Just another run-of-the-mill week really. On Sunday I was enjoying a rather excellent champagne cocktail in the bar of The Four Seasons hotel in Budapest, congratulating myself on not having been a total embarrassment on the set of Ridley Scott's latest movie. By Wednesday I was trudging the filth lacquered streets of Soho on my way to what turned out to be an extremely engaging appointment to record my voice extolling the virtues of the market leader in denture fixative.
Written down it seems like a reasonably extraordinary week but it's pretty much the norm. As much as I'm grateful for the cash from voiceovers, they rarely excite me in the way that working with say Daniel Day-Lewis might, but there you go- that's just how it is. Sorry about the name drop. Point being is that somehow, in the seventeen and a half years it's been since I was at DSL, I've morphed into this jack of all trades actor type. I won't bore you unnecessarily with my recent CV (if you care to, you can of course have a peek at IMDB) but suffice it to say I'm really happy and a tiny weeny bit proud of it. I'm not proud of the work or anything, because like most actors I tend to think I'm a bit shit, but proud because I can't quite believe I'm still getting away it. I'm digressing again. Sorry.
CV. Right. Yeah, mostly I'm happy with it because of how varied it's been. It wasn't my intention to fashion a diverse body of work, it's just panned out that way. I don't think it says anything particular about me because I don't think I'm any more adaptable than any other actor out there, but rather it says more about how varied the industry is. In my experience, that's a really good thing. One of the reasons I wanted to do this for a living is because I wanted to have a range of experience greater than I might ever hope to find behind a desk or being a 'creative' type at some ad agency. I'll spare you the tedium of describing how different an experience Game Of Thrones is to that film I did (I kid you not) about dildos, but you get the picture - it's been a wonderfully mixed bag of mostly really good fun.
So what? So far I've not said anything you wouldn't already glean by looking at my IMDB page which, let's face it, would have taken less time than reading this load of garbage. So far I've managed to name-drop two famous people I've worked with and made myself out to be some poncey lush cavorting around Budapest clutching a champagne flute. A bit sad really.
When I do look at my CV (which is a weird and typically egotistical thing to do, I know) a couple of things jump out at me. First is how bloody long I've been at it now and secondly how I wasn't up to all that much to start off with, how I then had a few lean years in the middle and that now things are cooking with gas. When I say lean years in the middle, what I actually mean is a period of utter desolation where I was dangerously close to chucking it all in. Had it not been for the love and support of my wife I would probably now be asking you whether or not you wanted fries with that.
The constant rejection was devastating and crushing which in turn made it almost impossible for me to see a way out of the hole I felt I was in. I think I started to predict more failure for myself at every turn so I would approach auditions with a defeatist attitude and if I'm an honest deliberately unprepared. I mean if I'm not going to get the job anyway then it's not a real rejection if I turn up not giving too much of a crap. That make sense? By not committing fully to the audition and the work then I was mitigating the effects of the inevitable failure. I was, in short, embarrassing myself.
That my career has turned around somewhat is the result of a number of things which conspired to make me care less about my career and solely whether or not I got the job: we moved house, I grew up, and then we had kids. Almost overnight, auditions were no longer to be dreaded but something to look forward to. Each meeting no longer meant learning lines then facing inevitable rejection but rather a break from changing nappies and the opportunity at least for a few hours, to do something for me - and I started to enjoy it. Crucially I cared less about the end result of the audition which is ultimately binary, and I concentrated on the work because I realised not only was it the only thing I had the power to control, but also that it was the work itself which was giving me the greatest pleasure.
What I'm basically saying is that it's super tough out there in THE PROFESSION and in my case it's taken me seventeen and a half years to find my feet, truly understand why I'm doing it and to a degree, how to do it. It's not all bad news though because if you're bothering to read this there's a chance that you are currently studying at or are about to study at DSL. I'm not showering DSL with empty praise here- what I mean is that you have had or are about to have the opportunity to best prepare yourself for your career should you choose to make the most of your time there. I'm not sure I did that but do as I say, not as I do. Namely:
1) Remember that it's a marathon not a sprint. A marathon you may have to sprint in at times but marathon all the same.
2) Your career begins now - not when you graduate. You are not training to be a professional but rather you are a professional in training. Use this year to GET YOUR SHIT DOWN. Your goal should be to graduate knowing what it is you need to do to be your best. What does your warmup consist of? Do you even need one? How long do you need to learn lines? Do you listen to music before a take or the show? What is your routine on the day of a performance? What do you need to eat? What do you think of immediately before stepping on stage or before a take? Do you empty your head or are you 'in character'? You will spend the rest of your career finessing those things and it will change but, and this is really important to remember: you can only control you. What I mean is that it's really easy to do the job once you've got it, it's winning the role that is difficult. It's all too simple to look at an audition as an encounter with a binary result and if you think in those terms you're dead. What I mean by that is that if you think about getting or not getting the job then you've already got your eyes off the ball - think only about the work. Control your controllable and forget about the rest; think only of telling the character's story and moving the person you are reading with. Don't think about impressing the director or the producer (if you're lucky enough to have them in the room with you), just think about 'hitting' and making your intentions land with whom you are reading. Possibly the most important by-product of nailing this approach is that you care less when you don't get the job because you know that you nailed the meeting and couldn't have done more, and you are even happier if you do get the job for the exact same reason.
3) Never forget how much you love the job. When you've not worked in a while or after a particularly shitty audition it's easy to hate the industry and yourself. AVOID THIS. The rejection and the unemployment is the price you pay for having the best job, like, ever.
4) You haven't got the job until you've been served a bacon sandwich by catering.
5) Remember that most people are crap at their jobs.
6) Experiment! Fuck up! Force yourself to get into the habit of taking mad risks with your work. Model yourself into a brave actor. You will lose parts this way but win far more by doing so. And even if you don't, isn't that the kind of actor you want to be? The worst feeling is thinking you could have done more and by the way, directors are much happier when you give them too much than too little. Yes, it's great when an actor can hit their marks, get their continuity right every take as well as get the lines out in the right order but it's too easy a trap to focus on that stuff primarily rather than the performance. You've not been hired for the former and I can repeat this enough, don't go onto the set with the sole aim of avoiding being told that you've done something wrong to not making waves.
7) You can't watch enough TV and film. Look at scenes and really try to break them down shot by shot and see how each actor performs for that specific shot. Study how different actors handle wides, mediums, two-shots and close up; does the performance change?
8) If you're super mad keen, take a basic editing course - nothing is more instructive for an actor as far as TV and film acting goes.
9) It can be extremely nerve-wracking acting for camera because you've just watched about 50 people spend a good deal of time getting everything set-up just for you to do your bit. The longer you have to wait for a shot to be set up the more seems to ride on you not ballsing it up when they turn over. Don't think of making a mistake as letting them down, you've been patiently waiting for everyone else to do their work, and in the same way that it is your job to do exactly that, it is now everyone else's turn to wait and let you do yours- it's your space!
10) A lot of work involves stepping onto a set that is already running. Guest star appearances or small roles in big films when you come in for a day or so half way through filming can be the most difficult part of the job. Everyone knows each other's names, there are in-jokes you aren't privy to and more often than not there are stresses and concerns that seem to be more important than the 6 lines that your relatively minor character is going to deliver that day. Generally the scene will be less about you and more focussed on the major character's reaction to what news you are about to deliver. The first AD may not know your name and may even spend most of the day getting it wrong, you may have not even met the director yet and even worse, he may not even remember casting you all those months ago- it can be unbelievably terrifying. This is where the adage about there being 'no small roles' and your cojones come in to play. The way I deal with this, and I'm not saying this is the only way, is by saying 'hello' to everyone and introducing myself to everyone I'm working directly with - DOP, continuity, focus puller, runners, boom op, sound recordist, art department, grip etc., etc., etc. I know it's obvious but they then start to think you of as a person as opposed to a day-player which relaxes them as much as you. The other thing I like to do and you will often find advice to the contrary, is to go full beans in the rehearsal. By jumping in at the deep end as it were and not holding anything back until the camera rolls, I am failing to distinguish between the rehearsal and recording processes and as a result I tend not to tense up when someone shouts 'action'.
11) Don't expect one job to lead to another.
12) Go up for everything. Get as much experience auditioning as possible and it's the best way of meeting people. Hey, you might even get the job.
13) The converse of this is never audition if you are not ready. Nobody wins if you turn up just to make your agent or the casting director happy - and as much as they rely on you to represent them well, your reputation as an actor is at stake with every audition.
14) Never assume that you aren't right for a role. It's a defeatist attitude and frankly none of your business anyway - if the casting director and director think you're potentially ideal as the stuttering army officer from Bratislava with only one good eye then you are.
15) Everyone can do what you can do except be you as well as you can be you. Know what I mean?
16) Be lovely to everyone no matter what.
Look. I could go on all day and given half a chance I would. What I've written may or may not be useful to you either now or in the future. Naturally I hope that some of my mindless rambling will resonate and may even be of some help somewhere along the line otherwise why on earth would I bother? I've bothered because I am just as hungry for help and guidance today (from those qualified to give it) as I was when I graduated back in July 1997. This is a job where we get to paid to frisk, gambol, frolic and play, and where the opportunity to learn is never-ending. Isn't that why we do it?
"That's what games are, in the end. Teachers. Fun is just another word for learning."
― Raph Koster
An account of Will's experience of the Restoration Comedy block and performance
It's interesting when you think about it: theatre has been a stable part of culture since the dawn of civilisation and, yet, we forget about so many interesting periods of theatricality that can still hold a candle to the best Shakespearian soliloquies or Chekhovian performances. In fact, most people go straight from Shakespeare to the twentieth century when looking for good drama and completely miss out the period that had some of the dirtiest jokes, the wittiest writing, and, well, all the sex - The Restoration.
To sum up, the English Restoration was a period of great social change. Naturally, after years of strict Puritan rule in the late 1600s, the people of England were only too glad to welcome back their exiled King and, with him, alcohol, Christmas, and, of course, theatre. The King had learnt a lot from the much more sexualised and loose French forms of entertainment, and they were immediately installed into our society. That's right, there was actually a brief period in our English history where the French were admired. Crazy times. What this meant for the theatres was a huge increase of plays about sex, money and, with the radical introduction of women to the stage, a hell of a lot of corsets.
This was all explained to us in a fantastic workshop that got us to grips with the Restoration way of life. Catherine Weate gave a fascinating explanation of the wants and needs of the characters we would encounter (sex, money, and more sex), whilst Crispin Harris provided us with an extremely detailed timeline of the period. David Wylde's advice on approaching the text was an invaluable source that helped many of us get to grips with the language, and Granville Saxton's lecture on how to expand the moment and use 'business' on stage was both informative and entertaining. A special mention should also go to Darren Royston for his engaging introduction to period movement (it's all about showing off the calf muscles - the ladies love the calf muscles) and to Christopher Hawes for his fantastic, hands on lesson in successfully taking on the personas of Commedia characters. All in all, there was a lot to learn in a short amount of time, but it definitely paid off.
We performed two shows, both by John Vanbrugh - The Provoked Wife and The Relapse. As a performer in the latter, I can safely say it was definitely a different rehearsal process to any other I've experienced. David Wylde got right down to business with training our voices (vowels and consonants are more important than ever in Restoration comedy - Shakespeare's verse is child's play in comparison) and getting us to grips with our characters' desires and goals. In a sense, it's fairly simple: if your character doesn't want sex, they probably want money. Though they'll probably want sex later. With a bit more money. Fans and corsets were also the inevitable challenge for the girls; it's never easy to speak challenging dialogue whilst providing another readable language with the creative placing of your fan around your person (ironically, without ever fanning yourself) and then, y'know, struggling to breathe throughout all that. Then again, the guys had issues too: our shoes were a bit tight and, ok, yeah, the girls win this one.
Performing Restoration comedy was a thrill and the audiences seemed to love both shows - providing applause, cheers, and laughter throughout; instant gratification for actors! None of the corseted girls collapsed due to lack of oxygen and the fops successfully pulled off their witticisms underneath what can only be described as a plaster board of white makeup. All in all, a success! Very few other drama schools decide to put these shows on, which is a massive shame; this style of performance is the perfect way to train young actors how to engage with their primal desires and it completely transforms their physicality in such a bold way. All in all, to act in a Restoration comedy is a rare but unforgettable experience that I'd gladly embark on again.
Rebecca Kirby joined the Michelle Braidman team in 2007 after two years at Ken McReddie Associates Ltd. She graduated from De Montfort University in 2003 with a BA (Hons) in Performing Arts.
Do I really need an agent straight away?
Ideally, yes. A good agent will have the experience, expertise and contacts to open doors for you that will otherwise be difficult. However having said that, it is better to be care of Spotlight and submit yourself for roles than be represented by a bad agent.
How do I choose which agents to write to?
Go to the PMA (Personal Managers' Association) website where you can find a list of all the reputable agencies that adhere to the PMA's codes of conduct. There's also Spotlight's book Contacts. Ask other actors, directors, and tutors for their personal recommendations.
If I'm invited in for a chat, what is the agent really looking for?
If I have brought you in I will have already seen you perform, so I know you can act. I now want to find out about you as a person. Where are you from? When did you start performing? Do you dance? Can you sing? What instruments do you play? What are your hobbies? What's your dream role/job? All of these things help build up an idea of the kind of person you are. I'm trying to assess if we would work well together.
I want an agent to be a mentor not just someone who sends me for auditions. Is that pie in the sky?
Just like actors, every agent is different. That's why it's so important at the start of your career to meet as many as possible, be it in one on one meetings or talks at places like your drama school, Spotlight or the Actor's Centre. You need to make sure that your agent is the right fit for you.
I have to balance a career with paying the rent, does an agent always appreciate that?
There are only a select few actors who are lucky enough to work consistently enough to never rely on another source of income. Agents understand this. It's important for you to find a flexible way of supporting yourself between acting jobs. Agents will only get frustrated with you if you prioritise your 'day' job over auditions and acting commitments they have worked hard to get you.
I am very ambitious and want to get off to a flying start in my first couple of years, will an agent understand that?
Of course! Any agent will want that too. If you are not working they are not taking commission. It's important to realise that it's a marathon not a sprint though. You should be focusing on having good meetings with industry professionals with a view to longevity in your career.
Should my photos be honest or flattering? Colour or black and white?
They should be honest. That doesn't mean they have to be unflattering! It's you on a good day. It needs to look like you when you walk into an audition. For example, if you never wear make-up don't start on the day you have your headshots taken, or don't straighten your hair when you usually wear your hair curly. Unless you always sport a beard, go in clean shaven. Despite what you may think, a little bit of stubble does not make you look older! Always wear something plain and unfussy so you are the focus of the shot, rather than your outfit. Take a range of tops in different colours, with different necklines to change into during the session. Most photographers work with digital cameras these days, so all your photographs will be in colour. It will be up to you and your agent to pick which ones you want to transfer into black and white. B&W has always been the industry standard in the U.K., where as it the U.S. it's colour. I think it's important to have both and tailor the photograph to each casting submission.
With thanks to Rebecca Kirby