Saturday 27 February 2010

Choosing a monologue

To audition for Toi Whakaari I have to prepare two monologues - one classical, one modern, each two minutes long -  and a two minute unaccompanied song. So, how to choose a monologue?

I am by no means an expert in theatre literature. I have read the more important plays by many of the well-known German playwrights. I have read a lot of Shakespeare, some Marlowe, some Wilde and some Kushner etc. I have come across Ibsen, and some of the Russian and French playwrights. When it comes to very modern playwrights though, I have to pass and off the top of my head I couldn't name one monologue.

So, how to go about finding the right play, character and speech? My approach is, so far, threefold. It includes googling monologues, re-reading plays with characters I liked, and having a snoop around the play-section of libraries.

Online I came across a couple of interesting resources. First, there is the Monologue Archive, which contains a number of comic, dramatic and classic monologues for both women and men. Similarly, one theatre history page has a script archive with a monologues section. A friend also forwarded a monologue booklet used for auditions by the University of Melbourne's theatre department. Even if you don't find anything here that strikes a chord, I found reading around very helpful to get an idea of what I am looking for for my audition.

Once you find a few monologues that resonate with you, there is absolutely no way to get around reading the corresponding plays. If you want to short-cut here, you might just as well not audition at all. In fact, that's what an actor does, reading plays, reading scripts.

A helpful resource for having a quick look into older and classical plays is the website of Project Gutenberg. Type in the name of an author or play and have a read on screen to see whether a certain play interests you. If you can't find your play there, an actual library might be a good idea. In Wellington there is not only the City Library but also Victoria University's Central Library on Kelburn Campus and of course Toi Whakaari's Nola Millar Library. The latter two are to my knowledge open to the public, although you can't take any books out unless you are a student there. Again, Playmarket is also a great place to stop by.

Next step: read, read, read until you find something you love. After all you will be working with your plays and characters for quite a while in the preparation process. You don't want to be handicapped by hating your monologue on the day of the audition!

At the moment I am lucky enough to have found one play that I am completely enraptured with and in the process of finding a few more to create some choice. After a long time reading mostly stuff for uni, I am again reading things I actually want to read. For this alone it's all worth it!

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Actors training Part 2

Yesterday I was talking about options for actors without much professional experience to create an acting CV for themselves and get noticed by casting agents and directors. The following are by no means to be taken for fact, they are only my own musings about what I think is right for me. It might be different for you. So, as far as I'm concerned there are several options.

Wishing and hoping: I'm just going to leave it at that.

Roughing it: This is basically what I have been doing for a while now. I have taken evening class, and have acted in unpaid productions. While this is a lot of fun and can teach you a lot, creating a CV in this fashion is time consuming and really only allows you to do acting as a hobby. Unless you are planning to or have roughed it for some years or are lucky and get a break, I am not so sure if you will be taken seriously. Studying theatre and film will also get you a great education but I don't know if it will get you noticed as an actor.

Formal acting training: Another way of getting on the map of casting agents and casting directors is to get formal acting training. While night classes and part-time training are also highly beneficial (and sooo fun!), the formal acting training everyone seems to be looking for is full time and over a longer period of time. See for example the Bachelor of Performing Arts (Acting) at Toi Whakaari or programmes at such places as The Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre in New York.

So, being 27, a mother and already having two unrelated university degrees, have I completely lost my mind for wanting to sign up for 3 years of actors training? I don't think so. It's never to late to get an education and unless physically impossible it's never too late to start following a dream. I know it is hard work, I know there are no guarantees.

If I want to be serious about being a professional actor, getting formal training is something I have to do. Not simply because there is little chance of making it otherwise but because I want to learn acting as a craft, I want to learn about the business and I want to learn about what else is out there in the industry that I am passionate about, that will let me tell stories and create.

I want my son to know that if he has a dream, there is no reason not to try. I want him to know that he has to work hard and can't rely on luck alone. And I want to lead him by example.

Monday 22 February 2010

Actors training Part 1

A while ago I had a chat with one of the agents here in Wellington. I was lucky for him to even sit down with me to talk about representation, I was told, and he was doing so only because he knew me.

Here's the thing with wanting to be a professional actor: There are so so many of us!
Being a woman doesn't make things easier. On the contrary, not only are there many more actresses than actors but there are also many more leading and supporting roles for men.

So, quite generally and for women particularly the following is fact. The market is oversaturated, actors are a common commodity and casting directors don't have the time nor the resources to give us all a shot at getting a job. So, unless you are incredibly lucky, casting directors won't even look at you unless you have a sizeable acting CV. Bit of a catch-22 I hear you say? It' not surprising then that some casting agents are hesitant to represent new virtually CV-less talent, since trying to get them jobs is most likely a wast of everyone's time.

As one of those CV-less people, I've got several options: wishing and hoping, roughing it with many unpaid gigs and evening classes, or getting formal acting training.

More about this tomorrow...

Sunday 21 February 2010

Can't stop thinking about you

I have been fascinated with actors and dancers all my life. I have always wondered what makes them tick. Where do they get their drive to work so hard every day, to always hone their craft, all for only the possibility of being able to live off their dream? I think I am beginning to understand.

When I first started realising that working in law wasn't for me the usual panic set in. What the hell was I going to do with my life? I had had these moments several times during the past few years but this time it was different. This time there was something taken a hold of me, slowly creeping up from my subconscious. Maybe the thought of wanting to be an actor has always been there, only the belief that I can be one, that I am an actor was missing.

With a bit more life experience and after getting to know myself better, this time around all I needed it seems was a little nudge in the right direction. Someone asking me if I could be anything, anything in the world, what would it be? All of a sudden the voice of 'reason' I had been steadily following didn't have anything left to say and since then I just can't stop thinking about it.

So what makes an actor, what makes a dancer tick? Why do they do what they do? Because they have to. They have to act, they have to dance, they have to try.

Thursday 18 February 2010


I don't know if I believe in fate but what happened to me yesterday was pretty neat.

A few days ago I was doing some internet research. Unrelated to my search I stumbled across a theatre review from a couple of years ago that sounded intriguing. So, the next day I went to the Library to take out the play. The only copy should have been sitting on the shelf but instead was nowhere to be found.

Yesterday I was running some errands which also took me to Playmarket, your number one stop, dear budding actors, directors and producers, to find and acquire the performing rights for many many New Zealand plays. While there I remembered the lost play and asked if it was available there for reading. The woman I spoke to turned around and pointed behind herself saying that there was the very author of that play. Next thing I know I'm on my way again carrying my very own brand spanking new copy! It was her pleasure, she said.

Will this be the play I find one of my monologues in? I will keep you posted.

Thank you Jean Betts!

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Well, here's a story for you...

Since acting has a lot to do with speech, I've been doing a lot of thinking about my natural accent. Although none of its elements are particularly distinctive, my accent is a mixture of Midwestern American, Irish, Kiwi and - lets face it - some German. I have lived in all of those places and some of the local accent has always rubbed off on me. Unfortunately, a non-neutral English accent that is impossible to place won't help me get acting work.

So, I've done some research. While most theatre roles require a New Zealand or at the very least a neutral accent the better part of the film work in New Zealand nowadays requires actors to speak with American accents.
Luckily, the Wellington Actors Studio is currently negotiating an American Accent Vocal Class with a recent edition to Wellington from the US, the lovely Jade Valour, and is taking registrations from interested parties.

I have also had a look at the mystery of the 'neutral accent'. The International Dialects of English Archive is an amazing resource for an abundance of native and non-native English accents. Check out their Special Collections, especially their pages for Received Pronounciation and General American. The sound recordings there are all made by trained speech teachers for speech for the stage. As a starting point it can't get much better than this!

Apparently, a neutral English accent for the stage is a non-regional version of British English called Received Pronounciation (RP), or 'The Queen's English' or 'BBC English'. Similarly, General or Standard American is the style of American English which speech professionals recommend as the desirable non-regional accent for the stage. I am guessing that RP is the accent I was meant to have learned in school and which never stuck. Bugger that. Back to the beginning then!

All this means that over the next few months I will demolish and rebuild the way I speak English. A new challenge! I guess that this is exactly why acting as a craft is so fascinating. You get to learn things you would normally not even think about, from the way you speak to the way you move and use your body, and from how you read text to how you make it come alive.

'Well, here's a story for you'...

Monday 15 February 2010

Prologue, I guess

This year I am starting a new journey, not to a particularly exotic destination. In fact, I will be staying right here in windy Wellington, the beautiful, arty city by the sea that is New Zealand's capital.

I have made Wellington my home over the past three years. After finishing uni here it just turned out this way and not going back home to Berlin was a far easier choice than I had imagined. After all, you can't beat Wellington on a good day.

The unpredictable weather aside, this city is not only beautiful but for its relatively small size has an amazing community of artists, musicians, theatre and film folk. And what's more, the community is incredibly welcoming and accessible. So, when after six years or so of uni I finally admitted to myself that I am not made for an office job, it wasn't hard to take a leap into something new and utterly exciting. For the first time in my life perhaps I found something that I truly wanted to be a part of as opposed to trying to live up to expectations that I thought, maybe falsely so, I had to fulfil.

So, this year I'm going to start my journey into the wonderful world of theatre, not only as a spectator but as a creator. I have set a new goals. It involves learning a craft from the inside out, getting my mind and my body into shape, defying the odds and nailing the most important 'job interview' of my life so far. So, my goal this year: earning a place at Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School!

The thing with goals then is that, like destinations on a journey they are only stops along the way. So, here's to hoping that I will make the first one! I'll be sure not to pack lightly and not to forget to enjoy my travel preparations.

I'm looking forward to travelling with you. Good luck and good riddance and stay tuned for chapter one of this travel diary.