Wednesday 17 November 2010

Audition excitement

Eeeeeek! I love summer! All of a sudden there is a host of great opportunities coming up. In the last week alone I submitted to six or seven short films. Getting two auditions out of that is making me happily and giddily excited. The scripts are both really lovely and I'll be auditioning for lead roles. Bring it on and white light to all of you other auditionees!

Saturday 13 November 2010

Is drama school worth the drama?

Ever since I didn't get called back for the workshop weekend at Toi Whakaari I keep hearing all these negative things about drama school. It's as if the universe wants to reassure me that not making it into drama school this year is ok.

I really wish the universe would shut about it though because it is starting to discourage me from trying again next year. Then again maybe that's the point the universe wants to make. Don't bother, drama school sucks.

One thing I heard was that many students cannot wait to leave school and that the only reason they stick with it, is the pressure of not wanting to be 'the drop-out'. That's really kinda sad. When I went to law school, I wished nothing more than being able to just drop out. But I didn't want to be there in the first place and I am guessing that most drama students actually want to go to drama school. Shouldn't your education fuel your passion and desire to learn and grow, not make you want to run for the hills screaming?

You might say that these students simply cannot handle being an actor or that they cannot handle the pressures of drama school. As an actor you have to open yourself up and be vulnerable pretty much all the time when you're working - and no one, not in school and not in the real world - is going to wrap you in cotton and bubble wrap so you can handle that.

But beyond teaching their students to be honest and open and vulnerable, there are many little side-stories I have heard, that might be just the indication for why so many drama students seem very keen for their school days to be over.

One of these stories was for instance that in at least one of the classes (not one on acting technique) the tutors felt that it was necessary for every student in the class to cry - cracking the whip on them for 'catharsis'. Another story was that the teachers constantly tell their students, and especially the women, that they need to lose weight - even when these students are healthy and not overweight and maybe even when students were already underweight.

Seriously, how is any of this necessary? Does it make you a better actor if you have been 'broken'? Does being broken really make you want to bare yourself and be truthful? Drama schools generally have a therapist available for their students to see but should learning to be vulnerable and in touch with your emotions really make you need to see a therapist?

And yes, the industry standard, especially for actresses but increasingly also for actors seems to be the skinnier the better. Yeah, yeah, yeah, they are trying to sell us the 'All we want is healthy bodies' crap but if you look at reality that is not true at all. Should drama school really be a place to reinforce these standards? Shouldn't drama school be the place to teach its students to be confident in their healthy, fit and normal bodies and teach them how to market themselves best as human beings who happen to be great actors instead of teaching them that they need to be at their skinniest superhuman self to book?  Shouldn't drama school be the place to start breaking the skinny rule?

There are many similar stories and what they have in common is that most likely they are the reason that young people who started out being enthusiastic about and loving their craft, after not long at all start hating the place that is suppose to help them mold themselves into the best actors they can be.

I just don't want believe that drama school should be the place to weed the weak from the strong. Should drama school be judgemental about who is going to make it in the real world? Shouldn't drama school instead be the place that does its damnedest to help every student who spends their time, sweat and tears, and not inconsiderable amount of money, to be strong and to go out into the industry and stick with their dream no matter how hard it gets?

What do you think? Should drama school eliminate the weak or build up all students to be strong and fearless and to believe in themselves?

Saturday 6 November 2010

The least craziest thing

I read a story the other day about a young neuroscience student turned fashion designer and boutique owner that reminded me very much of my own journey to becoming an actor.

Like Erin, I was always good at academics. It was never a question that I would finish high school and finish with good grades. It was never even a question that I would go to university and get a degree.
And even though I looked at alternative options to going to uni, I never felt quite comfortable with actually going through with any of them. I had a very very long list of possible post-high school pursuits and every single one had a craft and creative component to it. The list included among many other things carpentry and goldsmithing, landscape designing, costume design and construction, animation, screen writing, and directing. I didn't end up doing any of it.
Why? Because I had never done any of it. I had never worked with wood, I had never smithed metal, landscaped a garden, sewn other than by hand, wasn't particularly great at drawing, had not written anything since school drove the writer out of me very early on in high school, and had never directed a play or a film. In other words, while I was good and in some instances very good at academic stuff, I had no idea whether I could succeed at anything creative. It was out of my comfort zone to be creative and I had no idea whether I deserved to even try.

Worst of all, acting didn't even make the list. Because I was convinced more than with anything else that I was bound to fail at it and that I wasn't worthy of even trying.

I could have finished school, gotten a job, made a choice about what creative field I wanted to go into most and taken the time to do the preparation necessary to be able to apply to a related course. I could have taken night classes and learned drawing. I could have sat down every day to write something, anything. I could have just tried to do something other than going to university.

I didn't. I don't know how else to explain it than to say that I didn't know I was allowed to. I felt this immense pressure to chose a degree and start university. And even the half year that I took off between finishing school and finally starting my law degree felt like I was being bad and the whole time I felt so paralysed by fear of doing the wrong thing that I didn't even try to be creative in any way.

None of it had to do with pressure that I received from home. My mum never cracked the whip on me about uni or anything else. But she also never told me that I was free and worthy to do anything that I wanted to do, no matter how crazy in the eyes of most people it would  be. I don't think anyone had ever told her this either. I was consumed by fear of not getting a job after uni, consumed by fear to be struggling financially as my family had done all my life. It had always been very difficult to see my mother trying so hard to make a living for us, so hard to get a job and keep it. My mum is a historian and she is very good at what she does. But the nature of Western capitalism is that there is not much monetary value in historians and therefore jobs are extremely scarce. It was heartbreaking to see her feel like a failure because we were never financially secure. I think all I wanted after high school was to choose the right path, so my mum wouldn't have to worry about my financial future, and so I could fix hers. I felt that I needed to find a degree that would guarantee me a good job that I would keep for the rest of my life. Isn't it strange and sad that that was all I could think of?!

The other side of it was probably that I have this maybe even common way of thinking that I cannot be good at anything that I am not already good at. I have come to discover and accept that this way of thinking is rooted in people's belief that they are, for whatever reason, not worthy.

I wasn't worthy because of what my father thought of me or more correctly how he didn't think of me. He had left my mother because she was pregnant with me. He didn't want another child. He had already abandoned his first-born son, my half brother who I have never met, after his first marriage had failed. My father wasn't interested in me. At all. He did his legal duty of paying child support but only ever because he didn't want to get in trouble. I met him twice and after the second time, as I found out years later, he said to his new partner that he was concerned I would drive a wedge in his new family and it was better I didn't see him again. I was eight years old then. So, if my father who was by the law of nature required to at least show some sort of affection for and interest in me, was so absolutely disinterested, if I was already not worthy to be a daughter to him, how was I worthy to chose the life that I really wanted? My mum did her damnedest to make me feel loved and secure and special. And I know she has always felt guilty that she wasn't able to break this incredible power the other parent has over his child to utterly screw with her heart and mind.

So, instead of figuring out what I really wanted to do and follow that path, I chose to study law and business. I was reasonably good at it, even excelled in my postgraduate work and finished two law degrees without ever wanting to be a lawyer. I was so stuck in the belief that I somehow was required to do all this that it wasn't until after many smaller and larger crises and after I was almost finished with my Masters degree that I realised that something had to give. It wasn't until an actress friend of mine asked me this simple question, 'If you close you eyes and imagine that there is absolutely nothing holding you back from doing what you really want to do with your life, what would it be?'

In that instant I didn't even have to close my eyes to know the answer. I didn't say it out loud. I just wasn't quite there yet. What I said was, 'I want to do something creative.' So, my actress friend of mine dragged me to a crew meeting for the Young and Hungry Festival of New Theatre and encouraged me to join the costume department for that season. I went on to co-design 15 or so costumes for one of the plays and best of all got to watch a number of rehearsals for inspiration. The Best Thing Ever! Every time I went to a rehearsal I thought, 'Oh, this looks so much fun! I want to do that!'

So, I did. I auditioned for plays, and performed in a couple of them. I started taking acting, accent and most recently circus classes. I got head shots and an agent. And after all this time I am an actress. Just like that.

My mum said to me the other day that she was proud of me and happy that I was doing what I love to do. And that makes me insanely happy. She also said that she still thinks I am crazy for doing this. Mum, I love you more than the world but you are so so wrong! Being an actor is the least craziest thing I have ever done my entire life.

Is it hard? Yes it is. There are no guarantees that I'm ever going to make it in this business. It isn't so much the rejection that you have to deal with on a regular basis. I have already survived the worst form of rejection that I could have possible faced, and have done so well in spite of it. It is all the responsibilities that come with being a parent; with having gone to university and owing shitloads of money for that, especially to people I love dearly; with being part of a family and paying for a mortgage on a home. Turning actor has put me in exactly the financially unstable situation that I have dreaded my entire life. And still, most days I couldn't be happier!

So, close your eyes and ask yourself, 'If there was absolutely nothing that could hold you back from doing what you really want to do with your life, what would you do?' And then do  that. Because you're worth living the life you WANT to live.