Performing In China: Survival Guide.

Upon fixing up my website that I never really gave the goss on what being a full time performer was like, let alone in doing it in a culture so different as China. So, in dot point form- let me give you a general perspective of China!

1: If you drink alcohol, you’re fucked.
That can be a good thing, depending on which camp you come from on the issue. It can be ‘good’ fucked (Australians used this one), because it’s so cheap. Or it can be ‘bad’ fucked because unless you’re in for a very deadly game of Guess Who with bottles of what you thought were Whiskey ending up tasting like Paint Thinner and Liberal Party values, you might be better off not playing at all, and staying well clear.

However, it’s cheap as anything, and available 24 hours in convenience stores. So the experience won’t cost you too much. Just potentially your dignity and a bit of your liver.

2: Chinese theatres are weird.

The layout ranges from straightforward Chinese theatre, which still means you’re going to go up at least 2 flights of stare to get to the audience bay door from the stage- to NES cheat code complicated. It was the biggest impending heart attack, walking in costume to what you thought was the audience bay door, only to end up god knows where, turning back, going up left, down, right, B, B, B, A, B, SELECT- only to find the door is locked and mentally shitting yourself.

Not only that, but the audiences do ‘not’ follow Western rules at all. You can show up any time in the show, and be let in. You can go on your phone, during the whole performance and not be called out on it by staff. I may have taken advantage of my chagrin as I was making my way to the party scene in Romeo & Juliet, where, mask bound, I watched this person texting as the show went on. She had no idea, and hearing her tiny terrified gasp as she realized I was watching, was worth it. Stay off your phone, kids.

3: Vegetarian is a hard thing to pronounce in Chinese. Apparently.

Shu sai? Shoe soy? Fuck’s sake, just no meat. NO. MEAT. …This has shrimp. Could you pl… Oh, fuck it.

4: You get sick of people and they get sick of you.

It should go without saying, but yeah. Leave people alone when you can. When you ‘have’ to spend time with the same people, their little irritating things become massive, because you’re always exposed to it. Don’t feel bad about withdrawing. Took me a few days to understand my own needs. The tour got much better from there.

5: The smog, is as bad as you’ve read.
Get a mask, especially if you’re performing that night. The amount of pure muck you breathe in is simply incredible. But Climate Change is totes not real, eh?

6: Don’t be afraid of street food.
Look, I mean, use common sense- but I can tell you with certainty, my favourite foods came from street food in Jinan. Pineapple on sticks… jenbing… It’s all an experience, so take the leap!

7: Sweet stuff. Everywhere.
Chinese people love their sweet stuff. It’s everywhere. Even savory stuff tastes sweet. I love my sweets, and even I got sick of it. So… y’know, beware of that.

8: Grease aplenty.
When it’s not sweet it’s greasy. I didn’t make the rules, that’s just the way it is.

9: Traffic. All of it.
Fun fact, my second last day in China was a visit to a Stone Temple- it was 40 minutes away as predicted by google maps. By distance. But via traffic? 2 hours. Be prepared for mind numbing boredom in that regard.

10: Talk to the people!
While on that cab ride (yes, cab, that’s how cheap Yuan is to AUD, you can afford it), I talked to a cab driver named Tan. He loved the USA, basketball, his wife and son, and was also 20 grand in the hole from gambling. Another time I swear I could’ve hoked up with a masseus in Dalian, she was complimenting me that much, and even wanted a photo of me. Another time, I got a laugh staring back at Chef’s who were staring at the white people in the restaurant. Interact with the people, and your trip will be grand.

11: The Roads Are Awful. Sidewalks too.
Everyone has a bike. On the road or off. And no one gives a shit if you’re crossing the road. They will not stop for you. Cross at your own mortal peril. Also, so much honking of horns that you’ll start saying “I’m walking here!” unironically.

12: Take it one day at a time.
If you’re ever in the same situation, where you’re on a tour, and maybe suffer a teensy bit from mental illness- remember. Do what you gotta do. Read a book and take time for yourself, even if you feel like you’re missing out. Don’t let your anxiety take control of your behaviour, and always remember to be grateful you’re there, even if you feel like a square peg in a round hole at times.

Want more stories from China? Hit me up, yo!

LLAP

-Jack
http://www.jackinaction.com

 

 

 

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!