Tuesday 31 August 2010

Let's break a leg, shall we?!

For the past few days I have been trying to blog about the fact that my Toi Whakaari audition is Saturday and how I am feeling about that. I don't have the words. I'm excited, a bit nervous, very curious and hopefully as prepared as I can be. So, kia kaha, good luck and toi toi toi to me and everyone else who is auditioning, and see you on the other side!

Women in film - why don't you care (more)?

This article about the Bechdel Test and quotas in, surprisingly, Entertainment Weekly , is fantastic, and lo and behold it was written by Mark Harris, a man! Is the world a-changing?

Sunday 22 August 2010


We took our little wonder to the playground at the beach this weekend. He climbed up the stairs to the slide, he had a go at 'climbing' the jungle gym, and he did the most astounding thing - he turned his back and walked away from us.

I was completely flabbergasted. How did he achieve this kind of independence? How in the world did this happen? It was wonderful and terrifying at the same time, and it got me thinking.

The dictionary says, independence is the state or quality of being independent; freedom from dependence; exemption from reliance on, or control by, others; direction of one's own affairs without interference.

For the little ones independence means growing, learning new skills, figuring things out for themselves or with a little help, making mistakes and learning from them, and it means letting go. It means letting go of their parent's hand and covering the distance by themselves, not caring if anyone is watching.

Have you ever noticed how small children, at least most of the time, are not fazed much by all of this?

So, why then is it so hard for us as adult people in general but also for actors more specifically to be independent? I don't mean financially independent. I don't even mean independent from other people. I mean being independent from fear. I mean exemption from reliance on, or control by, OURSELVES. I mean direction of our own affairs without interference by, well, US. When do we become such control freaks, watching over our every move, our every desire, our every emotion? Why do we make it so hard for ourselves to let go?

I am going to take a leaf out of my son's book. As an adult and particularly as an actor I am going to allow myself to grow, to make mistakes. I am going to learn new skills and figure things out, even if I have to ask for help. And bit by bit I will learn to let go of my own hand and cover the distance by myself, not watching, living the reality of the present moment lovingly.*

*Sister Shortall, Wellington, New Zealand

Friday 20 August 2010

One times inspiration, please!

Here's a recent interview with James Lipton of the Actors Studio (you know, host of Inside the Actors Studio). Right-click the link and save as mp3 or listen to it online.

Very interesting, very inspiring. Happy listening!

101 Dates - When you need a laugh watch Alice.

Some seriously talented Wellington people have worked tirelessly to create this wonderful, fun and seriously addictive show. Check out series heroine Alice Chapman's blog here and watch episodes 1 and 2 here. Episode 3 is out tomorrow!

Tuesday 17 August 2010

The Struggling Actress

So, I have been reading this inspiring blog by 'The Struggling Actress", Lira, for a while now. It doesn't matter that she lives and works in L.A. and that her industry experiences are mostly nothing like mine. I mean, really, and don't get me wrong, I love 'Wellywood' wholeheartedly, to compare the L.A. and Wellington film industries, especially in the way they work for actors, is a liiiittle difficult. You've got to read Lira's blog. Period. Because it doesn't matter where in the world you pursue your dream of acting. What you can learn from Lira's experiences, you can take away to your acting life anywhere. It's in the way she writes, it's in her honesty, in the way she shares herself with us, vulnerable and real, and it's in her unabashed optimism and love for her craft. Her writing makes me dream, and be daring and admit to myself that I want to be an actor for the rest of my life. Thank you, Lira, and happy birthday!

Monday 16 August 2010

Establishing relationships

It is just under three weeks before audition day. At the moment I am working on the relationships my two characters have with the other characters in their respective plays, so I can build an emotional framework.

Now, working out what the relationships are intellectually is reasonably easy. For example, there is a could-be lover, who is really a misogynistic and violent bully who makes my character's life miserable. While this man really pisses me off personally, the character isn't just pissed off with him. Her emotional relationship with this man is much more complicated than that. While she is dejected, humiliated, threatened, hurt, utterly confused and trapped, I just want to slap the guy and fight back. So, I have to figure out what kind of relationship I would have to be in with this man to feel the way she feels. I can relate to her situation enough to have a genuine emotional response to it but not enough for it to work on stage.

To me, her bully of a potential husband is more like an agent who holds my budding acting career in his hands and has the absolute power to put an end to it - utterly and completely because he is the king of all agents and no one would dare defy him. If I imagine myself in a room with this person, auditioning for him, I just have to make him say all the things to me that we actors dread to hear and more. Then I imagine him giving me one chance to change his mind by doing him, lets call it a favour, and I immediately feel trapped, scared, humiliated, confused and hurt. The more outrageous I make this scenario, the deeper my feelings get.

But why on earth am I putting all this effort into establishing relationships when I am performing a monologue only?

Well, first of all it's fun! Yeah, it's work but it's actor's work and that's what I want to do. Secondly, knowing the relationships will make access to my emotions easier and more effective. And lastly, when I perform a monologue, I don't want to perform it out of context. A monologue usually is part of a bigger picture. I am painting this picture by choosing colours and shapes, light and shadow, the composition. Some of this is in the text of the play and the monologue itself but most of it is up to me to imagine. Isn't that just wonderful?!

Even though it is new to me, I like working with the other characters in this way. Even though they only exist on paper and in my head, it makes them real. The outrageousness of this imagined bully lover/agent gets my imaginative juices flowing, my emotions going and makes my characters REAL. If there was another actor in the room, playing this character, my responses to him would be REAL. And isn't that what we want to see in a performance; real emotions, real people, living in world that is real to them? Because there won't be another actor in the room there is no one to listen to on stage but myself. However, the relationships of my characters with the other people in their world's are what inform their choices, their actions and reactions, and their intentions. Knowing these relationships on an emotional level will bring these two women alive and make them and their emotions real - without the need for another actor that I can react to.

Once I can truthfully live in these two women's worlds, all I have to do is listen to my own responses to what I am saying and doing on stage, and maybe I will be able to create a little bit of real magic.

Sunday 15 August 2010

Morning shoot at the beach

Amidst the making a living, being a mum, and preparing for my big day routine, I had the pleasure of working on another short film not long ago. A break from the daily craze and a most welcome one. I got to act, duh...

Most of the film is set at the beach. I played a woman having a pick-nick with her children and getting a rather nasty surprise. Since it is still winter at this end of the world and Wellington is a coastal city prone to nasty winds and torrential rains, it was always going to be up to pure luck whether we'd be able to shoot at all. The first weekend, the very early morning seemed fine but by about 8 am gale force winds had crept down the coast and made the very pretty Princess Bay seem like hell frozen over. We got one scene shot nonetheless and I commend, but not particularly envy, my fellow actor who spent the better part of an hour half-submerged in the freezing water.

Friday the week after it wasn't much warmer - and when I say 'much warmer' I actually mean 'less bum numbing cold' - when I pulled up to location at 6 am. The faint pink glow on the horizon and a cloudless sky, however, promised a much nicer day. By the time I got out of wardrobe and make-up, the sun had crept a little higher but the beach was still in shadow. I was relaxing on my pick nick blanket, reading book of poetry (German, funnily enough), glancing over to my children now and again and trying to retain some feeling in my toes. Luckily, shot three of the day required some running down the beach and while I kept losing my shoes, causing my feet to get ever colder, the rest of my body did warm up slightly. Even luckier, that when my children arrived at the beach for our shared shots, the sun had risen over the ragged rocks and doused us in brilliant, warm light. I didn't even need my ridiculous, thick, fluffy, life-saving bathrobe in between shots. Ahhh! It almost felt like spring and became a simply gorgeous day. It also proved that beach shoots can be fun even in the dead of Wellington winter!

The whole experience was such a contrast to my last short film. Everyone knew what they were doing, the shooting schedule was mindful of the actors, in particularly because we were not paid, everyone was courteous and professional, and shooting with children was a breeze. It made my job easier and certainly more enjoyable. The beach film was a blast! And while I usually cringe when even thinking about it, this time I actually cannot wait to see the end result.

The previous short was such a stressful disaster that I found it hard to even enjoy the acting bit. It was such a shame. We didn't have a shot list or a shooting schedule - need I say more? I have vowed to myself that even though I am at the very beginning of my acting career never ever to agree to a project again unless I know that there will be a shot list and a shooting schedule, at the very least. Most of the stuff I am doing right now is unpaid and while I am aiming for a change, for now I am okay with that. I want to build a reel. I do deserve the common sense and courtesy however not to be asked to be on set at 9 am and then have to wait until 4 pm for my scenes because the director HAS NO IDEA which scenes he wants to film when!

I know I am talented and hard-working enough to deserve better.

Sunday 8 August 2010

Hot phase

I realise that this blog was supposed to be about my journey towards the audition for Toi Whakaari, New Zealand Drama School. I haven't really been writing about it lately. Now that I have entered the 'hot' phase, the last month before the audition, it is high time that I change that!

So, where am I at? After many doubts and getting side-tracked accordingly, I've finally handed in my application, and got my monologues sorted; one Shakespeare and one modern piece. I also have two backups, in case the panel wants to see something completely different. One of the backups is a monologue I have worked on for other auditions and the other is a new but very short piece.

For me, the keys for choosing my audition monologues were the following

0. (0. because this should really be a no-brainer) Stay within the parameters that are asked of you.

If you are asked to prepare two contrasting pieces, one modern, one classic, then that's what you should probably do. If you are asked to prepare a two minute piece, don't make it five. This is really the easiest bit in the whole process. No thinking required, just common sense. If you're not sure if your choice of monologue fits the bill, by all means ask! No one will be mad at you for pushing the boundaries a bit but you do want to make sure that you're not bending the rules to breaking point. Now,

1.  Love the pieces and characters you choose, be excited about and inspired by them.

I know I have written something along these lines before but anyway for an audition the last thing you want is working on something you don't like, playing a character you don't like. Especially when you have a choice, why not try to make your life easier and the process more enjoyable by choosing something that excites you! No matter what kind of characters you show the audition panel, you want them to be able to relate to them and the stories you tell. If you hate your piece and/or your character or even worse, are bored out of your mind, you're going to make it mighty hard for yourself to relate to them, let alone anyone else. The more excited you are about your pieces, the more excited the panel may be about you, right?! Well, we'll see how this goes for me...

2. Choose pieces that show range.

Choose pieces that are not only in contrast to each other but that are contrasting in themselves. A friend said to me to choose monologues where you begin as one character and end as another. Even in a two minute piece transformation is what you should aim for. Here is where the beauty of the whole process lies, you get to make choices, and as my acting coach would say, you get to make them BIG and you get to make them bold. Show the panel that you have range, that you are fearless and that you have a firm grasp of the characters you play. Sounds like a good plan to me.

As of the weekend, I am off book for my two main monologues and am finally in full swing working on the characters. This includes, dear fellow auditionees, having read the plays, having read about the plays and looking closely at the text. It still feels like there is an enormous amount of work to do though, and very little time. The application deadline is 16 August, so I will hear back about an audition time sometime after that. It will be either on 3 or 4 September, so for the rest of this month, I need to make as much time as possible to prepare. I don't even want to imagine going to the audition not feeling 100% prepared! I don't want to turn up on the day being scared but able to enjoy the performance, the work and being in the moment.

No regrets!

Any other hot tips on preparing and auditioning? Please, do tell!