Month: May 2017

The Daily Backstage: Manchester

Our world is slowly becoming a more and more dangerous place. 

Acts of radicalised terrorism are carried out on a daily scale that is staggering. And heartbreaking. 

The cowardly attack in the Manchester Arena was one of the most recent. That’s not news to anyone. I would be surprised if there were many people within the western world who had yet to hear about it. 


I read this morning about the tragedy of it. The word stuck in my brain for hours, percolating away. I had a problem with it – but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Then I realised why I found it to be such an ill fitting description. 

It’s not a tragedy. It is a violation. 

This coward came into a venue, and murdered people who were listening to music. Men, women, children. Children. 22 dead and hundreds injured. Thousands more psychologically. An 8 year old girl, whose crime was going to, probably her first, concert, died on the way out. Killed by a nails launched from a bomb, tearing through her. That’s an image I cannot get out of my head. 

And before anyone steps up as they are so prone to do at times like this and say “pray for all the other places that are so frequently bombed, and all the other people that are killed” – those heroes are already popping up in my news feed, yes, those are violations too. We all know that. Some of them effect us more than others. It is not curious that those are the ones we talk about more. 

Interestingly the only time we ever hear from you “but what about…” folk is when you bitch about no one caring about all the other tragedy in the world. As if this atrocity could ever take value or meaning away from the rest. So I have a suggestion – either find a way to talk about it on the daily, dedicate your lives to raising awareness and combatting it – or do us all a favour and shut your mouths for a few days. 

The thing that hits home with this, for me, is that as a creative I put such high faith on a place like a theatre, or an arena being safe. The levels we go to as a performer to make sure that everyone both onstage and off is safe and secure is extremely high. 

As a performer; a theatre, or a rehearsal venue, or a concert hall, or even the big arena venues should be treated as sacred spaces. They are sanctuaries where people throw themselves down open and exposed in front of their peers, they create, and they perform, and they strive to use art to change the lives of the people around them. Through music, or voice, or image. They strive to educate, and improve. To bring people together. To make them consider and think and push boundaries. To unify.

This degenerate came in to the place that I consider holy above all others and he destroyed thousands of lives. He came into my temple and slaughtered children experiencing their first ever concert never got to go home and tell their friends and family about it. They never got to find the way that it subtley changed them as a person and they never got to see how art could change the world through them and the power of that shared experience. 

How many people now won’t let their children go out to have experiences like this? How many people will now lock themselves into their homes in fear? How much has the world lost because of one degenerate? Those lives extinguished so much before their times as a perversion of an idealogy. 

I find myself – strangely – agreeing with President Trump in my own grief and anger. Don’t worry – I am just as confused about this turn of events as you are, but then there is a first for everything I suppose. In his address on the bombing, he called the perpetrator an “evil loser in life”, which the media leapt on. It is worth noting however, that he also went on to say that he would not call them monsters, because they would enjoy it way too much. Trump copped a lot of flack for his evil losers comment, but I find it fitting. He may have said it because he lacked the vocabulary to create a better image, but for me it creates a strong and apt imagery. One that robs these losers of their power. 

The one thing I know – acts like this, violations of this nature. We cannot allow them to stop us. We cannot allow them to let us live in fear. 

My heart breaks for those we lost. And I cannot imagine the sheer pain of those that are left to figure out how to live their lives now. The stories emerging are powerful and harrowing. The stories of heroism and bravery are already being told. A homeless man sheparding children to safety. An aunt dying, shielding her niece from the blast. 

The world is becoming a more dangerous and uncertain place – but we cannot let these people or these atrocities dim our lights. We cannot. We must let it push us to be better, to be more inclusive, to love harder and fiercer and stronger than ever before. We must take that light, create with it, let it illuminate all of the dark places in our world. Because then there will be no places left for anyone to hide in. They will be exposed, and alone. As they should be. 

Create – in the face of all that is thrown against us. Create. 

S. 

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4 Ways To Dealing With A “Challenging” Scene Partner

I saw a forum post recently – a young lady who is studying acting – she was deep in rehearsals, working on a show that opens in a week, and lamented that her scene partner kept dodging the kiss scene and being difficult about it. This was causing her some concern and rightly so – she felt that her work was being ruined and her grades would be equally impacted.

Maybe it’s surprising, but this is not the first case of a difficult scene partner I’ve heard about .. even this week. They crop up far more often than they should – and it can make your dream show an absolute nightmare if not handled correctly.


In the case of our young friend, the advice she was receiving was not only unhelpful, it bordered on unprofessional behaviour. Advice like “just stop the scene then and there and have it out with him” is tempting, especially a week out from opening. Sadly it will not help her, or you build the rapport you need to do your best work, and it may backfire – earning you an undeserved reputation.

I have had more than a few difficult cast members to work with, from the egotistical, the disinterested, the “I wanted a different part”, the “rehearsals are only for OTHER actors – and I know my stuff already”, the ever present “this is just a hobby for me”, and even one who accepted the part of a homosexual author and then refused to participate in rehearsals because it “might make him look gay”.  Without naming any names, I have found some ways of dealing with even the most … irksome costars.

  1. Talk To The Director.
    This may seem like the really obvious step, but it is surprisingly often overlooked in favour of less desirable methods. It should be your first port of call if things are becoming an actual issue. You should approach them quietly and away from the eyes and ears of the rest of the cast. Keep emotion out of it, state your facts, and leave it in their capable hands. The director should have the best interests of the show at heart and will hopefully intervene on your behalf. Note – the director may listen to your concerns and just ask you to persevere with it. This can be frustrating – but the director may know something about the situation that you don’t. Remember they see the bigger picture – that’s their job – and as such they are a vital step in resolving any difficulties you have.
  2. Talk To The Offending Cast Member. 
    Again, a really obvious step and one that people just don’t do often enough. I went to uni with an actor who – we could only assume – bathed each night in a vat of his own sweat. Unpleasant does not begin to describe it. However, it occurred to us, after weeks and months of complaining and whining between ourselves that maybe no one had ever approached him about it being an issue. So we had a quiet chat to the stage manger, she quietly had a chat to him one day after rehearsals and wouldn’t you know – it miraculously stopped being a problem. Similarly, I’ve had personality clashes with the odd cast member (I know – who would have thought someone like me with the temperament of an angel would ever have a personality clash – weird I know – but it’s happened) and these are so often just a case of misunderstanding. More often than not, me just approaching them and airing my “issue” in a professional manner, quietly off to the side has yielded far better results than not.
  3. Be The Bigger, Better Person.
    This one may be a hard pill to swallow, but we often make mountains out of molehills in the heat and passion of doing a show. Weigh it up and, if it’s not going to be world ending, maybe just get on with your work. This would apply to around 95% of grievances I’ve had with other cast members even when they were at their most difficult. There is a lot of peace to be found in acceptance and knowing that you are going to come in day in, day out and do the best job you can do regardless can be really satisfying.
  4. Quit. 
    Controversial, and a difficult step to take, but valid. I don’t put this step on here lightly but, in the rarest of rare cases, where it cannot be ignored and you have taken steps to talk to both the production team, the company, and the actor themselves and nothing appears to be being done about it – Walk. Away. I stress the only time I would do this is if my health, safety, and well being were in jeopardy and I honestly felt that no one was doing anything to intervene. It’s not always possible sometimes you’ll just have to grit your teeth and go with it, but when it is, if that is what is going on – walk away with your head held high.

It’s never fun when someone decides to rain on our parade. An amazing opportunity to do what we all love to do, and then they go about being difficult. When these moments do rear their heads though – there are ways to go about dealing with it that don’t involve waging WWIII. Much fun as that would be, I’m sure.

Don’t let these moments get you down – deal with it and move on and enjoy the art you’re there for.

Happy Creating –

S.

Own The Room: 6 Steps To A More Confident, More Controlled, Audition

I have a confession to make. I love AUDITIONING.

I love preparing for them, I love being in the room, I love performing there, and I love walking back out again and moving on to the next thing.

Controversial right?

Because for most people, AUDITIONS are the “Big Bad” – the step to get through, the hurdle to overcome before you get to the actual prize of trudging through the rehearsals and FINALLY hitting the stage!
Right? Except .. what if they weren’t?

Arguably we audition for more roles than we get. We’ve all certainly prepared for roles, dreamed of them and lusted after them then had our hopes dashed when the inevitable “thank you for attending the audition but ….” email/phone call comes. We’ve ALL been there.

In spite of that – or maybe because of that – I love them.

It’s a given truth that a huge percentage of the audition is totally out of your control, you could be too tall, too blonde, too worldly, or too loud for the role. YOU CAN’T CONTROL ANY OF THAT.

In MY case (I imagine) it is often that I am not especially … tall.

I blame my legs for the betrayal. My torso continued to grow, but my legs refused to follow, leaving me looking remarkably toddler-like in my proportions.

But knowing that you have no control over it – this gives you a FREEDOM.

Having also spent my share of time on the OTHER side of the audition panel. I have a total appreciation for the fact you perhaps didn’t progress to Call Backs because … just maybe … you were the 11th audition in a row I had just sat through and-holy-wow-please-stop-singing-because-I-need-to-pee.

It is worth remembering that panelists are human too. They WANT you to succeed. They wouldn’t have you there if they didn’t hope you could contribute a Tony worthy performance in their show. But sometimes they have distractions, and sometimes they make mistakes. These things happen. I mean … I don’t make mistakes … but I’ve heard it happens sometimes… *wink*

This is not a totally comprehensive list – and there are some generalisations here – but these are 6 steps I use to be more relaxed and in control in an AUDITION room;

1. BE PREPARED With Your Material. 

This may be the simplest of all of the pieces of advice but it is surprising how often people turn up not knowing their material. I’m not just talking about any songs YOU’VE CHOSEN YOURSELF to sing for your audition – it’s a given that you should know it. Backwards.

If you want to impress (and that’s what you’re there for) – you should ALSO know, and be confident with, any material YOU’VE BEEN ASKED to prepare.

I’ve gone into audition rooms not wholly comfortable with my material – needless to say those are the ones that became horrible out-of-body experiences.

2. Take a BREATH. 

Breathing is life. Breathing is all. I have a strong belief that breathing is the key to all things, including and especially acting and singing. So just take a good, slow, deep breath.

It will help you slow down, it will help you not seize up, and it will make sure that you have a much better chance of nailing that high note, or keeping a solid speaking voice. Promise.

Keep breathing. It is key.

3. REDEFINE What You’re There For. 

I used to be all about getting the part. That’s the goal – that’s the aim. YEAH!!

The PART is what it is all about. And look – it is. Otherwise why turn up?

I listen to an amazing podcast called “Inside Acting”, and they advocate changing the game in your favour by calling auditions “meetings”. It creates a shift in why you’re there, in the pressure of it, and that can give you a serious advantage.

I try to keep focused on it as a performance in its own right. Just a performance for an audience of 3, or 5 (or however many people are sitting behind the table). I want to focus on my chance to practise “cold reading” in front of people, or my chance to showcase some bold choices I’ve made in the performance of this song. Divorcing myself from the need to “get the role” makes things much simpler. I can walk out of the room, and while I hope I get called back, I put on a good performance – and that is enough for me.

4. It’s Your Time – OWN IT.

Similar to the point above, this is about redefining your purpose in the space. This is your 15 minutes with the panel. Own it. Use it to promote your agenda. It is YOUR space, the panel are just there to watch YOU. Ask the questions YOU want to ask. Keep the focus on you.

Shine bright like a … you know how the quote goes.

5. Don’t Be Afraid To Say STOP.
This top tip is designed to be used with caution, and I know A LOT of people who have sat on panels will dislike it being included..

But look – it’s YOUR time, and Broadway stars (who are paid a lot more than you or I) have been known to stop sold-out Broadway shows dead, mid-performance, in front of 2,000 people – just to start again.

So I think it’s safe to say – if you stop one time, in one audition, ONCE, no one is really going to mind. Sense the theme here – you get ONE use of this, one – that’s it. Use it again and you’ll seem flaky and unprepared.

I have a great example of this – a friend of mine had an audition recently, they played the backing track and as soon as they started to sing they realised that they could not hear it. At all. Instead of confidently maintaining control and stopping, boosting the sound, checking it all worked, and proceeding with their audition they just kept going. Slowly getting further and further out of time. Which look – isn’t going to be a problem in and of itself. The panelists will understand and will overlook it or help you out. Personally I would stop you and fix the problem myself. BUT – that’s not going to help you feel like you’re in control of the situation and as soon as your focus is off on “oh god I can’t hear that, can I hear it, where am I, oh god oh god oh god” your chances of making a mistake will escalate.
As I said though – this should be used .. cautiously and as infrequently as possibly.

6. In 5 Years – It Really WON’T MATTER EITHER WAY.

The good news – if you don’t get the part – it’s not going to matter. Probably in 5 weeks, let alone 5 years.

I know the argument there are people who will say “but Shane – what if this was the show that catapults me to fame and fortune?”. The answer to that is pretty simple – if you’re that good, you will have your opportunity. Your time will come. Promise.

REGARDLESS of any tips I can give you, we have to walk in to each audition knowing that there are such a wide variety of factors that are entirely OUT OF OUR CONTROL. Understanding the elements that you CAN control, and finding WHAT WORKS FOR YOU – can be a game changer. These tips all hang largely around keeping you feeling confident, prepared, and lower the stakes, all of which will let you feel much more in control. After all, that’s what this audition game is all about really – feeling good so you can put on the best showing possible.

These are the steps that I use. I’m not always successful at using them, but I know that the auditions I haven’t performed my best at, (and the ones that have taken the biggest toll on me afterwards), are the ones that I have been furtherest away from my ideal audition set up. I didn’t feel in control.

AUDITIONING isn’t a science – but it doesn’t have to be the terrifying experience a lot of us find it to be.

Happy Creating!

S.

The Daily Backstage: A Creative Mind Is A Wonderful Thing

For those of you who don’t know me especially well, I will let you in on the worst kept secret of all time – my favourite day of the year – bar none – is New Years Eve. It is amazing. The raw potential, the passion, the time for reflection and the knowledge that when that clock strikes there will be a whole year stretching out before me that is unwritten and it could see me doing ANYTHING.  

I love it more than coffee. Which is saying something.


But – the thing I don’t hold much stock in are the resolutions that come along with it. The frantic three weeks of gyming and healthy eating before the inevitable slide back into our “regular” lives. I stopped making them years ago, they never seem to stick for me. I am resolutely anti-resolution. Isn’t the English language fun!?!

But this year I did make a couple of guideposts for myself. Things I wanted to try to do a little more with my time. One of which was to be more honest and open about things that I am going through. Like a lot of us, I do try to avoid talking about myself. Amusing then that I am a blogger, but even here on my blog I can be a character. I can slip through the cracks and oh, how I do. But one of the things that I want to try to be more open about – is my journey against myself. My own mind. My mental illnesses – such as they are.

Some of the biggest and the best have been afflicted by mental illness in some form or another, including; Sylvia Plath, Lord Byron, T. S. Eliot, Irving Berlin, Virginia Woolf, Vincent Van Gogh, Beyonce, Adele, Zayn Malik, Selena Gomez, Lady Gaga, Bruce Springsteen, Robin Williams, Carrie Fisher, Heath Ledger, and Ellen Degeneres. That’s just naming a handful and the afflictions they suffer from are wide ranging and include everything from insomnia to addiction to bipolar disorder to depression to anxiety and far more than I could even name in this article and keep you reading.

So it would seem that I am in good company.

Still – the stigma that surrounds even the discussion of mental health is extremely strong. The resistance to accept it is, frankly, overwhelming and where that is true, actually dealing with it is extraordinarily unlikely. I’m not just talking about myself here, or my own reluctance and resistence to getting help. This is information gathered from long discussions with my fellow creatives, many of whom suffer undiagnosed and untreated. Needlessly.

For myself, I suffer from bouts of anxiety, and depression. As I have mentioned previously, these are usually manageable. Either day to day, or when paired with counselling. Sometimes there will be days, or weeks when it is worse. Functioning is much harder on those days – putting one foot in front of the other is about all I can do. Sometimes not even that. I have known moments of struggling to get out of bed, or to answer the phone, or to have a conversation because of the overwhelming anxiety. Fortunately for me, these are rare moments, and as I age (gracefully??) I have gained a better understanding of how to deal with them.

The truth is, it should never have taken me so long to accept it about myself, or to override the stigma that surrounds the issues. There are studies that would suggest that creatives exhibit at least a 25% higher chance of also suffering from a mental illness. According to similar grouped studies they also have a higher likelihood of having first relatives who also have a variety of mental afflictions but also have creative type personalities.

A 2005 study conducted by Dr. Alice Flaherty at Harvard Medical School posits that creative thinking, like many forms of mental illness (manic depression / schizophrenia) both involve unusual frontal lobe activity. A further study from the University of Florida by Dr. Kenneth Heilman goes a step further and suggests that such unusual frontal lobe activity results in combining information stores in the parietal and temporal lobes in innovative ways.

So what does that mean, why did I write it, and why did you read it? Excellent questions and I am glad you asked.

In and of itself – nothing. Not a damn thing. But the fact that there are credible studies, a mouse click away – and not just one but dozens, is surely comforting when things get dark. This information means maybe we all need to take a step back and adjust our idea of normal – and if “we all” is a bit general, then at least me. At least I can sit back and not judge myself so harshly.

As to why I wrote this article – it’s a nice precursor for things to come. I don’t want to be the guy who flies around and talks about illness day in and day out, but I also don’t want to be the guy who sits back quietly while I, and others go through the same thing. This stuff doesn’t just effect creatives – there are many people out there not getting the help that they deserve because they are afraid of having a stigma shoved down their throats. I don’t want a continued silence to be my legacy. Not if it means that I could have helped even one person find their way through.

In that spirit – if anyone reading this DOES need to talk about anything or reach out to someone in any way, they should’t hesitate. Here are a list of support networks in Australia. It is by no means a comprehensive list but it will give you a good place to start your journey.  It can be scary to start – but all the steps that come after it are easier. I promise. We’ll do it together.

Happy Creating friends.

S.