Archive | November, 2011

Who is ‘West End Producer’?

23 Nov

The elusive ‘West End Producer’ has been entertaining us for a while with his (or her) amusing tweets.

It seems like we’re not the only ones to have noticed – with 6,555 followers (and counting) he or she has gained quite a following.

While The Standard suspects celebrated producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh, we’re still in the dark.

Who do you think is behind the tweets, #dear?

Picture by alancleaver_2000, from Flickr, via a CC Licence.

How to promote yourself

20 Nov

Advice from John Byrne, courtesy of The Stage, on how to create a Promotional Package.

Your promotional pack will be most people’s first contact with you, so aim for something simple, inexpensive (you’ll need lots of them) but not cheap looking. Put some time into compiling a good basic pack and you can mix and match it depending on who you are sending it to.

The Basic elements will probably include:

A good introductory letter: Okay, you’re in showbiz not applying for a bank loan-but your basic letter should be professional, punchy and to the point. Check out our How To section on CV writing for further tips.

Photo: Whatever else you have in your pack, have one good professionally taken shot portraying the image you want to put across. Please, no ‘wedding album/passport’ shots – they instantly mark you out as an also-ran.

Bio: Take a look at the websites or potted bios of some of your favourite performers and try to come up with some promo copy in a similar style. At the beginning of your career you may not have much experience to talk about, but point up your strengths and what makes you special. It’s showbiz, so by all means build yourself up… but avoid direct lying. You have to deliver on your promises and lies will always come back to haunt you.

Demo Discs and Video: Less essential for actors, important for singers and musicians and vital for presenters – but less is more when you are including audio or video in your pack.
A brief two to three minute reel of highlights, or a small number of your top tracks has far more chance of being looked at or listened to then a half hour of padding. Again, better one quality minute then any amount of muddy recording or visuals.

Reviews: Include any good reviews you have had in the press or on the air. Yes of course you’ll only quote the best bits of the dodgier ones – everyone does, but if you get a really good review including the original text looks a lot more credible. (You should be on the look-out for opportunities to make contacts with the press – especially your local press, to make sure you get those reviews. Don’t expect the venue to do your publicity for you).

If you can get any famous person to say something nice about you, include that in your press pack too. It makes a difference – they don’t even have to be in the same line of performance.
Increasingly promo packs are being sent by electronic means as well as by ‘snail mail’ – remember to ensure anything you email is virus free and let the recipient know it is upfront. Many professionals won’t accept attachments without prior notice, so the old fashioned skills of letter writing still come into their own.

For more from John on marketing your act visit The Stage.

Picture by highersights, from Flickr, via a CC licence.

Les Miserables – Musings of a resting actress

18 Nov

Our first guestpost comes from the brilliant Resting Actress on the problems that out of work actors face.

When I pluck up the courage to tell people what I do, it is normally met with gushing excitement. Trying not to seem like an ungrateful manic-depressive I smile, nod and try to get onto another subject as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately acting is a much more interesting career to say you do, rather than actually do, because for many struggling and desperate actors the reality is glum.

I have recently found a new agent and have been eagerly attending classes and singing lessons, reading plays and visiting the theatre, all to prepare for the fateful day when I get an audition.

When this rare occasion arises I am filled with hope, excitement and enthusiasm, but underlying this is a feeling of dread, self-doubt and a constant preparation for rejection. This whirlwind of emotions combined with the constant busyness (and expense) of preparing and rehearsing can be exhausting, and all with very little to show for it except an empty wallet and a few tears.

This brings me onto my main gripe about the life of a ‘Resting Actress’.

Everything that I have briefly outlined already is but ONE of our careers. Alongside all of this we are also reliant on the “Real Job”. The “Real Job” provides the income; it’s the 9 to 5 or the evening job. Working in a restaurant until 1am, slaving away in a pub for minimum wage or sitting in a discount ticket booth selling tickets to shows you should be IN, not trying to sell. This is our second career.

I myself keep busy with a mixture of work including waitressing and promotional jobs (handing out free samples of Babycham outside the local AA) in an attempt to avoid the boredom and relentlessness of just one job – one job that with every shift is a constant reminder of what I am NOT doing with my life!

I of course understand that this is the life we chose, enough people warned me how difficult it is and how poor I will always be (thanks Mum). I am not naïve, I did not think it was going to be a bowl of cherries and that I’d be bouncing from one job to the next like an ex Big Brother contestant, but what I and the other ‘Resters’ find difficult is the lack of understanding we encounter from the acting industry when it comes to auditioning.

Let me set the scene.

I receive an audition from my agent. Not only does this quash my theory that he is dead, but also reinstates my faith that he does know how to work Spotlight. It is tomorrow at 12pm, I need to prepare two scenes in Dutch and choose a song from the Swing era in C Minor, you know the type.

Great, but I now have to get out of my shift at work tomorrow. So, either I risk losing my job by pulling a sickie, or I find the nice manager at work and hope that flirting with him (he’s nice but has a face like the underside of the Phantom’s mask!) will get the shift covered. Either way, I lose a day’s wage for one audition. An audition I probably won’t get.

This aside, we do it, it’s our job and we are passionate/stupid enough to sacrifice making a living for that 90 seconds in front of a panel who already know who they are going to cast.
I am constantly reminded that, as an actress, it is my job to attend auditions. But, as I constantly remind the casting directors (silently of course), attending auditions does not pay a wage!

This said, we all know that we will carry on slogging our guts out learning seven songs, three scenes and attend nine recalls if we are lucky enough to be asked for. In return Pippa Ailion will not remember your name, David Grindrod will not give you feedback and Trevor Jackson will continue to play Space Invaders on his laptop.

So remember my fellow Thespians, when someone asks, “So, what do you?” do yourself a favour, tell them you’re a vet.

What do you think? Do you agree with Resting Actress?

Picture from sludgegulper, on Flickr, via a CC Licence.

Liane-Rose Bunce’s tips for actors

17 Nov

1) Don’t have a backup plan. You have to want to be an actor and nothing else. If you have a backup plan, do that instead. We act because we have to.

2) Remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

3) Find actors who share your beliefs about the craft.

4) Make sure the content you put out is is good and reflects who you are. Which means being picky.

5) Retweet casting notices in twitter, suggest an actor that you know. It all contributes to being part of the conversation.

6) Ignore any casting notice that says “Nudity will be required. Expenses only.” I think you can guess, it will be a violation of tip number 4.  

How to get acting work using social media

17 Nov

“I’ve only just started dipping my toe in the pool of social media, and it is absolutely incredible. It has opened up so many doors.” So said actress @LianeRoseBunce, who even found me through Twitter, making herself the perfect subject for a post on how to use social media as an actor.

 Bunce (right) has been a professional actress since 2006. She has tweeted 2,278 times as I write this, and is currently using Twitter as a main source of work. How?

 The story begins on a depressing, grisly day doing a depressing, grisly flyering job. Liane-Rose and her actress friend decided that, since work was scarce, “Let’s give ourselves work.”

 “We wrote and shot a 13-minute film called Lose Some Win Some, (@IllReputeFilms) and it’s become a success because of Twitter. It became Shooting People’s most viewed short on the Leaderboard. I’ve been offered work off the back of it – the next one is for a group called The Revolution is Real, in a short film. The director actually found most of his cast through Twitter.”

 But what about actors who aren’t going to just go off and write a film?

 “You don’t have to write a film, it’s about getting yourself out there. It’s no good sitting about hoping someone views your showreel – watch other people’s showreels, give feedback – above all, be part of the conversation, part of the debate.”

 The key, Bunce says, is getting to know people in the industry. Is nepotism the answer?

 “Here’s the thing about nepotism – look at it from the casting director’s point of view. They get letters constantly from actors begging them to take a chance on them. But why should they? If they turn up with a bunch of rubbish actors that looks terrible. They’re more likely to hire someone they know than to take a risk on someone they don’t.”

Bunce makes an admission that could be the secret to success in any walk of life, and especially in acting: what truly gets you work is energy over talent. “I’m not a good actor, I’ve never had a natural talent. I just work hard.”

There’s more to acting than celebrity impersonations. Isn’t there?

16 Nov

Margaret Thatcher sidewalk chalk portrait #artsed

Matt Trueman on the Guardian Stage blog asks an intriguing question: why is the media so obsessed with actors playing public figures?

As Meryl Streep’s Thatcher hits our screens, greeted by a florists’ worth of critical bouquets, the question is as timely as ever.

But a quick glance over past Best Actor/Actress Oscar winners reveals the store that Hollywood has always set store by “real” performances. In recent years statuettes have gone to Colin Firth as George VI, Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf, Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin, Helen Mirren as Elizabeth II, Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote, Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash, Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles…

Trueman writes:

The reception of such performances frequently surpasses that of actors playing strictly fictional characters. Some critics become so awestruck you’d think the actors had literally transmogrified in front of them.

This reverence is easy enough to understand. The kid in class who can do uncanny impersonations of the teacher has always won our kudos. And, whereas in 1929 critics had no clue whether Oscar-winner George Arliss really nailed his role as Benjamin Disraeli, it’s now easy to measure how well the actor has captured the person. Trueman again:

Because there is an evident endpoint to which the actor aspires, it becomes far easier to separate actor from role… What we might call [Michael] Sheen-Hamlet is a one-off, a unique melding of actor and the role as written, where Sheen-Blair can be measured against a concrete and external thing, namely Blair himself. That division allows us to measure the performance – an actor’s technique – against something concrete. It’s easier, I think, to spot a good Blair than a good Hamlet.

Ask any of these garlanded actors about their performances and they all tend to say the same thing: I wasn’t trying to do an “impersonation”. But is there a danger that all the acclaim and media coverage gives a false impression of the actor’s craft?

Maybe you’ve played a “real person”. What steps did you take to prepare?

Picture by SpecialKRB, used via Flickr, under a Creative Commons licence.

Phoebe Gann’s tips for aspiring actors

13 Nov

Recent interviewee, actor Phoebe Gann, had some great advice for aspiring actors:

1) Improve your practical skills: “Being able to do things like puppetry or playing an instrument can make you very employable”

2) Go to the theatre as much as possible: “Watch the actors, and see what they do. Look at the roles, in everything that you watch think about what you would bring to that play. This widens your knowledge of theatre and, if you get to see lots of actors, you can work out what’s good and what’s not.”

3) Volunteer at a local theatre company: “There’s not that much money around so if you can work hard for a company and impress them then if there is a job opening, you’ve got a much better chance of getting it.”

What other advice would you give to wannabe actors?

Picture by Laughlin Elkind from Flikr via a CC License.

Why actors should start looking locally

13 Nov

Actor Phoebe Gann tells us why she thinks working with local communities can really benefit young actors.

Phoebe Gann performing with Roughshod

Phoebe started out as many actors do, studying English and drama at University. After graduating she went straight into working with Riding Lights Theatre Company, based in York.

In 2011 she was offered a place with the community arm of Riding Lights, Roughshod. With four other young actors she devised a sketch show, which they then toured across the country for sixth months, performing in prisons, schools, churches, and for youth groups.

She feels that learning how to perform for different communities and audiences can really benefit actors.

“Because you’re performing in front of so many different types of audience, ranging from a group of old people in a little village church, to a group of teenagers in an inner-city school, you have to adapt the way that you perform. It teaches you to be quite versatile with the material that you’ve got.

I suppose if you’re on a big stage and the audience leaves, then you don’t get to connect with them in the same way, you don’t get to talk to them afterwards and find out what they thought.”

As part of Roughshod’s work, Phoebe also carried out acting workshops with different groups. A skill that she feels can really help actors to become more employable.

“I think that getting experience in leading workshops and working with community groups is really invaluable. As an actor you kind of need to be able to have more than one skill.

Because acting jobs are hard to find and you’re not necessarily always going to be in acting work, if you’ve got a whole bunch of practical skills that you can offer to people then that can be really appealing.

Being able to offer to run a confidence-building workshop or a drama-skills workshop can be really beneficial. It’s just more tools in your toolkit really, to give you that little bit of extra money or experience.”

Phoebe was recently offered a part in Riding Lights’ Christmas show, her third job for the company. Evidence that working hard and impressing a theatre company can really pay off.

What do you think? Is joining a local theatre company a good way of getting into the industry?

Photograph by Martin Duke

We want to know who YOU, lovely actors, would like us to interview

9 Nov

Acting – do looks matter?

9 Nov

Is she pushing for the burn, or going towards the light?

Of course they do. If John Hurt really looked like Elephant Man, that’s the only part he’d have ever played.

BUT – this doesn’t mean you, as actors, are obliged to spend all day at the gym getting toned abs, muscular chests and tiny waists. If anything, you increase your competition at auditions by looking the same as those before you, and before them, and before them…

Notice how Warwick Davis always plays a dwarf?  That’s because he’s a dwarf. If you’re a heavy-set Indian girl with a large nose and buck teeth, you should audition for the part of the heavy-set Indian girl with a large nose and buck teeth. Chances are, you’ll get it. Get a nose job and fix your teeth, you’ve got Shilpa Shetty to compete with.

Before you plunge yourself into an acting career, ask yourself this question: are you a romantic lead or a character actor? If you’re a romantic lead, get to the gym. If you’re a character actor, accentuate any and all of your features at your drama school audition – if you have a pot belly, wear a t-shirt that defines it. If you if you have weedy arms, show them. If you have giant breasts – well, be careful there, the last thing you want is to raise suspicion about bribing the drama school judges.

Contrary to popular belief, the acting profession does not require you to fit a size zero/muscle-stacked mould. Drama schools are searching for an ensemble. Your Afro, googley-eyes or enormous mouth could be just what they’re looking for.

Picture by Jon Tunnel via Flickr, on a Creative Commons licence.