An Actor Prepared #4 – The Final Curtain

Last Saturday night brought an end to my latest theatrical adventure. The metaphorical curtain came down at 09:30pm GMT on what has been an extremely tiring, but fun week. It was very successful (for a small town Am Dram group), with a couple of shows nearly sold out. We had to strike the set immediately so, within a few minutes of the laughing, smiling, run up to the dressing room, applause ringing in our ears, I was back on the stage with my drill, helping dismantle the flats.

The post show blues set in quickly this time. Months of work; rehearsal after rehearsal, stress, nerves, missed meals, all climax on those five dates. And, on this show especially, it has been wonderfully good fun. There were a few minor mishaps; words mixed up, queues slightly late and, in the case of this husky fella, some uncontrolled corpsing watching my colleagues at work. (Corpsing is when you get a fit of the giggles on stage. Once they start it is often very hard to get back under control.) I don’t usually suffer but a couple of the moments on stage were so damned funny I couldn’t help it.

I just want to point out it was a comedy we were doing, I wasn’t chuckling through a death scene.

So, it’s all over. Auditions for the next play happen in January. Mrs Bloke is clearly delighted by the fact she’ll have me home in the evenings again. And you, gentle reader, will benefit from my unerring attention.

So why do it, why go to all that effort and expense of time, energy and just a little cash?

I think there are many benefits to getting involved in your local Amateur Dramatics, Operatics, even Community Choirs. I shall sum them up into a list I have contrived to call – The FIVE C’s

Confidence 

Confidence has to be the big one. In almost all cases, when I have worked with groups back in my youth, and in my more recent revival, I haven’t met anyone who is completely blasé about the thought of striding out in front of one hundred people and performing. Whether it is solo acting, or singing as part of a larger group, there are still nerves to overcome. I’ve known people with full on stagefright go out and perform amazingly. This last week my fellow cast members and myself have largely been playing 7 year old children, performing a chaotic nativity. We have been making ourselves look utterly ridiculous and literally behaving like children. Not one of us blanched at the thought and worried about looking stupid on stage. Doing that, even in front of a modest audience, is such a buzz and boost to your confidence.

I’m a shy person. I struggle hugely in social, smalltalk situations. It’s why, at most large family occasions, you’ll find me hanging round with the kids, messing around playing games, being silly. It is easier than making interesting conversation about holidays, or house prices or jobs. But, give me a script, and a stage and I’ll happily skip out. Once you have a script you are firmly planted, both feet on the ground. Someone else’s words are in your mouth and the only worry is a) forgetting them, or b) your co-stars forgetting theirs. (No prompts for me this week, though I did occasionally forget a couple of words, which just adds to the fun.) The very hardest thing I have done, in the last three years of acting, was walk through the door of a read through, for the very first time, not knowing anyone there.

Craft – Learning new skills and talents

Putting on a play involves a great deal of preparation. Not just people prancing around with books in their hands, but physically making costumes, props, and sets. If you cannot bear the thought of going out on stage, you can still have a massive impact on helping to get things set up. I’m a klutz, but even I have become part of the set construction team. (Mainly in the ‘stand still and hold that steady while I screw it down’ phase. They sometimes even let me handle tools. Some of you may have seen my ‘thumb meets mallet’ photo from last week on Facebook)

There are also important technical roles that can be learnt; lighting, sound design, stage managing, producing publicity, writing copy for newspapers and advertising. All of which leads me nicely onto….

Career

Now, I’m not going to pretend that three performances down at your local village hall and you’ll be picked up by a WestEnd Casting Agent. But, you never know. Many actors have come to the craft later in life so I would never rule it out.

What I mean by career though, is that doing Am Dram really looks good on a CV. It shows imagination, discipline, determination, confidence and teamwork. From my experience something like that acts as a hook for any potential recruiter, beyond the uninspired ‘reading, socialising and cinema’ which everyone lists under additional information. It also shows you are willing to step out of your door and engage with the local…..

Community

It’s amazing how many groups are out there,  how they cross-pollinate with each other. Even in a little country town like mine there are Rock choirs, Operatics groups, various drama groups, all of whom output slightly different fare and serve a slightly different audience. But many people move from one group to another, spreading circles of creative influence and expanding social ranges. I have made some good friends since joining my group, and, with each new show, a new cast is created, there are always new people joining or returning. And it’s all a lot less ‘luvvie’ than you’d think. (Apart from me of course, I’m a HUGE primadonna!)

And in a broader sense of community, there are often dramatic / musical projects funded to explore various aspects of an areas history or cultural diversity, especially in youth theatre. (A cynic might say it is cheaper for councils and the like to chuck a few quid at a one off performance than to provision longer term projects to enhance a towns cultural identity. But then what do cynic’s know?)

And all the above combine together for the final C….

Creativity

The sense of satisfaction from using your imagination to create something new. Live performance exists only in the moment, it is a fleeting moment in time of beauty, drama, humour or empathy. You take a script, and you tease your own meaning and vision from it. Even with a director guiding you there is scope to interpret your character and put your own stamp on proceedings. Each night of a show you tweak and adjust your performance in tiny new ways; a line delivered with a different breath, or stress, a movement of a hand slower or faster. We did a comedy, so you get the immediate feedback of a bigger laugh as you try something new. It’s good to be creative, to exercise your imagination to create something new.

So, all in all, I love the experience. For all the time, blood, sweat and tears that goes into producing a two hour show it is hugely rewarding. And as I’ve listed above, not just the ego boost of standing in front of people’s applause.

So, think about it. Get out of your comfort zone and try something creative, in a group. Expand your horizons and see what you can do. At the very least it means your partner can have a quiet evening every week to watch what they want off the Sky+ Box in peace.

Now, let’s see if I’m so happy once the review is out….

You can find my previous posts about my adventures on the amateur stage;

An Actor Prepares – #3 The Craft: Stage vs Screen

An Actor Unprepares…Part 2 – ‘The Stoopid Embargo’

An actor unprepares….

Find and follow me on Facebook – www.facebook.com/fatbloketalking  and on Twitter – @fatbloketalking or email me at fatbloketalking@outlook.com

 

An Actor Prepares – #3 The Craft: Stage vs Screen

I wasn’t sure what to write about this week. After a week where it feels like the whole globe has politically jerked to the right and started circling the drain, when the last superpower has elected a man to the most powerful office in the world, who is so grotesque as to almost defy satire.

Anyway, I dare say I’ll have more to say on that topic once the dust has settled and I have some fresh observations to make.

The answer of what to write about today came to me, as so often is the case, from the roiling chaos of my subconscious. I had another ‘acting dream’. It was a strange affair which initially had me hanging around Wellingborough town centre with a couple of the other cast for a play. In conversation I discovered that popstar Sting was a resident of the town and was often seen walking around with his Dad. Impressed, we took to a giant mobile home to drive to the theatre. So giant it was unable to navigate a speed bump and got marooned on top of one. I abandoned the vehicle and proceeded on foot to a grand country house. Imagine my surprise as I discovered I was following Sting himself, walking his dog, up the driveway. (Freudians may like to play with that image.) I found myself on stage, in a complicated scene (It felt like PG Wodehouse, brisk dialogue, clipped accents.) sat around a table, a restless audience behind, we were still using scripts as the dialogue clunked along. The wheels really fell off when we discovered we hadn’t cast someone for a part I had a long conversation with. The director had to apologise to the audience. It was mortifying. Another unusual twist was that Mrs Bloke was acting in the play, and I got to kiss her.

Now, call me shallow but, whenever our little theatre group decides upon a new play I always pore through the script, looking for the best part. It’s not necessarily the part with the most lines, it’s usually the part with the most action. Which generally sums up as; do I get to fight anyone, do I get to kiss anyone, do I get to die on stage?

In recent years I’ve done the first. Closest I’ve got in the second is a kiss on the back of a hand for ‘la tres belle femme’ and I’ve been annoyingly alive on stage. (Though one of my characters did have a great farewell scene in the trenches before going over the top to his off-stage death. Not quite the same but I’m told I raised a tear or two.)

Such a shallow approach to parts got me thinking about the nature of acting and how we see it in terms a talent and difficulty.

There are two main types of acting. Stage and Screen. And there always seems to be some competition between the two as to which is most challenging, the purest form of the craft. It is always a badge of honour for an actor, when they announce they are taking a break from their film career to return to the stage for a while.

This may to get a little pretentious, but bear with me.

At first glance you would argue that, technically and physically, screen acting is by far the easiest. You are mostly dealing with short takes, needing only to learn a few lines of dialogue at a time. If you get it wrong, you can take another take, and another, and another until you get it right.

On the stage you have no such luxury, you have to fully memorise pages and pages of dialogue. Not just your own words but those acting with you so that a missed cue elsewhere doesn’t throw you into confusion. I performed in one play with an actor who was struggling with his lines at various points, so I developed a sub-script to fall back on when I knew it was happening to get us back on track. Performing a stage show is like a tightrope walk, a two hour long balancing act where, to mix metaphors, you have to keep all the balls in the air and the plates spinning.

So, in that respect acting on the stage is much more challenging, stressful and needing confidence, not only in yourself but in those working around you.There is no reset.

On second glance however, when you look at the actual performances you give I think screen has much more of a technical difficulty. On stage, unless you are working on a very avant garde project, there is a physical distance from the audience. You have to perform to the back row of the theatre. It is why, when you see stage acting on the television, it often looks hammy and overblown. Every movement you make, every word you say, must be observable to the whole audience. Tiny gestures and faint whispers are lost.

In comparison, standing in front of a camera, even the tiniest gesture, the breathiest of whisper can be picked up. You have to have complete control of yourself and your performance. More physically and emotionally intense, a good actor can communicate a pages worth of dialogue with just their eyes. There is a scene towards the end of Empire of the Sun where the young Christian Bale (who turns in an astonishing performance as the young hero) and the sleazy Bassie (played by John Malkovich) have a confrontation that is utterly silent. The camera flicks from one to the other and, purely with expression, you can almost hear the dialogue in your mind. It blows me away every time I see it. The talent of the actors, the director, cinematography are all extraordinary.

One other element you don’t get, acting on camera, is audience feedback. And this is where the pretentiousness really kicks in I’m afraid. When you are on stage, you can feel the audience, you can tell if they are enjoying it, if they are getting bored. With a comedy it is obviously easy, you get laughs. In a drama it is much more difficult, but that sense is still there. When you deliver a strong line and pause, for dramatic effect, to let it land, and the entire audience is silent and still, you know you’ve landed a punch. That moment; that moment where you have control over the audience, that moment where you dare to be silent a second longer than you have before, that moment is why I love acting. That’s when you know you’re doing a good job. Acting into a camera, you don’t get that moment, you have to trust the director, the editor, the cameraman, the composer to all play their part and pull it together for something great.

So, on the balance of it, which is the purest form of the art? I can’t say. Stage acting is mentally and physically demanding, standing on a stage for hours at a time. But you also get that feedback; you can hear the laughs, the sighs, the rapt silences, and yes, the applause at the end. Each performance is unique, never to be repeated, a moment of private performance that exists only between the actors and that audience. To act on screen, your audience is potentially far greater, but you are also more vulnerable, reliant on the many other people to take you acting and translate that to the screen.

How is this for an answer? Think of a music artist. They may be fantastic in the studio but the real judgement of their ability is how good they are performing live. And the chagrin we pour on musicians who perform ‘live’ to a backing track.

In just over a week I’ll be on stage again for five performances. The play is getting there. We have a strong cast and a good director. Next weekend we’ll be building the set, getting the last of the props together, trying to sell tickets, gearing up for opening night and waiting, as it’s a comedy, for that first huge guffaw from the audience, that involuntary gust of laughter when you’ve landed a great joke.

There is nothing like it.

Now, if anyone wants me I’ll be analysing what a beached Motorhome, Sting walking his dog and Wellingborough are revealing about my inner actor.

Bye for now, luvvies! Mwah, mwah!

You can find my previous posts about my adventures on the amateur stage here (An actor unprepares…. ) and here (An actor unprepares – The Stoopid Embargo)

Find and follow me on Facebook – www.facebook.com/fatbloketalking  and on Twitter – @fatbloketalking or email me at fatbloketalking@outlook.com

 

A letter to America…and a warning

Dear Americans,

How are you? I hope you are well. We’ve been having a pretty strange time of it lately in the UK. And I think you have been having similar issues in the USA.

We are both ‘United’ countries, but it seems at the moment we are rather more ‘untied’ countries. The advantage we’ve got this side of the Atlantic is that we have already made our mistake. You’ve still got a day to avoid your’s.

You see we’ve both been under the influence of two men, so similar in their outlook, rhetoric and intolerance. Nigel Farage and Donald Trump, political bedfellows and massively polarising figures. It can be no surprise they have supported each other. (Though I’d suspect that Trump sees him as little more than a toadying lickspittle.)

Both claim to be men of the people, but have come from wealth and privilege.

Both have made deeply unpleasant comments about sex, religion and ethnicity. Indeed both are deeply xenophobic and yet somehow have married foreigners.

They have both created what has been called ‘post fact politics’. They have discovered that you can make any claim on a podium, it doesn’t have to be remotely true and a section of the public will believe it unreservedly.

They have pandered to and inflated our basest fears and jealousies. They would have us believe the reason Middle America and Middle England are feeling the squeeze of austerity isn’t because of the global banking crisis caused by over-extending the credit market, but rather immigrants coming here, taking our jobs and also somehow, our benefits. Despite the fact that the data available bears no proof of this and often directly contradicts it. In the U.K at least, migrants have been shown to be a cash windfall to the economy, adding billions to GDP.

Both men have promised to make the country ‘Great’ again. Whatever that means. What is greatness in a country? Ask women, ask gays, ask blacks, or Asians or any other ethnic group what time in history they’d like to go back to, when they were great. Do these men of the people really only mean ‘great’ for white, middle aged, straight men?

You can’t put the cork back in the bottle; global capitalism happened, technology happened, the market will always source the cheapest means of production and that means industry and manufacturing has moved from the 1st world to the 3rd. What threatens the likes of Farage and Trump, is that men of their ilk used to own those means, the money still flowed into their pockets. Now however China, India etc. are creating the businesses for themselves, growing their own economies.

During their campaigns they have both made outlandish promises based on what they think the public wants, not what can actually be done. During the Brexit campaign there was much made of the £350mil a week the UK sends to the EU (which it doesn’t) and how that money could be spent on the NHS instead. A promise that could never be fulfilled. (Farage, the morning of the Brexit result immediately backed away from the promise.)

Both men have complained of media bias, usually because a news report has pointed out how utterly incorrect a statement they have made is. And yet both have been ratings gold, gaining far more publicity than men of their experience and political capital deserve. UKIP is a very minor party, on a par with The Green Party, and yet in terms of media coverage it’s punching far above its weight. Trump got so much airtime because of his antics that any more moderate Republican candidate was drowned out.

Both have claimed that the vote was or is rigged. I remember listening to a news report at 10:00pm on the 23rd of June, as the polls closed on the Brexit referendum and it looked as if the remain campaign had clinched it. Farage was already accusing the  government of rigging the ballot by extending the online registration for voters. There was also the hilarious instruction circulating social media to Leave voters, to take their own pens to the polling stations to stop some shadowy organisation like MI5 from erasing the pencil votes on ballot papers.

Farage won his battle. By a tiny margin the popular vote was for Leave and since then we have been in a state of utter confusion because nobody, at any point, had actually defined what Leave or Brexit actually meant in any practical sense. Switzerland and Norway are both trading partners with the EU but not actually members, and were pointed out as examples during the campaign of future models for the UK,  but, guess what, they still pay in massive amounts of cash and have to accept EU legislation and free travel over borders to do so. And because they are not members they have no seat at the table deciding this legislation. Three high court judges this week have been lynched in the right wing press for ruling that parliament has to have a say in the defining of Brexit negotiations. It is all pretty messed up.

We’ve made our decisions, we’ve made our bed. Except it’s a flat pack bed, and we’ve tried to make it without the instructions and nobody can decide if it’s a single or  double, hard or soft and who gets the choice over the duvet cover.

My American friend, you still have a choice. And I am talking to the 40% of you who will vote Republican come what may, because you cannot bear the thought of voting Democrat. I don’t think you are a fool, I don’t think you are a bigot. But I think you are standing alongside fools and bigots. When the KKK endorses a candidate, does that not give you cause to pause and think? You want to protest. You want to shout that you are sick of the views of middle America being ignored, how your communities have been damaged by economic changes and nothing has been done to help you. I understand that all.

But, please, look at the UK as a warning. Sometimes a protest vote, ends up more than just a protest.

Trump has no policies, no plans, no experience. Who is going to be telling him the right path? He is going to repeal Obamacare but has no plan on how to replace it. He has promised to build a big wall that the Mexicans will pay for. He can’t do that, it won’t happen and it wouldn’t make any difference if it did. Build a big wall and a desperate person just builds a bigger ladder or a deeper tunnel.

The UK has been plunged into uncertainty because we took a leap into the dark. Don’t make the same mistake. Wait it out, the GOP isn’t going anywhere, wait four years and get behind a real candidate. Get behind a candidate who wants to govern as a Republican.

Ask yourself, would you go to a doctor who talks like Trump, a dentist, a lawyer, a bank whose manager spoke like him? Would you buy a used car off of him? Would you even stand next to a man like him in a bar or at a barbecue?

One last warning. Don’t trust the polls. In 2015 the polls predicated another coalition government for the UK – The Tory Party won an outright majority. The polls predicated that Remain would win. Leave won. When people are ashamed of how they are voting they lie to pollsters; people were ashamed to admit to voting Tory, voting Leave and, I believe, people will be ashamed to admit to voting Trump.

I was in the US for the 2000 election, between Bush and Gore, that came down to fighting over votes in Florida. (My main memory of that election day was sitting in a Chinese restaurant in Philadelphia having beer served to us from a teapot because it was illegal to serve alcohol in Pennsylvania on an Election day.)  I have a gut instinct that this election result may be that close and that acrimonious. Trump has already said he won’t accept the result if he loses, adding poor loser to his already brimming trunk of charming character traits.

So, listen, America, do yourself a favour, sorry, favor. Step back from the brink of recklessly voting for a new kind of politics, because new is not always good. Remember New Coke? How’d that work out?

And, whatever you do, please, please, please, leave the guns locked in the cabinet.

So, that being said how’s everything else?  The World Series looked very exciting. Congratulations to the Cubs! Hope you have a lovely Thanksgiving in a few weeks and we’ll speak before Christmas I’m sure.

My love to the family,

Fat Bloke.

xx

PS. I really mean it about the guns.

Find and follow me on Facebook – www.facebook.com/fatbloketalking  and on Twitter – @fatbloketalking or email me at fatbloketalking@outlook.com

 

Fat Bloke’s 3 Month Checkup!

I started this blog on the 4th August 2016.Three months ago, and I think it’s time to give it a quick review, to see how we are getting on.

It has, so far, been an interesting and rewarding experience. One of the major points of the exercise was to instill some discipline into my saggy, middle-aged frame. get me to sit down and crank out some words, gain some confidence, loosen some rusty creative muscles.

I also wanted to pass along some of my enthusiasm for audio entertainment; be it drama, comedy, documentary, discussion or just plain weird. In particular the wildly expanding world of podcasts, the wild west of broadcasting, where anything goes. (Funny story. Whilst I did coin the phrase ‘Wild West of Broadcasting’ in my head, when I googled it, I found someone else had used it earlier. Still, points for effort I think?)

My third objective, and I’ll admit it was a long shot, was to gain a readership of millions and that someone would read my blog and think ‘What a great writer, I must give him a massive advance to buy a floppy hat, a London studio flat, and write the great 21st century novel.’

I did say it was a long shot.

So, let’s look at those objectives and grade how we have done.

1) Discipline.   Grade B-.

Good effort has been made. Most weeks I have managed to churn out at least one blog post. Sometimes two. But, I think to make this more successful I need to be doing a minimum of two pieces a week. I also need to be planning ahead for times when I may not be able to thump out a piece, such as not being at home, or performing in a play all week.

I have enjoyed writing again though. When I was a younger man, I used to work evenings at a petrol station. There isn’t much to do between customers so for a while I amused myself by writing a fantasy epic, called The Dryad Saga. It got to about 100,000 words and was uniformly awful.  The mistake I made was giving the characters names of people I know, as a gag and because thinking of character names is so difficult. But then it becomes hard to ruthlessly kill people you actually know. I did the creative equivalent of taking the novel out back of the woodshed with a shotgun.

If I can convince myself that I do have some ability I would like to expand my range. I have a possible outlet for writing something for the stage, which could be interesting. There is also a thing called #nanowrimo – National Novel Writing Month. It takes place in November each year and is a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. I would do it this year but, with a play coming up and, it’s the 6th November already, it ain’t gonna happen. I shall be ‘resting’ from the autumn production next year so maybe then. It’s not about quality but about encouraging people to have a go and stick to a target. Could be fun!

2) Spreading the word on Podcasts – Grade: D+

Yeah, well. Started well. But, well, um….haven’t really mentioned any in weeks have I? It feels an odd mix with the subjects I have been writing about to then flip to my favourite podcasts of that week. And I have been listening to some great new shows.

So, here’s the plan. I’m going to split the blog. One page with all my stuff and nonsense on, and another with my stuff and nonsense about podcasts. Individual entries dedicated to individual podcasts, making them more accessible to search engines. So look out for those changes in the coming week or so.

I have been interacting with the some podcasts via twitter etc. And it’s a lovely feeling when someone who’s work you greatly enjoy and admire take the time to acknowledge you back. ‘The Archers’ fancast – Dumteedum, actually read some of my review out on their show. Which was nice. They also described me as ‘so rude’ this week after I pinged a double entendre heavy tweet about an episode at them.It was meant as I compliment I am fairly sure.

3) Reaching out to Millions  – Grade: F

I’ll be honest. I had no great expectations of gathering an army of loyal followers. When I started I took the decision not to bombard people with tweets and Facebook messages, constantly plugging my site. In return I hoped that readers would like and share on their own pages if they like a piece. It’s slow work, but it does mean a lot to me every time I pick up a new follower.

The analytics though, become a highly addictive drug. I can see how many people have read a piece, if they have clicked onwards to other entries or to other sites to look at Podcasts. I can see the countries, how they found the site and if they are a new visitor, or someone returning. I compare week on week, month on month, to see if I am growing or shrinking.

The most exciting post I made, that really picked up interest was my first ‘Am I Rob Titchener’. The link got picked up by the BBC The Archers twitter feed, and retweeted on their own feed. It got read by a lot of people and I received some really nice comments. In fact, when I have received feedback on any piece, it has all been good so far.

So, to improve my grades I’m just going to keep chugging along. I’m starting to tweet more at @fatbloketalking on Twitter, and I’ll start putting mini-blog posts on Facebook when little thoughts and jokes come to me.

I have a number of blog pieces I keep plugging away at, trying to get the right tone, balance and new insight. So I hope you’ll come back to look at it.

If you read my stuff, and like it, please tell someone. I like that people are visiting, but I would like more. And if anyone with a chequebook thinks I can turn a nifty phrase, or put an argument well, I am more than happy to put pen to paper in return for a pound or two. Those big floppy hats don’t buy themselves!

Find and follow me on Facebook – www.facebook.com/fatbloketalking  and on Twitter – @fatbloketalking or email me at fatbloketalking@outlook.com