Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Never ignore the assistant

The Words of Wisdom for today are never ignore the assistant. Casting and production for stage and screen depend on the services of a whole army of often lowly paid helpers. They should never be ignored or treated in an arrogant way. I have seen performers with nothing more behind them than three years in an accredited drama school treat the people who are there to help them with total disregard, as if they were a lower form of life.

First of all it is simply bad manners. It's easy for actors to get an inflated idea of their own importance and to forget how much they depend on a whole team of people. Treat people on their quality as people, not by the importance of the position they appear to hold. A little bit of success can easily go to your head and it's important to keep your feet on the ground. The studio cleaner deserves a 'Good morning.'

Secondly, assistants may have little power but they can wield a great deal of influence. In the discussion at the end of a casting session, the assistant's opinion that you are too far up yourself to remain visible might be fatal to your chance of getting the part. A pity you weren't more friendly towards them on the way in.

Thirdly, assistants' careers progress. Every powerful agent, director or casting director had to start somewhere, as a student, or a fourth assistant or a casting assistant. Sometimes this can happen remarkably quickly: you will open a Sunday paper and see that someone you met when they were a film school student is touted as the new directing talent of the year. I myself have taught and cast people, as teenagers, in plays, who within a few years were award winning actors or directors. You may have got a part in a fringe production or showcase and invited agents and casting directors and been disappointed that you got no response. They are busy people with many calls on their time, but did you think of inviting an assistant? They would be much more likely to be able to come and they will certainly appreciate the invitation.

So, never ignore the assistant.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

When auditioning, be ready for anything

The Words of Wisdom this week are 'When auditioning, be ready for anything.' An audition should not be seen as a contest between the auditioner and the auditionee. Rather, it should be seen as a chance to meet someone who may be interested or interesting. The caster has the problem of finding someone most suitable for a part, the actor has the problem of finding a part that is most suitable: the audition is an opportunity for the two to meet and solve these problems together.

As an actor you will find that directors and casting directors are usually professional and considerate, but nevertheless there are a thousand ways that things can go wrong for you in an audition, so: expect the unexpected. Here are examples of some of the things that might throw you, if you allow them to do so.

You might be seen by just one person or a whole team of people. You may have a lengthy interview or just be asked to perform a piece and receive no comment. You may just have a chat with the director over a cup of coffee. You may be in a tiny office or in a large theatre or rehearsal room. It might be boiling hot or it might be freezing cold. It might be a camera test (in which case you'll probably have to sit on a chair in a fixed position.) You may be required to sing (your agent forgot to tell you you were supposed to prepare a song.) You are very likely to be kept waiting, so be prepared for this, relax and read your newspaper quietly. You may find yourself face to face with a Very Famous Director or being seen by an assistant who appears to have been given the task of screening out the no-hopers. In either case they are humans just like you are so behave normally.

Usually, if you are going to do some pages from a script, it will have been faxed or e-mailed to you, but it might be thrust into your hand when you arrive, ten minutes before your audition is due to begin. In the audition you may be stopped early on and sent away: admittedly this is not a great sign but if you show good humour about it they just might remember you favourably - you can console yourself that maybe you were too tall for the part. If you are stopped and redirected you might think this is a bad sign and that you have done something wrong but, on the contrary, it is a clear sign that they are interested in you. Sometimes, they will be friendly, at other times they may seem cold - neither has very much bearing on whether you are going to get the part.

You may make a mistake. Don't let it faze you, nobody is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. One particular mistake is very easy to make. You are asked the innocent question 'What have you been doing lately' and your mind goes blank: well what have I been doing lately? Always have your answer to this one prepared, complete with names and titles.

There are two possible successful outcomes to an audition. The first, obviously, is that you get the part. The second, less obviously, is that you are remembered, and remembered favourably. Surprisingly often, you or your agent may receive a call months later, enquiring as to your availability. They remembered you.

One final word of advice, Never, repeat never, make excuses. So many auditioning actors claim that their performance in the audition will be hampered by a cold or a cough that I think there should be a syndrome called 'Actor's Throat.' Others will want to describe how dramatically terrible their journey from home to audition venue has been. Consider: few directors will want to employ people with serious health issues who cannot get from A to B on the transport system without fuss. So, no excuses, ever, and, when auditioning, be ready for anything.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Engage your emotions

Now here's an exercise that is not only useful for actors but also useful for anybody in living their life. The Words of Wisdom are Engage your emotions. You can do this exercise by yourself or with a partner or, ideally, with a group of people.

Take an imaginary tablet from your pocket. You do have an imaginary tablet in your pocket, don't you? It will be red. Visualise it very strongly. When you swallow it, it will produce instant anger. Think 'eyes.' Look at the tablet. Place it on your tongue. Feel it. Taste it. Take an imaginary glass of water. Sip it and swallow the tablet. Feel it go down your throat. Feel the instant anger. Talk to yourself or the nearest person to you. You will find you are angry. After half a minute or so snap your fingers and the anger will switch itself off.

You can repeat this ritual with other emotions. Try the orange pill that produces instant energy; the pale blue capsule that makes you sad; the little green one that instantly boosts your brainpower; the maroon and black striped one that makes you cheerful, so that everything's a laugh. Then there's the yellow tablet that produces anxiety, the glittering gold capsule that makes you incredibly attractive and the little white tablet that produces instant calm. The colours are, of course, your own choice, but once you have established them, stick to them.

The emotions will seem real if they come from the inside and are not over-expressed. It's an exercise that shows the power of visualisation and it works best if the ritual is followed very carefully and always in the same way. These imaginary drugs are very powerful, but they have no side-effects and they are free and legal.

I have often asked a class which of these drugs they would most like in reality. You might suppose that they would ask to be charismatically attractive, or supremely intelligent and quick witted, but nearly always a large majority vote for instant calm. We all need calm.

Engage your emotions.