Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Be nice to people on the way up - you may need them on the way down

The Words of Wisdom this week are an old theatre saying: Be nice to people on the way up – you may need them on the way down. That speaks for itself really. People in this business have some success – often a very small amount of success – and they can quickly become arrogant, conceited and all too full of themselves. Don’t let it happen to you, when you become successful. Be nice to people on the way up – you may need them on the way down.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Acting is a proper job

It is said that professionals are those who can do it when they don’t feel like it, while amateurs are those who can’t do it even when they do feel like it. Without necessarily agreeing with this, I do believe that everything in my classes should be aimed towards achieving the highest professional standard. I am aware that not everyone who comes is an actor or aiming to be one, but there is no substitute for doing something as well as you possibly can. So today’s Words of Wisdom are Acting is a proper job. Like sport, the arts are something which a lot of people love doing and many people aspire to. I’ve been involved in one or both for practically all my life and it has all been immensely rewarding. Because so many people want to do things in the arts, or sport, they are very hard to succeed at. But are such enjoyable pursuits somehow childish? Are they, maybe, not a proper job, like those done by the serious faced people one sees on the tube trains, going to work in an office or factory? The answer is yes. Entertaining people brings joy and meaning into many people’s lives. It is a valuable endeavour and no-one should feel guilty for being paid for doing something they love.

On the other hand, no-one has a right to be employed as an actor, however hard they may have trained. One sometimes hears actors say that they have a right to follow their chosen profession. No such right exists. There are plenty of people who have trained as doctors, accountants, architects or lawyers who cannot find a job in those callings. It’s a competitive and unfair world and luck and contacts count for a lot. So actors have very little power over their destiny: they are in an overcrowded and insecure field, with no career structure, and they take a gamble with their lives. All they can do is work, study and train hard, gain experience and keep their professional friendships in good repair. And acting is a proper job.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Practice sight reading

Today’s Words of Wisdom are Practice sight reading. Sight reading is a very difficult skill to master: it’s something many people are nervous about and failures at sight reading seem to be particularly humiliating. It’s a very important skill for actors, as at auditions you often have to read (even if rarely to sight read, because you normally have an opportunity for preparation.) It’s a normal human reaction to avoid things that are difficult, but you should always face danger (those are words of wisdom of their own) and because sight reading is important and difficult you should practice it continually.

It is remarkable that we can do it at all. Think what happens in your brain when you turn the image of some black squiggles on paper into spoken words with meaning and context, subtlety and humour, all in a fraction of a second. So practice.

Choose all different kinds of material: scripts, novels, newspapers, magazines, children’s stories if there are children you can read to. Find things that you are interested in and enjoy. Slow down: the most common mistake is to go too fast. Visualise anything that leads to or describes an image and place that image in your field of view: this will make your delivery more vivid. Engage your emotions, feel inside whatever the material leads you to feel: your emotional involvement will transmit to the audience, but it needs to come from the inside, if it’s just put on the outside like a cosmetic it will appear false. If you are reading a script or a novel or a story read all the parts with a different voice for each one and, probably, a more neutral delivery for the narrator or stage directions. Experiment and adjust stresses and inflexions.

Gradually your enjoyment will grow and your reading will improve. Practice sight reading.