Monday, 7 November 2016

The Good, The Bad and The Audition.

I’ve had a spate of auditions lately. Not castings where I need to perform an action and smile pretty for the camera. Proper auditions. With dialogue and text and monologues. Theatre and on-camera auditions with proper characters working with other actors. I love doing these auditions. Especially when I get to work with other actors. We’re both working on our craft, and the audition actually becomes fun. After all, acting is what I want to do. And every time I audition I see it as a chance to perform, and hone my craft.

But sometimes bad auditions happen to good actors. I was given a date, time, location and script late on a Monday afternoon for a Tuesday morning audition. I had been selected to audition from my head shot and there was no asking about availability for the given time slot. It was that time or not at all. Attached to the email was the schedule directly from the production company with the names, times and characters all the selected actors would be auditioning for. It was a long list. 

I arrived at the studio, knowing my script and the short byline about the character I would be auditioning for. As this was for a TV series, it would be an on-camera audition at the studio where the series was shot. After looking for a while, I finally found the right building nestled between different studios and stages where productions were being filmed. It all felt so professional. That was until I walked into a reception hall complete with an empty desk. Thankfully one of the other actors from our agency was standing and waiting around too. She had finished her audition, much earlier than the time slot for our agency was supposed to start and was waiting to have her parking ticket stamped so that she would be allowed to leave the premises.

She quickly explained that they had shot the scene twice with her, and hopefully someone would arrive shortly to give me a form to fill in. After calling awkwardly down a passage someone came to the reception desk. Stamped her parking receipt and gave me a form. When I was completing the form I walked down a long passage, as directed by my friend, to a small room. The camera was set up, ready for me to do the usual introductory ID and two young people sat behind the camera. The lady seemingly in charge of the casting looked up from her phone when I greeted them. She asked me to stand in front the camera, where I did the usual ID. I stood awkwardly in front of an eye-level camera when they wanted to start shooting the scene. The script described a woman in the midst of a trauma with rather specific parameters.

“Do you want me to play this on the floor like the script asks?”

I looked skeptically at the angle of the camera.

“Well this scene can be played any way” the casting director said without looking up from her phone.
What I wanted to say was I can play this scene like a unicorn in the midst of an uncharacteristic depression while eating candy floss if that was the direction I was given. Instead I said “OK”.

Being a professional, I gathered myself, found the emotion and breathing pattern I needed for the character in the midst of her panic. I tried to make the scene work as best as I could while remaining within the camera’s frame and playing against a monotone voice reading the lines. The casting director looked at me.

“Maybe we can try it with more emotion.”


What else can you say. So I played the same emotions in a bigger way. The casting director was glued to her phone the moment I finished the scene.
What I felt like on the inside when I was given 'direction'

“Thank you so much” I said as I gathered my coat and handbag to leave. She was busy showing the cameraman something on her phone that they were laughing at and didn’t even look in my direction as I received a single syllable greeting:


I walked out more than a little confused. There was nobody else waiting to audition as I left the studio despite the long list.

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.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Wordy Words That *#$%!

I consider myself rather bilingual. I speak English to my mom and Afrikaans to my father. And despite going to school in English, and thinking in English, I speak Afrikaans to my husband and I dream in both languages. Despite discovering a year or so ago when watching old home movies that I actually started speaking Afrikaans before I started speaking English, I am definitely more comfortable in English. This was confirmed this past week.

I received two scripts in two different languages late in the afternoon. As per usual, they were for the next morning. I started with the Afrikaans one first. It felt as if it was translated using google translate. The script was unnecessarily wordy, and the language quite archaic for something that is supposed to be used for television. As Afrikaans is a consonant heavy language, with hard sounds that makes it even worse. I spent about an hour and a half memorizing the Afrikaans scripts. The cursing really helped to get my muscles of articulation going. I couldn't help but wonder of the neighbour we share a wall with could hear me. Saying a few lines, ruffle pages and then curse. In both langues, I might add. 

It took me about 15 minutes to memorise the English scripts.

It happens so often when you receive scripts in two languages. The English script is written, and then someone tries to translate into another language. But you can’t always translate something exactly, word for word. That’s when you end up with messy sentences, that don’t flow naturally, and frustrated actors who pace up and down their homes swearing every few minutes with copy in their hands. At eleven at night. When a script it well written its easy to memorise. It's the badly written pieces of copy that are difficult to memorise. Or when the writer isn't comfortable with the jargon.

The next morning I recited my scripts in the shower. I recited them as I was doing my makeup. I did all my exercises to make sure that my voice was warmed and all my muscles of articulation were ready for this job they had to do. They were going to work hard. I had memorised my scripts. I knew what I was doing. I wasn't swearing so much anymore. 

When I walked into the casting director’s offices I was wired for sound. I was white balanced, and informed that I looked good, and not blue on camera. In the back of my mind I wandered how often I looked blue on camera.

“Ok sweetheart” the American accent informed me “Just give me the first paragraph.” I wasn’t sure if I was insulted or relieved. I knew the whole thing. 

It was good though, as the first take didn’t go particularly well.
But on the second take I nailed it. I knew I nailed, because the casting director told me so. I did two paragraphs, in a fun and energetic, yet classy and charismatic way. Acting is a world of adjectives.

Oh the Afrikaans. The Afrikaans that I had spent so much time on, didn’t go that well. I managed to get through my paragraph, but the end of the second paragraph it got a bit muddled. I spoke with charisma and energy, in a classy and fun way, but the words became more my own and less of the script toward the end. The American didn’t know.
I knew.
She told me it went great.
I said thank you and left.

I messaged my husband from my car, after smiling, thanking the casting director and leaving.

“The English went well. The casting director said I did it really well.”

“The Afrikaans?”

“Not so much”

“There’s always the next audition.”

As per usual, this exchange happened in Afrikaans.

Monday, 29 August 2016

No sick days for the wicked. Or for adjudicators.

“When are you supposed to leave for Witbank?”

The doctor asked at quarter to nine on a Monday morning while sticking a digital thermometer in my ear.

 “An hour ago”

Mauritz had forced me to see my doctor before making the 160km, almost 2 hour drive to Witbank where I would spend the week adjudicating a speech and drama eisteddfod. I had tried not to let him see how sick I was feeling as I got ready to leave, but he knows me too well.

“You have a temperature of 40degrees. You are not driving anywhere”

“I don’t really have a choice. Literally 100s of kids and parents will be put out if I don’t go.”

“I’m worried that you could get delusional from your temperature. You can’t be driving. The people you are working for will just have to understand.”

I stopped arguing with the doctor, fetched my medication and got into the car to drive to Witbank. When you’re an actor there are no sick days. There’s no rescheduling the 100+ kids I had to see that day. And no one who was able to drive me to Witbank. And I had to go. I called my mom:

“Please call me ever 20 minutes or so. Just make sure I still know that I’m on the road.”

My mom wasn’t too worried.

“Even as a child you never convulsed from fever. You’re a fighter. We raised you that way.”

But she called every 20 minutes none the less to make sure that I was ok. To motivate me again for the next stretch and to tell me that I was stronger than I thought I was. Mauritz called as soon as he was out of his morning meeting. My left hand searched blindly for the call button on the steering wheel while my right hand held on to the door as I stuck my head out of the car where I had pulled off to rid myself of the berroca and oats Mauritz had tried to get me to eat before I left. About 15 minutes into my trip and I knew it was going to be a long drive. One of the longest.

As timing would have it, Mauritz phoned for the second time as I as pulled off on a traffic island or an of- ramp and was again throwing up. Clutching the car door so that it didn’t swing open with the passing traffic and desperately trying to keep the remainder of my hair clean. I could hear the concern as he listened to me heave over the blue-tooth speakers. The fever just had to break. But it didn’t.

I was half an hour late for the start of my session that afternoon. But I had booked into my guesthouse, I had fumbled through a shower and I had managed to drive myself all the way there. It was entirely prayer that got me there.

I was there, and I was somewhat ready to work.

The hall was silent as I walked from the back doors past parents and scholars to my table in the front. Everybody had been told that the adjudicator was very ill, but that she was on her way. The ladies in charge of the English speech and drama were visibly relieved at my presence, and just as visibly disconcerted by my pallor.

They had tried to arrange a stand in adjudicator so that I wouldn’t have to work that day. They hadn’t been able to find one, hence their relief when I actually showed up. They had been able to arrange a scribe and someone had run off to the pharmacy to get me every tablet that would break a fever and keep my food and the medication down. I wrapped myself in my blanket and worked until after 8 that evening.

By the time I got back to my room in the guest house, my fever had broken.

Monday, 15 August 2016

The Hootchie-Pants Are Go!

Hot cop look is what the casting director wanted to see, according to the email. I mentally started building up the look in my head. Tight leather pants, a bomber jacket perhaps a pair of aviators. And then I saw the reference image. It was more Lara Croft that hot-cop. Maybe hot-stripper cop. The single reference image for wardrobe I, the discerning thespian, was supposed to wear was a girl in hot pants with boots and the single line “hot cop look”.

It’s still winter. It’s still cold here. I put on skin tight long pants with my boots. I figured most of the women at the audition would go the same way. Just before I left the house I threw a pair of my shortest denim shorts into my bag. Just in case. Just in case the other girls were also in tiny, tiny pants. In the winter.

And they were. I arrived to the audition in long pants, over the knee boots and a tank top underneath my jacket and thick knitted woolen scarf. The other girls were already in their hot pants. One had long pants on and was looking rather skeptically at her legs. I trotted off to the bathroom and put on my tiny shorts.

I grew up in leotards and swimming suits. I spent every afternoon of my childhood in lycra. That means that I really don’t care all that much about wearing skin tight clothing, or exposing some skin when it’s for the purposes of my work. So I’m not shy about wearing the tiny pants. But I also know I don’t have the stereotypical model body, and I would be standing next to models. Who were also wearing tiny shorts. So without bothering to look into the mirror, I had them on and I was out into the waiting area.

I didn’t have to wait long. We were herded in to start the audition.

“Now, I want to see hard-ass, then I want to see fun ass.”

It was a fun audition. More so than most. Especially since I went through to the next round of taped auditions which means I actually stand a chance of getting the role. But a small on the voice in my head had quite a laugh at my master’s degree in drama, when I was only required to shake my booty in hotpants and then look really tough.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Sing Through the Sniffles.

I haven’t had a good run with doctors in general this year. I’ve been MRI’d, gone back for results only to hear the doctor has no results for me, had a huge needle stuck into my knee and then had my knee operated. That was January to February. My physio was basically my closest friend for the first half of the year, and the last time I went to the doctor about a pain in my chest just wanting some anti-inflammatorys I was sent in for emergency blood tests, lung tests and an EKG.

The only thing that feels less like going to the doctor then me right now, is my medical aid. So when I started with a snivel, I decided to dose myself, get some rest and let my body fight it off. This weekend, I think my body stopped fighting. And I went down. As in, closed off half of our flat to keep me warm, wrapped in a blanket with a role of toilet paper down.

Which is all good and well, except for the fact that I have a huge audition next week. A singing audition, for which I need to prep two songs. On the piano. With no voice. Well, a cackling, crackling, toneless kind of voice. Fantastic if I was auditioning to be the cookie monster.

What my piano looks like right now.

I’ve performed sick before. It’s part of the job. I’ve performed on broken toes (I kid you not) and with sinuses so bad the doctor wanted to hospitalize me. You get your cortisone shot, or whatever you need to keep you going for the next few hours and off you go. And no one has more home remedies on how to get over a sore throat, flu, bronchitis, depression or a near death experience than a troupe of actors and a vocal coach. You can worry about recovering the next day. But when I desperately need the time to prepare to actually get the job? Well, that’s an entirely different story.

So the sheet music is spread on the piano, and I’m memorizing words and melodies. I'm marking pauses, ritardandos and working on dynamics. I’m drinking every effervescent tablet I can find in our house, mixing it with honey and apple cider vinegar and hoping that by Wednesday I can get the notes out. If those notes are pitched correctly, that would be a big win!

Monday, 1 August 2016


The intimidating “industry” has entered the quiet season. I’ve been quiet. I’ve also been away. I’ve been away to hot weather, humidity, swimming in the ocean at night and walking around at 2 and still feeling hot. I thought we had escaped the heart of winter back in South Africa.

Alas, the week that we arrived home Johannesburg was hit with winter rain (which we never get) and hailstorms (usually exclusively a December/January thing). It was cold. Colder for myself and Mauritz as we covered up our tans. And then the email for an audition comes.

I walked out of my house on Friday at 8:30 for my 9:30 audition. Now when you audition you want to look good. And by good I mean sleek. As sleek as possible. The camera is really an unforgiving friend. and casting directors usually only need seconds to decide, based solely on what you look like, if they want you for a callback or not. So I can’t wear tights under my jeans, or something under my shirt. I don't want extra bumps or lines. The casting director needs to see what I look like. What I do do though, is put on the thickest, warmest coat I can find which simultaneously won’t cause my hair to become static. I forage for a scarf preferably not made of wool (see jacket annotation) and anything that has a zip in the front that won’t ruin my hair or makeup. This means I left my house in a jacket that would protect against the cold and the rain (an unusual combination in Johannesburg) and a scarf around my neck that I could put around my feet while I’m waiting. 

When I arrived at the audition I had one of those golden moments. I picked up a form and before I could start to fill it out I was ushered into the audition space to be briefed on what I had to do. I started taking off my layers as I walked in. Upon arrival I was given a spoon and told I had to pretend to eat something.

I’ve eaten things in auditions before. It’s not the weirdest thing I’ve had to do. But when I looked down at the spoon it was covered in lipstick. Needless to say it wasn’t my shade. I looked up at the casting director. I think there was slight panic in my eyes. And also, I was trying not to shiver.

“Please don't actually put that spoon in your mouth though. Just pretend”