Monday, 24 October 2016

Because 'Making It' Really Is Teamwork

I was going to write about the horrible audition I had last week. And I’ve been keeping the day I had three auditions in one day up my sleeve. Or I could have written about the girl that calls me the audition saviour because for some reason I can always help her out with what she needs at auditions. After the last few weeks, instead of something funny or awkward, I wanted to write about something a little more serious today. But it will probably still be funny, or at the very least awkward.

When I started studying acting my biggest fear was hitting thirty and still being a struggling actress who hadn’t ‘made it’. Mostly because I've spent so much of my life dedicated to this goal. Even before studying drama so much of my life was dedicated to performance that every other aspect was built up around the dance classes, or the shows I was in. The only reason I could do it was because I had parents willing to drive me up and down or fetch me from the theatre late at night. I had a mom who sewed sequence onto leotards, and shoes and who was both willing and able to build and paint props. When I went off to study they would drive through for shows to come and support my work. And most importantly, they took it seriously. They took my work and my studies seriously .

When an assistant lecturer post opened up in the first year of my Masters studies I asked my parents if I should take it, feeling guilty that my only income was the 2 hours of lecturing I did at a college on a Tuesday.

“Are you going to have office hours” was my mom’s only question.


“Then no. You need to be free to go for auditions. Remember, we’re in this with you”.

And they haven’t left. My mom still calls me to tell me about an actor who struggled for years to get their break-through role every time she sees or reads about it. Then my husband has joined the team.

When we got married we looked at our finances carefully. Because being an actor means uncertainty. It means that often I go a long time in between pay checks. It’s a commitment to not being committed. To making sure that you are able to go to last minute auditions. You have time to learn the words, and work on your voice, and practice the songs and find the sheet music. A 9 to 5 job would mean that I would be able to help out financially, but I wouldn’t be able to audition as much. I would be giving up on something I had spent most of my life working on, and my to-be-husband knew that. So I didn't take the 9 to5. He’s always insisted that I only do the work that I want to do, and not take jobs just because of the pay. He accepted that being an actor is almost a lifestyle choice before I was a permanent fixture, and accepted that I can’t contribute to the monthly rent. Not right now anyway.

I had one of my bad days yesterday. As actors we all get them. When it’s been quiet for a while, after a bad audition or the job you were sure of fell through. You start to question your decisions when you know you’re not shouldering your half of the bills. I looked at my husband:

“I feel like I’m not doing anything. I feel like I’m wasting my life chasing this thing.”

The man that jokingly calls me his long term investment got very serious for a moment:

“You’re auditioning all the time. You blog, and you write and you finished your masters. That’s doing a lot.”

Sometimes I forget that I'm not in this alone. I have a team behind me. A whole support system in this with me without whom I wouldn’t be where I am right now. A team I am so thankful for and that I desperately don’t want to let down. Today I start learning new scripts, for new auditions reminding myself that auditioning is working. Writing is working. And because my path is different to the paths others follow, it isn’t less valid. Especially when I’m not walking it alone.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Body, Mind and Bikini

Weird things happen. I think even more so when you work with people, and it’s even weirder when you work with actors and models. And bikini castings are never average.

I had to do a bikini casting a few weeks ago. They are not my favourite type of casting, but years of swimming galas and performing competitively in leotards where pulling out your wedgie meant losing a medal means that I’m not particularly shy of my body. I work really hard, and I try to eat healthy food most of the time, so I’m proud of what I’ve built. It is, however, still not great to be herded into a room with a usually even mix of gorgeous over-confident models twice my height and half my weight, and girls almost dying to have to stand there in a bikini.

The casting happened late in the afternoon on a weekday. I waited outside with the rest of girls next to a notice board clearly stating that if you were not wearing a bikini you were not welcome to audition. Of course it was the coldest day of the week as we all sat outside, bikini strings creeping mischievously out of beachy-looking cover ups, dresses and tank tops.

As soon as the casting before us was finished, we were all taken into the usual waiting room. But this time. The usually open room with multiple entry points had all the doors closed tight. If you've been doing auditions for a few years, you get to know the casting agents. He informed a few of us that the reason we were all locked up tight was was because a man had walked in from the street at the last casting and tried to secretly film the girls in their bikinis. Fortunately some from the agency realised what was happening, and managed to pry his phone from his hands to delete the footage before returning it.

Secure in our safe-space while we waited, I sat making awkward small talk about costume styles with a nervous 20-something year old model while putting on my high heels. 

It was a horrible casting. I sat between two models, who dwarfed me even when sitting and all that was required of me was to have a pretend phone call. I was out a few seconds later. My husband wanted to know how it went as I informed him I would be bracing the five o’clock traffic home.

“Not great.”

It’s difficult not to take it personally when someone looks at your bikini-clad body and goes ‘No’. But you can’t take it that way. Personally, that is. Because it is what it is. In that moment you are a billboard to advertise a specific product. No more, no less, and no less human. 

I realised this when I had to do a costume fitting for an advert a few years ago. I was standing in front of a group of people in a skimpy, skimpy bright pink outfit. As I stood there the group discussed the fit of the costume, my body, how I would work on camera. I was discussed in terms of lights, angles, makeup, hair and everything else necessary for a shoot. For the first while I was hyper aware of all my perceived flaws. But somewhere in that high stress moment I had an important mind-shift: It’s not about me or my body. It’s work, and lights and camera angles, and for them I was part of the equipment of their trade that needed to be adjusted and setup for the job at hand. They had a final product in mind that I knew nothing about and they were busy getting the product there. I would be a ‘me’ again in the lunch que on set, or afterward when I was back in my clothes. It’s not personal.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Heading Hence To The Conference Of Shakespeare

Cinema and gender studies has always been my thing. Well at least academically, and at least from my honours year. Even though I’ve always enjoyed my work I tended to feel that it was unimportant in the greater scheme of things. After all, my friends were working in applied theatre and educational theatre to help and uplift people and communities. Or working on actual productions. And there I was, discussing hypotheticals and analysing film scenes. I kind of felt that my work lacked the gravitas to actually be of any practical to use to someone. In the academic sense anyway.

And then on the off-chance someone read my dissertation, and it meant something to them. It helped them understand one of their children better. After working on it for almost four years I told my mom that it was all worth it as my work had, in the smallest way, helped one person. A great achievement when I know only my father and study supervisor would actually read the whole thing. I felt that my research had achieved what it was going to achieve. Expect for maybe being a reference in some other student's undergraduate paper if they happened upon my dissertation in the library.

About a year after handing it in, my study supervisor sent me an email about a Shakespeare conference happening in Durban and focusing on issues of Shakespeare in South Africa. The conference intersected beautifully with my research and he encouraged me to send in an abstract to present a research paper based on my work.

The thought of speaking in front of other people about my research terrified me. I’m completely comfortable on stage. I can walk/dance/sing/act confidently in nothing but my underwear on stage if the role calls for it without batting an eyelash. But ‘public speaking’. No. Give me a few hours of rehearsal and character and I’m fine, but being myself in front of people who get to respond to my work other than a to review it or give a snide comment in passing? No thank you. To add to this, I was going through one of my existential crises, as we actors often do when heightened emotions are our bread and butter. On the cut-off day I threw together and abstract for a paper and emailed it to the appropriate address. I then happily forgot about it, having done my part and being rather sure that I wouldn’t be selected to present at the conference.

Until I was selected to speak at the conference.

Between all the fabulous September castings, adjudicating eisteddfods I was doing my best to write an article.Somewhere, between the student protests my ever-patient study supervisor co-wrote the article with me, and with no time to spear I put together a power point presentation and edited the article down to something I could hopefully read in front of people while nervous. And did I mention we are also in the process of buying property? So between running to the banks, furiously searching for marriage licenses, anti-nuptial agreements, vat numbers and bank certified documents I managed to get everything done. And book my flights and care hire for the conference.

It all became a bit much for me, and as I was throwing clothes into a suitcase on Wednesday evening the anxiety of everything happening at the same time overwhelmed me:

“I wish I wasn’t this nervous person” I said to Mauritz, tears of anxiety and nerves clearly threatening and starting to spill. My husband looked back at me with nothing but love in his eyes, took my hand and said:
“Which nervous person do you want to be?

With seven words he broke through all my tension and made me laugh. So with a heavily edited and marked speech, and power point presentation on my laptop and far too many pdfs to confirm all my booking  that my OCD requires I flew down to Durban on Thursday later afternoon to start my conference on Friday morning.

The third paper for Friday I started, in all seriousness:

“The first time I had to speak about my research I told my now co-writer who was then my study supervisor that I would rather do walk-overs in my underwear in front of everybody than talk about my research”

Their laughter and the general positive atmosphere of the day relaxed me, and I got through my paper. I could even answer all the questions the Shakespeare academics flung at me.

As the group headed towards their cars after day 1 one of the day’s earlier speaker came up to me:

“I must admit, I’ve never seen you dance in your underwear, but you spoke really well today. And I really enjoyed your paper.”

In closing, I just want to give a big thank you to everyone in my life for all the support and messages of encouragement as I tackled this presentation. I've had unwavering support from my husband, parents, brother and study supervisor without whom I probably never would have left the front door.