Dance Monkey Dance! (Or: How To Stop Worrying As An #Actor)

This will be a short one, but I need to put it out there, because the more I feel I’ve repeated myself, the more I meet people who don’t seem to understand this concept at all.

In your defense, actors of the world, you’ve been fed lies since you started watching behind the scenes documentaries, or interviews with cast & crew. Rarely, if ever, do you truly appreciate the concept of teamwork that is integral to making movies, the spontaneity of it all, the joy, the importance of every team member, and most importantly, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Yes, even greater than you.

Because despite what the world wants us to believe, despite every instagram account you see, despite every glowing review of a star’s abilities, you too are merely a cog in the machine. An Assistant Story Teller. A Dancing Monkey.

This isn’t a bad thing, though, when you come to terms with it. You’re there to play pretend, and make it seem real. Realizing that you cannot possibly hope to do this without the help of every single member of the team teaches us humility, grace, and an ability and willingness to collaborate.

Far too often, I see actors responding to the DIRECTOR OF THE FILM’s directions with “Nah, I don’t think my character would do that.”

On behalf of everyone: Please drop this line of thinking immediately. Shut your mouth, and realize what you’re saying.

You are saying “I know this character than you, boss, and you are wrong and you should change your vision because I say so.”

Even if the director lets that go, rest assured, they think you’re an asshole.

The thing about collaboration is that you “should” speak your mind when you have concerns- because your job is to be intimate with the character. If you’re doing it well, your gut should tell you when something doesn’t feel right.

But never, ever again should you be saying “My character wouldn’t do that.” Ever again. Because your job is to find a reason for your character to do that.

Get it?

Look at it this way: You’re playing a character who’s intrinsically shy, but then gets into a fight. Why? Why would they suddenly fight? This makes no sense! Guess what, mate: It’s your job to make it make sense. State your concerns, talk to the director, find a way to compromise.

Do not be so arrogant as to stick to your preconceived notions of character. That fundamentally denies what we as actors are supposed to be- empathetic. We need to understand our characters so well, that we can justify anything, with help.

You are not better than your director, your sound guy, your make up artist, or your First AD. Your ideas are welcome, but a part of a collaboration. You, like the rest of them, are here to create a vision together.

Do not get lost in the fantasy that Hollywood feeds you, that the actor creates these characters completely on their own, without help and without compromise. It is tripe, and it makes you a less versatile person, and a less empathetic human. You can do better.

Remember, monkey. Now Dance!

THE BIG NEWS (In Story Form!)

For those that can’t be bothered reading this story I went out of my way to create- there’s a TL;DR right at the bottom. 😉

My office chair won’t bend backwards and I frustratingly push against it with all my might as I search the casting calls for this week on various social networks. One immediately catches my eye: SHAKESPEARE TOUR. WOW! What a wonderful gig that would be- travel around, bringing the bard’s words to life.

PAID?! Holy crap! Sign me up!

IN CHINA!

Huh?

Don’t get me wrong, I love China very much- I’d visited before on a different tour in fact! Love me some toilets that are essentially holes in the ground-

china trip 2Featured- Me In China. That’s not a hole in the ground btw, that’s The Great Wall. Kinda the opposite. Anyway.

That wasn’t the source of skepticism. It was the classic gut feeling of “This seems too good to be true”.

I’m a professional actor, and one of the first things you need to accept if you want to go down that path, or the path of any  artist, really- it’s that people are going to take advantage of you. If they can get away with it, they will use you and never compensate you for your time and effort.

And this? To me it legitimately sounded like a spam email .

COME TOUR SHAKESPEARE IN CHINA. ALSO SEXY SINGLES WANT YOUR DICK AND NIGERIAN PRINCES WANT YOU TO HAVE THEIR MONEY.

With this in mind, I cautiously put my name down to be considered, and a few emails later, there I was, sitting with other young and a few mid 40’s hopefuls. It’s not crowded, but it’s certainly not an open space to do your voice trills either– but I do my best to go over my lines and shoot the shit with my fellow performers. There’s always a temptation to not talk to ‘the competition’- don’t be that guy, dudes. If they hire the other guy, they do, and you feeling tense and giving the side eye to everyone else in the room will help your case not a bit.

After a time, I’m the only guy left in the room and I begin to play my warm up music. The entirety of KISS: ALIVE! A live album I’ve always got on my phone to psyche myself up. Yes, I know. Egh- KISS- what a bunch of posers. But to me they are the epitome of my values on stage- work your fucking tail off and give the audience what they paid to see. Every. Time. It’s hard not to feel invincible when I have Let Me Go Rock N’ Roll going- and I just let loose.

It’s hard to take yourself too seriously when you warm up to these dudes.

Just as I’m really getting into it, letting my hair down and doing some air kicks- Chris- the co director and the wizard behind the curtain of this production, tells me to come in. I’m a little embarrassed- normally I use headphones- but since I was alone I was playing it full blast. I shake it off and walk in with confidence.

Entering the room I meet another director- one who’s very friendly- the good cop to Chris’ aloof persona. I introduce myself and get going performing the famous “All The World’s A Stage” monologue by Jacque from As You Like It. This along with my go to contemporary monologue (there is no record of it as it’s from a play I did in my university days)- make me feel pretty confident, I shake hands and leave.

An hour later- I get an email “CAN YOU COME BACK TOMORROW”

Um? Hell yes?

r2d2 beeps happily

The day flutters by quickly and there I am again with Chris and his codirector- they greet me and say “Are you ready to perform your Macbeth piece?”

“…Huh?”

Turns out they hadn’t sent me the email with the piece they wanted me to learn for the audition that night- meaning I was already handicapped. They said it was fine, I could just do Jacques’ monologue again.

lenny focus

Terror enters me. “It’s FINE? I don’t want FINE. I want GREAT! BRILLIANT! AMAZING! GODDAMNIT!” This flashes through my head in a split second, but I smile bravely and try not to let uncertainty enter my bloodstream- to be uncertain is death.

I take a deep breath, put my Jacques skin back on and this time I hold nothing back. I am sultry, I am slinky, I am sad at the state of the world- so sad I have to laugh. I see a stage in my peripheral vision and I RUN for it at full pelt- it’s at least 20 metres away, every second of silence gnaws at me, but uncertainty is not on the menu tonight.

Impressed, the codirector asks me to deliver the same monologue, as an older professor, tranquil. Still. Well, anyone who knows me knows who I wanted to emulate in that moment.

So I channel my inner Jean Luc/Patrick Stewart and I imagine myself behind a podium, restricting my movement and act like I’m teaching at a lecture hall, my voice as deep as I can achieve. I click my fingers at an imaginary chatterer- pay attention! I say with my eyes as I continue irritably with my lecture- and I laugh as an old man with experience as I talk about the lover, sighing like a furnace, my students comfort be damned.

I think that’s what did it. They smile. The codirector asks me- “Where did you study?” and I have to be honest- Griffith University in QLD- and he responds with “I can normally tell instantly what school people come from- WAAPA, NIDA, VCA, but your style is so unique.” I grin, I thank him. I shake hands- I walk out.

I wasn’t certain of course. You should never be 100% certain in these things, always looking forward in case it doesn’t work out. Plus, it saves you from utter heartbreak. Every time I ignore that rule, it reminds me hard why I should always follow it.

But it seems this one was meant to be. I got an email- many moons ago now- confirming my involvement in two plays for the month of April 2017- Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet and character unconfirmed (GO BENEDICK!) in Much Ado About Nothing. I didn’t want to make a fuss about this until I signed the contract, but now I have.

I will be touring for a month, fully paid, all expenses paid through the tour- and I couldn’t be more excited. I can now consider myself a professional even more than I did before. I am so grateful, and thank you to everyone for your support while I’ve been biting my knuckles trying not to tell everyone. Thank you.

Now I’m off to play some Witcher 3! TEAM TRISS!

-Jack

TL;DR: I auditioned for a Shakespeare show and I got it, I’m touring China in April for a month and it’s paid and its awesome. YEEHA!

 

 

My cap would be glad of a copper or two

In my childhood, one of my fondest memories is the joy of popping into a Video Rental Store (ask your parents, children) and grabbing the VHS for Mary Poppins. Again. My adult self giggles in retrospect to be honest, because god knows we rented that goddamn tape from that little store so many times throughout the years that my mother may as well have bought me a tape of my own long ago. Maybe she simply liked the tradition and consistency of my grabbing the tape as she looked through the “boring adult” section of new releases.

And my favourite character? Bert. I mean, come on, who couldn’t love that chimney sweeping, art making, one man big band scallywag? I’d be remiss not to acknowledge the affect he had on my young life. He made me realize that you need not be ashamed of your work- as long as you’re passionate about it, that the process is the joy, to have a sense of humor about yourself, and probably most importantly- money matters little.

I’ve struggled with that in adult years, as I found out slowly but surely that Walt Disney had not engineered our lives, and that money in  fact matters  a lot. We need it to eat, we need it to keep warm, and, like it or not- it’s what people use to define you as a professional or amateur artist. Is he making a living or not?

Well- it depends what you mean by “living”, I suppose. I need art to live, like anybody; and my art cannot, could not, would not live without me. Is that enough?

Should it be enough?

I found myself wondering this as I came down from the stage of my first comedy show in Melbourne. I was excited just to be on the poster, and to get on stage, and I knew, if successful, money would come. Or not! It didn’t matter.

Well put simply? It was wonderful. I hadn’t practiced in months and it was my first time being a comedy show MC. I’m not going to lie, I felt I probably sucked a little, but made up for it enthusiasm. The acts were varied, strange, bouncy and quick as a whip, warm and dry… it was so wonderful being the ringmaster of that crazy circus… and I learned a lot.

I thanked the audience for coming, and pick up my bag to leave. All of a sudden, the host, Lawal, and the guy that brought me on board to the show, shoved some money into my hand. This was not expected. We had agreed this would be pro bono. An experiment… Yet there was the money, being placed into my hand.

“You did a wonderful job”, Lawal said. “Thank you.”
I was flabbergasted.
“Holy fuck mate, no, thank you” I said, putting the cash into my pocket without a word of protest.
“It really means a lot.”

He clapped my shoulder, smiled and went to talk to someone else. I could feel the cash burning in my pocket. Was I a professional now? What did it all mean?

Did I deserve this? Guilt began to rear it’s ugly head.

And then, my favourite worst cockney accent of all time popped into my head.

No remuneration do I ask of you, but me cap would be glad of a copper or two!”

Pride took its place as I made my way to my car. Who can say it better really?

 

Craving Structure

It’s been about a week since my last entry, and I have a few things to report.

The gig I was hoping to get? I didn’t get it. C’est la vie, I was down to one other person and the other guy was a better fit. Wish I got it, just so I could’ve been considered a full time actor… But one way or another I’ll get there.

Child care study is going well- in fact I’m feeling on top of all my work for the first time in forever, but I know that I can’t let that feeling overtake my work ethic. I’ve also landed myself two freelance jobs, one as a childcare teacher/performer and the other operating photobooths for events.

The honest truth of it all though- is that I’m kind of tired of waiting for performance to just knock on my door. I want to make my own things- I want to prove I have what it takes, and to do that I need money. So as of a few days ago I’ve made a point to try and secure permanent part time work at a child care centre somewhere.

I love my life. I love my new city. Already I feel like work is always waiting around the corner. In fact, I have two auditions for different children related work which is super awesome even if my brain is telling me super hard not to do it (Depression lies, folks).

But I’m tired of not having a schedule, living hand to mouth and most importantly- not knowing where my next payment is going to come from. Maybe I can justify that life again when I have some consistent well paying gigs, but for now, it just isn’t happening.

It’s honestly a little scary to be admitting my desire for “adult work”, this is how it starts, as they say. Will my passion be consumed by a lifestyle informed by the $ I’m earning? I’m fairly confident one way or another that the universe will give me a swift kick in the balls if I even consider it too hard.

This is not a bad thing. I have ideas, for film, plays and stories. But I need equipment and contacts and I can’t do that if I’m constantly keeping my schedule open and have to decide whether I want to eat or pay for gas.

Slight level up none the less? Let’s call it 500 xp. 🙂

Have a good thursday!

 

Tiny Little Cuts

I’m not going to share this anywhere, because I can forsee it not meaning anything to anyone other than myself.

I don’t even have a point beyond this: Rejection sucks. To be an actor is to have yourself be rejected on a regular basis. I do not have a thick skin. I try to not let things get to me, but they do. I question often whether this is the right industry for a person like me to be in. All I can say to that is that my passion far outweighs any scars I have, and this pain I currently feel will get better.

But fuck me dead, does this hurt like the dickens right now.

It’s Important To Not Give A Shit

That title is from George Carlin, who’s a hero of mine. If you don’t know him, start with his piece about stuff and enjoy going down the rabbit hole of his genius.

But it’s that advice that he gave as he neared the end of his life that I find myself think about this evening, as I plan my day tomorrow. Depression has taken a brief reprieve (potentially because I did something as simple as begin the search for the right psychologist), and I’ve been taking advantage of that to the best of my ability- in fact, I had my first big audition here in Melbourne just yesterday.

While I don’t feel comfortable admitting who they are at this moment, I can tell you that it is paid work (which is a huge tick right there as any slogging actor knows), and it’s ongoing all year round. So naturally, after not acting in anything big for over six months for The Brain Room I was pretty nervous, and I said it was probably unlikely the audition would go anywhere.

I entered the space, confident, determined to do my best- but not overly concerned and/or desperate as I know I have been in the past. And here’s the thing- I fucked it up. Not a lot, but… enough. A fudged word, here and there, a need to improvise through to the next bit I know, move along, move along, hope they don’t notice. But I did what any actor does on stage and faked it, kept moving forward. I tried to have fun with it and  ended up only showing my mounting discomfort at staying on the metaphorical bicycle right at the end.

They seemed cheery. Nice people. They told me that I took direction well, and I projected well and that even though I messed up “I didn’t let it show” which is important.

I nodded, I smiled, I said “thank you”, but in my head I was quietly confident that it would proceed no further. I received compliments from the casting directors, but as far as I was concerned it was just them trying to be nice so I wouldn’t throw a chair at them on exit. I’d heard it all before.

Imagine my surprise then, when I learned I had a callback! A real one. For real acting. What a huge step. What a opportunity. What a-

Okay seriously, who’s messing with me?!

I was legitimately shocked. But then I remember that sage advice from my husky voiced hero, George, (fun fact, a lot of my heroes have weird or overly loud voices, go figure), it’s important to not give a shit.

I went in there, confident but not needy, not too intense, just wanting to perform for the sake of performing. Not too long ago I may have cancelled on my audition just to save myself the embarrassment my brain conjured up for me. Now, I seem to be handling writing out my schedule, keeping to it, and even doing work WAY BEFORE A DEADLINE.

Tomorrow I go back in there to improvise and do work with other actors, which I’m so excited about. Amongst that I’m going for an audition for a music show among lots of other creative endeavors.

And I’m okay. I am legitimately okay. I’m not freaking out, despite the fact I am busy and having to balance many things.

I owe it all, I think, to finally taking Uncle George’s advice. I feel deeply passionate about my work, I’m willing to go through hell to get closer to my goals. But I think I’m finally finding a balance, learning to relax, when to let go, to not give a shit. I didn’t get that thing? There’s another thing. No feces given.

I don’t give a shit, for once. And it feels great.

What The Heck Do I Want?

In which Jack wonders whether he’s juggling too many balls in the entertainment industry circus.

Another short one, and spoiler alert, this is depression/lack of self worth speaking.

So recently I’ve just gotten back into seriously giving acting a go. And in all seriousness, I’m doing kinda well. I have four auditions this week, some paid, some not and I don’t even have an agent. I’m trying to empower myself to write every day and try to get words on paper in regards to a pitch for a pop culture related TV show. In short:

I am doing many things.

So why do I feel like shit about it?

My partner Issy listed a concern that has been plaguing my mind since- “I think you’ve got your fingers in too many pies.”

This isn’t news to anybody who knows me.

I do kids parties:

kids party bumblebeeWhat’s that? My instagram? Follow me if you want. :3

Film

20150302_122427
Find the product placement!

Educational Performance

racq docudrama
Well he called me chicken! NOBODY CALLS ME CHICKEN!

Comedy

comedy still
That place isn’t a comedy venue anymore. I blame myself.

And Voice Acting

voice acting anti hero

Today I have an audition for a radio serial with other creative comedians, and I’m super excited. But I yearn for results on paper. Real, tangible success, ideally in money form.

Remember that Beyonce article I wrote? It still holds true. But the problem, I’ve come to realize- is I don’t know what I want. I’m 24. I’m good at writing stories, I’m good at making voices, I’m good at making people laugh and I’m good at pretending to be someone else.

Which begs the question? Am I doomed to live a life of mediocrity because I can’t “get focused enough”? Do I really have to plod through who knows how much mediocre film scripts or uninspired comedy shows because I’ve got to pick one thing?

My desire for respect says yes. But my creative urges say Fuck. That.

So what do do? I guess it’s just a long journey of me growing to accept that it might not get me to the position I want in life (at least not any time soon), but I can’t give up any of these things I do that make me happy, anymore than I could choose which child to abandon.

I’m with these shitty, unprofitable kids to the end. I just hope they’ll start help paying the rent soon.

Update: I got the gig! I’m gonna be in a radio serial! Hooray!

Snapshot_20160117_2

-Jack