How Do You Measure Success?

How do you measure success? It’s a question that the entertainment industry forces you to ask yourself many times.

Is success directing/acting in a play at the National Theatre? Is it writing a hit musical? Is it having the opportunity to actually turn down work? Is it getting your foot in the door at a large venue? Is it getting a review in The Guardian? Is it earning more than minimum wage? Is it earning anything at all? Or is it simply finding the motivation to keep dreaming big when haven’t worked in six months?

We all measure success in different ways, for some you’re either making it big or you’re not making it at all. For others it’s the smaller things that give us success. And for some it’s measuring yourself against your peers. The latter one is the dangerous way of doing it – it usually leads to the Royal Court/NT/Donmar/Young Vic website, CV stalking, a bottle of wine and a drunken cry of “WHY NOT ME??” *

At the moment I’m trying to re-evaluate the way I measure my success (or lack thereof at certain times). It’s far too easy to look back five years ago and scold yourself for not seeing an opportunity that could have sky rocketed your career or forever anguish over that time you said something really stupid to someone really important. Likewise it’s all too easy to dismiss all of your hard work, moments of inspiration and praise from those you respect because for whatever reason it didn’t immediately propel you to instant stardom.

But you know what? Maybe the key to measuring your success is just being, well, realistic. Burns a bit to say that, even for me. Always dream big, and aim for the best but don’t diminish your own successes, however small, by comparing them to others who seem higher up the career ladder.

* Personal experience? Noooo. Never. Not at all. AS IF. Nervous laughing etc etc.

Shakesbear

Microplays

At the beginning of December the Royal Court created a series of ‘microplays’ in conjunction with The Guardian. Some were a bit hit or miss, but one really stood out as being great example of what you could achieve in just five minutes.

The piece was entitled Groove Is In The Heart. I loved that it evoked so many emotions through the use of very little language and instead played on the audiences associations with music and how one song can create such a vivid memory of someone. To me the story was straightforward (he is about to go to her funeral) but the comments section offered up a couple of other explanations I hadn’t thought of. It just goes to show how we can each interpret something different from a film/play, even if it is only five minutes long.

I have been involved in and watched a lot of ‘short play’ evenings, however when a play on stage is only five minutes long it often doesn’t quite involve the audience enough for them to really care about it. However when a film is just five minutes in length it can be enough for an audience to become totally engrossed in a story. It makes me wonder if there would be any way for a very short play to have the same impact as a short film like the one above? Music is often quite a difficult thing to get ‘right’ on stage and can come across as intrusive, so words become the main medium playwrights can use to tell a story – which can mean that not much is left open to interpretation. I’d be very interested to know if anyone has seen a very short play that they’ve really enjoyed, and if so what made it work particularly well as a five minute piece onstage – comments as always very much encouraged and appreciated! I’d love to have a discussion about this and hear opinions :)

Backstage Badger

My new favourite meme! Lots of love for the backstage crew :)

Backstage Badger

Theatre Director’s Pay Struggles

Last week a story popped up multiple times on my Facebook newsfeed. It was an article from The Stage regarding the average wage for freelance directors in the UK. Link is here, please do read as it is absolutely worth it.

I took a guess that if a freelance director was doing reasonably well i.e. only doing paid work throughout the year, then they might reasonably be earning on average £20,000. And this was taking into account that theatre work is often unpredictable, particularly if you are freelancing on each job. So imagine my horror when I saw that theatre directors in the UK on average only earn £10,759 per year! Along with this over half that responded to the survey earned under £5,000 per year.

It takes an awful lot of work, luck and contacts to secure a directing gig at one of London’s top theatre’s, say at The Donmar or the Royal Court, so imagine my surprise again when the survey revealed that both of these theatres paid only between £5,000-£5,480 in director fees per show. In the big scheme of things this is peanuts for someone who is near the top, if not at the top of their game. To work at one of these theatre’s is something some of us can only dream of. So why the low wages? Sadly the survey didn’t question these theatres about their director fees but I would be very interested to know more, particularly since each theatre has so much private financial backing and a dedicated audience for almost every show.

Another depressing element were the director wages for Fringe productions. The average director fee for a Fringe show is measly 69p per hour (and that’s if you’re even lucky enough to get paid). With so many directors stuck doing Fringe shows how can this possibly be a worker in the long term? I know I’ve personally cut back on the amount of freelance low pay/no pay director work for fringe theatres because at the end of the day it just isn’t worth it financially – and unfortunately finances become more and more important as time goes on.

The survey revealed that the only two theatre’s that paid decent fees were The National Theatre and The RSC (around £20,000-£25,000 per production). But how exactly does one get a directing gig at either of these institutions? Having applied for roles myself at both companies I can vouch that the door is well and truly closed and locked unless you already have a very good credit on your CV (hard to get) or if your mother/father/aunt/uncle has a recognisable surname that you happen to share.

If I come across as bitter it’s probably because I am! It’s surveys like these that make me want to throw my hands up in despair at the state of London’s theatre. As a director you put your heart and soul into a show and when you’re not working it is incredibly difficult to see a way of ever earning a living from it. To be totally honest, it wasn’t the fringe wages that shocked me the most – I’m wise to the pitfalls of profit share productions and vanity projects – but more so the larger institutions that fail to pay a director a wage they can live on and also a wage that recognises all those the years of making 69p an hour just so they could finally get through the hallowed doors of a respected theatre.

In comparison, for a play on Broadway a director earns an average fee of £36,780 plus royalties. For an off Broadway musical/play the average director fee is between £6,360-£11,325. Makes you think doesn’t it?

 

 

Les Mis

On Friday night I went to see the theatrical institution that is Les Miserables for the first time.

I had previously seen the film and didn’t find it particularly engaging – considering there’s so much tragedy I came out of the cinema feeling ‘so what?’ about it all. Particularly with the likes of Anne Hathaway and Eddie Redmayne over emoting at every opportunity (I know everyone thinks they’re the most incredible actors at the moment but I tend to disagree!)

However I’m pleased to say that the stage show is a million times better! We were sat in the upper circle of a sold out show but it didn’t detract from the experience since there is so much action filling the stage. David Thaxton as Javert particularly stood out, his voice was amazing and he seemed to bring an extra ‘spark’ to the role that a couple of the other principles seemed to be missing. The songs predictably got into your head and I’ve been humming them around the house all weekend!

However, interval chaos ensued when I got stuck in a queue for the ladies toilets (severely lacking as per usual) and came out to discover the show had started up again! As I squeezed past a family of three to get to my seat I was inundated with a barrage of ‘tutting’ – a fail safe way to shame someone in the theatre make no mistake! The last time I’ve been on the receiving end of this was ten years ago when my mum’s mobile phone went off during a poignant moment in Phantom of the Opera (when the Phantom was mid way through Music of the Night!)

In conclusion – I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, and can really see why it’s one of “those” musicals that just keeps running. And with that I’ll leave you with a fitting Les Mis meme…

Musical musings

Well the festive period is officially over! No more busting the bank looking for presents, no more not know what day or date it is, no more eating leftover turkey or (acceptably) drinking pre 12pm. No wonder I feel so frazzled!

Along with all the usual Christmas over indulgence, my festive time has been filled with….musicals! There’s something ever so Christmassy about seeing a musical and being full of festive cheer I decided to treat myself to some pre Christmas song and dance.

Before the ‘big day’ (i.e. the second coming of Santa), I bought a day seat to Memphis The Musical. I’d seen it advertised a couple of months ago and was really struck by how good the songs were even from the short Youtube trailer. I’m not usually one to take a chance on a new west end musical, mainly due to ticket prices being ridiculous and also because I try to support smaller Fringe theatre productions, but I really really wanted to see this one.

I managed to get myself a front row day seat on the 23rd Dec for a very reasonable £20. It was a matinee show and I’d say the theatre was only just half full – perhaps not unusual considering most people leave London just before crimbo! I’ve never sat right on the front row of a west end musical before and it’s quite an intense experience as more than once I managed to catch an actors eye mid dance lift. However it also gave me a real appreciation of how hard work it is doing a musical like this – you’ve got to be SO physically fit to do eight shows of this per week.

When I did my directors course at Mountview I worked briefly with the musical theatre students on a couple of shows and the energy they had at times was unbelievable. Even watching their morning workout before rehearsals left me exhausted! All of that energy looks so effortless on stage but when you’ve seen the rehearsal process with the endless going over of dance routines, the intense vocal warm ups, and the fact that they are essentially sprinting around all day singing songs a the top of their voice you really appreciate how dedicated you have to be to make it all work. Because of this I was really happy to see one of the students I’d worked with at Mountview in a supporting role in Memphis – he was as excellent as expected!

The musical itself was just amazing, I would recommend it to anyone and it was so refreshing to see a new production that had such good songs – I was humming this one for days afterwards. I only hope that it continues to do well at the box office as I know how hard it can be for a new show (albeit one that transferred from Broadway) to really break through and become a fixture in the west end.

My second musical outing is happening this week – after twenty eight years I’m finally seeing Les Miserables! For some reason I’ve never got round to seeing this on stage so as a Christmas present my husband bought us both tickets to see it this Friday. I’m really interested to see what I think of it as it’s become such an institution, particularly after the film, that it seems almost untouchable now in its popularity. Anyway I’ll be sure to report my findings next week!

Happy New Year from Spearshaker!

House party: Check!

Fancy Dress: Check!

Multiple bottles of bubbly: Check!

ill advised shots: Check!

Room spinning: Check!

Pass out: Check!

Spend Jan 1st in hungover stupor watching all 3 Naked Gun films: Check!!!!

And with that I’d like to wish you all a…..

HAPPY-NEW-YEAR-CATS-in-cute-kitty-hats

What is the purpose of theatre?

A little while ago (ten years to be precise) I auditioned for a very well known theatre company to be a part of one of their young adult productions. It involved writing a monologue about your take on the word “tragedy”. So desperate was I to work with this company that I quickly penned a short monologue about the trails and tribulations of performing in an amateur dramatics group. It was a funny little piece about always getting stuck in the chorus and the backstabbing between the leads. Hardly Pinter but a fairly jovial piece that (in my humble opinion) looked at what tragedy could mean without descending into tales of sorrow and woe.

I was beyond excited to be asked to audition for the company at their main site and travelled south to meet the other auditionees for the full day workshop. They all seemed pretty nice, if slightly more self assured than I was. We played some warm up games and it became obvious that a good 75% of them were currently at drama school so already knew the inner workings of ‘Zip Zap Boing’ and eye contact games that made me want to do anything but make eye contact.

It was then announced we would all audition in front of each other which immediately filled me with horror. One after another everyone stood up and delivered their monologue…they were all very earnest and soul bearing. I started to wonder why on earth I’d been asked along in the first place. After each monologue they were asked a question by the panel of three which consisted of an older, respected lady (naming no names) and two younger directors – one male and one female.

It was then time for me to get up and do my monologue. To say I was shitting it would be an understatement. I did the monologue as best I could, trying to be funny and desperately trying to remember it was them who had invited me to audition for them in the first place. I got a lacklustre clap at the end. Now time for the questioning:

Older, respected lady: Kate, what do you think the purpose of theatre is?

 Me (without hesitation): To entertain.

A gasp went around the room and the older, respected lady looked shocked whilst her two director friends smirked at each other. Then everyone started to snigger amongst themselves.

Older, respected lady: But don’t you think it is about so much more than that?

Me: Well…err…yeah…I mean it can…do other stuff like erm…

Director 1: Ok thank you Kate, you can sit down.

As you’re probably guessing, I didn’t get the gig. For years afterwards it annoyed me every time I thought of the reaction I’d got when I’d said entertainment was the purpose of theatre. Why had it been so shocking and laughable that I’d thought that? I reasoned I must have got it really badly wrong and that I needed to quickly find out what the agreed purpose of theatre was before talking to another theatre professional again.

However ten years later I still believe that the purpose of theatre is to entertain. I have been to lots of plays – West End and Fringe- where it is clear that at no point during the rehearsal process the director has looked at the production and thought to themselves ‘yes but will an audience be entertained by this?’. Entertainment to me means thinking of your audience not yourself.

I have been entertained by the saddest plays, the funniest plays, the most violent plays, the scariest plays, the silliest plays, the most frivolous plays and the most thought provoking plays. The key ingredient being that no matter what the subject, the production has been created with me, the audience member, in mind.

I would love to have the conversation with the old, respected lady from the theatre company again and ask her why she believed the purpose of theatre WASN’T to entertain? But alas, my seventeen-year-old self wasn’t quite so self-assured.

Any thoughts from the public at large? What do you think the purpose of theatre is? Give me your comments!