Tuesday 30 August 2011

Quickpost 1

As prove that I actually have started practicing what I preached yesterday, here is what I have worked on in my bit of spare time over the last two days.

30 August

General American: I listened to my new Penny Dyer audiobook (Access Accents: General American - highly recommended!!!), took notes and worked with the practice sentences for shaping GenAm vowel and consonant sounds.

Wrote some fiction: Not a screenplay because for some reason that format stifles all creative energy in me. But I did write the beginnings of a story. I have no idea where it's going or what form it's going to take but I have been writing fiction. That's HUGE! I guess shutting up my inner critic and banning her to a deserted island somewhere far out in the Pacific Ocean counts as work too.

Creative visualisations: This is daydreaming, really. I gave myself ten minutes to relax and fantasise about my dream job in as much detail and colour as possible. Anyone wanna take a guess what that dream job is? I will only say that getting to live this dream if only for ten minutes and only in my head was already AWESOME! While I'm hanging out for the dream to materialise, I'm definitely going to actively dream about it. The richer and more detailed and over the top, the better. In fact, I shall do some dreaming right after finishing this post!

31 August

Workout: In the morning I took a two-hour walk through the zoo with my son and his friend. Chasing after two two-year-olds is serious exercise! It's also voice work, uhum... My son and his friend generously agreed to have a nap after lunch, so I postponed housework and had a New York City Ballet Workout session in the lounge instead.

General American: Went over all practice sentences once with the idiot tongue. You know, speaking with your tongue lolling out of your mouth. (No, I'm not going to put this on tape, thank you very much!) The went over them again twice, listening to Penny and repeating after her.

Reading out loud & GenAm: Read a news story out loud in a General American accent. To my surprise my GenAm has already improved heaps! Wonder if I can manage it in real scene work yet?

Well, that's it for today. I think, I've made a good start on the whole surprising myself front. Off to do some serious daydreaming for a bit. Hope you're doing the same!

All I want to do

'All I want to do is surprise myself.' That's one of the things you should tell yourself right before going into an audition or in between takes or when going on stage. I think Jack Plotnick wrote about it in his book somewhere. I think it's brilliant advice. If you really truly only want that when you are performing, you give yourself permission to let go, really live the moment and be totally spontaneous.

But I've been thinking, 'All I want to do is surprise myself', doesn't only apply to going into  scene work. It applies to life in general or more specifically to making the most of life. It's a way of giving yourself permission to get rid of bad habits, you know, the ones that are basically self-sabotage. There are the more obvious ones, like the habit of wedging out in front of a truly terrible reality TV show, instead of say learning lines or day dreaming or working on an accent or even just reading a good book. And then there are the more hidden and more sinister habits, like the ones where you tell yourself that you're no good at something; like teaching yourself an accent or writing a screenplay. 

If you live by the motto that all you want to do is surprise yourself, then surely at least once every day your eyes will be open to one of those bad habits and you can say, 'Hey, listen bad habit! Crawl back under the rock you came from. I am not going to do as you please. Not today!' 

I did that today. It felt wonderful. It made life more fun. I think, I'll keep surprising myself, actively and every day. 

'You don't like it. So you say.
Try it and you may, I say.'
Dr Seuss, Green Eggs and Ham (or Green Eggs and Sam, as my son would say.)

Monday 29 August 2011

Working that muscle

Lately, I've been working hard on piecing myself back together. Getting new headshots done and the prospect of a workshop with a really awesome actress and coach at the end of next month certainly helped.

But my acting muscle feels a bit stiff, so I've finally also been more active about what I, despite next to no time or space to myself, can do to get back and stay in shape. There must be something I can do and even if it's only for ten minutes a day!

So, I've been doing a bit of thinking and a lot of reading and found some great ideas for daily exercises that I want to share here and then dive in full steam myself today. It's a bit of a rough list yet, so I'd love to hear what you guys do on a daily basis to help you stay in shape and grow!

Daily Exercises

Voice exercises: Exercises on the floor on your back morning and night, start with a voiceless hissing sound, then a voiced humming sound, and then a voiced sighing sound, the latter two sliding up and down your range. To loosen your yaw and aid your articulation: tongue-twisters!

Cold reading: Work the same text a few times and challenge yourself with finding a new read each time. Get sides from Showfax.com, the library or read the paper out loud!

Read out loud: 10-15 minutes every day.

Emotional content work: When cold reading or reading out loud incorporate emotional content work. Decide on a number  of emotions and then practice cold reading while living into and evoking those emotions, trying to transition smoothly between them.  

Learning lines: Use different techniques on the same text to see how each feels. Try the same technique on a modern and a classic text and see if it works the same way.

Make your piece physical: Say a line; move a body part. Then repeat a few times until you are speaking and moving at the same time. Singing works as well!

Personal work: Practice exercises like having a conversation with your fears, writing a letter to someone telling them that you love/forgive/despise them.

Camera audition skills: To practice focusing on your reading/scene partner pick a specific spot to focus on while doing your cold reading or even while having a phone call! You can also use your own reflection in the bathroom mirror. Use it as your focus spot or to study what you face does, how it changes, if you have any ticks.

Accent days: Pick an accent and speak only in that accent all day, with the exception of important business meetings/phone calls and auditions.

Action: Pick a simple physical action to perform. Pick a physicality. Imagine a high-stakes situation, including relationships, in which you need to finish your action within 5 minutes. Set a timer and don’t stop until it goes off or the action is finished. You can do this while doing housework!

Visualisation - objects: Sit or lie down in a comfortable position, either in a chair or on a mat on the floor. Breathe deeply and feel yourself relax with each exhalation. Imagine a specific object from your home—something you see every day, like your coffee mug, toothbrush or cereal bowl. Recreate the item in detail, sense by sense. First visualize it in as much detail as possible. Then focus on how the object would feel in your hands. Then imagine what it tastes like, what it smells like. Then focus on what you hear when you are holding the object. (If you want to work on sense memory use an object that holds a strong emotional memory or just work on your visualization skills with any object.)

Visualisation - worlds: Learn a short text, then using visioning, free-associating or whatever else works for you, create the world the character lives in. Say the text with your eyes closed, envisioning this world. Then do it again with your eyes open, tracing yourself around the room, seeing what the character sees.

Monday 22 August 2011

The Glee Project Take 2

One of the comments on my first Glee Project post was from Zoje, who said the following:

I have seen the first nine episodes of "The Glee Project" and while I agree with you that reality TV is exploitative in general, this show does serve a purpose. For one thing, all of the kids on this show are immensely talented and this may be the biggest, broadest exposure they ever receive in their lives -- I expect a lot of them will be able to use the experience of being on the show to broaden their careers and future opportunities. Secondly, the "winner" will be written into SEVEN episodes of the show (they state this repeatedly on the show itself). This is such a competitive business - for actors, writers, singers, etc. - and a show like this can really give some people an opportunity who might otherwise have never received any recognition at all. The producers, directors, choreographers from Glee who participate in The Glee Project seem very respectful and sincere - and I wouldn't be surprised if several of the kids end up making appearances on the show next season.

I was obviously wrong to assume that the winner of the Project would win a pittance of role. A seven episode run is a reoccurring role and more than most actors could ever even dream of their entire careers. So, that winning the Project leads to an actually fantastic thing really is amazing for the winner of the show -         SPOILER ALERT        - or winners in this case as the first season was won by two actors.

Zoje is probably also right to assume that some/all of the other finalists of the Project will get some sort of guest appearance on Glee and good on them.

However, neither the winner's prize nor the opportunity for the non-winners justifies, in my eyes, the exploitative nature of this programme nor it's undermining of the actor's safety net that is the casting system. 

Here's the thing, all reality TV shows are for the vast majority of the contestants the 'biggest, broadest exposure they ever receive in their lives.' And that is exactly the issue that I have with these shows. They promise their contestants an 'equal' chance at whatever prize, where in most cases it has been decided from the very beginning who is going to win the show. In some shows, like New Zealand's Next Top Model for instance, it is blatantly obvious who will get eliminated every week. Some shows manage to hide their agenda and be a bit more subtle. However, since the winner is at least to a very large extent decided from the get go, all the eliminated contestants went through the humiliation that is a reality TV show for mostly nothing. 

As we all know, on reality TV no one gets represented the way they actually are, the producers and editors decide that. The eliminated contestants' prize is the 'biggest, broadest exposure they ever receive in their lives' but this exposure neither represents who they truly are nor leads to bigger and better things in the vast majority of cases. Just think how many of the by now surely more than 100 finalists on American Idol can claim to have made a career of the exposure they got courtesy of that show?

I also disagree with the statement that the Glee Project 'can really give some people an opportunity who might otherwise have never received any recognition at all.' Since the prize of the Glee Project is a role on a scripted TV show, the producers might just as well have held the open casting call they held to assemble the cast of the Glee Project and left it at that. The 12 Glee Project contestants would have had the same if not a much fairer chance of getting that seven episode role and the bit parts perhaps now being offered to the eliminees. They certainly would not have had to go through the exploitation, humiliation and degradation that is the Glee Project. 

Perhaps the producers, directors and choreographers on the Glee Project acted 'very respectful and sincere' in other parts of the programme but forcing the contestants to reveal on national and international syndicated TV their biggest secrets while standing around half-naked in public was enough to do my head in. Forcing the contestants to reveal such personal information and fears, surrounding them as being gay and being called fake certainly doesn't do anything for the contestants or their careers. It's simply another exploitative means for the Glee Project's producers to make the show attractive, certainly not something they do because they care about these kids' futures.

Yes, exploitation is a huge part of all reality TV. It's kind of the point of reality TV if we're being honest. The point I am making about the Glee Project is that the Glee producers already had an open casting call for Glee's next season that gave these 12 contestants all the chance they needed to win a role on the scripted show. To make them jump through extra hoops and drag them through the dishonest mud of reality TV, lying to them about everyone having an equal chance at the big role, is unethical - especially in a business were actors work their arses off every day, for years and without pay and the only safety net we have is that if we get a professional audition, we can do our job without exploitation and humiliation, and go home with the same chance as everyone else. 

Sunday 21 August 2011

FAIL: The Glee Project

There was an ad for the Glee Project on the telly just now. For those of you who don't know the show, it's another American Idol spin-off of sorts. The show serves as an extended 'audition' for a 'role' on the FOX show Glee. After a pre-selection process the top 12 contestants go through a series of tests and challenges, and are eliminated one by one until one of them wins the Project and the coveted role on Glee.

Now, at first glance this show isn't much different from formats like American Idol but far from just annoying me and boring me to tears, I feel like the Glee Project is outright unethical - from an actor's perspective at least. 

The kids on the Glee Project vie for a role that is unspecified in size and type. We don't know whether the role is recurring and making them a proper part of the Glee cast or whether it is just a one episode guest starring role or even less than that. Most likely they're going to be a blip on the screen. After all pre-show 'casting' for season two of the Project is already in the pipeline.

Any other TV show and all other roles on Glee go through proper casting processes, specified by union rules. These casting processes certainly do NOT involve humiliating actors in public and on (inter)national television. Unlike the Glee Project, which in the episode just advertised on NZ TV for instance has the contestants 'facing their biggest secrets' by standing around in public, stripped down to shorts and a white tank top with big signs strapped to their fronts and backs, reading things like 'Fake' and 'Gay'.

What the fuck does that have to do with 'casting' or a fair shot at a job? This show certainly doesn't 'serve as an audition'. On the contrary, it is nothing more than actors' exploitation and worst of all exploitation of child/teen actors. As if actors needed any more exploitation than there already is by the way the market functions anyway! 

The only way TV shows, films and commercials get made is that producers and creatives can choose from an enormous pool of actors of all ages and types that they can - with the exception of A-List stars - regard and treat as interchangeable and lets face it disposable. The only reason producing anything for the small and big screen is possible, is because actors agree to be available but unemployed as actors 95% of the time. The only protection we have from this system completing screwing with us is that professional productions adhere to proper casting processes that give us a fair chance at the jobs our agents put us forward for, without public denigration and humiliation adding to the constant rejection we constantly have to deal with in this crazy job of ours.

Along comes Oxygen and rips this one safety net to shreds, using and abusing the hopes and dreams and aspirations of 11 teenage actors. Actors who never had a chance of getting that most likely pittance of a role because the network would have decided before the Glee Project even started what they were looking for for the next season of Glee. It makes an absolute farce of what should have been a proper, non-humiliating open casting process, where young actors would have been treated correctly, fairly and with respect.

If this is a sign of the times, hold on to your sides and your sanity dear fellow actors because casting is not only going to get harder but also uglier and more exploitative. Lets hope that a format like the Glee Project can only be conceived within the confines of a musical show like Glee. 

I am fully prepared to put on a song and dance for a job on TV or in film but I do reserve my right to be treated fairly, respectfully and work hard for these jobs within the proper casting processes. It's all I've got.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Something to be proud of

This morning, I went to get a take-away coffee and ran into an actor friend of my unhusband's and mine, who was enjoying a scrumptious looking breakfast at the same café. Said friend happens to have earned himself a major part on a certain, very big and very famous feature film currently being shot here in Wellington.

New Zealand film fans are enormously proud and justifiably so that not only are the majority of crew on The Hobbit New Zealanders but that a great number of Kiwi actors have earned big parts in the film(s). It's a remarkable feat as it is that Wingnut/3 Foot 7 and the creative and business geniuses behind it have succeeded for a second time in bringing such a prestigious and expensive film to this part of the world. This is especially so after all the drama surrounding the project through most of last year. What is even more remarkable though is that this time around and despite last year's drama, the number of kiwi actors with major speaking parts is so very high! With six of the 14 dwarves played by Kiwi actors and various others rumoured and confirmed in smaller speaking parts before all casting has concluded, The Hobbit already exceeds - and by far -  what New Zealand actors had ever dared to hope for.

So, no wonder that we are proud that not only is The Hobbit being filmed in this country and not only does it provide jobs and amazing experiences for our large pool of extremely talented and hard-working creatives and crew behind the camera, but that it also shows off our acting talent (which granted is exclusively male so far but still). No wonder that Kiwi film fans are by and large happy and very proud.

I must say though that I had a bit of a weird feeling at times sitting there with my friend. No one came up to him while I was there at least, nor did I see people whispering or pointing but there was a definite air of recognition. I don't even know if my friend realised it. After all, this is new to him too and it has taken him 20 or so years to get to this point. But I kept seeing people shooting me glances, knowingly, approvingly, almost conspiratorially. 

I'm going to make myself feel really special here by assuming that they were also thinking, 'Oooh, she must be an actress in the films as well, oooh...' Well, they got the first part right, and they were definitely thinking, 'We know who you're talking to. It's great, innit? He's on The Hobbit and he's one of us!'

Something to be proud of.