Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: theatre (Page 1 of 3)

Advice for recent Drama Graduates

This is an open letter to all recent drama school graduates who are trying to enter the profession, from a very experienced, not always successful, long time fighter in the field.

Dear almost made it,

Firstly, congratulations on completing the introduction to what will be a lifetime of learning, practicing, hoping, developing and waiting. Drama school (I include all of them) is the very beginning of your journey and, if you are anything like I was when I finished my diploma and degree at UCT, you have only just started to understand this world. Yes, it is a great start, but that is what it is – an introduction.

What next? Some of you will wait to get work, hope to get an an agent, go to castings, become bar tenders while you wait. Some of you will tech for other shows, stay part of a theatrical community, do courses, get drunk with your friends, or give up entirely and make a different choice for your life. One or two of you will land that job, make a name for yourself, fill your calendars, win awards and glow and succeed.

Some of you will be bold and take the initiative to create your own work. You will be both praised for this and warned; it is so tough on every level. It is tough to work with no money, and to get others to work for no money, it is tough to publicise a show with no resources, no name to go on, no past history to rely on. It is heart breaking to perform for tiny audiences. All of this is true. So, if you do decide to put on your own work, even with all these things conspiring to make it the hardest thing to achieve, you need to make sure you do the work.

Learn your lines. Rehearse. Rehearse more than you ever did at school. Make sure that you respect the space, the playwright, the director and most importantly, the audience, because there will be people like me, who have been there and done that, who will be sitting in the audience and who will know. We will know that you just haven’t done the work and you are trying to get away with it. Your raw talent, and recent knowledge of voice warm-ups will give you false confidence, but it isn’t enough to pull the wool over our eyes, and you do yourselves a terrible disservice.

Honour the theatrical space by giving it the respect it deserves. Honour your education by knowing that all those things you learned need to be put into practice. Make a commitment to putting on great work, and failing, rather than trying to get away with shit work, or no work.

Whatever you do, do not present shit work, half-baked work, work that shows you up as a chancer, as someone who doesn’t really take their craft seriously. I recognise talent, but I can tell you right now, I have only once ever casted someone because they were talented, even though I was concerned about their reliability and commitment, and I made the biggest mistake.

We see you, those of us in the tiny audience who know how it works, and we know exactly what you are doing. And your friends and family might not tell you the truth, so I am going to. Do not do the barest minimum of work and try to get away with it. It will not serve you.

I hope you know that I have your best interests at heart. I want you to succeed, make beautiful theatre and be brilliant. That is what I want to watch.

Megan

 

 

White Night

I went to a thing last night at one of our theatres. This is not about the thing itself, but more about who these things are for. There were two shows going on; one in the big theatre and another in the small one, but they were white shows, and almost all of the audience was white too. The whole feeling in the space was one of whiteness. And the whole thing felt like there were a hundred white elephants in the room. Big, old, stinky, immovable, Surf white elephants filled the space and all the white people squeezed past them and said nothing.

Now of course it is funny that I am saying this. I am white. My date was white. And most of the people I spoke to (except for the people at the door, obviously, and the ushers, obviously, and the bar people, of course) were also white. The people I spoke to and connected with are fantastic, and enwhitenened, and aware and concerned. But we were all in a huge room together in Cape Town, South Africa, and the whiteness was blinding in the night.

This is not how we change things. Almost all white casts playing to almost all white audiences is not ok. And we will pay for these mistakes if we aren’t already paying. We need to change it right now.

Do I dare disturb the (theatre) universe?

With deep apologies to T.S. Eliot.

Last night I attended a second round of double bills in Artscape’s New Voices season. Once again I sat with a small (first play) and then further dwindled audience (second play) in the deathly hole that is my favourite theatre in Cape Town, Artscape’s Arena.

So, first to everything (no not everything, because that would take me my whole entire life) that was wrong with Artscape last night. I will only do one night. I arrived and there was a 50 person strong queue at box office, with 3 minutes to go before the show I was attending was to begin. People were texting other people to tell ushers and door people that they were struggling to pick up their tickets. I didn’t even try. Luckily I smashed into someone dashing to the venue who had a ticket for me. The usher at the door knows me. He hugged me and whispered in my ear that he missed me, from decades ago when we would improvise in On The Side, a fringe venue that we made, that has disappeared (one of many, many). We dashed up the stairs to join the tiny audience gathered for the first double bill. (More about the plays soon.) We came down at interval, when half the audience left. No music in the bar. No nothing. Bleak as hell. Ten minutes later we traipsed up the stairs with holes in our hearts for the actors and director of the second play, who had to start the show at 8.45pm to the fifteen of us who had remained. After that show we exited into a closed and silent bar. I had to go backstage to talk to my friends in the show. There was literally nowhere to wait for them. Ironically, that was probably for the best, because both of them live in the townships and have to rely on public transport and it was getting very late. I left through the foyer tunnel. I noticed hundreds of posters for shows that I had not heard about anywhere else. You know what Artscape? You need to do proper publicity. I looked for information on the website. It was outdated by months. You know what Artscape? You need a regularly updated website.

So, Artscape, let’s talk about this scheduling thing. I am delighted that the work is trying to appeal to a larger, blacker audience, but how about making it easier for them to actually attend the work. Why a double bill? How can you justify it? This is not the Alexander Bar; a niche venue with 44 seats and an audience with private transport or access to Uber. Why stick with this completely shoot-yourself-in-the-foot scheduling nightmare? Ityala Lamawele was also on last night. From what I have heard, attendance has been dismal. Why? Scheduling. I saw it on its last run. It was on a Sunday afternoon and the main theatre (500 seater) was full. That would surely give you a clue about scheduling wouldn’t it? So help me understand what you are trying to do here please.

Now to the plays themselves. I am going to be hard. Three out of the four New Voices productions were particularly bad. Seriously, individually, uniquely bad. The first one was a hideous combination of industrial theatre, soap opera and school play and it was embarrassing. The second one was an unrestrained agony of misplaced internal feelings attached to a nonsensical discourse around identity, that left me reeling. The third one had lots of potential. It needed a mentor, a dramaturg, a coach and director to remove all the added on, trite, pseudo cabaret, generalised wankerage, and to get to its core story which was beautiful, and even well performed. I suggested to a friend in the know that a mentor would have been useful. She said each production had one, at great expense. Oh dear theatre gods, you have sold us down the river of theatrical hell. The last one (seen only by the few hard core die-hards) was beautiful. It was gorgeous, well conceived, moving, engaging, intelligent, original and theatrical. Not 100% so, but in comparison it was the surprise upgrade to premium class. And, it must be said, and I will mention names, Thembekile Komani and Ntombi Makhutshi you were both outstanding and a joy to watch on stage. It must be asked of the other shows, what the fuck were these mentors doing?

Now Artscape, if you are going to be spending the money, then at least do it properly. Experimental work is a must, and it is a great programme, but don’t make it so high risk for your audiences, who are making a huge effort as it is. Come on. You have a huge responsibility here, and you have a magnificent opportunity too. Please let us make this work. Mandla Mbothwe I want to help. I want theatre to win.

A funny thing happened on the way to the theatre

This is a post written with a particular friend of mine in mind. Rudy has been a major influence in my life, not only because he has been in it since I was 18, but also because he has had a prescient knowledge of me, and my abilities, loves, hates and talents.

When I was at drama school he told me that I would make a good director. I was furious. I wanted to act. Nothing else would do. He told me to have this conversation with him again when I turned 40. I did. He was right. When I was 40 he asked me when I would become the teacher I needed to be. I was furious. I hate teaching. I only teach when I absolutely have to. It is my worst. He told me we would have this conversation again.

And yesterday, when I bumped into a student of mine from 12 years ago, I realised I had been doing this thing I hate, and loving it in secret, for a very, very long time. Granted, in the same free-lance style that is my usual life, but still, teaching, on and off for more than 20 years. I have also been realising, slowly, like a spreading blush, that I adore my current students (AFDA Live Performance honours students) even though I am not officially teacher, but more coach, facilitator, and kind of director. I am working with them on their workshopped production for the Grahamstown festival, and even though I do more than my fair share of complaining, I love them, and the work we are doing. Who would have thought?

So, I guess, as long as we don’t call it teaching, and it is all part of everything to do with theatre, and drama, I pretty much love it, along with everything else I love about theatre.It is scary how right you have been all along Rudy.

 

Acting

These are just a few thoughts, because I am deeply in love with my current cast, who are busy performing an industrial theatre roadshow , and I am reminded how extraordinary actors can and should be, when they are the real deal. And, I consider myself an actor of sorts, an actor amongst other things, but I do think I am in a good position to see what works, and what doesn’t both on stage and off.

Acting is proper teamwork. Unless you are in a one person show that you have written and directed yourself, you have to work as a team, and your goals and desires are shared and the same. Your intentions are all aimed at the same audience and you should have each others’ best interests at heart.

Acting is sharing; usually sharing something special and important with an audience. It is the actors’ job to share that.

Acting is doing something that somebody else told you to do (playwright, director, possibly client) as if it were you that thought it up. This is an amazing thing.

Acting means being sensitive to group dynamics, on and off stage.

Acting is shining a light, but not more brightly than the other members of your cast. Acting is listening to the others, and responding to them, but not during their thing.

Acting is remembering that you are in the business of magic, and the suspension of disbelief needs to be bought into by the whole cast, all the time.

Acting is storytelling, only it isn’t your story and nobody can know that.

Acting is fun, but it is also hard, and if you are a diva, you are doing it wrong.

The Cursed Audition

I held auditions at the beginning of the week. I am the best person to audition for (I think) because I really understand how it feels; how agonising and hideous it is, and how ridiculous a thing it is to do. I really try hard to make people feel comfortable enough to give their best shot, and to leave feeling like they did well. I also try and tell people that if they don’t get the job it isn’t because they weren’t good. There are so many factors to take into account.

This week I saw the best and the worst, the bravado, the nerves, the talent, the need, the disappointment, the energy, the hope and excitement, the expectation and the fear. And I am grateful and full of appreciation for every single last person I saw.

Now, I’d love to send a few little hints out to actors who will spend many more hours in front of many more directors, auditioning for stuff they may or may not get. 1. Always be open. Listen before you do anything. Instructions are there to help you be safe. Sometimes actors are so nervous about the impression they create that they completely forget to listen to what is needed of them. Listening to those first bits are very useful and can even help the whole thing slow down to a more manageable speed. 2. Take notes from the director. Remember, they want you to be good too. 3. Ask questions if you are unsure, but don’t get too complicated. 4. Ask to do it again if the way you did it the first time made you feel horrible. 4. Know that there is the possibility that even if you do your best you might not get it, but don’t decide that until you have tried your best. 5. Be honest. If you are not available for the dates, don’t audition. 6. Don’t harass the director afterwards. You will always be contacted if you got the part, and mostly, the director will say by when. 7. The industry in Cape Town is very small. Make sure you have a good reputation, and people enjoy working with you. Talent is only part of the package. 8. And finally, remember, the director has a big picture.

In my experience these are the things that count as much as talent when I am casting. 1. Reliability. When I am directing something for a corporate client I need to take it for granted that you will be at rehearsals on time, not miss any of them, be at the airport very early, and be constantly available to me by phone. If you aren’t there is a problem. 2. Team work. You have to get on with the rest of the cast, on and off stage. If I am casting for new characters to join an existing group of people I will always check in with the other cast members to see if they like the idea of working with you. I will always listen to them. 3. Reputation. What do other people in the industry say about you? Recently, I had my eye on someone who I thought was really talented and suited to a part. I asked around. People shared some interesting feedback and I realised that using her might be more work than I was prepared to take on. I trust my instincts. There are projects where I am completely prepared to take the risk and those where I am not. 4. Social behaviour. What are you like when I bump into you at a function or party? 5. I know this one might sound silly, but, do you know who I am and what I do? This is not about flattery. If I have done my homework on you, you can just as easily have done yours on me. Have you googled me? Checked me out on facebook? Do you understand the work?

I really hope this rambling post helps.

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