ROUND THE TWIST: A Merry Christmas!
Saturday 24 December 2011
Merry Christmas to all! And a week of change and adjustment for the cast, as Sally had to drop out, temporarily, after sustaining an injury during a show, resulting in Bryony taking over, a script in hand and the bull grabbed firmly by the horns.
The theme of adjustment has played as one of the main melodies in my life for the last week, not just professionally. For the first time in my life I will spend Christmas Day with my partner's family this year (we will spend New Year with mine). We have also made plans on where to live next: possible locations include South London and Walthamstow Central. Any suggestions gratefully received! My partner Holly has just learned she has TV work beginning next year, which requires travelling to Scotland for two months. My Grandpa has just left hospital after a brief visit there.
Actors deal with work changes regularly, as one job finishes to announce another, or more likely, a new period of unemployment. High taxation, the artificial restriction of house building, copyright monopolies and the licensing of venues for performance combine to restrict the number of jobs available for us, and at the same time increase the amount of money we must earn in order to support ourselves. So we experience a great deal more insecurity and novelty than those who choose other professions.
While I deplore the restrictions placed by the powerful on our abilities to support ourselves, those restrictions fertilize our spiritual natures. Marcus Aurelius would applaud the stoicism and gritty determination of the people I find myself privileged to work alongside, and Siddhartha Gautama their compassion. Ayn Rand and Bernard Shaw alike would admire the methods actors develop to support themselves in their periods of unemployment. Leary would beam a toothy grin back at the resolutely cheery faces who choose this path. The more time I spend in this job, the more I find my fellow travellers teach me about things outside of the theatre doors.
A powerful example: The nature of a change resides not in the change, but the observer. Approach something fearfully, and it will appear fearful. Do physical actions suggesting your relationship with a thing, and your body will begin to supply the appropriate sensations and feelings. That's method acting. Equally, approach a change with love and joy, and the power of the change will fuel those emotions.
Adjustment rocks! The more fluid your responses become, the better you thrive. As Lao Tse and a famous mountaineer both observed, change is stability, and stability change. And as the most famous Rabbi once said, the kingdom of God is, literally, at hand: since as Stanislavski observed of any state, start acting as though it is there, and sure enough, it turns up.
ROUND THE TWIST: The future is...
Saturday 10 December 2011
I write this on the smooth touchscreen of my tricorder, er, my Samsung Galaxy S2. In the couple of weeks since the show opened, I have joined the future. I don't know what took me so long. I got the Asus Eee as soon as it came out, I run Linux, and read mainly science fiction on my Sony Reader. But I hesitated over a smartphone for a couple of years. As soon as I succumbed, though, I knew I had made the right choice.
A similar thing happened for me with acting. I had enjoyed youth theatre for most of my life, and developed a great passion for making a spectacle of myself, but although I fantasized about becoming an actor, I never quite let myself view it as a real possibility.
It changed over dinner with my Aunt Orna. Asked what I wanted to do with myself when I grew up, my 14-year-old self decided to do his best impression of a well-brought-up middle-class career-seeker, and spouted something about possibly archaeology, since he didn't think acting "was the right thing money-wise" for a career.
Now precisely what Orna objected to about this I never found out: perhaps she felt I lay in danger of not living the dream; or more likely, felt sickened by my bizarre notion that archaeologists made more money than actors. But she made it clear that I ought to examine my reasoning for what I had just said.
On reflection, I realized that I hadn't really told the truth over dinner: rather I had told the story I thought the alpha female wanted me to tell. Luckily for me, the alpha female in question had the insight to recognize that Joel the pack-animal had gained control of the speaking apparatus at that moment, not Joel the thinker, and certainly not Joel the free-willed being.
Joel the free-willed being eventually decided to pursue acting after all, when he did work experience at the Mercury Theatre Colchester and realized what an exciting breed of people worked in showbusiness. Screw the money!
Joel the free-willed being now worries rather more about the money, especially since he has now met The One and has started thinking about breeding at some point this decade, but generally still agrees with his decision to pursue acting. And hey, with the economy in its current mess, everybody else has to start worrying about the spectre of unemployment, whereas Joel has dealt with it for 6 years and come out on top. He can even afford to get a smartphone...
And Joel the pack animal gets increasingly less of a look-in in a subculture that highly values individuality and eccentricity. In this career, what sets you apart gets you the job, a point one realizes pretty quickly on encountering a roomful of other versions of oneself every time one auditions.
Joel Sams, Actor
ROUND THE TWIST: A nice slice of ham...
Monday 28 November 2011
What a week! We began with two sessions of tech on Monday, finishing Wednesday morning. We don't have a hugely technical show: the greatest amount of faff came from the prop-wrangling, and the need to adjust a couple of set changes. Nevertheless, I felt quite nervous throughout the tech, which in hindsight I believe came from my anxiety over my performance. I don't really "lead" this show - all five of us have a pretty equal burden in that respect - but I function as the centre round which the rest spin, and I hadn't had that responsibility before.
The three dresses went increasingly well, though I found them extremely exhausting. In any run, actors develop something they call "show fitness", which means they learn to perform the show increasingly efficiently. I didn't have that yet, and consequently I burnt far more calories per dress than I did in the final show of the week.
Opening night went very well indeed. I performed much more smoothly than I expected, and we received a couple of great reviews. I had to shoot off as soon as the show finished, as I had an audition the following day in London. As a bonus, I got to see my partner, Holly, who had spent the evening putting curlers in her hair for tomorrow's filming.
The audition at the Drill Hall went well. One of my favourite bookshops lies about a three minute walk away, and usually they offer some second-hand items for a pound. On this occasion, I found, and bought, 14 of such books. Win! I returned to Ipswich with half a tree in my bag.
We had a smaller audience on the second night. I use a rather hammy delivery for this show, which I think works well for the Oliver Nicklefield character and "his" interpretation of Tiny Tom, but as a result I felt less in contact with the audience than usual. With a smaller audience, I decided I had to talk to individuals during my narration, and found this allowed me to retain sufficient ham and increase my connection with the audience. So now I do that no matter what size the audience.
More good reviews followed, and on Saturday we came to our first double show day. Now, I find that I have to plan my meals quite carefully for shows, as I burn a lot of calories on stage. And so I worried that the quick turnover between shows - less than an hour - would cause me to run low on energy for the evening performance. However, this did not happen. By the end of the week, I had begun acquiring show fitness, and I had also made a habit of consuming a mince pie and glass of orange juice during the interval, to get me through the most energetic part of my show, just at the beginning of the second half. I also staggered my dinner, eating half at the beginning of the break, and the rest about twenty minutes before the second kick-off. The combination of safeguards proved effective.
Right, that's it! I'll write a little more regularly now that we have opened and I have my days back.
Joel Sams - Actor
ROUND THE TWIST: On the right track.
Sunday 13 November 2011
I need to plan my weekend quite tactically. I guessed wrongly about some of the information I'd have by now about the state of the play, which means I now need to try to come up with a set of guesses that will maximize the usefulness of whatever work I do today and tomorrow. I thought I'd share them with you, since this sort of minimax stuff quite often forms part of an actor's experience on a "new writing" show.
We finished Week 2 with a staggerthrough of the first half's second part, which ran 37 minutes. Next time we try that we will probably take about 10 minutes off, since we had to repeat several parts. I guess that brings the entire first half, in its current incarnation, to 67-ish minutes - which probably means several pages of cuts on Monday morning.
I find re-learning a changing script very difficult, as the needle of my memory tends to jump back to whatever "track" it has most strongly imprinted, so I don't want to spend much time on potentially "wrong" parts.
The first half of the first half has probably received most of its cuts. Perhaps parts of the opening scene could go, in which I mostly do not appear, or some of my autobiography speeches. Those don't need much of my time - I have already learned them - so in fact resting them will probably help in the event that some go, as the rust will discourage me jumping back to the earlier track. No, I think any cuts will turn up in what we ran on Friday evening, which means I shouldn't shore it up too much.
The lines in Act 4 will probably alter quite radically. I don't think much of Act 5 will alter, so I will work on that, and also the beginning of the 2nd half. I don't think much of the 2nd half will go, since it has about 2/3 the number of pages of the first half. So, beginning of the second half today, end of the second half tomorrow. Also, learning songs. This leaves me about an hour a night of energy left for line-learning Monday to Friday, which should allow me to to fill in the gaps. Also, lines will go in during rehearsal.
There's my plan!
Joel Sams - Actor
ROUND THE TWIST: Basic Instinct
Friday 11 November 2011
You know that stretchy rubber sheet your physics teacher used to demonstrate the bending of spacetime? My mind feels a bit like that at the moment. I've spent the last few years playing supporting roles, and my brain hasn't had to do seat-of-the-pants rehearsing for a while, where you have so much material to learn and practise that you can't get far enough out of its gravity well to enjoy a clear view. At the moment, my view of my part resembles those scratchy little pictures of the dark side of the Moon the Soviets took using radiation-resistant film they nicked off a downed American spy satellite. Ah, I see my simile has run away with me. Let's move on.
I usually calculate my performances pretty carefully as I rehearse. This time round, I feel more need to run on instinct. I don't have time to plan too consciously at this stage. I have to trust that I have the lines, the moves, the thoughts, SOMEWHERE, and they'll turn up on cue: just getting everything present and turning up in the right order proves hard enough for now. I'll finesse in week 3.
Joel Sams - Actor
ROUND THE TWIST: Confession
Saturday 05 November 2011
I have a confession to make. I...I have... I have never... worked at Christmas before. I've always missed the casting, which often takes place very early in the year. I've wanted to work on a Christmas show ever since I left Guildhall, but the opportunity hasn't arisen. Until now! And what a wonderful Christmas show to start with!
We have just finished the first of 3 rehearsal weeks. Rehearsals seem pretty similar no matter where you work: you read through the play, then work it through slowly, scene-by-scene, then work scenes in more detail without scripts, and then you start running scenes together.
Ivan, the director, encourages a very collaborative atmosphere, and we have all pitched in with suggestions as we begin getting our heads round the deliciously written and very funny script.
In fact, the script spoils us for choice: we have a little too much material, and some of it must come out. I've learned a lot by watching how Ivan and the more experienced members of the company have suggested cuts, and suggested some myself. Some? Well, actually I've suggested a lot. I figure I'll learn most about cutting a play if I suggest every potential cut I notice, and remember which get accepted, and which rejected, and why. Besides, I have a lot of lines :-P .
Eastern Angles has a schedule that, unlike anywhere else I've worked, allows actors to rehearse in the theatre space. And we already have half the set to rehearse with. I haven't played in traverse for a while, and never a comedy before (though I've come close-ish at the Mill at Sonning). For this reason I've found getting into the space this early very useful. I don't know, yet, the best places to face when delivering a punch line, for example, or how much you need to play out when you have audience on both sides. I shall beaver away by myself at this for a couple more days, then I shall pump the older members of the company for information.
I watch any actor older than me pretty closely. The older the actor, the more concentrated the technique, and the more you learn by watching what they do and having a go yourself. I once heard, but couldn't see, a 70-year-old actress getting 7 laughs, and 2 rounds of applause, just by coming on with a serving trolley. She opened the show. I stood in the wings behind a closed door, and couldn't work out what the hell she was doing. (I got the truth out of her a couple of years later, but she has sworn me to secrecy.)
(The Tribal Elders also know the taboos. The theatres in Britain have quite a definite subculture, which you don't really learn about until you start working in some of them. You can speed your enculturation by hanging around whoever has worked the longest.)
Songs! I haven't had a solo for years, and I love the one I've got in this show. I've never got to sing anything like it before.
Costumes. I feel very jealous of a wire-based item which Gabby will get to model for you all, should you come and see the show.
Steampunk! Just wait til you see our set.
Ale! Drink of the week: Adnams' Explorer.
Joel Sams - Actor