Tuesday, 7 March 2017

La La loved it?

I spend a lot of January and February each year running around to various cinemas, watching all of the films nominated for the best picture award at the BAFTAs and Oscars – it’s a fun challenge which takes me to locations all over London and to see films which I may not otherwise have watched.

La La Land was arguably this year’s runaway success even though it didn’t (or did briefly) win the Academy Award for Best Picture.  However, talking to lots of people about it, I have noticed that it wasn’t the triumph with audiences that the press would have us believe.  Broadly my friends fell into two camps:  my actor and big theatre going friends tended to love it.  Everyone else was a bit more “meh”.

I think the reason for its success at the awards is twofold.  Firstly, Hollywood loves a bit of navel gazing.    There were so many times during La La Land that I was wryly laughing to myself but no one else around me was.  I could really empathise with Emma Stone’s character – I’ve been in those castings!  My friends in the “meh” camp didn’t dislike the film, they just didn’t have the same gut reaction to it that I did or probably the people on the voting panels who decide the shortlists.  

Historically, Hollywood has favoured similar films – winners of Best Picture include That Broadway Melody 1929, All About Eve 1950 and even Argo 2012 where Hollywood saves the day.  Nominated films include Singin’ in the Rain 1952 and Sunset Boulevard 1950.  Also, let us not forget that the Academy loves a musical: previous Best Picture winners include West Side Story, The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Gigi, An American in Paris, Oliver!  Chicago and The Artist - double whammy – it’s about Hollywood and kind of a musical!


The other big reason I think that La La Land did so well is because it was a little light relief.  Let’s face it, 2016 was a bit of a fiasco.  La La Land was a touching, beautifully made, brightly coloured, all singing, all dancing film full of pretty people – a little bit of escapism.  And who doesn’t need that?


Wednesday, 1 March 2017

#28PlaysLater

February. The shortest month of the year.  It felt like the longest at some points.

I have just completed the “28 Plays in 28 days” challenge set up by The Space Theatre - yes that’s correct, I wrote 28 plays in 28 days.  I made the decision to enter very last minute – I saw it advertised on Twitter, had a quick look, fired off an email and half an hour later had committed to the challenge.  I think if I’d thought about it, I probably wouldn’t have done it, but I am so glad that I did.

 At 10pm each evening an email from “Sebastian” appeared in my inbox with that day’s task, which had to be completed and emailed by 10am 36hours later.  The tasks ranged from writing a murder mystery, to being inspired by a song, a play with no plot, a play with no actors, personal pieces, biographical stories of fictional people, finishing a play you never finished and so on.  Each task was different and challenging.

What I found fun was that there wasn’t a lot of time to think.  I mainly had to just start writing as time was always against me.  So the things I wrote about I think were quite instinctive and uncensored.  I was able to write about characters who have been dancing around in my head for years and create completely new people.  I was forced to think about what kind of audience I was aiming at and how each play would be staged.  I am quite a visual person, so I always included some kind of description of the staging, lighting and sound as it helped me to focus on the space and the story.

As I’ve been telling people about it, I’ve had a lot of the same questions, the most common being: “How long is a play?”  I think that is very much a piece of string question.  Mine ranged from 3-16 pages long and had anywhere from 1-10 characters involved.  They were set in schools, in space, on a cruise ship, in a gym, a hotel, a bus, a tomb…  My aim with each play was to try to tell a complete story (except for the challenge of writing a play without a plot…) so that was my bench mark for completing each of them.

Some of what I wrote was pretty ropey but I think a couple of them were quite good.  There are definitely some that I will come back to and develop further – one or two I can see being full length plays, one I’d turn into a book and I now have a little library of ideas which have already been developed and are full of possibilities.


However, the overriding thing for me was the confidence which it has given me.  Although I’ve been writing for years, I’ve never had the assertion to say “I’m a writer” but I now I think I can.  And I will.

Find me on:

Monday, 4 July 2016

Things they don't teach in drama school...

Things they don't teach in drama school...

Drama school is just like the film FAME: acting, singing and dancing every day, emotional, full of laughter, sweat and tears, maybe slightly less use of legwarmers but essentially, it’s exactly the same.

However, when you leave the cosy cocoon and enter the big scary world of being “an actor”, there are a few things that you realise the Professional Studies class should have covered…

Small children will heckle you
A lot of drama graduates will do at least one TIE (Theatre in Education) or panto tour at some point in their career.  The pay and comfort of these tours varies wildly from (a) three people in a Nissan Micra with their entire set & costumes and a box of maps, to (b) being driven around by a stage manager in a cosy, fitted out van.  By and large, these jobs involve getting up VERY EARLY in the morning, driving to a school or care home, being offered a cup of tea, negotiating swing doors and stair cases while carrying your set and trying to locate the school hall, erecting your set, doing a show, re-packing the van and driving to another location (which may or may not be nearby, usually, not) and repeating the same thing all over again.

The best thing about these jobs is the people.  Meeting and hearing stories from people in care homes and sheltered accommodation is a really enriching experience.  At the other end of the scale, children are absolutely the best audience as they are brutally honest.  If it aint funny they don’t laugh.  They also love to join in and offer opinions.  One of my favourite moments was in panto during a “Shall I go into the scary forest” kind of situation. The children started with the "no!" "Don't go!" when one child proclaimed very loudly, "oh don't bother, she's going to go anyway!"  These jobs are really hard work but are a great learning curve and can result in lifelong friendships.

Things learnt:
·         the importance of a vocal warmup
·         how good manners will results in biscuits
·         how to sleep in weird positions in a van
·         map reading/sat nav programming
·         The importance of carrying a selection of show tunes for an “all van singalong!”
·         That when you think the van is stuck in mud, call the AA, don’t try to get it out yourselves and furrow four deep holes into a school’s playing field…

Standing like sardines
Ever been in a shed?  Ever been in a plant room of a building? Ever got used to having long conversations no louder than a whisper?  Ever been really possessive over a coat hanger/coat hook?  Ever played the game Sardines?  Combine all those and that’s what “backstage” in a fringe venue generally amounts to.

Things learnt:
·         Maintenance of your own oral and personal hygiene will keep everyone happy
·         Febreeze is brilliant

Quick changes
Anything involving tights is hard.  If you’re really hot, everything becomes much harder.  Outfits with more than one thing to do up on them should be banned.  I did an hour long show where I had ten quick changes.  Ten.  The key to not royally screwing up was layering, concentration and “fireman uniform” style setting up of costumes.

Things learnt:
·         Sometimes people will screw with your costume, just for fun
·         Sometimes your costume will be horrific (red velour unitard)
·         Other times people will be jealous of your costume (onesie!)
·         You will often end up wearing your own clothes as costume and then never look at them in quite the same way again.

Keeping odd hours
If you work on TV or film, you will generally arrive at and leave the set in darkness.  The hours are long and a world outside of the set becomes difficult to remember.  If you work in theatre, you may initially find yourself commuting with non-actor people as you attend daytime rehearsals, but once the show is running, your working day starts as everyone else’s finishes and socialising at normal times becomes difficult.

Now I think about food a lot.  I love eating.  I mean really love it and generally I like to make my own meals.  When I’m in a show, food prep becomes something of a military exercise involving spreadsheets and timetables.  Regular meal times go out the window.  Some people like to eat long before the show, others five minutes before curtain and/or during the interval.  Everyone’s different but finding what works for you is the key.  Generally this comes down to experience.  You need food to fuel you through the performance, but you don’t really want to revisit your dinner mid-cartwheel in the opening number.

Things learnt:
·         You will miss daylight
·         It’s difficult to make social arrangements that aren’t very late at night
·         Your stomach will not really understand what’s going on for a while
·         You will get to know the barista’s in your nearest Starbucks by name

Being your best when possibly at your worst
Due to a lot of the above, i.e. the extenuating circumstances with which you are required to perform, it can sometimes be difficult to get “in the zone”.  Now that absolutely sounds like wanky-actor speak, but it is true.

Unless you are working with a large company, chances are you won’t have an understudy.  That means that, unless your leg is actually hanging off, you’re going on.  The audience aren’t interested in what’s going on offstage – your health, how big your dressing room is or whether you like your costume – they’ve paid to see a performance and that’s what you have to give them.  I think everyone has done performances with colds, bad backs, tonsillitis (I certainly have) but “Doctor Theatre” gets you through – it’s amazing how a red bull, couple of bananas and a lot of paracetamol can get you through a performance!

On set, time is precious.  When it’s your time to perform, there’s no time for theatrics.  Yes, you may have been in full prosthetic make-up since 6am and have eaten several meals and read half a book whilst waiting around but when you are called to set, no one cares about that - you have to be ready and you have to do the best performance you can.  A lot of people are expecting you to be on point.  Michael Caine has a brilliant book on this.


What conclusion can I draw from all of this?  Well part of the fun, is finding all this out for yourself.  Acting is not glamorous, it’s often poorly (or not) paid, the hours are long and erratic and there is no job security.  But when you get that chance to perform, that moment of nerves, joy and sheer exhilaration, it makes it all worthwhile.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Wicked Skillz

As a performer, you’d think that acting, dancing or singing would be your main skill but it really isn’t.  I genuinely believe that actors must be the most employable people on the planet due to the many transferable skills that we have (which we didn’t know we needed).

IT Wizard
Firstly, you need a phone.  If this phone can access the World Wide Web, even better.  If you also know how to push your emails with this phone, take a selfie and self-tape an audition then you’re laughing.  If you didn’t understand any of that, you’re in trouble.

Building a website, emailing and attaching files, formatting a Word version of your CV, videoing and uploading auditions, blogging, tweeting are all talents I have developed which I hadn’t considered were essential.

You can’t teach an old dog…
As soon as you start applying for jobs, you quickly realise that though you may have many skills, there are many others which you don’t have.  For example, boy do I wish I could play a portable musical instrument to professional standard.  But I can’t.  I could start learning one now (which lots of people do) but then do I potentially let slip the skills I do already have and become a jack of all trades and a master of none?  Keeping talents honed and fresh is imperative.

Private Investigator
The internet is a deeply phenomenal wealth of information which is just there for the taking.  I don’t apply for a job or go to an audition without researching the company, the people, the production, the location for the job and where the nearest Starbucks is.  Knowledge is power.  Caffeine is key.

Fashionista
I dread to think of the hours I have spent staring, sobbing into my wardrobe as I can’t decide what to wear for an audition.  While I personally don’t like to go full method at the audition stage, I think it’s a good idea to dress appropriately for the character and I find my wardrobe choices massively help me with the characterisation.  Shoes in particular, as the way a person stands and walks will be affected by their footwear.  I own a black suit which I think I’ve worn about twice in a non-acting capacity and about a hundred times for auditions and filming.  That suit, a shirt, black leggings and some jazz shoes are indispensable items.

Geographer
I have been to auditions in tiny rooms in famous buildings, huge rooms in seemingly abandoned structures, at tables in pubs and coffee shops, to schools, offices and churches in all corners of London and across the country.  Wherever we are, I’m forever pointing these out to friends which has become a bit of a running joke.  I have the TFL journey planner page bookmarked and Google maps always at the ready.  If I can make it out of the right exit at Elephant and Castle or get out of Bank station without actually coming out of Monument, I’m doing well.

Bargain Hunter
Need to read a play by tomorrow?  Facebook for a quick lend from a friend, your local library or so often, someone somewhere has put the text online.  Alternatively, you can hide in Waterstones and read it surreptitiously while trying not to break the spine.  It’s also amazing what you can source and adapt from your own house – I’ve created 80s looking outfits from clothes I own and wear, I know people who’ve borrowed pets, children, cars, smoke machines…

Proof Reader
I can skim a casting breakdown in seconds – it’s amazing how the words “no pay” and “full frontal nudity” just jump out at you.

I’m sure there are other things I can think of – tax accountant, hustler, graphic designer, photographer – us actors are our CVs…and much, much more.


Twitter: @mirandacolmans
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Thursday, 1 October 2015

The value of being a tree

Two sets of figures for you:

Total turnover in arts and culture in the UK in 2013 was £15.1 billion, with gross value added totally £7.7billion[1]

For every £1 of public funding paid to Arts Council England, the culture sector pays back £5 in tax contributions. £1 paid in by the government, £5 return.  Pretty good.

Why am I telling you this?  Well for a start, I think it’s quite interesting.  That’s a helluva lotta money!  It shows what a buoyant, successful and profitable industry the arts are.  The UK’s thriving tourism industry accounts for a huge 9% of the UK’s GDP[2] with 24% of visitors in London going to the theatre/ballet/opera[3].

And yet, as ever, the arts are under threat.  Funding from the government to a myriad of organisations is always in danger of being reduced or removed completely and drama and dance GCSEs are at risk being of side lined as they aren’t considered academic enough and this concerns me.  I understand that the UK is not in the best financial situation it’s ever been in, but reducing funding to the arts is incredibly short sighted.

One of the reasons the tourists go to the theatre or ballet or opera is because of the guaranteed high quality of the work.  British actors are thought to be the best trained in the world[4] and are currently the toast of Hollywood – the 2015 Oscars were testament to this.  And this didn’t happen by accident.  This happened because of investment; in drama in schools, in The Arts Council, in funding and bursaries, in opportunities for people of all backgrounds to pursue a career in the arts and in local community groups helping young people keep on track.  If we lose this investment now, then the UK will not be the cultural leader it currently is and this will have a considerable and long lasting effect. Think back three years to the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony – without the investment in the arts, would it have been the breath-taking spectacle it was?  That alone proved to the world how innovative, original and current the UK is in the performing arts.

However, a rich, successful arts scene has a lot more to it than the money  it brings the UK’s coffers.   It’s the value it gives people.  In defence of the arts, people often point out the money (as I began with) but that’s such a hollow assessment.  I would argue that drama in schools is essential in the learning of life skills: team work, confidence in speaking in front of a group, listening, dealing with egos, working to deadlines… The list is long.  Not everyone who is forced to do drama at school is going to enjoy it but then I didn’t enjoy science and I still learnt what photosynthesis is.  These kinds of life skills aren’t things you can necessarily examine but does that make them less worthwhile?  I certainly don’t think so.

And of course it’s not only the doing that matters – not everyone has regular access to theatre or cinema, but most people own a TV and enjoy watching it and this enjoyment is enormously important. 

So when you next hear about cuts to arts, try not to think of a bunch of people all dressed in black growing from an acorn to a tree but instead think of Granny enjoying Downton on a Sunday night.  Think of your friend leading a team & kicking-ass in board meetings.  Think of the hundreds, thousands of people at the end credits of a film whose livelihood is at stake.  Think of the fun your niece had in the school nativity play.  And think of your favourite actor and how once, at school, they probably did a little play about how drugs are really bad, because that’s what investment in the arts really is.


Twitter: @mirandacolmans
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Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Fearless

Why write a play?  To tell a story, to make a point, to educate, to entertain?  I go to the theatre a lot and sometimes I do wonder why the play I’ve just seen has been put on.  Did I learn anything?  Did I laugh?  I don’t always expect a riotous night out but I want to be engaged.

Verbatim theatre has been around for a while.  For the uninitiated, “Verbatim theatre is a form of documentary theatre in which plays are constructed from the precise words spoken by people interviewed about a particular event or topic.” (Wikipedia)  For me, it’s like watching a film which opens with “based on true life events” – I am immediately interested.

Deep Cut & The Riots at the Tricycle, London Road at the National, John by DV8 are just a few recent productions.  I saw JOHN and found it to be a fascinating insight into one man’s life – someone I would probably never meet, who had lived a life I knew very little about.  And hearing his tale, in his words and delivery (performed superbly by Hans Langolf) made it all the more real.  Maybe this confronting reality was what rattled Quentin Lett’s cage at the Daily Mail, sometimes opening your eyes to what is happening around you can be threatening to the status quo.  It’s hard to un-see or un-hear things and face the fact that sometimes, the world isn’t a very nice place.

This weekend I was privileged enough to see a performance of Nirbhaya at the Southbank Centre which took verbatim theatre to a whole new level.  This show sprung from the appalling rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey in Delhi in December 2012.  As well as portraying the horrific crime suffered by Jyoti Singh Pandey and her friend Awindra Pratap Pandey, the actors in the show each tell a story about abuse – physical, mental and sexual – which happened to them personally.  What I hadn’t realised initially, was that each narrative, woven around the telling of the Jyoti’s tale, was the actors own story.  These weren’t just actors, they were brave, fearless women who finally felt that they had a voice.  That they could tell their truth and someone would listen.

The incident in Delhi sparked riots in India and demands for legal reform and a change in attitude towards women.  People were talking, the world was watching and the law was transforming.  After the performance of Nirbhaya the cast took part in a Q&A and described how, when performed in India, hundreds of women came forward and took the microphone and spoke for the first time of personal attacks they had suffered.  The performance had given them the courage to share.

An incident can lead to revolution.  But for real evolution and progress, the message needs to be passed on and theatre is a hugely powerful conduit to do this.  In times of a new government and whispers about further cuts to arts funding, I worry that this powerful affecting voice could be lost and therefore the words of the voiceless.

To finish, I will hark back to A-level Drama and this quote:

“Our theatre must stimulate a desire for understanding, a delight in changing reality. Our audience must experience not only the ways to free Prometheus, but be schooled in the very desire to free him. Theatre must teach all the pleasures and joys of discovery, all the feelings of triumph associated with liberation.” 
Bertolt Brecht Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956), "Essays on the Art of Theater," (1954).


Theatre can effect change.  Let it.


Twitter: @mirandacolmans
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Thursday, 16 April 2015

Because you know I'm all about that...date



The curse of being self-employed is that you often don’t know when or where your next job is coming from.  This is also part of the fun, but can make dealing with you quite annoying.  Not knowing when you will be busy or if you will have an income in the foreseeable future is both concerning and irritating.  Financially, mortgages, rent, travel costs all need to be budgeted for BEFORE deciding you can afford the fancy coffee en route to an audition. 

The thing I struggle more with though is booking things.  For a long time, I either didn't book things or had mild palpitations when I did.  “Booking things” for me covers the gamut of events from a routine dental appointment in 6 months’ time to theatre trips to holidays.

Ah holidays.  These are things that many actors don’t have for YEARS for the following reasons.  Reason one:  money (massive drama school debt and profit share plays mean no savings).  Reason two:  the curse.  The curse is that if you book a holiday YOU WILL GET OFFERED AN ACTING JOB.  You would think that this may encourage many a foray onto Expedia in the hope of tricking fate but doesn't because of… Reason three: sod’s law.  Sod’s law for actors is mainly needing to be in two places at the same time.  You can guarantee that if you are pencilled for a job, someone will offer you an audition for that same day which you’ll have to refuse because of the pencil and that then you’ll end up losing them both (true story).

Over time I've had to learn to control my FOMO* and just roll with it – you can’t be all things to all people and you can’t be in more than one place at a time (until someone perfects a Time-Turner that is) So now I try to say YES, deal with a date clash IF it comes up and live life to the fullest.




*FOMO for the non-text speak generation, is Fear Of Missing Out



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