Thursday, 22 October 2015

Beginnings of Books

Our class this Saturday will be inspired by famous first lines of books.  For example:

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
(Nineteen Eighty-Four: George Orwell)

Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.
(Cannery Row: John Steinbeck)

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
(Pride and Prejudice: Jane Austen)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ..
(A Tale of Two Cities: Charles Dickens)

Call Me Ishmael
(Moby-Dick: Herman Melville)

that makes five, but Taki Theodoracopulos, who Inspired this idea, suggested another one which is maybe not quite as good and is about bullfighting, hardly my favourite event, but is included none the less, so:

On August 28, 1947, in Linares, in Spain, a multimillionaire and a bull killed each other, and plunged a nation into mourning
(The Death of Manolete: Barnaby Conrad)

I shall be asking for improvisations using these first lines but NOT following the plots of the books.

Some of Our History

Anna Scher Theatre and Charles Verrall Learn to Act have been in existence for a long time so maybe many of you might like to know something of our story.

It starts in January 1968.  Anna Scher had done some acting and written some poetry which led to television appearances.  She applied for some supply teaching to make ends meet and was sent to Ecclesbourne School, in Islington.  Very soon she started a Drama Club, which immediately became extremely popular in the school and, before long, in the surrounding area.

By 1970 the club had grown so much that she was forced to find a different venue and it was at this time that I came in with her, initially just running the administrative side of the business.  This was the Bentham Court Hall era, which lasted six years and included the formation of a charity and growing success managing the careers of young actors.

The philosophy was to provide the best possible improvisation based training at the lowest possible price.  As a business plan this sounds absurd but, in the outcome, it was brilliantly successful.  We produced outstanding young actors, working in a much more up to date style than the competition and, in numbers, people who would never have been able to afford the orthodox drama school route.

On reflection, it is easy to see how this was influenced by my own life experience.   My parents were both brought up by single parents themselves.  My mother was rescued from poverty by winning a scholarship to the grammar school and my father joined the Air Force and then became a partner in a haulage business.  Sadly, he died when I was only four years old.

So it could be said that, in aiming for best training, cheapest price I was simply following the needs of my family.  To get my education I had to win scholarships to school and university and I had to find unusual ways of doing things that worked.  Apart from my parents I would name Leonard Cheshire as an important influence.

And, of the people who were in that first class back in 1968, John Blundell and Herbert Norville have recently been in touch.  The current 'longest inhabitant' is Ray Cezan.  Members who have achieved striking success include Kathy Burke. Gary and Martin Kemp, Linda Robson, Pauline Quirke,, Ray Burdis, Naomie Harris, Phil Daniels, Joe Wright, Susan Tully, Gillian Taylforth, Andy Serkis, Jake Wood and many, many, many others.

And we're still going strong.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The fear of failure leads to the joy of success

When I was co-director of Anna Scher Theatre I used to have a sign overlooking my desk.  It read '99% isn't good enough.'

Nobody's perfect, so that's a good motto, but the fact remains that, in a competitive field, performing arts, success can never be guaranteed.

Is that a reason not to try?  Emphatically, no!

Because ...
You will learn so much along the way, from performing arts, that you will be equipped to do many things apart from acting.  It's a win-win situation: you either succeed at acting or else you succeed at something else.

Believe me I've seen both arms of the win-win many times and it's true, both are labelled 'win.'.  We're a happy, happy crew.

But if you don't put the work in then you can't expect success.  Think about it.  You won't win any prizes.  You've hardly begun and already you've given up.

Better by far to have put the work in.

The fear of failure leads to the joy of success


Thursday, 21 November 2013

Natural Timing

Many people suppose that acting for television is easy, that you just do what you would do anyway, if it were real life.

But the point is that it isn't real life.  So how do you make people believe that it is?

Three classic virtues are to maintain believability, listen to the other actors and share attention.

Another more subtle point relates to timing.  Never force an emotional response forward, your job is just to allow it to happen.  Likewise, never deliver a line before it has to be delivered.  If you wait it will be easy to recognise the right moment.

Friday, 16 August 2013

The rewards of nurturing talent

I have spent a large part of my life encouraging people to fulfill their potential.  Perhaps the most surprising instance was something that took place on 25th October 1998.

At that time I used to run in quite a lot of road races and I can't remember what took me to a venue near Heathrow that Sunday for the Bedfont Lakes Five Mile Run.  It was certainly some way off the beaten track for me.  Anyway, I found my way there and I remember that the course was wet and hilly, with a lot of twists and turns.  As I was jogging round, warming up, I fell in with two African looking guys aged about fifteen.  We chatted as we ran and I asked if they had  run on this course before - no, neither had I.  We got back to the start and wished each other luck in the race.  There were now quite a lot of competitors gathered there, the gun went off and we all went storming along the footpaths.

Although I'd started quite fast I still managed to overtake a couple of runners near the end and finished up 7th, so I was quite pleased.  I jogged back along the course, warming down, and caught up with the same two teenagers I'd seen before.  How did they get on?  "Oh, I won it" one of them replied.  "You must be a keen runner" I remarked.  "Yes" he said "I used to do football but now I'm doing running."  "Well" I said "you should keep up with it.  You could do really well.  What's your name?"  "Mohamed Farah" he replied.

And the moral of that story is that encouraging talent can bring unexpected rewards.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Good luck to Mo Farah this afternoon.  He has a very difficult task and winning is not a foregone conclusion

Statistical note: I was 7th of exactly 100 finishers in a time of 31:59.  Mo Farah's time was 28:58.  Today he'd be capable, on that course, of about 21 minutes

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Beware the sudden shout!

In recent weeks I've seen a number of showcases of people who have been taking acting courses.  Some of the performances have been good, some not so good, but I have noticed a feature common to some of the not so good ones: the sudden shout of anger.  Beware the sudden shout!

As a way of portraying anger it simply doesn't work.  It always seems artificial and stagey and that is because it isn't true to life.  When people are angered it takes time for the feeling to develop:anger feeds on itself.  In real life the first feeling is often surprise "I'm amazed that you could be so offensive ..." or threat "If you do that once more ..."  And it's only a little after that that shouting and a red face kick in.  Even that is not the only way to express anger, some people are very quiet and pale and that can seem more dangerous.  So if the script indicates anger, think very carefully about how your character expresses it.  Beware the sudden shout!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Five Words to Make You a Better Actor

The five words are: practice, experiment, learn, connect and observe.

Practice: repetition is the mother of skill and no-one ever became good at anything without spending a lot of time doing it.  This is true of sport, mathematics, learning a foreign language, anything you can think of, including acting.  So to get better at acting, do  a lot of acting.

Experiment: try different things, assess whether they work.  Remember that it can be as productive to find what doesn't work as what does work.  Always be ready to stretch your capabilities.

Learn from others: see what other actors do and absorb whatever you see that is effective.  You can learn from your fellow students every bit as much as from the giants of the silver screen.  Learn from writers, too, ancient and modern: study their scripts in all media..

Connect: aim to get to know as many other performers as possible.  The performing arts are a small village rather than a great conurbation and quite soon you will find you run across the same people again and again.  Aim to get involved and make friends.  You will help them and they will help you.

Observe: as an actor, the whole of the human species is your subject of study, so observe what people do in all sorts of different circumstances.  Observe yourself as well.  Wherever you are be alert to how people behave, act and react, their spoken language and their body language.