[su_spoiler title="Write Hard - Barney Ashton" style="fancy"]
Barney Ashton represented the UK as a young playwright through the Royal Court Young People's Theatre on 2 occasions. He has had 13 plays performed on the fringe since 1986 including Queer Dorset Bastard, The Bacchae and Born Angry. He is currently working on a play entitled Torsten - The Bareback Saint which is to be performed predominantly in the darkness of a basement nightclub.
Barney is a powerful and outspoken writer who recognises the increasingly urgent need for new voices and new writing in theatre. Although now the Managing Director of a documentary video label, he is adamant that he will never write drama for television or film, saying that he simply can't be bothered to be bland enough.
His words are electric, inspiring and no-holds barred.
Theatre Is Important
We exist at a time when global corporatisation of mass communication tends to formulise narrative to an ever greater extent or subsume narrative to the ever more awesome special effects in action adventure films like X-Men 2, Independence Day and Matrix Reloaded.
Such films are undoubtedly a spectacle and are immensely popular. However, we as theatre practitioners may feel that they are often style over substance and that the art of story telling is somehow lost in the wow factor and immediacy of the visuals. So where does the humble and ancient craft of play-writing fit within the constellation of available entertainment sources in contemporary society?
Theatre only seems to register with the masses as even existing when the newspapers can whip up a moral fervour about the shock value of brutal, usually sexually charged works such as Sarah Kane's 'Blasted', Mark Ravenhill's "Shopping And Fucking", the Marquis de Sade inspired 'XXX' at the Lyric Hammersmith or Terence McNally's 'Corpus Christi'. And yet, cinema and television are at a disadvantage to theatre in so many ways. For a start, I don't believe that film and television writers have any real freedom of expression; films and programmes are the product of giant corporations and as such are subject to rigorous board-level discussions, compliance lawyers, commissioning editors and, first and foremost, subject to market forces. My contention then is that the imagination is not overly exercised in cinema or television, because the writer is subject to so many restrictions. Also, if a film or programme is successful or ground-breaking witness the number of pale imitations, spin-offs and sequels that will log-jam the schedules in their wake. The ambition of television companies and film studios is to deliver predictable profits commercial risk reduction (in everything from storyline to the star name that gets attached to the project) and this tends to mitigate against experimentation.
As young theatre writers, you should know this, the power is yours. Contemporary theatre is alive and well, if you want it to be. The diversity of dramatic art in future generations will be there if you believe in it enough to work very hard at shaping competent pieces of theatre that inspire, inform, entertain and educate. You needn't aim even to do all of these things. In this world of overly proscriptive critics, self-help play-writing books, correspondence writing courses, over analytical English Literature key stages and reams and reams of advice about what constitutes a good play, my only advice would be.... have the confidence to tell them all to fuck off. Use your own intuition, your own intellect, your own experience! Do not write to a formula, television does that - in fact all the mass media do that - and writing to any kind of theoretical formula can only engender the kind of mental and spiritual ‘dry rot' and 'chewing gum for the eyes' that the wonderfully prophetic Richard Hoggart was writing about in the 1950's in his seminal Cultural Studies text The Uses Of Literacy.
Say What You Want To Say
The wonderful adventure about writing for theatre for me is this basic truth, that in creating a new work, you start with a blank piece of paper and a vision of an empty stage.
I believe you have the right to make your own mistakes, your first plays may well contain clichés, second hand jokes and an appalling sense of structure..... but keep writing! The rinse cycle of experience (and a few honest mentors along the way) will develop you into a watchable and worthwhile talent. Do not expect overnight recognition but also be open to the fact that directors, literary managers and theatre producers (fringe and mainstream) depend on discovering new talent. The world of theatre is as bureaucratic an environment as any industry, but there are a great deal many more visionaries working in it.
Theatre is a medium that is set apart from all other forms of communication. You might well pay in terms of career development for the privilege of working in this more writer-centred medium but you have to decide what is important for your soul as an artist. Remember, live performance is a bit of a wild card: beyond the ticket price theatre is not a tangible physical product that can be wrapped up and sold. It exists only at the moment it is watched.
You have the freedom to do whatever you feel compelled to do. If it is writing for theatre, take that responsibility on. Nobody owes it to you to read your work or perform your work....but this also means that you have the absolute freedom of choice to write what you like, send finished plays to whoever you like and to bloody well stage them yourself! Sadly, if you prove to be any good, you will have to network with some pretty condescending theatrical types at some stage, some of whom aren't above that grim cliché of suggesting sexual favours, some of whom might be brazenly looking for their next vehicle to sustain a flagging career and some of whom will become inspirational, collaborators and friends.
Fringe productions can be niche. You can and others often do write exclusively for niche audiences safe in the knowledge that a fringe theatre is more likely to be filled in this way, particularly if you target your marketing and publicity at the appropriate magazines, social groups, web rings and meeting places for your target audience. Here are some niche groups that have recently been written for : Homosexuals, Asians, Lesbians, Recovering Drug Addicts, Rock Music Fans, Rugby Fans, Yardies, Ex-Cons, Bored Middle Class Housewives, Prostitutes and West Country Fishermen; write these down! Can you think of any others? Whatever niche you can think of, the Royal Court, that self-styled 'national theatre of new writing' will have done a play about it at some point in its illustrious history: ask their literary manager for details!!
What I'm saying really is don't necessarily try and write a play that will appeal to everybody. The term 'general public' as used in many an earnest sixth form debating society doesn't really exist. The limitation of writing for a niche audience should be your stimulation and often the more specifically you write about emotion, (whoever your character might be and in whatever context they might be) the more universal in terms of communicating you will become.
Believe In Your Talent
You have a great deal of agency as a theatre writer. You must believe that everything you write can be staged, even if this is ultimately through symbolic means. The audience, if the trajectory of your story is adequately signposted, will make those leaps of imagination with you, so don’t be afraid to make bold story and location decisions.
Now I have rattled on for some time about what you can do, this is because I firmly believe that so-called rules are only ever guidelines which the brilliant writer and born communicator will instinctively break. Be prepared though to hear, accept and learn from others. Be aware though that any guidance offered to you will come from people who will vary widely in their qualifications to give it. For example some failed writers or mediocre directors, might simply like the sound of their own voice and be fond of appearing more than they actually are. But smile at everyone anyway, they may be useful.
Never back-bite other writers, directors or producers as everyone in theatre is connected in some way. Ignore all the people who cajole you into writing for a mass audience, unless the articulation of the bland and anodyne is your chosen career path. It may well be and I make no value judgement, if this is what is written in your mind, soul, spirit and heart go with it, we will need the next generation of Tom Stoppards, Alan Ayckbourns, Andrew Lloyd-Webbers and Ben Eltons (god help us), just as we will need tomorrow’s Steven Berkoffs, Mark Ravenhills and Sarah Kanes and their canons of highly worthy, highly articulate filth! (Interestingly all of these latter writers survived the wrath of a calculatedly 'incensed' press at some point and all of them are now marketed as modern classics!)
Always be aware of the creative limitations of writing to order or, indeed, writing too closely in the style of a playwright who has inspired you! Oh, and do get out and watch theatre won't you. It shouldn't inspire you to write in and of itself - your own interests and concerns outside of the theatre world should do that- but watching theatre will always give you plenty of ideas as to how to write words with impact and how to channel meaning in the peculiar alchemy that is shifting theatre from the page to the stage.
One last tip. Choose an in-yer-face title for any play you produce yourself and think about the immediacy of the image on the all essential flyer. There should be no illusion that you are in anything but ultra competition for the attention of any passer by so make your flyer’s image a visual hook that will encourage passers by into the theatre. Flyers should never be remotely subtle in any way!
I'll leave you now with a little verse I dedicate to all the talented, sussed wannabe young playwrights of Britain :-
The Playwright, The Star You Are
You shit-stirring agent provocateurs!
You smutty little daubing troubadours!
Yo! You dirty little writer-fucker's are
Tomorrow's playwright pioneers!
Enfranchising the blacks and queers,
The ne'er do wells
And modern miscreant man;
The sum total of the stories you've told
Historicise your time so go be bold,
Write out the angst, the fear and hell
And shape it so it's fit to tell!
Get actors who will act it well
Break prejudice and take the piss
Out of those to whom life does gift
Every chance that many miss.
The words you write will when heard,
Be seeds that might help change the world
If the heart and mind
Of you and those who watch your plays
Leave dreaming of their future days
Not lives of chance, but of real change.
Finally, be poetic, be brassic, be angry, be you! Chart the uncharted, say the unsayable and you’ll connect, connect and connect again. And you'll be the best of playwrights my friend!
Lots of luv,
[su_spoiler title="So You Want To Be An Actor? - Christopher Cazenove" style="fancy"]
Christopher Cazenove trained at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and has worked extensively in film, television and on renowned stages across the world. He is one of Britain’s finest and most in demand actors.
His motion picture credits include The Proprietor, Aces III, Three Men And A Little Lady, Hold My Hand, I'm Dying, Souvenir, The Fantasist, Mata Hari, Until September, Heat And Dust, From A Far Country, Eye Of The Needle, Zulu Dawn, The Girl In The Blue Velvet, East Of Elephant Rock, Royal Flesh, There's A Girl In My Soup and First Knight. On television he has played Ben Carrington in the USA produced Dynasty series and more recently the part of Row Coleman in top rated BBC drama Judge John Deed. Other programs in which Christopher has starred include HBO's Cinema Verity and such shows as Dead Man's Island, Shades Of Love, Windmills Of The Gods, Cain And Abel and Lace II. Christopher’s theatre experience is comprehensive and runs the gamut from lead roles in Hamlet, Cyrano De Bergerac, Othello and Peter Pan to Brief Encounter and The Sound Of Music.
We are delighted and honoured to have Christopher with us.
Here he writes for you about his particular route to success and how you might map out your own.
So you want to be an actor?
I finished my two years at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in the summer of 1966. It was a very different world for young actors back then. Although weekly rep was in its death throes, there were still many fine repertory companies around the country, and, as far as I can remember, not one student in my year failed to get a job in one of them. Most of these companies hired a group of actors for a season, which would be anything up to six months, and every actor would have the opportunity to play a variety of roles. Usually, an actor coming out of a drama school would be hired as an ASM, learning all that went on backstage but also playing occasional small parts. After a few months they would be ëpromotedí to actor.
On leaving drama school, I had my first bit of good luck. Actors rely on luck as much as they do on their talent. Iíve had more than my share of it. Clive Perry, the artistic director of the Phoenix Theatre in Leicester had overspent the previous season and so needed some cheap actors to swell out his company, thus three of us from Bristol and three who had just left RADA were hired as fully fledged actors at twelve pounds a week. I think we did six plays, which, once they were up and running, played in repertoire. I played a range of parts from juvenile leads to character old men. It was an invaluable extension of drama school, putting into practice what I had learnt, in front of an audience. I spent the first three years of my career in reputable repertory companies, including two seasons at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre, playing every conceivable type of part.
I and my generation were so lucky to be able to get this sort of experience. The young actors today find themselves in a very different world. Of the rep companies that have survived, very few of them hire actors for more than one production at a time, so how do young actors today get experience? Although the death knell of the theatre has been announced many times over the last 50 years, and despite the demise of most repertory companies, theatre still thrives: in the West End, touring and of course at the many fringe venues. There is a growing number of young actors forming groups, devising their own shows, improvising, working on texts- in short, flexing their acting muscles. As Hamlet put it ì the readiness is all ì.
Many coming out of drama school set their sights on getting a part in a soap; nothing wrong with that; if you make a bit of a name in a soap it opens up doors. ButÖevery year a new generation of young are being spewed out of the drama schools, and except for the very few it gets harder and harder to find work unless you can somehow build up a theatre background. The fact is that, except for the very few, the only way to have a long term career and be in with a chance of maintaining a regular income from being an actor, is by being employable in the theatre.
I have been asked many times in my life by anxious parents of potential actors: ìShouldnít Johnny (or Mary) have a backup career, should they fail to make it as an actor?ì My answer usually dismays them. I think that if you really want to be an actor then that is what you have to be. If you have to earn money to make ends meet, (and who doesnít?) then do something that you have no emotional attachment to. I have known many actors who have had second jobs that have taken over their lives, either because commitment became necessary, or they became too financially dependent. An actor has to be hungry!
The only exception to the above is writing. A lot of actors make very good writers (sadly Iím not one of them...I have tried). While on the subject, if one is lucky to get work as an actor, it happens quite often, particularly in television, that the actor will come across a line, or lines, that seem awkward and difficult to say. Many actors succumb to the temptation of altering the line to make it easier. In most cases I think this is a mistake, on two grounds: firstly, I think it is only polite to assume that the writer has worked hard to put down the words he or she wants the audience to hear, and secondly, a very rewarding part of the actors craft is making difficult lines work. We are in the business of purveying not truth, but the illusion of truth.
While on the subject, the most-asked question by people who arenít actors is: ìHow do you learn the lines?ì. Thereís no quick and easy answer to this. The fact is, learning lines is a slog. Actors approach the learning of lines in many different ways, and Iíve tried most of them: some use a tape recorder and either put their own lines on the tape, and listen to them over and over, or put the other characters on tape with timed pauses for their own lines. If you have a long-suffering friend, then you might persuade them to read in the other characters and go over and over the scenes to be learned. (Iím not sure this method is beneficial to long-term relationships.) Of course, if you are lucky enough to have a very long rehearsal period (something that I have never experienced) then thereís hardly any need actually to sit down and study - the lines will just ëgo iní over the weeks. I have also, on a couple of occasions, come across actors who literally have photographic memories: how I envy them!
There is one tip that I find invaluable: trusting our unconscious mind to do much of the work for us. Itís important to start working on a scene or scenes several days ahead of when you are to perform them, but, hereís the trick: just before you go to sleep, go over the lines, checking with the script whenever you think youíve gone wrong, then read the script very carefully, to make sure you are saying all the right words. In the morning you will find the words flow much better than they had the night before.
Nerves are part of an actorís life that cannot be avoided. They attack people in different ways. Thank God I have never been through the agony of being physically sick before a first night, though I know several fine actors who do. The worst thing about nerves is that they tend not to get better with age and experience; in fact the reverse seems to be true. The only tip I can pass on is something that works for me: make sure your blood is well oxygenated before you make an entrance, or start shooting a scene. Five or six deep gasping breaths seem to do the trick for me.
Being out of work is our occupational hazard; one that can destroy us if weíre not careful. Always remember that the next telephone call could be the one. I have known several actors who have missed the big chance because they were doing another job. As an out of work friend once said to me: ìMy availability is my greatest assetî. Hang in there!
[su_spoiler title="Christopher Richardson" style="fancy"]
Christopher Richardson trained at the Royal College of Art under Sir Hugh Casson. There he gained the silver medal for experimental theatre design and during that time was part of the team which won the Prix d'Étranger at the Paris Biennale of 1965. He taught design and Drama in Rutland for twenty years and ran the Uppingham Theatre there for twelve of those years. He has designed many plays both in the UK and abroad supporting performers such as Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry, Mollie Sugden and Max Wall and The National Youth Music Theatre.
He was chairman of the Society of British Theatre Designers for eight years.
He now runs Theatre Futures, a theatre consultancy, whose work has included the Theatre by the Lake, Keswick, The Jersey Opera House and the last refurbishment of the Young Vic, London.
He is the founder and Director of the Pleasance Theatre Festival in both London and Edinburgh.
[su_spoiler title="Fiz Marcus" style="fancy"]
Mesmerising actress and PTC member, Fiz Marcus' favourite roles include: Deborah in A Kind of Alaska; Natasha in A Man With Connections; Galina Brezhnev in Red Princess and Mata Hari in Lovers & Lies, her own one woman show.
Fiz’s experience takes in screen, radio and television and includes roles in Leon The Pig Farmer, Wild West and The Bill as well as acclaimed stage performances both nationally and internationally:
Fiz Marcus as Natasha Gladkov radiates tension and intensity.
- Rachel Halliburton, Evening Standard.
An exceptional performance from Marcus.
- Robert Thomson, Glasgow Herald.
Fiz Marcus, excellent.
- Lyn Gardner, The Guardian.
Fiz Marcus' portrayal of Galina is superb
- What's On.
A clear, restrained and unforcedly sensual performance
- Time Out.
In addition to acting and directing Fiz is also an accomplished writer and has had five plays published by Samuel French.
Here she offers sound advice on the benefits of acting on the fringe and, most importantly, how to make it work to your advantage.
Why Do A Fringe Show?
The main reason to do a fringe show is to get an agent and/or get seen by casting directors, so the following guidelines are aimed at maximising your chances .of this happening.
Try to ensure that the play has a reasonable sized cast, casting directors are far more willing to invest their time if they know that they can see several actors rather than a couple. Plus the fact that other actors have agents and contacts which can also help you.
Do try to pick a show that has not been done to death, who really wants to see yet another production of The Importance of Being Earnest, or Hamlet? Do it by all means if you have a burning desire to play Hamlet, but don’t expect to have casting directors flocking to see you.
New writing is more interesting, but do read the script, just because it’s new doesn’t necessarily mean it is good. Try to find out about the writer. If he/she has contacts with Soho Theatre Company or Paines Plough writers group or Royal Court Young Writers or other established new writing groups, you have a much better chance than if it’s a first play by someone who has never written before. Yes, there are exceptions, but you are probably on safer ground if the writer has a track record.
You are doing this to be seen, it’s no good taking a part that will not show you off to advantage.
Is it right for you in terms of age, character type, remember that most casting directors who come are casting for TV, they may be able to see beyond the grey wig, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Also an agent will want to see you in the type of part that they could conceivably put you up for.
A small cameo part is fine, but it’s very difficult to persuade an agent or casting director to give up an evening if you only have a couple of lines in a crowd scene. It doesn't give them a lot to go on! Again, by all means do it, but be aware of this.
Don’t forget that you are giving your time and talent, probably for no money, don’t be afraid to ask the director what he/she has done in the past.
Before the audition ask around and see if anybody has heard of the director or worked with them, try looking them up on the internet for example through "Google"
If the director has worked at The National, RSC, Chichester etc as an assistant or staff director, it’s probably worth working with them. They are going to want to have their work seen by people who can give them work, which can benefit you and it may well pay dividends for you in the future. Be very wary of a director who has never directed before.
It is no good choosing a venue miles off the beaten track, you will simply not get casting directors out to the wilds.
It needs to be an established fringe venue, somewhere that has a buzz about it and is pleasant to visit. Venues worth considering include Battersea Arts Centre, Southwark Playhouse, The Bush, The Gate, Old Red Lion, Soho Theatre Co, The Bridewell, New End, Arcola, King’s Head, Young Vic, Finborough, Tricycle and outside London the major Playhouses like West Yorkshire, and Epsom and venues on good commuter routes such as The Electric in Guildford and Ambassador’s in Woking.
The Production Company
Is the company established, or is it their first production? If it is an in-house production at one of the above venues that is a plus, they will want to ensure that they get audiences and will make an effort in terms of publicity and quality of production.
How organised are they? Is there a set designer, publicity organised, do they have leaflets printed, posters up. Where is the money coming from? Any grants or sponsors? You can tell a lot from the audition. Are they running to time, is there information about the company available? Go with your gut feeling. If they can’t organise auditions in a professional manner, chances are they won’t be able to organise a production in a professional way.
How long is the show running? If it’s less than 3 weeks, the chances of getting reviewed are slim. It’s also difficult to get casting directors in if there is a very limited run.
Time of year is also important. Try to avoid Christmas (pantomime being an obvious exception) people have got other things on their minds. Early Jan is also tricky, bad weather and post Christmas fatigue can be problems. June can pose problems as there are so many end of year drama school shows and agents and casting directors can find themselves booked up well in advance. Mid August is not ideal particularly around Edinburgh, many casting directors and agents are on holiday or away at the Festival.
What Can You Do?
Make sure that you have flyers and info about the show and your part as far in advance as possible. Make a list of casting directors and agents you want to contact. Use 'Contacts' for addresses etc, and try to speak to one of the advisors at "Spotlight" about agents.
Talk to others in the cast, it may be possible to pool resources and send out joint information to casting directors. It will save you money and avoid duplication. Be aware that if the show is in North London, it is more profitable to target casting directors and agents who live and work in that area.
Write your own personal letters to people who you have worked with or had an audition with in the past.
Follow up letters with a phone call and e-mail or fax any good reviews as they come out.
Don’t leave it until the last moment. It’s understandable that you may feel that you want to see how the show turns out before you try to get casting directors or agents in to see you. However, if you leave it until the 2nd week of a 3 week run or until the reviews have come out, it will probably be too late. If you have done your research on the company before you take the job, you should be confident enough of the quality of the production.
Some companies and venues are quite good about compiling lists of directors, producers, agents and casting directors who have been in to see the show. Make a note of these. If you write to someone for a job it's useful to remind them that they have seen your work
On a positive note remember that in this business, nothing is ever wasted just by sending out information to people it jogs their memories about you and lets them know you are working. You may think that no one of note has seen the show, but it's amazing how one day you can find yourself called in for an audition only to find that the casting director saw you in a show years ago. You are also increasing your own personal contacts, among other actors, a good recommendation can be vital in this business.
A fringe show is an investment both of your time money and talent. It’s flattering to be offered a job, but don’t let yourself be tempted into something if you are not sure. Talk it over with friends and weigh up the pros and cons. If in doubt don’t! Also be aware that casting directors and agents are very busy. There are some who really do make an effort to get out to see shows and some (who shall remain nameless!) who are simply bone idle and not interested in getting out and seeing more actors! You may have a great part in a hugely successful show and still not manage to get a single casting director or agent in to see you, on the other hand you never know!
[su_spoiler title="Never Let Em See How Bad You Are - Mike Craig" style="fancy"]
Mike Craig was born in Batley, Yorkshire - a fact he will tell you within seconds of meeting. Almost educated at Wheelwright Grammar School, Dewsbury, he's been a writer, performer and producer since 1964 and until recently held the post of head of light entertainment at BBC radio.
He has been involved in writing or producing over 1200 comedy programmes for television and radio, including shows and series for Ken Dodd, Roy Castle, Rolf Harris, Tony Brandon, Harry Worth, Al Read, 'Selwyn Froggitt', Mike Yarwood, Hinge and Bracket, Richard Stilgoe, Des O'Connor, Tom O'Connor, Jimmy Tarbuck, The Grumbleweeds, Bernie Clifton, Jimmy Cricket, Tom Mennard, Gorden Kaye, Su Pollard and Morecambe and Wise (including the classic 1976 Christmas show when Angela Rippon bared her legs!)
He is recognised as an authority on the 'Golden Age' of Comedy and because of this he is one of the most sought after 'After Dinner Speakers' in the country.
Since 1983 he has performed his 'ABC of Comedy' to tens of thousands of passengers on the P&O cruise ships 'Canberra', 'Victoria', 'Oriana', 'Arcadia' and 'Aurora'. Fred Olsen's 'Black Watch' and 'Black Prince', and Cunard's 'QE2'.
His first play - 'The Day War Broke Out', the story of Robb Wilton, had its world premiere in Mike's home town in March 1998.
Never Let ‘Em See How bad You Are
One of the bests bits of advice ever given to anybody! So many people, many of them I know and have worked with, have jumped at the chance to earn big money when they were ill equipped to tackle the role required! I can remember one comedian in the seventies who was very big. He packed them in everywhere and made them laugh. His agent rang him one day and said, 'We've cracked it! I've just had ITV on the phone who want you to host this game show. The money is brilliant and you'll be doing 26 weeks!' Although a superb comedian, he couldn't handle people. He was a disaster and soon the phone was ringing to cancel his engagements as a comic! He is still around but he paid the price for not seeing the sense in saying 'No' to something which he was unable to cope with.
Don’t Look On Radio Work As A Waste Of Time
As a Radio Baby (I used to listen to the radio when the radio used to be on the wireless!) I can assure you that the value of being experienced in radio will stand you in such good stead. I have always encouraged actors and actresses to do radio. First and foremost it's the best medium in the word, a writer's medium and an actor's medium! Secondly, the pressure isn't as great as performing on TV. Ok, neither is the money, but to have 'Experienced in Radio' on your CV is worth a lot. And you get to work with such wonderful people, both on the acting side and on the technical side. There is no better way to learn than to work with experienced people. Another point. Radio listeners tune in because they want to hear the programme. Always best to play to an audience who are keen to tune in.
I shall endeavour to attempt to finish on a laugh. I have worked many times with Eric Morecambe, who was one of the very best timers of a line. In 1976, the year I was on the writing team of their Christmas Show, Eric stayed at my house overnight in Yorkshire. After a superb lunch on the Saturday, we retired into one of my two lounges - ahem! There were three of us, Eric, myself and a bottle of Southern Comfort. As we sat in very comfy armchairs facing each other with a beautiful roaring fire in the grate, I suddenly realised that if any one could define timing, it was Eric. Very hard to define timing, you see, it's like beauty, you know it when you see it. So, with the Southern Comfort working well I asked him.... 'Eric, you're the best timer around, come on, give me some words of wisdom. Define comedy timing for me.' I can see him now, sipping his drink, smacking his lips and saying - 'That's a good question, Mike. Timing. Mmmm. Timing, in my opinion, is Des O'Connor getting out of the stage door before the audience can get round from the front!'
Blackout and tabs!
[su_spoiler title="Dave Nellist - Getting Ahead In Advertising" style="fancy"]
Dave Nellist is one of England’s select group of North East actors. He trained at the Rose Bruford college of speech and drama and for the last twelve years has been working consistently within the industry, most notably on television in programs such as Spender, Prince of Hearts, Catherine Cookson’s The Gambling Man, Badger, Place of The Dead and BBC Three’s flagship series Breezeblock. His work in the theatre includes West End appearances in Elton John’s Glasses and performances in premiere venues around the country.
Dave’s numerous advertising jobs include flogging Ford Escorts, telly licences, Foxs biscuits, McDonalds and doing a spot of twirling around in a pink dress singing “I’m Every Woman” for Supernoodles.
Here he writes for you about advert auditions and how to beat them.
Getting Ahead In Advertising
The first call will be from your agent, usually no more than 48 hours before the audition. He will give you a brief outline of the ad, as well as the crucial details of Where, When, What time and Who for. He should also tell you when the makers are filming the ad to ensure that you are available.
Having received a brief synopsis to let you know whether the ad is, for example, comedic or straight you need to decide how you are going to dress. It is probably best to dress in such a way as to give the casting director a reason to see you as what they are looking for. So if the ad is set in an office it’s wise to at least wear a smart shirt. Read the brief carefully and beware! A mate once went to a casting dressed in a hard hat and donkey jacket because he had been told the part was for a miner...Wrong! It was for a minor.
Check and double check your information.
Sometimes the brief will imply a style for the ad, usually by relating it to the latest big movie. It might say The Matrix-esque, for example. It’s then up to you to interpret what’s required.
Try to get to the casting at least ten minutes early. You will be given an outline of the ad and forms to fill in. The forms will ask you to describe the colour of your hair and eyes and give your measurements - shoe, waist, inside leg, height, hat size, collar size and so on. You will also have to make a note of your and your agent’s address and telephone number and provide a list of any other ads you have been in over the last three years. They ask for this last bit of information to make sure that the products you have promoted in the past won’t clash with the product they will be pushing this time round.
On the back of the form will be a series of disclaimers asking you to give your permission for the ad and your image to be used in cinemas, the internet or at point of sale (this means they’ll turn you into a large cardboard cut out and prop you up in a supermarket somewhere!)
To complete the paperwork a Polaroid shot will be taken of you and clipped to the top of your forms.
Now is the time to read that outline of the ad you were given. There may be a few lines to learn, but you can always paraphrase or take the sheet in with you and read from that.
Inside the casting room itself the amount of people can vary greatly. On occasions there may be only the casting director’s assistant plus a camera operator. At other times there may be up to eight people including the clients whose product you will be representing and the agency creative whose idea the ad was.
At all auditions you will begin by giving your name and the name of your agent to camera as well as showing your profiles (both sides of your head.) After this the director or casting director will tell you what they want to see from you. A lot of the time you will be in pairs and a short scene will be improvised, the director may ask you to swap roles or play the scene in a different way. This is to show him that on the day of the shoot you could react well to notes. It is rare to be in the casting room for more than five minutes.
The most important piece of advice I can give you here is to remember to always be yourself. It’s what makes you unique and that’s what makes you castable!
Once the casting is complete you will usually be informed by your agent within forty eight hours whether you are to be seen again at a RECALL. Don’t expect to hear from anyone if you haven’t got a recall - you’re never told these things.
At the original casting thirty to fifty actors may have been seen. For the recall this number will have been reduced to just eight or so. If you are one of these eight you are suitable for the part and whether you get the job or not will come down to fine and sometimes insignificant details.
The recall is basically the same as the original casting except you may be asked to wear a costume. You won’t have to fill out any more forms and another good thing is that whether you get the job or not you will be paid a forty pound fee for your inconvenience.
Remember, if you get the job then that’s great but don’t beat yourself up over it if you don’t. After all, there’s always the next audition...
[su_spoiler title="P-A Turner - What To Look For When Selecting An Agent" style="fancy"]
If you’re going to get yourself an agent (and if you’ve read my last column then you’ll know that you definitely should) the golden rule has to be “get yourself a good one.”
Good agents have had time in the business, time to learn the trade, time to develop their negotiating skills and time to build the contacts you’ll need within the industry.
If an agent has been around a while, it’s fairly easy to see if they’re worth their salt or not because basically good agents earn good money. When you’re looking for an agent to represent you you should look for the following two clues:
• A good address.
An agent with a good address must be doing a good job to be able to afford it.
• An agency that is VAT registered.
If an agency is VAT registered then they are earning a minimum of fifty five thousand pounds a year. A company that is not VAT registered could be earning less than you are!
Once you’ve confirmed that your potential agent has what it takes to represent you you’re going to have to make sure that they will do so with dedication and fairness.
Watch out for agents who try to tie you to them for all eternity with contracts littered with small print. Contracts should be short and explicit and include a clause allowing you to move on with just a few weeks written notice.
Another trick to avoid is the old money up front routine. Models are sometimes required to supply this but a good actors’ agent never asks for money in advance. Your only obligation should be to provide photographs.
Agents have to make a living but the odd horror story suggests there are some out there intent on making a killing. Look carefully at the commission your prospective agent expects to gain from the work you do. A fair commission is TEN percent for stage work and FIFTEEN for television and film. If you’re asked to part with any more, my advice would be to head for the exit.
As a final word I must speak up on behalf of my fellow agents and remind you all that it takes time to sell an artist. Give it a year with a new agent before you decide to assess the situation. Make sure too that you’re not letting yourself and your agent down. Once you have an agent you need to practice your skills and use your wages from other work to pay for classes as well as nights on the tiles. Auditions can come at any time and sometimes at very little notice and if you’re not prepared for them you could be compromising your own and your agent’s reputation.
Two pieces of advice to leave you with then:
Firstly, don’t let people down and secondly, never forget the old saying: “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.”
[su_spoiler title="Tony Vincent Interview" style="fancy"]
Tony Vincent is one of the biggest stars in musical theatre today having taken West End and Broadway leads in We Will Rock You, Jesus Christ Superstar and Rent
We are thrilled to have Tony join our masterclass program.
Here he answers questions posed by members about a career in musical theatre.
How did you get started?
It all started when I heard my first Beatles' record: Hard Day's Night. The open-guitar strum at the top of that song stopped me dead in my 4-year-old-tracks and demanded my attention. It was the wake up call that would lead me to being an artist, heavily rooted in music. From that moment, I've never once looked back or to another choice of career path.
Rock'n'roll would be a part of my future and I would do all I could to make that happen.
How did you find work?
When I was growing up, I tried to utilize all the opportunities I could find to sing or play in public – school, church, anywhere. My parents would even humor me by attending private concerts in the living room! Looking for ways to perform eventually lead me to theatre. Musicals were a medium that would keep me growing as a performer, as well as introduce me to the world of acting.
I always knew that music would be the foundation of my creativity, but acting became something that I really enjoyed and wanted to be better at.
When I was in my 2nd year of college, I started a record company out of my dorm room. At that time I just wanted to create a legit way of getting my own music out to the public so, a friend and I set out a business plan to get on radio, which at that time was still somewhat possible without a major label. After a semester our work landed me a record deal with EMI. I wound up doing two records for them. At the end of the second record, however, I wanted a change so, I moved to New York to find a new home for my music.
Moving to New York opened up the option of doing theatre again. Until my goal to land a new record deal was reached, I saw theatre as a good way of staying in performance while earning a living. I went to an open call for a musical called RENT and wound up touring with a production as well as being a part of the New York/Broadway Company. This lead me to other opportunities in the theatre world and I wound up opening up the Broadway revival of Jesus Christ Superstar. Until this point I had a manager, but not an agent, so I wasn't really being sent out on auditions. These auditions came by word of mouth-- a total blessing.
The chance to audition for We Will Rock You actually came about while I was doing some songwriting in London and the agency that casts for RENT suggested that I be seen. The producers of the show were still looking to cast the lead role and they opened up auditions to New York talent. I had the opportunity to personally audition for Queen, Ben Elton and the show's producers while they were doing video auditions back in New York. It wasn't 3 weeks from that first audition that I was moving my life to the west end.
How do you get yourself seen?
When starting out, I think it's almost always best to make yourself available to be seen as much as you can. Even if it's not a great project or something that you are fan of, it's important to give people the chance to come out and see what you can do. Being too picky or choosy about what roles to audition for early in one's career isn't very smart. The more you work, the more you can discern what is best for your career. Few are fortunate enough to be in that position, however.
Still, even in less than desirable situations there can be a lot to learn. You may get the chance to work with another actor who really stretches you. Even if a project isn't good, there still can be some amazing people to meet and work with. "Bad" experiences can actually be major blessings. I think the best thing is to focus on the desire to want to get better and be a better actor.
What are realistic expectations to have?
A lot of people want to do this. A lot of people want to perform. A lot of people want a piece of this career. A lot of people are good.
I'm sure many people know that the grind is very difficult in this business. Rejection is hard-- for anyone, and when you care about what you do as an artist-- yet you are still rejected, that blow can feel very, very heavy. I don't know how many people do it, to be honest. After a series of rejections, it can really take a toll on a person. I know that if it wasn't for my faith I couldn't do it. Because my faith is based on god's acceptance of me, I don't have to base my value on landing a role or succeeding in a performance. Rejection is still hard to take, but without something else to base my worth on, it would probably destroy me.
What do you think the keys to success are?
I think it's important to reflect on why we do this-- what made us start down this crazy road. For me, I frequently go to that first time I heard the Beatles. How it made me feel-- what it did to my insides, my soul.
It's important to take a step back and look at the big picture and ask ourselves "Do I still love this?" "Do I still want to do this?" if not, that's ok.
If you still DO want it however, look at what steps you can take to make your talent better. Surround yourself with people that you can learn from-- people that are better than you. Take classes in areas where you need practice. Take classes where you DON'T think you need practice. Attend other performances where you see good talent. Watch. Listen. Learn. The moment we stop the process of learning, I think the initial excitement we once had will fade and eventually burn out completely.
Sometimes the wish not to screw up is overbearing, for example in an audition or speaking to a prospective employer touting for a job. What are the Dos and Don’ts to avoid making a mess of things?
(Laughing) I don't know specific "dos and don'ts". I do know there are no rules and there's no one right way. I mean, I've been fortunate to have landed auditions by word of mouth/invitation - but you can't depend on that—I can't always depend on that... (That’s one reason why I've begun looking for an agent.) I think that if I had one "do" and one "don't" they'd be this:
DO: work hard. Work at getting better. Surround yourself with great talent and people you can learn from.
DON'T: Don't sacrifice your character and what you believe in. Don't put yourself in a position where you are sacrificing yourself for the sake of a role if it contradicts what you stand for and your principles—regardless of what it could do for your career. If you don't believe 110% in what you're doing, it will show and, I personally don't believe will lead to anything greater. The audience knows if you're into what you are doing. No matter how good an actor we are, they seem to always know.
What do you do to keep yourself ready to work?
Personally there are a couple of things that directly impact me and my work. Reading, for one. Reading books sparks ideas and stretches my mind. Whether it's writing songs or creating a character... I didn't love reading growing up, but in high school, a book called "Red Sky at Morning" birthed a passion for literature. I try to be reading a book at all times. Studying the characters authors write about is like adding colours to a palate of choice you can make as an actor.
The second is probably staying in shape. Being fit has major implications on the way I feel as an individual. I frequently ask myself... "If I'm going on stage tonight, will I feel comfortable in front of people?" "Am I happy in my own skin?" "Do I feel in control of what I'm doing?"
If I don't feel good about myself it will translate on stage or in an audition. Staying in shape gives me that feeling of having the ability to be strong when I need to be-- not just physically, but psychologically as well. It's amazing what running 4-6 miles, 3-5 times a week can do to a person's mind. For me, it helps me think clearer. It helps me feel like I'm good at what I do. That, in turn, will create better work. No one is convincing when they aren't in the moment.
[su_spoiler title="Another Way - Julie Kinsella" style="fancy"]
Actor, Writer and Director, Julie Kinsella has been acting, writing and directing for most of her life and has an enviable record of work in film, television and theatre both at home and abroad. Recently she has held positions with the BBC, BD films, Kinetic Theatre Company and the Oxford Shakespeare Festival as well as producing material for her own theatre company Indian Ink.
Most importantly to us though Julie was a director on our production of The Witch's Bogey!
Here she writes for you about exploring and exploiting your talent to the full.
When people ask about my training, I usually say, "I went to RADA". I wait for the nod of approval and then add, "But they wouldn't let me in. Neither would Manchester Poly or Guildford. "Come back next year," they all said."
I didn't go back, though. Never one to let a refusal offend, I took myself off and persuaded a local theatre company to give me a job. And there I stayed, playing very diverse roles in several TIE tours, pantomime seasons and historical plays. They even let me try my hand at leading workshops in their Drama Summer Schools. It was great on-the-job training.
I think the moral of this tale is: if you hit a stumbling block in your career, don't give up; there's always another way.
And don't be afraid to diversify. I started out as an actor, and that's all I ever really wanted to be. My cv now says I'm an Actor, Writer and Director and I guess that's because I'm Jest a Gal Who Can't Say No!
I started writing in one of my quiet spells - one of those times when the phone forgot to ring and the letter-box healed over. A friend suggested we write something together and cast ourselves in it! "YES!" I said, and we did. Another friend saw it and suggested I write a one-woman show for a local touring company. "YES!" I said, and I did. It never got produced by that company but I decided I quite liked it, so formed my own small company to produce it - and cast myself in it!
I started directing when theatres asked if my company had anything else coming up. "YES!" I said, and feverishly started to write the next show, and the next one - and didn't cast myself in them!
I now write to commission and direct for other companies - and as a sideline I produce corporate videos (with an eerily Hitchcock-like tendency to cast myself in them!). I'm glad to say I'm still a working actor, but in the lean times, it's being able to wear those other hats that keeps me in Mars Bars.
What Iím saying here is: we are all creative people - Performers, Directors, Writers, Producers, Designers, Stage Managers - whatever we do, we all have talents that go beyond our current job description. We should never be afraid to use those talents and to discover and develop new ones. Most people in our business are only too happy to encourage and support each other. It's a great environment for exploring new directions.
And the best piece of advice I can offer is: Do it now! True success in this business is staying power. If you are serious about your career, then start to think now about how you could use your creative talents, skills and experience to see you through those work-free zones! Don't wait for the next time you're "available". Too many arts professionals get sucked into their in-between-jobs job, their career loses momentum and in the end they give it all up and settle for a nine-to-five. What a waste. There's always another way: try on another hat - you might like how it feels.
[su_spoiler title="Top Tips for Aspiring Lighting Designers" style="fancy"]
Here are some useful bits of information in hands bullet point form:
It's all about experience - what you've seen and what you've done. See as much performance as possible and be inspired.
Consider all aspects of lighting design, this article concentrates on theatrical lighting (which includes opera, musicals, dance etc), but there are also concerts, television, architecture, shops, product launches etc.
Learn what everyone else on the production team does and how they do it. The production will be at it's best if everyone contributes rather than contradicts, the lighting design should complement and enhance the production.
The traditional way to a career as a lighting designer is to work your way up through the electrical department of a theatre and then take on the occasional design, all the while gaining more experience. There is no reason why this experience shouldn't start at school, college or your local amateur company.
Lighting design now forms a part of most drama schools technical/backstage theatre courses. These courses cover all aspects of backstage work and you can then specialise in the final year of the course. Check the college curriculum for more details and it can be helpful to ask the college to put you in touch with current and past students so you can get a students perspective on what the course has to offer.
It is now possible to train as a lighting designer on a specific course, at a drama college or university. These are often degree courses and last 2 or 3 years. However, don't expect to walk out of the course and straight into the next big West End musical, you will still need to gain professional experience.
Discover, and attach yourself to, the next generation of set designers and directors. This can be easier if you are at college with them. Many directors and designers prefer to work with people they know and if they make it to the top they can take you with them.
The theatre and performance industry is about reputation. Everyone talks about and remembers a good production (small or large scale) and many successful lighting designers have made their name by being part of just one or two outstanding productions. It can work the other way too though!
Only those at the top of the profession can earn a living just from lighting design. Be prepared to supplement your income with other freelance work within the industry, for example fit-ups, followspot work, lighting desk operator. But you can use this as an opportunity to see other lighting designers at work.
Finally, try and meet other lighting designers and consider joining an association (ALD - Association of Lighting Designers or ABTT - Association of British Theatre Technicians). They can offer you valuable advice and help and then point you in the right direction.
Useful web sites
www.ald.org.uk - Association of Lighting Designers
www.stld.org.uk - Society of Television Lighting Directors
www.iald.org - International Association of Lighting Designers
www.theatredesign.org.uk - Society of British Theatre Designers
www.abtt.org.uk - Association of British Theatre Technicians
www.drama.ac.uk - Conference of Drama Schools
www.ncdt.co.uk - National Council for Drama Training
[su_spoiler title="Steps To Success For The Aspiring Dancer" style="fancy"]
Jill is a dancer and experienced Choreographer, Arts Administrator and Special Events Producer.
She is currently one of the Creative Directors at Steps on Broadway, in New York City, which is one of the largest professional dancing schools in the world.
Jill has been on staff at Steps for six years and is currently the Director of the Work/Study and Scholarship Division. She is also Artistic Director of The Scholarship Ensemble which is the resident company at Steps and produces the Faculty Studio Performances as well as, the Steps Performance Lab Series.
A successful teacher, choreographer, and studio owner for 20 years, Jillís students have won many awards for choreography and performance at Tremaine and Hoctor Conventions and Competitions. She was on staff at the Burt Reynolds Institute for Theatre Training, and The Jupiter Theatre as movement instructor and choreographer where she choreographed Annie, A Christmas Carol, and Alice in Wonderland.
In association with her production company she has choreographed halftime shows for the Miami Heat and several revues for Cunard Cruise Lines
STEPS TO SUCCESS FOR THE ASPIRING DANCER
Itís imperative you get some training! The hallways and studios of a dance school hum with vitality, exciting gossip and the sort of cutting edge news that can be key to progressing in your career.
As the Work/Study and Scholarship Ensemble Director at Steps on Broadway, I know that I stand at an artistic crossroads that many aspiring dancers have used to become successful, respected performers. Taking advantage of the many programs and opportunities that a school like Steps can offer is an intelligent way to start off, gain visibility and acquire connections and guidance in the world of dance.
So your first step...
Enroll in a school or onto a course. You will probably have to call to reserve a space at the interview or orientation meeting that you must attend in order to get onto a program. These are held on a regular basis, at Steps for example this is usually the second Friday of the month. Make sure that you are available to start the program immediately after the meeting and bear in mind that you will have made a long term commitment. Commercial schools will ask for a minimum length commitment, three months being typical.
Arrive at your interview or orientation with everything you need! This is usually a picture, a resume, a completed application form and your application fee.
Assuming you beat your interview you will now be able to start classes. If for any reason you fail your interview though, donít give up on your dream, just try another school!
Once you begin classes you ëre going to have to Network! It is an honor to be a member of a good school and it is imperative that you introduce yourself to teachers and fellow students alike. Decide what classes will help you the most and ask the teachers who lead them for any guidance you need. Build a strong intellectual and artistic relationship with your teachers and become a regular in their class. Most of the teachers at Steps are also busy choreographers and often ask the students who regularly take their class to audition for and/or participate in their projects so it definitely pays to stay in your teacherís good books!
If your school has a resident dance ensemble and you are a well rounded talented dancer proficient in Modern, Jazz, Musical Theatre, and Ballet, then audition! I can tell you first hand that being part of The Steps On Broadway Scholarship Ensemble is an incredible opportunity. It allows you to work one on one with renowned teachers, performers and choreographers and gives you the chance to prove yourself to them. If you manage this they can give you valuable professional references on your resume and even hire you for their companies and projects!
At some point your school will most probably produce a show which you can apply to participate in or even choreograph. These shows provide valuable performance experience and exposure, as many choreographers and dance critics attend. They also look good on your resume.
Go to as many auditions as possible and use the resume credits you have acquired at school to your advantage. If you are lucky the professionals at the audition will recognize your face from something they saw you in at school and you will stand out before you have even started the audition process. Whenever possible, ask a mentor at your school to mention your name to the people in charge of the audition. If the audition is held by a teacher at your school stop that teacher in the hallway and let them know that you will be there.
Audition, audition, auditionÖ
Get your first job and you're off!
Let me warn you that these steps look easy on paper but unless you are completely dedicated to your dream, it won't happen. The world is home to hundreds of thousands of talented performers, all competing for a relatively small number of jobs. Unless you reach star status the pay scale is average to below average and you will have to work gratis many times in order to build your resume. You must continue to study all disciplines. Be a triple threat. You must be able to sing and act, along with your dancing talents. Study everywhere and from everyone. Broaden your horizons. Consider related jobs, like choreography, directing, and teaching.
Handle and accept rejection. It is a big part of this world. Look at criticism as a learning experience, and use it to improve at your next audition. Persistance pays. When your face finally does become recognizable at auditions, you will start to get call backs, and this starts the ball rolling.
If you are truly dedicated, your persistence, discipline and love of the art form will get you through the tough times one day you will wake up and see your name on a program and it will all be worthwhile! Best of luck and if you want a headstart on the road to dancing success in New York, call Steps On Broadway, ask for me by name and say you heard of me on the PTC web site.
It's not often you get the chance to speak to a director at one of the worlds leading dance schools so we were understandably keen to ask Jill all about it. What's on offer at Steps? Who studies and teaches there? Is it available to non-Americans? And above all can anyone afford it!
Here's what she said:
Steps On Broadway is on the upper West Side at 74th and Broadway in New York. It's a dancer's haven and one of the largest open enrollment, professional dance studios in the world. It is at center stage in the explosive and exciting dance world and its international world-class faculty epitomizes excellence in dance teaching in all its forms.
Steps is open seven days a week, year round with over 50 classes a day from basic to professional levels, in disciplines ranging from ballet, tap, jazz, musical theatre, modern, ethnic yoga, hip hop, tango, flamenco, to other specialty forms of dance. Six thousand people a week cross through the doors to select from a choice of 50 classes a day, taught by a variety of over 200 regular faculty members, as well as, 100 guest faculty. This rich creative environment provides a unique training ground for the beginner to professional student to nurture their talents and help them absorb the discipline of dance in all its forms. Our legendary studios offer dancers of all styles, levels, and ages the opportunity to partake in a unique dance experience.
Steps studios are home to a staff of accomplished teachers and musicians, including world renowned choreographers, performers, and company directors. This all goes to making Steps the exciting, innovative, creative and delightfully crazy place that it is and, further, makes it the ideal place for artists to evolve and mature. Only at Steps can you see Baryshnikov, and Jacques díAmboise taking class together, spot Alessandra Ferri and Julio Bocca in the inimitable Willie Burmannís class and wait! Mia Michaels is coming in for a week when only yesterday Anne Reinking was teaching a guest class!
A vast range of artists, and generally creative characters pass through the doors at Steps On Broadway: Tony Stevens, Chet Walker, Dana Moore, Donna Mckechnie ñ these people have written chapters in the Broadway history book. Weíve had Michael Flaherty rehearsing in the Loft studio, Christina Aguilera preparing for her world tour, David Howard, Peff Modelski, the list goes on and on. Teachers, writers, producers, artistic directors, all the Broadway gypsies, film and video performers, actors, singers, specialized performers and civilians from bag ladies to attorneys come to Steps to hone their skills on a daily basis. And why? Because at Steps On Broadway we're attentive to our artists needs, we're committed to your art, we work to extend your limits and we keep the beat for all styles, ages and levels.
For non Americans wishing to come and study at Steps, an International Student Visa Program is in the works. We cannot currently offer students a visa opportunity, but have applied for the program and hope to be authorized by the Federal Government to issue 1-20 Certificates of Eligibility to qualifying nonimmigrant students, for M-1 student visa status by late 2004. What this will mean is that students enrolled with us will be able to live, work and study hassle free in New York.
It needn't be prohibitively expensive either. The Work/Study Program we provide enables dancers in need of financial assistance to take discounted classes in exchange for help with running the studio in areas such as, registration, record keeping, the cafÈ, boutique sales, assistant teaching, reception and cleaning and maintenance. Certain management and arts administration positions even offer students the opportunity to take classes at no charge at all!
This program affords dancers from all over the world the opportunity to develop as a dancer and performer, learn additional dance related skills, be surrounded by world-class dancers, teachers, and choreographers, while opening doors in the dance world and arts administration as well. The selection process is based on a desire to dance, the skills you can bring to the program, a personal interview (with me!) and successful completion of ten hours of training and a training evaluation.
At any one time there are 120 Work/Study students from all over the world on staff. It is a very transient program with 25 new students a month entering and leaving. Many students have been very clever about working the system and have been in an out of the Steps program for years without ever paying the full price for a class! The Work/Study Program is designed not only to allow you to study affordably but also to give you the flexibility to audition and work while you do so.
Another money saving programs on offer at Steps On Broadway is The Scholarship Ensemble Division. Students can audition for this - the Steps Performing Company - and enter onto what is truly a scholarship program. If accepted applicants receive free unlimited classes, company classes, individually designed curriculum, performance opportunities, choreography workshops from world- renowned choreographers, exposure on the web, and other perks. This program offers a more intense and structured level of training and development, with no work hours required. Company members work with our faculty in a personally designed and focused environment that is geared specifically to mentor, train, and set the ground work to launch talented dancers into successful careers.
At Steps On Broadway Performance Opportunities are many and include a Faculty Studio Performance each year, where students can take the opportunity to share their work in dance, music, song, or word, in a supportive environment made up of their peers. Works in progress, new creative ideas, or staging of old works are welcome and encouraged. Shows are supported by professional lighting, sound, and technical staff and seating for 120 is provided, along with program, professional videotaping, photography and box office and promotional support.
Another performance approach available at Steps is the Choreography Lab Series. This series is open to all established and emerging choreographers wanting to test or try out a performance piece. A ìbare bonesî lab environment is provided with simplistic lighting and production support. Audience members are invited to offer the performing artists confidential written feedback in an effort to enhance the creative process and to further the understanding between audience members and performing artists
Other programs offered at Steps include: specialized group visits, a curriculum based school for young dancers, ongoing workshops in specialized dance and choreographic subjects, lectures, alternative approaches such as yoga and pilates, and specific Masterclasses as well as Series with prominent teachers and specialists in dance and performing arts.
Steps On Broadwayís comprehensive classes are there to guide dancers through the early stages of establishing themselves as a dancer in New York.
I hope one day to see you here.
For more information on Steps On Broadway visit their web site at www.stepsnyc.com.
[su_spoiler title="Advice For The Aspiring Actors - Drew Mulligan" style="fancy"]
Drew Mulligan Graduated from RADA in 1999 where he played Hamlet in his final year directed by William Gaskill. Since then he has worked with Declan Donnellan in Antigone at the Old Vic, spent a season at the RSC and performed in venues across the UK. He is currently filming with Peter Greenaway on his trilogy of films titled The Tulse Luper Suitcases.
Here is his advice for the aspiring actor.
SOME ROUGH NOTES ON ACTING.
Always keep acting. It sounds obvious but the more stage time you get the better actor you will become. No amount of acting lessons can teach you what it is like to be in front of an audience. The most important tools you have as an actor are your voice and your body so you must make sure they are in the best condition possible. Attitude may get you some way but only for a short time and it cannot make up for being physically prepared.
When on stage always commit to the other actors, always look at them when they are talking. It is the connection between the people on stage that the audience react to, and it is that which tells the story - not your own self-centred monologue. It is your interaction with other actors that will define you and your place in the scene or the play as a whole. Every word is important, make sure the audience hears them. They are the bricks that make up the wall of your character - no words are irrelevant they are an opportunity for actors to express themselves. Don't worry about complicated objectives or clever subconscious storylines; these are red herrings. The obvious way to play a line is always the best; just choose a good fun action. Two good books to read about acting are "True and false" by David Mamet and "The actor and the target" by Declan Donnellan. Both directors stress simplicity and directness - the best advice possible I think.
Always talk to other actors and make sure you know what's going on, what's being cast and who is directing what. Keep a book on all the people you meet and make sure you know what they are doing. Check the websites for all the major theatres or get on their mailing lists. Shows are usually cast 8-10 weeks before they open, it would not be seen as cheeky to send in your CV and photo uninvited to the director or casting director. Remember that you are running a business so treat your career as such. Get PCR, join Castweb (HYPERLINK www.castweb.com) and keep talking to people - let them know what you are up to.
Chance meetings will get you as much if not more work than your agent. I reluctantly went to a friend's birthday celebration over 2 years ago. I had been out of work for 6 months and the last thing I wanted to do was to chat to a whole bunch of working actors with their new phones and new trainers (the two signs of a working actor!) Anyway I got chatting to a friend from RADA who was just finishing at the RSC and he told me they were still casting for the new season. I thought they had finished casting weeks before and had cursed my agent for not getting me in to see them. He said I should drop them a line. Next day I sent in my CV and photo along with a cover letter, which was short and to the point. The day after that I got an audition and the day after that I was offered a 16 month contract which started the following Monday. It was chance, yes, but you have to put yourself in the position to be lucky. I was so close to not going that night, thank god I did.
WHAT I REALLY WANT TO SAY.
Don't do it, it is not worth it. You will probably have more opportunity to act if you stick to amateur dramatics. Certainly don't do it if you want fame and money, if you are lucky you may get it for a short while but it won't last. The problem with being trendy is that at some point you'll go out of fashion. Talent is certainly no guarantee of success, though without it you won't get far. Most jobs are cast by the way you look, something you can only do limited thing to change. This was always the case in film and TV, but now it's the case in theatre too. Don't get disappointed by rejection, mostly it is out of your control, but it will still hurt. So unless you have a burning passion for the work, don't do it, it will make you middle aged and miserable. Being rejected nearly every day of your life mostly for a thing you can't change is just not easy.
However, if you decide to go ahead and pursue a career then make sure you stick to it. Give yourself a chance, you can't expect to get the parts you really want for a good five years. You must be patient, the longer you stay around the more of your contemporaries will fall by the wayside. Just keep working, eventually you will have met just about all the people there are to meet and they will know you. Most importantly, be yourself and be happy with yourself. Nothing is more attractive to a director or casting director than an actor that is happy to be who they are, where they are. Only by knowing who you are and what you want can you connect to other actors on stage truthfully, and that's the ultimate goal. So, don't try to be what you think they want you to be, you can't make yourself taller or thinner or blonder for each audition. Just go in and be yourself. As David Mamet would probably say,
"Speak up, stick to your guns, believe in what you say, and be proud of your choice to be an actor."
[su_spoiler title="Working In Radio - Izzy Mant" style="fancy"];
Director Izzy Mant has just completed a 9 month attachment to BBC Radio Drama as Development Producer, which involved producing/directing several radio plays. As founding Artistic Director of Theatre Machine, she developed & directed a wide variety of new writing, including Eye Contact (Riverside Studios), Choirboys (Finborough & Old Red Lion) and the New Play Workshops (Criterion Theatre). She is also co-creator and co-producer of The Dark House, an interactive radio horror for BBC Radio 4 to be broadcast in September.
WORKING IN RADIO
Most actors I know find radio drama very appealing - not just because you don't have to learn your lines or brush your hair - but also because it offers the opportunity to get to grips quickly with a wide variety of plays & roles, and to work with great casts. It's true that radio drama is a lot of fun. It's also a really inspiring place, where the power of sound alone can create worlds of imagination for the listener. Coming from theatre, I found it fascinating to discover how much you can do with radio that I'd never thought possible.
My main tip for radio acting is to be aware of how intimate it is. Radio drama takes place inside the head of the listener, and can be very subtle and natural. I've had experiences where actors whose work I admire in theatre come into the radio studio and start declaiming to the microphone, as if the listeners are further away than the back row of the gods, and a little bit stupid. These are good actors and they always get it right in the end. All they need is to realise that realism, subtlety, and even silence work well on the radio, and there is meaning not just in the words but in a breath, a pause, a movement. It's more like acting for film or TV than for the stage.
If you haven't worked in radio before, there are a few technical things you need to know - though the director and studio manager will be able to help with these things. Action and movement is important to create drama and a sense of space, but be aware that a head turn away from the microphone can sound like you've moved to the other side of the room, and if you move a great distance between lines it can sound like you've 'jumped' from one place to another. However, more and more dramas are being recorded on location where you don't have to worry about this sort of thing.
So, how do you get to work in radio? Radio plays are produced by the BBC and various independent radio production companies. At the BBC, actors are cast on a project-to-project basis by the producer.
Radio producers are most likely to discover new actors through seeing their work in theatre or TV, or by hearing their voice CD, with short extracts from various scenes or readings. If you're making a voice CD, make sure it plays to your strengths. It should cover your range in terms of roles, styles and accents, but remember that a producer isn't likely to cast you for your dodgy Welsh accent or unconvincing octogenarian, when they can get a real Welsh actor or eighty year old instead. Try to get a clear and good quality recording, but you don't have to go to great expense having sound effects and backgrounds put on. Send your CD to Cynthia Fagan (BBC Radio Drama, Bush House, PO Box 76, Strand London WC2B 4PH) who circulates the best CDs she receives among radio producers.
The BBC has a small radio drama repertory company called The Radio Drama Company or RDC. The Radio Drama Company has between 8 and 12 actors on contract at any one time and actors are usually invited onto the Company because their work is well known from television and theatre etc. However, from August to February The RDC focuses on new acting talent which the BBC sources via the annual Carleton Hobbs Bursary Award competition. The Carleton Hobbs competition is open to final year drama students from accredited drama colleges and the winners receive a six month contract with the RDC.
This year BBC Radio Drama has launched another talent initiative called the Norman Beaton Fellowship. This fellowship has a particular interest in attracting actors from the Black, Asian and Far East Asian communities. For further information on this scheme call the information line on 0870 444 3900
If you do get a job in radio drama, take along a pair of hard-soled shoes and an open mind. Most of my preconceptions about radio turned out to be wrong, and yours may well be, too. There's such a wide variety of drama on radio that it's hard to generalize about what you might experience. As a director, I've found working in radio fascinating. Every actor I know who's done their first radio play has found it equally fascinating. And they always want to come back and do more.
[su_spoiler title="Equity" style="fancy"]
Equity is the only Trade Union to represent artists from across the entire spectrum of arts and entertainment. Formed in 1930 by a group of West End performers, Equity quickly spread to encompass the whole range of professional entertainment, Membership includes actors, singers, dancers, choreographers, stage managers, theatre directors and designers, variety and circus artists, television and radio presenters, walk-on and supporting artists, stunt performers and directors and theatre fight directors.
Although it is a Trade Union, Equity is not politically affiliated and so does not make payments to any political party. This puts Equity in the strong position of being able to lobby with impunity governments of all political colours. It is, however, affiliated to the Trades Unions Congress and Equity delegates attend the annual TUC conference as a means of bringing performers' issues to a wider audience.
WHAT EQUITY DOES
The main function of Equity is to negotiate minimum terms and conditions of employment throughout the entire world of entertainment and to endeavour to ensure these take account of social and economic changes. We look to the future as well, negotiating agreements to embrace the new and emerging technologies which affect performers so satellite, digital television, new media and so on are all covered, as are the more traditional areas. Equity Agreements covers such things as auditioning, minimum rates or pay/fees ("Equity minimums") health and safety, hours, breaks, holiday pay, grievance procedure and many other items which makes working under Equity terms the best protection an artist can have.
Equity works at national level by lobbying government and other bodies on issues of paramount importance to their membership eg. Agency Regulations, Public Entertainment Licensing, funding for British filmmaking, funding for Regional Theatre and other topics. In addition the union operates at an international level through the Federation of International Artists which Equity helped to establish, the International Committee for Artists' Freedom and through agreements with their sister unions overseas.
In addition to these core activities, Equity strives to provide a wide range of services for its members and so they are eligible for a whole host of benefits which are continually being revised and developed. These include helplines, Job Information Service, insurance cover, member's pension scheme and others.
HOW TO GET AN EQUITY CARD
To obtain full Equity membership and get an Equity card, applicants have to be able to provide proof (contracts, pay slips etc) of professional employment within the entertainment industry. Entry criteria depend on the area of the industry in which the applicant has worked. There is also a Student Membership Scheme for people on a full-time course of one year or longer at a higher level, which prepares people to work in the industry as a performer or creative practitioner such as a director, designer or stage manager. For full information on joining please visit www.equity.org.uk application forms are also available, or contact any Equity office for a joining pack: London 020 7670 0215, Glasgow: 0141 248 2473, Cardiff: 029 2039 7971, Manchester: 0161 832 3183, Sheffield: 01142 759 746, Warwick: 01926 408 638.
[su_spoiler title="Surviving The Industry - Susie Amy" style="fancy"]
Susie Amy was born in London in 1981, and brought up in Surrey. Although she always studied drama, she went to a regular academic school all her life. Her career began when an agent spotted her in 1999 while she was doing the play After Juliet by Sharman McDonald at the National Theatre in London. Over the next two years she got parts in Sirens, The Swap, My Family and the sitcom Sam's Game.
She became a household name in 2001 when she was chosen to play Chardonnay Lane in the ITV drama Footballers' Wives.
Since then she has recorded a second series of Footballers Wives and in 2002 was chosen for the lead role of Valentine D'Artagnan in the Hallmark Production La Femme Musketeer, starring alongside Michael York, GÈrard Depardieu and Nastassja Kinski. Susieís next project is a US film about the painter Modigliani, which Andy Garcia stars in.
SURVIVING THE INDUSTRY
I think it's always important in the industry to be resilient and not take things personally. Every actor will face more refusals than offers, it can be for any reason - your accent, your height, or your hair colour - what producers have in mind is usually specific, so there is no point in thinking negatively, you can learn from every opportunity and meeting.
It's good to go to classes and read books, there are so many on acting - for stage and screen. One that I read while I was studying was Stanislavski's An Actor Prepares, also Sanford Meisner On Acting. An essential book to get is Contacts which you can purchase on the Spotlight website at www.spotlightcd.com. It's a complete guide to agents, photographers, managers, broadcasters, costumers and their contact details.
One of the most important things to stress is never go with an agency that tries to charge you a joining fee. A genuine agent that believes in you will not take any money from you at all until you get work. A genuine agent works on a commission basis and will typically take 10-15% of your earnings. Agencies that try to charge you up front will be doing it to hundreds of people and making money like that rather than by getting their actors work!
Once you start to work, I believe it's best not to stay in one role for too long or there is a real danger of ending up stereotyped. It can be difficult and nerve-wracking to walk away from work youíve been offered - it's a risk. Every situation is different, and when the time comes you have to listen to the advice of people who've been in that situation as well as to your own instincts.
If you get a part in a show that's going to involve publicity, some of it will be great and important but in some cases youíll have to be careful. I did a photo shoot for scenes written in a show where my character was playing a model - the next thing I knew these photos were in the papers. I was shocked and upset. Never do photos that you feel uncomfortable with - it is a huge mistake and one that is very difficult to correct. Always check publicity with your agent. Having control over pictures where possible (or necessary) is invaluable - you can't trust everyone. Again, although it's hard when untrue or unfair things are written, try not to take it too badly, anyone with any sense knows not to believe what they read!
[su_spoiler title="Adding Music To Drama - George Stiles" style="fancy"]
George Stiles is probably best known for his collaborative work with the writer Anthony Drew. Between them they have won umpteen gazillion awards and written six musicals including Honk, the recent production of Peter Pan starring Richard Wilson and Just So which has been optioned by Steven Spielberg for feature animation. Georgeís other work includes the shows Tom Jones, Moll Flanders and The Three Musketeers as well as music for Sam Mendesí Twelfth Night and Uncle Vanya at the Donmar Warehouse.
His current project is Cameron Macintosh's Mary Poppins.
WHEN SHOULD YOU ADD MUSIC TO DRAMA?
When you add music to drama it has to have a specific purpose but we really need to be clear about whether you are scoring a play, film or an opera or musical. Of course you can merge the disciplines but the demands and indeed the starting point is very different for each genre.
A play is likely to use music for atmosphere, settling the audience, scene changes interludes and, perhaps if you're lucky and the director trusts you with this, underscoring emotionally significant moments.
A film uses music much more heavily. In most cases you are providing an almost non-stop emotional motor for the drama: Lord of the Rings has hardly a scene that is not under-pinned. Music for film is used for the same purposes as music for a play but you can give character motifs and emotional motifs in a much more substantial way. You also dictate the pace and often the cutting of the movie. You define moments of excitement, tension, release and shock, as well as underlining all the fundamental story emotions - sadness, happiness, love and loss.
A musical or opera can give you the chance to do all these things - and have
all your big scenes or speeches set as songs. The device that gives composers the most joy in musical theatre is reprise - both musical and lyrical. When the theme of I Could Have Danced All Night is used in the orchestra for Eliza'a appearance in the ball dress at the end of Act 1 of My Fair Lady, everyone gets goosebumps because the song is all about Eliza's excitement at her own transformation - and now that we are seeing her look like a princess as well as sound like one - the music acquires even more potency.
All that said though I think it is going to be most useful for us to concentrate on one particular genre and so for this column at least, I will concentrate on employing music in plays.
ADDING MUSIC TO A PLAY.
Itís important when deciding to add music to a play that you consider what its exact function will be. You have to know why your music will enhance a scene and if the answer is ìit wonítî then donít bother. Itís easy to fall into the trap of writing music that will just slosh around over dialogue but avoid this if you can, itís horrible.
Adding music to drama can be very effective but you need to decide certain things. For example, is the emotion of the music going to reinforce the text or play against it? This is very much a horses for courses issue. If you are underscoring a slapstick moment in a pantomime the classic drum crash is entirely appropriate but it wouldnít be good for more complex, emotional drama.
I recently used a brittle, tender theme under Malvolioís very funny ìAll is Fortuneî speech in Twelfth Night. It would have been an obvious choice to write a piece that concurred with the way we all see him ñ as a rather foolish gull ñ but the director requested that I write a piece which instead fortified the way Malvolio saw himself. This pointed up the characterís solitude and isolation and meant that while the scene was still amusing, now the audience found the laughter catching in their throats as they suddenly realised poor Malvolio was sincere in every word he was saying.
Music should be used to establish mood and atmosphere but be very wary of over-emphasising emotional moments. Less is almost always more so try to be as concise as you can and try to be original too. Itís a good practice to play a different game with emotional context than the dramatist, donít labour that tearful reunion or dangerous encounter!
A mistake a lot of composers make is to have too many themes, whereas good practice is in fact to make the most of the themes youíve got. The useful thing about this is that it allows your audience to sense theyíve been listening to something with unity.
In the first instance write more than you need and then during the all important editing process reject whatís not great and refine what remains to make it work for you. Play with the orchestration and presentation of your themes so that they can be repeated in various guises for various purposes.
When Mimi reappears in La Boheme, sick and dying in Act 4 to the same music that she and Rodolfo fell in love to in the freezing garret in Act 1, Puccini knew we would all begin to weep right there and then, particularly as the theme is full of hope - the melody climbs, just when a lesser composer would make it fall.
One way to play with orchestration is to reduce it down to an unaccompanied melody (a solo line with the chords removed). Dvorjak famously uses this in his New World Symphony (otherwise know as the Hovis ad.) The oboe solo in this piece stands out like a sentinel because thereís nothing with its tonal colour anywhere around it. If you introduce a busy street scene with a fully orchestrated theme, consider reprising this in unaccompanied melody form when later one of your characters finds himself on the same street but alone.
Music is often best employed to move an audience along from one feeling to another. Scenes move and itís important the music does too. So, for example, at the end of one scene which might be the sleepy end of a day, build your composition into a furious bustle to enable the cross cut into the busy cityscape of the next. Itís important to prepare your audience in this way.
A famous example of musically preparing an audience is the two note string line used in the film Jaws. In Jaws the sea could be calm, but when the motif played our anxiety was aroused and we suddenly found ourselves mentally preparing for a shark attack. Such motifs can of course be used to trick an audience, preparing them for an event which may not happen (or at least not when they expect it to!) This ploy is often used in the horror genre.
The music you compose for a play has to be in sympathy with the playís needs. More often than not this relates to the way the drama has to interact with the audience.
If a dramatic moment is particularly sensitive or quiet an audience may need to be settled down in order to appreciate it. At the beginning of Act III in La Boheme, the scene Puccini presents us with is a pair of gates at dawn. It is snowing and Puccini wants to treat us to a gentle snow theme but such a delicate piece of music needs our full attention and Puccini knows that we will be restless after the end of the previous Act (in fact in modern theatres we would probably just be retaking our seats after a choc-ice and wine break!) His solution is to blast us with a full orchestral stab of two notes. This 5-1 cadence is like two syllables which literally say ìshut up.î Upon hearing them the audience knows to settle down and this allows for the pianissimo woodwinds and pizzicato strings to come in.
It should be clear then that music must be used to gain an audiences attention. Equally though it must be used to maintain it. The most dangerous moments in terms of losing audience attention are scene changes and interludes. You need to think about writing music long enough to cover the time these take and loud enough to cover any noise that moving props and changing scenery will make on stage.
When writing music specifically for scene changes consider whether your piece will pick up on the mood of the previous scene or prefigure that of the next one. Alternatively you may wish to write a dedicated piece for scene changes and scene changes alone as Garry Yershon did for Art. His jazzy vibraphone compositions proved to be an excellent transitional theme, generally ìartyî but unspecific, they did valuable job in maintaining the pace of the show.
When it comes to writing interlude music one of the best examples I can give you is Benjamin Brittenís work on Peter Grimes. Peter Grimes is a show about fishermen and a small community. It is played against the backdrop of the sea and this is desperately difficult to represent on stage but Britten manages it with interludes. He writes calm ones, stormy ones and ones that are teeming with life. It is mood music but it adds in an essential way to the story as a whole. Britten shows us that good interludes can continue to tell a story in a non verbal way.
Something to bear in mind when writing music for a play is that unlike in a film where you can underscore an entire scene in the theatre you must at some point hand over to the dialogue and the actors or crew. The reason for this is simply that film music can be carefully mixed and edited in a studio so as not to mask anything else whilst music for the theatre is generally live. You have to be concise and practical. When I was working on Uncle Vanya at the Donmar Warehouse, I liased with Paul Ardetti, the sound designer, to develop the atmosphere for a late summer afternoon scene. The result of our collaboration was four bars of languid, still, summer music which faded into the sound of crickets chirping and the actorís voices. The music I wrote was not a motor driving the story on but rather a quick summary of a feeling, it implied to the audience the necessary details of time and location and conveyed this idea of the endless tedium that is central to the play.
I think the main thing to remember when writing music for a play is that your music has a supporting role. It is there to assist the audience and the performers, not to upstage them. If you write something that bounds across the stage and steals the show it can be fun but in all but the least complex forms of drama itís going to be wrong. Keep writing, keep refining and aim to do the best job you can.
We managed to speak to George in the middle of an incredibly hectic schedule as he was finishing the music for Mary Poppins and preparing to fly to New York for a meeting with Disney CEO Michael Eisner. We had to jump at the chance to speak to him but unfortunately this meant we had no opportunity to take questions from PTC members. However George has been brilliant and kindly offered to answer some at a later date so.
If you have a question for George Stiles please put it in an email with the subject heading George Stiles and contact us.
In the meantime here are the answers to some we came up with ourselves!
In a world where music is all around us, how do you make it stand out?
Be unexpected and original.
Music has evolved enormously and as a composer you need to be aware of this. In fact a good exercise would be to watch five great movies from the last five decades and see how the musical content has developed.
With such a weight of material behind us, being original is no easy thing and it gets even harder now with music appearing in everything from sport to computer games. I think silence is an important tool though.
John Cageís famous work 4'33" so called because it consists of exactly four minutes and thirty three seconds of absolute silence is in many ways a masterclass in original composition. It teaches us to listen and it teaches is that as composers we have to avoid getting carried away or becoming over indulgent. Stillness is an important element of sound and therefore of music, itís the black against the white and you can do wonderful things with almost or ñ as in the case of 4í33î absolutely - nothing. I must add at this point though that whilst live in a concert hall Pageís piece is indescribably powerful the CD does very little for me!
Musical silence is important. So important in fact that it has its own place in notation: the rest. An example of putting the rest to good use can be found in the title song to Stephen Flahertyís Ragtime. The main theme of Ragtime uses a rest in the chorus which goes like this:
ìAnd the people called it Ragtime (rest) Ragtimeî
The pause before the repetition of the word ìRagtimeî wrongfoots you in the most amazing way and brings the repetition to life. It provides emphasis.
One of the most powerful uses of silence I have heard recently is during the final gunfight scene in Sam Mendesí Road To Perdition. The film is littered with loud action sequences, car chases and violence and yet just at the point when youíd expect the musical underscore to crescendo it vanishes altogether leaving nothing but the mournful sound of the pouring rain. This unexpected absence of music grabs our attention in the most dramatic way and, I think, creates a classic, unexpected moment.
WHAT ONE PIECE OF ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ASPIRING MUSICIANS AND COMPOSERS?
Well, itís not exactly my own advice but itís very good advice and it was given to me and others by the highly respected composer, lyricist and author, Vivian Ellis. Vivian said:
ìGo to everything and listen to everything. Even things you wouldnít naturally listen to.î
Itís so important to do this. If you want to be original you need to acquire as complete a palette of sounds and styles as you can find. You also need to listen to others who have been original. In building your knowledge of music you will be building the best possible foundations for a successful career.
The Official Website of the award winning Musical Theatre aficionados George Stiles and Anthony Drewe is at
[su_spoiler title="Practical Approaches to Raising Funds in the Arts - Mickey Fellowes" style="fancy"]
Mickey Fellowes is an Arts Fundraiser with over five years experience. He is currently working for Showhow on the Arts Council Fellowship programme for Black, Ethnic minority and Disabled arts managers.
Mickey also works in marketing for National Disability Arts Forum (NDAF) on Arts Access UK - the online database of access facilities at Arts venues.
Mickey has raised over £250, 000 for arts projects.
Practical Approaches to Raising Funds in the Arts.
After looking at the arts funding system a number of questions remain unanswered and the major one is:
How practically do we go about raising finds in the arts?
I can't tell you how to fill in an arts funding application form but I can outline some of the issues and techniques. My experience comes from 5+ years working for North West Disability Arts Forum as Training & Development Officer. Obviously my job was training/learning and the arts and education interface but during this time I wrote the applications or delivered the presentations that raised over £250,000 for NWDAF. This came from a number of different sources ñ some were not obvious art funders ñ and for a range of projects.
Honesty and integrity.
This is an absolute basic because the arts funding system works on trust.
- Ask only for what you need
- If you lose your reputation for integrity it is game over for your career as an arts fundraiser (there are numerous instances of organizations that have collapsed due to financial mismanagement or fraud).
- You should have an allowance in your budget for unforeseen circumstances (contingency) and this is usually 5-10% of the overall budget
- Do not be tempted to pad out the budget in other areas as you need to show value for money.
- Do not double fund something (i.e. accepting full grants from two sources for the same project) if this is offered discuss it with the funders.
- Do not underestimate what you need because either the application will be rejected as unrealistic or you will struggle to deliver a project without the necessary finances.
Know what you need.
You must be the expert on the project you are raising funds for. You must know the vision or philosophy of the project and also the financial, managerial and technical detail.
- Know financially what you need - you cannot turn around to funders halfway through a project and say "I made a mistake this project needs more money."
- Know in detail what you need ñ not simply "£2,000 for marketing" but what precisely you will spend that £2,000 on. How did you settle on this figure for your marketing budget?
- If you know what you need in, vision of the project, finances and detail then you can be assertive to argue your case. You are the expert on your project and when the funders ask questions you should know enough to confidently state your case.
Maintain a good relationships with the funders.
You hope to apply for future funding so you need to maintain a good relationship with your present funders either for repeat funding or for new applications.
- The arts is a people business. The network of people who know you and trust the work that you do is vital.
- The arts works on gossip - both for good as people will hear of successful projects and for bad where your reputation will be damaged by badly delivered projects.
- Persevere with applications - anything that is turned down you should ask for feedback and make further applications whenever you can. Your name, organization and projects will become a feature in funders mind. If they know of you positively it will make it easier for them to fund you.
- Your reports and accounts for funders should have the same sense of integrity. Do not be tempted to hide a problem with the finances or the project. Honestly detailing a problem ñ perhaps asking the funder for advice - and positively dealing with it should enhance your reputation.
- Thank funders and make them feel involved - even the smallest ones as acting as a trustee for a small grant giving trust is voluntary and they want to see money they have granted being used properly.
- Do your monitoring and evaluation of the project and flag up success stories. Show that weaknesses in your project are immediately dealt with and your analysis of the evaluation will affect the design and planning of future similar projects.
- Success breeds success so a track record of delivering good projects to the budget will help you to raise funds for other projects.
Sources of funds for your arts projects.
- arts funding system (Arts Council of England)
- local authority
- Co-productions and partnerships using arts budgets and also partner education money such as schools budgets, Learning and Skills Councils of post 16 colleges and higher education funding council money from Colleges and Universities.
- Trusts and funding with socially beneficial purposes if you can show the social benefits of your project. (i.e. not simply "give us the money so we can ponce about on stage" but the social and community benefits).
For more information about Mickey Fellowes and what he can do for you visit his website at www.sunsurfer.co.uk
[su_spoiler title="The Dark House - Izzy Mant" style="fancy"]
Top director and producer Izzy Mant joins The PTC masterclass advice programme next month. Here's info on her project, the groundbreaking radio drama...
The Dark House
The Dark House is a ground-breaking interactive radio drama in which the audience dictate how the drama is played out. Three people are trapped in a haunted building. As the listeners decide who to put their trust in, they can vote by text message or landline to choose which character's point of view is heard in this chilling ghost story.
Lucy, a local radio reporter, investigates a so-called haunted flat in Clerkenwell. During her broadcast the lights go out and, assuming it's a set-up, she plays along. Then she loses contact with the radio station.
Lucy hears the voice of a child locked in the bedroom asking to be let out. Then there's a man at the door who says he looks after the building. Trapped in an increasingly frightening place, Lucy starts to unravel an eerie mystery.
Listeners can vote whenever they like, and as many times as they like, throughout the drama. The phone and text numbers will be advertised in listings and on the Radio 4 website. Text message voters simply text the name of the character whose perspective they want to hear: Lucy, Kelly or Jim. By phone, callers will be asked to press one of three keys for each of the three characters.
Every three minutes the votes from phone and text are collated to determine which character's point of view is heard next. When the majority vote tips, the drama switches from inside one character's head to inside another's. We hear their inner thoughts with the dialogue and action played out from their physical location in the building.
The interactivity is not about influencing the story, but responding to it and sharing that response with the rest of the listening public. Those who choose not to interact can just sit back and enjoy the drama as it unfolds.
Whatever the listeners do, Lucy, Jim and Kelly are destined for the same fate.
The BBC is working with technical partners for the programme's voting system. This will collate the votes from SMS and phones, and deliver feedback to the producer in studio, to switch the streams, and the webpage where statistics will be updated live.
The Dark House will be recorded using a binaural recording technique. Based on the principals of human hearing, binaural recordings are made by placing microphones near the actor's ears. Those listening on stereo equipment will experience spatialised 3D sound, immersing the listener in the Dark House.
"The Dark House" is the brainchild of producers Izzy Mant and Nick Ryan and developed in collaboration with BBC Radio Drama and BBC Creative Research & Development. Izzy Mant is a theatre/radio director, a pioneer of new writing, probably best known for directing Kelly Brookís stage debut at Riverside Studios. Nick Ryan is a sound designer and composer whose credits include soundtracks for Channel 4, LWT, Sony and Odeon Cinemas titles.
The Dark House is written by Mike Walker whose credits include the Sony Award winners Different States and Alpha, plus acclaimed BBC Radio 4 adaptations of War and Peace, The Tin Drum and The African Queen.
The cast includes Claudie Blakley as Lucy - perhaps best-known for her roles as Maud in Gosford Park and Kellie in BBC 1's Playing the Field; Alan Ford plays Jim ñ his film work includes the distinctive narrating voice of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and roles in Snatch and The Long Good Friday - TV work includes appearances in Waking the Dead and William and Mary;
Connie Gurie is the child, Kelly. Connie has numerous radio drama credits to her name including Agatha Christie's The Dressmaker's Doll , The God Of Love and Michael Butt's The Kensington Pilgrims.
[su_spoiler title="Don't Just Tap: Knock! - Steve Clarke" style="fancy"]
Born in 1923 Steve Clark was, along with the likes of his cousin Sammy Davis Junior, one of the original pioneering black artists. As half of the legendary tap dancing act The Clark Brothers , he fought enormous social prejudice to enjoy a career on both sides of The Atlantic, playing to packed houses from Broadway to Londonís West End.
As well as being an unrivaled tap dancer, Steve is also a consummate choreographer, singer, musician and entertainer. He has worked alongside the likes of Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Gypsy Rose Lee and Bob Hope and counted Frank Sinatra, Howard Keel, Tallulah Bankhead, Lena Horn and the gangster Al Capone as friends.
His cv is endless but films such as Killer Diller with Nat King Cole and A Day At The Races with The Marx Brothers stand out, as do a succession of appearances on televisionís Sunday Night At The Palladium and six Royal Variety performances including the famous 1963 event when The Beatles introduced the world to the expression ìRattle your jewellery.
Now at the ripe old age of eighty, still tapping and teaching, Steve Clark has been in the business for more than seventy years. We are extremely honoured to be able to present some of his thoughts for you here.
Don't Just Tap: Knock!
I began my career not as a dancer but as a sportsman, I was a founder member of The Harlem Globetrotters and even today I like nothing better than a relaxing game of golf. Dance has always been central to my life but my world does not revolve around it. If it did I would have starved a long time ago.
Iím not suggesting that you go off and take sports lessons, that just happened to be something I was good at, but my point is that as a performer you have to explore what other strings you have to your bow. Be multi disciplined.
As The Clark Brothers me and Jimmy (thatís my brother by the way!) quickly realised that tapping was not enough and so we incorporated singing, comedy and musicianship into the act. When we werenít performing I kept myself busy and in pants teaching people like Cliff Richard, Freddie and The Dreamers and Gregory Hynes to dance (Gregory had flat feet bless him, but I think he turned out okay.)
Being multi disciplined helps you keep in shape too. Iím known for my tap but I do other styles too. Flamenco for example strengthens the ankles and is a good precursor to tap because it teaches you to pick up rhythm and sound.
Knowing lots of things allows you to stretch yourself by mixing them together. John Curry, the great Olympic ice skater was so successful because he developed a unique style, taking moves he learned in ballet onto the ice. The Clark Brothers invented their own style too, a precision based rhythmic tap that no one else was doing at the time. It got us a lot of work. When I teach itís the same, I make my students stretch themselves with modern jazz, ballet, flamenco and tap. Itís fun and it encourages flexibility and freedom.
You should remember that whatever your preferred discipline, perfecting that alone is only the beginning. If you canít make yourself unique, if you canít go multi disciplined and stretch yourself to your full potential then youíre just going to be another artist and unfortunately for you itís the special guys that usually get all the work.
Whatever you do make sure you can do it better or different than the people around you. Have great role models - and I mean great not just good. In my day, for tap dancers, it was Bill ìBo Janglesî Robinson. I didnít aspire to be him though, I aspired to be better and thatís the kind of drive Iím talking about. Thatís the kind of commitment youíre going to need if you really want to make it in this industry. Itís not easy, youíve chosen a hard path and youíre going to have to get to grips with it.
When I started out things were a little easier. In those days you had a theatre on every corner and the work was available. Nowadays I can see itís different. Repertory theatres have gone and the few big producers that run the roost wield a lot of power. Beware of that balance of power. When my brother and me started out I was always a bit cocky but back then I could afford to be because our act was unique and we were in demand. It didnít matter if we trod on a few toes (outside of the act of course!) but now if you upset the wrong person it can cost you work. Iím not saying you shouldnít stand up for yourself - you must - but pick your fights carefully.
Keep working. There were times in my early career when I shined shoes but thatís no good. You canít say Iím a performer with shoe polish on your hands, youíre only a performer if youíre performing! Iím a big fan of survival (at eighty you have to be) but my advice is donít wait tables unless you absolutely have to.
Try as far as you can to use the profession to survive. You wonít always be able to do so but TRY. In the America where I grew up, racial discrimination was at its peak and so Iíd never like to go south but sometimes when the money was going to help me do other things - like eat - Iíd go. In my career to date I guess Iíve been just about every place they had. It wasnít always pretty.
If you canít use the profession to survive then at least use it for practice. You have to practice to maintain readiness. Readiness means the ability to do your best work at all times and thereís no greater sin than not having it. Your big opportunity could come at any time so for godís sake stay in condition! I really mean this. Do your thing for free if you have to but always do it. Itís important because as well as practice it also gives you exposure and exposure is the real key to breaking the industry.
When The Clark Brothers began, there were theatres on every corner and you got exposure by working around. Today the TV offers the chance for incredible exposure. The golden rule is ìget yourself seen.î When you know what you really want to do, when you know what you really love, you then owe it to yourself to go for it totally. And donít be afraid to take a chance either: self produce, self promote and if you think youíve identified a country with more work move there! Me and Jimmy did just that in 1948 on the advice of my pal Frank Sinatra and we never looked back.
Entering the entertainment business is an investment. An investment of your time but also of your money and resources. Look for organisations like The PTC which are good enough to give you stuff for free but be aware that they are a rare and precious commodity. Typically you can expect to have to pay for lessons, pictures, music scores, show reels and industry magazines.
If you spend wisely you can really make your money work. I bought specially commissioned tunes for the Clark Brothers and costumes too. Such things identified us and added to our unique or ìnoveltyî value. I remember once an employer telling me how heíd hired us because he remembered the smart creases in our trousers. Itís amazing but the smallest detail can be a memorable gimmick and help you stand out from the crowd.
At the end of the day, standing out from the crowd is really what itís all about and thatís why I say donít just tap: knock. Mix it up, do it different, do it better and pummel away at that industry door until youíre seen. Remember, youíre a talented person, donít die with your talent.
Steve Clark March 2003
Members of a workshop run by The PTC sent in questions for Steve to answer. Hereís what he said
How do you make yourself outshine others on the stage?
If youíre doing an acting role, the time to shine is in your auditions. Once youíve been hired your skill has to be devoted to doing your job. Sometimes you will be given a job that requires you not to shine, for example a carriage driver or spear carrying part.
The important thing to remember is donít conflict with anyone else. If you have the audacity to outshine a star you could be in trouble. You might also be guilty of not doing your job right.
However, if youíre a variety act, like The Clark Brothers , you have to shine at every opportunity because youíll be up against a lot of good guys for the same jobs. Do it like I say above. Make yourself unique and get yourself something that defines you. The word gimmick is pure cornball, I know, but by any name thatís what you need.
America or England?
America is a great country for an entertainer to ply his trade. Jimmy and me had lots of reasons to leave and it worked for us because back then we were a household name and in demand. We had already broken the industry. But what I noticed about England - the big difference between England and America - is that the US is more prepared to gamble on an artist. The UK seems satisfied to recycle a small pool of talent - you see them in the soaps and then the pop charts and then the magazines and itís always the same guys. Thereís something about the UK that likes mediocrity and encourages envy. If you have talent here you have to be strong to get it seen. Itís not impossible but thereís definitely more opportunity in America.
As a choreographer, what do you think inspires a strong sequence?
I never take fixed ideas into rehearsal. Experience has taught me that itís a waste of time, they all go out the window the moment you arrive anyway. New ideas come in and old ones leave as you get to know the people youíre working with.
Thereís no set process but there are things I watch out for. First and foremost you have to know the capabilities of your dancers. A good choreographer presents well what his dancers can already do. Itís all about putting it together. The biggest mistake you can make is to try to get a dancer to dance like you. They wonít be able to do it and you probably wouldnít be able to dance like them either. So look for strengths and weaknesses in your cast and then work to the strengths.
What do you think is better, simple but sharp or clever and complex?
Itís really all about class. Youíve heard the expression ìslick.î Thatís what your aim has to be, to be slick. Dancing should be slick, precise and simple. If you do what you do well it looks great and professionalism is all about making things look easy. You canít make things look easy if theyíre beyond you.
Why do you think American tap is more popular than any other tap form?
Class. American tap is slick.
What tricks can you recommend to win over an audience?
Once an entertainer has his audiencesí attention he can do anything. Weíd tease them. I took to holding a trumpet while singing a Louis Armstrong number, Iíd lift it to my lips but never play a note. When I came to the end of the song Iíd say ìIím gonna play this thing if it kills me.î Then Iíd play a single note and take my bow. It was simple comedy but it held the audiences attention.
What are your favourite moves? What do you always try to get into one of your routines?
Itís true that there are a few moves in tap that we can name and define: cramps, buffaloes, ball changes and the like but what Iíve tried to stress in my column is that you have to make your act your own. Me and Jimmy like a little wing every now and again but our interest is in precise, rhythmic tap. Our moves donít have names - most of them we invent for ourselves. Itís dangerous to have favourite moves because you can end up dancing like everybody else. This is fine for chorus line but not if you want to make it as an individual or as an act.
What words of advice do you have for aspiring performers?
Just three and I talk all about them in my column. Readiness, exposure and survival.
Dedication would have to figure in there too. Make what you do something you love and go for it totally.
[su_spoiler title="why Do I Need An Agent? - P-A Turner" style="fancy"]
P-A Turner is the managing director and senior agent for the West End agency Principal Artistes. She has been in the entertainment business for 35 years in a career that has spanned the globe and included successful spells as an actress, casting director, personal assistant and producer.
We are very lucky to have P-A as a columnist and must thank her for sparing time to write for us when Principal Artistes books are full and the agency is at its very busiest.
Why Do I Need An Agent?
There are several important reasons for getting an agent but perhaps the most important one is to free up your time so you can pursue your career! Agents are at the centre of the industry and privy to information that actors aren't. They are at the end of a fax, phone or computer eight hours a day, five days a week working on your behalf when you should be boning up your skills and audition pieces and earning that all important living.
Agents are specialists. They specialise in contacts, contracts and the never ending negotiations that are necessary to maximise the careers of the artists on their books. They know which director or casting director to call to land you that plum role you've been after and crucially they know when to call him. These are busy people and for reasons all their own usually don't have time for calls from actors. Which brings us to another point about why you need an agent: an agent raises your profile and gives others confidence in your ability. What this means is the casting director will want to see you because your agent has a reputation for representing quality actors. He might also want to see you on the strength of the cv supplied by your agent. Cvs choreographed by agents are invariably better arranged than those designed by actors themselves. Remember, an agent knows how to market you objectively.
Another good reason to get an agent is that he or she will incur the phone bills, faxes, stationary and postage used to promote you. Even if you are not working and flat broke your agent is still paying all these expenses for you - not to mention staff salaries, rent, rates, bills and utilities...phew! (Just think of that the next time you're wondering where your commission goes!)
Agents are there to sell you and your work and no one can do this for you like a professional can. So if you want to climb that career ladder you had best get busy, get seen and get yourself an agent.
Best of luck
[su_spoiler title="Sustaining Your Career - Roy Hudd" style="fancy"]
After a lifetime in the industry, Olivier Award winning actor, writer and comedian Roy Hudd is quite simply a national treasure. His work in film, television, comedy and theatre is so extensive that only a brief summary is possible. He will however be known to many of you as Archie Shuttleworth in Coronation Street and for his portrayal of the spoonerism afflicted character Ben Baglin in Dennis Potter's two television mini series Karaoke and Cold Lazarus.
Television: The Quest; Coronation Street; Hamilton Mattress; Cold Lazarus; Karaoke; Heavy Weather; Common As Muck; Peter and the Wolf: A Prokofiev Fantasy; Lipstick on Your Collar; The Roy Hudd Show; The Illustrated Weekly Hudd; One Foot in the Grave; Harbour Lights; Dead Ends; The Bill; The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes; Looks Familiar.
Film: Purely Belter; Up Pompeii; Up The Chastity Belt; The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins; Distant Voices, Still Lives; A Kind of Hush; The Blood Beast Terror; The Garnett Saga.
Theatre: Hard Times; Oliver!; A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum; The Fantasticks; Underneath The Arches; A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Radio: BBC Radio Two's The News Huddlines (The world's longest-running comedy show.)
Writing: Roy Hudd's Book Of Music Hall, Variety And Show Biz Anecdotes; Roy Hudd's Cavalcade Of Variety Acts; Monthly column in Yours magazine; Pantomimes for all over the place including Watford Palace and the Hiss and Boo Company.
Sustaining Your Career.
This year I'll have been in show business forty seven years.
Really Roy? It seems much longer!
I'm sure to many I do seem to have been around forever but in the words of Bernie Taupin: I'm still standin' after all these years. How? What has enabled me to keep the wolf from the door for so long? Here is the reason.
I've always loved what I've been trying to do. Entertain. Whether it's been to a handful in a pub or to twenty million on television. It's the actual doing that has always given me my joy. I've only ever had one ambition and that is to carry on doing it and to get better at it. I didn't come into the game to become a household name, to earn a fortune or to try and match Posh and Becks in the press coverage stakes. I became a professional entertainer simply because I wanted to do what I did on a regular basis and I thought being a professional would give me my best chance.
What I'm trying to say is: unless you love the actual doing more than the trappings of success, more than the fame and popularity and money, don't do it! So very few achieve huge fame or fortune that if that is what you're looking for please try something else. There are much, much easier ways of earning a few bob. If on the other hand your biggest buzz is hearing an audience laugh and react the way you want them to, then read on.
Of course the subject closest to my heart is comedy and for all my TV, radio and film work I can tell you the comedian has the toughest job of the lot. There are no schools for funny men, no tutors, no gold medal, no letters after the name. The yardsticks are simple - can I make people laugh? Am I funny?
You have to find this out for yourself.
No one, whatever they tell you, is a total natural. Talk to the greatest practitioners and if they're honest they'll come up with the old cliche that it's 'Ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration.' You must work out your routines carefully and learn them.
A lot of people believe the great comedians make it up as they go along. None do.
Rehearse, rehearse and rehearse. Do it until the routine is as familiar as the Lord's prayer - but funnier. Then, and here's where the job of comedian is unlike any other, do it in front of an audience. You must have an audience - any audience - they are the comedian's judge, jury and executioner.
Don't give up after the first hurdle. Many do but you mustn't. Try if you can to suffer the hurt of nobody laughing - it's your first test! Remember what got any sort of favourable reaction and what, as we say in the trade, died on it's arse. Then slink away, alter the routine accordingly and come back for another go. It's a baptism of fire but that's what you have to get through.
Keep on adjusting, rewriting and changing your approach. You must have lots of goes. Don't let the critics make your mind up for you. To be a comedian you need the skin of a rhinoceros, the resilience of a rubber ball and the cheek of the devil. And it's all worth it, believe me. The sound of the first laugh you get is the sweetest sound in the world, it stays with you forever and that's the reason you keep on going.
If you have a burning desire to entertain do please give it a go and if after forty years you still haven't got it right, don't despair - neither have I.
As a master of keeping going, Roy Hudd shares with us a little of what he's up to at the moment.
After doing a few weeks as Archie Shuttleworth the undertaker in Coronation Street I thought that was my lot, but Granada have kept extending the contract and I will be with the Street till the end of July.
I did play two parts in a twenty episode dramatised version of Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton but being part of the Street means that a lot of activities have had to be curtailed. The biggest blow to me was no series of The News Huddlines this year. What happens next year is in the lap of the Gods - and Jim Moir of course! (Jim is Radio 2 controller.)
I'm doing a regular monthly column for Yours magazine and continue to write songs, musicals and pantomimes.
It's one of my great honours to be president of The British Music Hall Society www.music-hall-society.com
Our study group meet at the CAA (Club for Acts and Actors,) 20 Bedford Street, Covent Garden, London WC2 on the second Thursday of each month. For those who are really interested in our subject I cannot recommend the study group too highly.
I have started a company - Roy Hudd Enterprises - and have a few items which I hope to sell to raise money for charity. These include assorted photographs and memorabilia, a handful of copies of ...and June Whitfield signed by the great lady herself as well as autographed copies of my books, tapes and videos.
For a full list of merchandise and prices please send an SAE to:
Roy Hudd Enterprises
PO Box 8923