road. Tickets may be obtained by phoning 08700 60 60 61 a couple of weeks before. For clips and photos (including one of yours truly on the red carpet) go to

Do please let me know of any upcoming performances you may have and I will gladly publicise them: it’s good to have some friendly faces in the audience or putting their money down and I like to feel we are a network of ready made friends.

And the Words of Wisdom this week? If in doubt, leave it out!
Meaning, when improvising, once you have a good line of advance established, don’t throw in anything unrelated, unless it’s a sure fire winning card. If you make an improvisation too rich a mixture of unrelated themes it becomes chaotic and unbelievable. When you are improvising, you are creating a new, virtual universe. It may have any rules or features you choose and if you make it credible the audience will believe in it, because they will want to believe in it. But if it becomes contradictory or incomprehensible you will lose them.

The same is true when you are working with a script. Detail is very important because it tells us a lot about character and accurate detail adds authenticity. But detail is not an end in itself and if you overload your characterisation with detail it becomes distracting and there is a danger of seeming self-indulgent.

Remember, every line in a script (or action or reaction) should either advance the plot or reveal character or both. If you’re working with a script, what is each line’s function? Focus on that. If you’re improvising, try and blue pencil anything unnecessary before you utter it. Imagine you’re holding a hand of cards. Don’t play the two of clubs if you might be able to find the Ace of Spades. If in doubt, leave it out!

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Slow Down

Our future is now booked up for after the Easter break. We’ll take a week off round the Easter weekend, so there will be no classes on Thursday 5th and Saturday 7th April. Then we’ll start again on Thursday 12th April and continue till Saturday 28th July.

However, there is one problem date and that is Saturday 19th May. The Diorama is already fully booked on that day so we shall either take a week off or do a class at an alternative venue. If anyone can suggest a possible location I’d be very grateful as it’s difficult to find places which are available on Saturday mornings. Somewhere nice, near the tube and not too expensive, is what is required.

This week’s Words of Wisdom are deceptively simple: easy to say but not so easy to carry out. They are, simply, Slow down!

Slow down the dialogue and give the audience time to interpret what is happening. Remember that any play or film is a sort of puzzle. What you are presenting to the audience is not reality but a suggestion of a reality. If you go too fast for the audience they will lose touch and lose interest.

Slow down and give the audience not only time to work out what is happening but also time to react emotionally: emotions do not develop instantly, they need time to grow and flower
Slow down and observe the punctuation in the script. A comma is a short pause; a full stop marks the end of a statement and therefore is a longer pause. A new paragraph is a new idea and therefore needs a longer pause again so that the audience is ready to pay attention to the next thing. An instruction ‘beat’ or ‘pause’ in a script means that the action stops momentarily for dramatic effect.

Slow down and appear less nervous. When you are nervous you feel the urge to rush to fill any silence. When the words stop you feel exposed. Resist the urge to hurry.

Slow down and raise your status. Even if you’re playing a nervous, hurried character of low status, play the nervous rush between slower parentheses.

Slow down and make telling pictures. Next time you’re watching a film notice how many of the best shots are reaction shots where the characters are doing nothing, apparently, except thinking and feeling. Rely on the audience to do most of the work.

Slow down and add suspense. Not just the simple suspense like when the heroine is entering the haunted house and we are wondering what dreadful thing is going to happen to her, but the general suspense when the audience wonder, consciously or unconsciously, what is going to happen next. Instead of pushing the next thing at them you are making them want to draw it out of what you are giving them.

Slow down!

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Understand the differences between the media

I’ve had some very positive feedback about the Words of Wisdom so I’m glad that people are finding these useful. This week’s words are: Understand the differences between the media. The principal dramatic media are theatre, films and television and they all work in different ways.

In Theatre, the actors are quite remote from the audience, so they have to project more. What the audience sees on the stage is often only symbolically related to a real time and place so they have to fill in the gaps to interpret what they see as reality. The largest part of what is conveyed comes from the words and there are more of them than there are in the other media. Theatre takes place in the minds of the audience.

A Film is a story in pictures. The experience of watching a film is dreamlike (that’s why Hollywood is called the Dream Factory.) The audience sees huge faces in close-up, sudden transitions of time and space, they are moved by a musical score. There are few words of dialogue, but, because they are so distilled, those few words are powerful in their effect. The camera sees what is happening behind the actors’ eyes and projected, theatrical acting would appear false. The audience sits in the darkness and dreams.

Sometimes people say that television is a story in pictures as well, but that is not the most important thing about television as a dramatic medium. Television is an intimate medium. People watch it at home in ones or twos or threes. There is no communal emotional experience. The faces on the screen are about life size. Most television drama is domestic in scale. It’s like a window on the house next door. Television is a very literal medium: members of the same family have to look as if they might be genetically related. The acting has to be highly naturalistic. Numbers of people believe that characters in soaps are real: they don’t believe this about characters in films or theatre. Television drama is a simulation of real life.

Extending the analysis, it’s easy to see that small scale theatre is more televisual than the West End, because the audience is closer. Stage musicals are more visual and filmic than straight plays. Radio is like theatre but more so – all you have is words, acoustics and sound effects and characters can only be differentiated by their voices. Music video is usually film like and corporate work is often like TV.

The moral of all this for actors is to always bear in mind how the audience are going to perceive what you do at the other end and moderate your performance towards that.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Comedy is not Funny (for the people it’s happening to)

I have taught so many people over the years and so many of them have got to know one another that we have a loose network of friends and friends of friends that reaches far and wide. So if any of you have a performance coming up, be sure to let me know and I’ll pass the word on so you will get some kindly faces in the audience supporting you.

Another bonus I am able to offer is that, because we have to book the Diorama up to 1:00pm, although the class is scheduled to finish at 12:30, if there is anyone who wants to try out an audition piece or anything else of a similar kind, they can do so in that extra time. So do let me know if you’d like to do this.

This week’s words of wisdom: Comedy is not Funny (for the people it’s happening to). For them, you see, it’s misery. The characters suffer and we, the audience, laugh. For that reason the most important principle of playing comedy Is to play it straight. You don’t need to present it to the audience as being funny. If you do they won’t believe in it. Dramatic comedy is completely different in this respect from its cousin, stand-up, in which you are, usually, telling jokes. Play it straight - feel the characters’ pain, anguish, suffering, anger and despair – play it straight but carry the emotions and obsessions to the extreme, and allow the audience to find the humour, which they will if you allow them to, because people love to laugh. And of course, when they laugh, you don’t, because to you it isn’t funny.