Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Don't believe your own publicity

The latest piece of online advice, the Words of Wisdom are Don't believe your own publicity.

In this difficult business, after many years of effort and training, you may find yourself becoming successful. This can happen quite suddenly and it can bring problems with it. For a while you will be the centre of attention, people aroud you won't be able to do enough for you. Your picture will be in the press, you may be on TV, people will recognise you in the street, they may ask you for your autograph. All this can be quite destabilising: you are living the dream and you may easily fall into the trap of believing you're superior to ordinary people. You are in danger of becoming conceited and treating people badly. A little power can go a long way - to your head.

It's very important to keep your feet on the ground. You are still the same person you were before. Stick with your family and friends outside the business. Don't splash your money around. Don't trust people who may be more interested in your fame than in you yourself.

Two thousand years ago, when a Roman general returned to Rome having conquered a foreign land he would be granted a triumph, a parade of all his troops and the booty of war that they had won. But a slave would be employed to ride in his chariot with him, to continually whisper in his ear and remind him that he had not become a god but that he was still mortal.

The other end of the publicity stick is if you get criticism or rejection, which may seem exaggerated and unfair. You may have made the mistake of believing that the love of an audience applied to you personally. Now you feel unloved. Let it wash over you. It will soon be forgotten. Take bad publicity with a pinch of salt just as you do good.

We all have a need for excitement and glamour, that's one of the things we join up for. But we also all have a need for the safety and stability of ordinariness. Don't believe your own publicity.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

A costume fitting is a character fitting

The Words of Wisdom this week are: a costume fitting is a character fitting. Think of how different it feels to wear a bathing costume from wearing a business suit; now imagine the difference between being dressed in rags, compared with full dress military uniform. In social terms it's very much a case of 'you are what you wear.' Clothing gives off important signals, not least to the wearer.

Now an important event in preparing for a play or a film is the costume fitting. Incidentally, the department that deals with costumes is usually called 'wardrobe.' The word 'costume' is used for the individual items of clothing. You will have already given your measurements to the production office and may probably have been measured - actors' versions of their measurements not always being 100% scientifically accurate. Then you will be called for a fitting. This is to check that the costume does indeed actually fit you, but it's also an opportunity for a lot more than that.

You may be dressed for a wedding, or a sports fixture, or in a uniform, or in period dress from hundreds of years ago. This is your chance to find out how the clothing feels and how it affects your movement, so it's important at this stage to take that on board. If you're going to sing in restrictive garments or in high heeled shoes this is a time to experiment and find out about any problems you may have to deal with.

Once you've done this once, your sense memory will remember it and you'll be able to move in rehearsal as if you're in costume, even if you're back in your street clothes. So remember: a costume fitting is a character fitting.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Never make excuses

The Words of Wisdom this week are Never Make Excuses.

A few years ago I sat in on auditions for a film on which I was script consultant. After a few hours of auditioning I came to the conclusion that a ggod half of the auditionees would open their interview by announcing that they were sufferong from a cold. This seemed very odd as few of them showed overt cold symptoms, though many were ill-prepared on the script excerpt they'd been sent a couple of days before, and there was certainly no epidemic in progress in the city at large. I eventually decided that what they were suffering from was not a normal cold but rather an Actor's Cold, that is simply an excuse for a poor performance and possibly a (vain) hope that they would get bravery points for struggling against illness.

Further study showed that an excuse was frequently that they had been too busy to prepare in the time available (not a recommendation to a director who wants you to drop everything for a chance to appear in his pet project). Another one, combined with a late arrival, was the Actor's Horrific Journey. This was produced as if it were justification for being too upset to audition properly. Careful analysis showed that factors involved in the journey were an inability to read a map (the map's fault) and the Actor's Bus Wait, in which a wait of four minutes is inflated to fifteen and a wait of nine minutes becomes half an hour.

None of these excuses makes a recommendation: at best they make an actor look weak, at worst dishonest. More than that, makinig up excuses is preparing to fail - hunting around for a reason so that a failure will not be your own fault. And frequently it's not your own fault, it's the name of the game so deal with it: there's no need for excuses. And the way to deal with it is to be well prepared so you can be confident that you won't need any excuses to prop you up.

Of course I'm not aiming a broadside at all actors. Many do not fall into the excuse trap and they stand out as beacons of professionalism. You can be like that, too. Let the director be the one who notices your (real) cold so you can tell them, bravely, "It's OK, I'm fine."

So, unless you're appearing in The X Factor, in which case the recent death of an elderly relative or saving a puppy from drowning will enhance your chances no end ... never, never, never; never, ever, never; Never make excuses!