Showcase showdown

How important is a drama school showcase? I read an interesting article on The Stage website debating how effective they are in this day and age, check out the article here.

It’s an interesting concept that after three years of training it all comes down to about 20 minutes (if not less) of you hammering through a monologue/duologue on a brightly lit stage in the hope of gaining an agent. The irony is, it’s often some of the most genuinely talented actors that falter at the showcase – either poor choice of monologue, nerves, bad direction or simply just the alarming realisation as you stare into a sea of faces that ‘I should have gone with Hamlet’.

The writer of the article is correct, in this digital age, wouldn’t it be better to also do a video showcase? Where the actor can relax, rehearse and film a piece that an agent could look at in their own time, rewind bits they found interesting and if they like what they see, get the actor in to meet them in person one on one?

Again, the writer of the article is correct in saying that this ‘video showcase’ will often take the form of a ‘showreel’, however from experience the art to producing a genuinely good showreel seems to fall by the wayside somewhat in favour of putting it all on the live showcase. After all, the showreel is something you give out once you’ve graduated and are looking for work – but if an amazing agent picks you up at the theatre showcase then you might not need to be worrying too much about pushing your showreel to potential employers anyway.

It’s quite a amazing really, considering all of the up and coming filmmakers out there desperate to get their foot on the ladder that more drama schools don’t utilise this growing talentpool. Wouldn’t it be great for a drama school to employ a small production team of young filmmakers to shoot and produce the graduating classes showreel? You could either do a short film involving the whole class, or put together a slick production of different monologues and duologues. This in itself could also be a great way of actors and filmmakers networking without even having to really think about it! Just think, if a film director made it big they might remember that amazing actor they worked with on their showreel, or if an actor was at the top of their game they might call on that talented cameraman/director/production assistant/writer that produced their final year showreel.

Just a thought!

Some day….!

Jaws

Thursday funnies

After I went to see Les Mis a few months ago I decided to look up some of the different casts that had performed this musical. Along my way I discovered the below video – if you know the musical well (or even if you’re just familiar with a few songs) I implore you to skip the video to 3:32 to hear the single most CRAZY interpretation of a Jean Valjean number you’ve ever heard! Never fails to make me laugh!

Flops

Hello again! Sorry there has been a little break on my blog page for the past couple of weeks – but I’m back now and ready to get blogging again!

I read with interest a review of Gigi on Broadway starring High School Musical actress Vanessa Hudgens. Gigi is a musical that has always sat a bit uncomfortably for a modern audience – the story of a fifteen year old girl being groomed to be a rich man’s mistress, only for the rich man to fall in love with her and they live happily ever after! Not sure it would pass muster in a literary department today but then again, neither would Romeo & Juliet I imagine!

Key to the article is that the show had been ‘watered down’ so exclude the not so pleasant undertones of prostitution and by doing so the play was left as a bit of a shell of it’s former self and a bit, well, boring. It will be interesting to see how the run pans out and whether the relative star casting of Hudgens manages to keep it going in a notoriously difficult market.

It got me thinking about some of the bad shows I’ve seen. One of the most disappointing was Viva Forever. I remember being really excited when it was announced there was going to be a Spice Girls musical a la Mamma Mia and was even more excited when my equally ‘girl power’ obsessed friend wanted to go with me to see it. We got tickets for the front of the Royal Circle and counted down the days until it was time to party Spice Girls style. The day arrived and the theatre was packed to the rafters with fans – including a row of girls beside us who were completely drunk before the first song!

The show began and….erm…what? It was just…terrible. And not in a so bad it’s good way, just truly terrible. First and foremost the story just made no sense whatsoever. There was no beginning, middle and end, just a lazy compilation of scenes that were unfunny, tired and quite frankly boring. By the end of the first act I just knew this was a stinker, no matter how much goodwill (or booze) the audience had.

It ended up closing 8 weeks after its first performance, which is always sad – especially for the performers and creative’s involved who suddenly found themselves out a job. But fundamentally, this was a show that rested on it’s laurels and ,in my opinion, the producers were very cocky about the kind of show an audience would accept so long as it had a few well known songs in it.

I think it’s a very important point that producers and directors should never underestimate their audience, no matter what ‘kind’ of audience you think your show will attract it is your responsibility to push the whole production team to create the best show possible….even if in the case of Viva Forever it means asking Jennifer Saunders to take out some of her god awful jokes from the script.

What was the production you’ve even seen and why? Answer on a postcard (or a comment!)

Without fail….

OneDoesNot

The end of IdeasTap. The start of something better?

I’m going to say something controversial. I am not totally cut up about IdeasTap closing. There, I said it.

To break it down a little…the website was notoriously difficult to navigate, and despite persistent changes of format it was never user friendly. As a result of this there were a myriad of half finished profiles, and documents/pictures were difficult to upload (particularly in an attractive way that showed them off to their best potential) Also whilst the site was meant to be partly used as a way of networking with other theatre-makers I personally never knew anyone who had done any networking whatsoever via IdeasTap that they couldn’t have done in person, on Facebook, on CCP, stalking (ok maybe not stalking but…you know). The networking element consisted of ‘friending’ someone much like you do on Facebook, with the idea that you could follow their work through their profile. Except no one ever updated their profile. So…it didn’t really work.

I’m not dissing IdeasTap for the sake of it, rather I am of the opinion that it wasn’t the pinnacle of resources for young theatre makers that everyone seems to be making it out to be. I absolutely think there should be more resources for theatre makers to network, have access to opportunities and generally have a bit of a community going but I don’t think that IdeasTap ever achieved this. Surely there is a better way of doing it? Does it even have to be a website?

Funding naturally plays a big part and it’s always sad to see the arts lose financial support. I think this is perhaps why a lot of people are upset about this because it seems to signal even more cut backs on artistic resources with no happy end in sight. However, support for the arts has been dwindling for a long time now with lots of casualties so really we should have got to a point where this isn’t a massive surprise. If you work in the arts you know there is little money in it and whilst there is nothing wrong with lamenting this it’s what you do about it that makes the difference.

The website will cease being online from June and I think instead of complaining or setting up campaigns to keep it going we should look to making something bigger and better, and perhaps something that doesn’t require such a huge injection of funding to keep it going. All young theatre makers want to do is have the chance to network with people because when it comes down to it, that’s what will get you a job at the National Theatre or the RSC, not a profile on a website.

So how about a networking event. A cheap one. In a space in London. With cheap booze (obvi) Invite the big theatre’s, invite the little theatres, invite the young theatre makers AND the old ones. Maybe only a few will turn up but it only takes one connection to get the ball rolling. Instead of an online profile have a REAL profile in the form of yourself…in person…talking to people. What does everyone think?? Whose with me????? (I’m deadly serious about this!)

Happy Days

Last week I went to see Happy Days by Samuel Beckett at the Young Vic. It starred Juliet Stevenson and was directed by Natalie Abrahami.

I have to admit this wasn’t really my kind of play. I can absolutely see why others enjoy it, not least because the role is an absolute feat for any actress – I was exhausted just watching and couldn’t believe Stevenson could do this for 7 shows per week! Also the language itself follows an unusual rhythm, not unlike Molly Blooms soliloquy in Ulysees, and it’s always interesting to see how a director/actress tackles such dense monologue whilst also exploring how to interpret the physically demanding stage directions.

I went into the play having never studied it. All I knew was that the lead character is buried up to the waist (and later) neck and that there was a (often silent) off stage male character. I did know this was predominantly a monologue so I wasn’t expecting too much action on stage, in fact I was probably most excited to see how they were going to realistically bury someone up to the neck in a pile of rubble!

Watching it I understood how when this play was first performed (1963) it must have felt quit revolutionary in the way it explored relationships between women and men, how marriage can gradually suffocate us, and the affect that ageing has on a woman amongst other things. I do believe these themes are still very important and relevant, however the way in which they are presented in this play feels very dated. That is not to say if something that is ‘dated’ it cannot not still be enjoyable and inform us about a time that is different to ours, but for me, in this particular case I was wishing for something to happen that would ‘surprise’ me, or that would at least make make me feel anything but slight boredom. I’m aware that many won’t feel the same but this is just personal opinion! I came out of it feeling quite drained, and not in an good way – rather after the first fifteen minutes I realised this wasn’t for me but felt obliged to see it through to the end before passing proper judgement.

I wondered if there would be any way one could stage this play in order to make it more relevant? I don’t mean adding in a gimmick or changing the language, but is there a way that a play about a woman’s struggle within her marriage and her struggle to find a sense of self in a world where she seemingly doesn’t matter could be transferred to a modern day setting? A setting that might offer the audience a few more surprises perhaps? It’s something to think about…!

Happy Days

The Warp

What can we learn from the past? Based on the video below I’d like to think we can learn how to put on a pretty darn epic site specific 24 hour play that hasn’t even been rehearsed! For all the techies out there, please try and see past the somewhat grainy footage and feast your eyes on the absolutely fantastic “The Warp”, a 24 hour production staged by director Ken Campbell in 1979.

It’s true that 24 hour plays are not unheard of  these days, with the Old Vic staging possibly the most well known one where a collection of writers, directors and actors come together to write, direct and stage a series of short plays over 24 hours. But what is different about The Warp is that it is actually ONE play, not a collection of them. It is the story of one man and his journey into the past, future and quite frankly other worldly spheres of the universe, meeting a whole host of characters along the way (eagle eyed viewers may spot a young Jim Broadbent in the mix!)

I wondered whether anything like that could be put on today? Sadly my guess was no. My opinion (and it is only my opinion!) is that the larger, public funded theatre’s would keep a distance from something like that, it’s far too unpredictable, and dare I say it, amateurish – which is a great shame as it is that very ‘amateur’ energy and enthusiasm that makes it so special. However, I also feel that fringe companies would also be wary of attempting something on this scale for the simple fact of lack of funding and also concern for lack of audience. Ken Campbell even confirms in the video that everyone is working for free!

In the video the BBC reporter talks to Ken Campbell about the production and also his method of directing, Campbell comments that he always tries to put something funny into a scene, or at least something that at least one audience member will find amusing. He also remarks that he finds drama, or more specifically theatrical drama’s, to be a “dangerous” thing. It’s an interesting perspective from an interesting man and I can’t think of many well-known directors these days who seem to share his ‘get up and go’ and joy for making theatre. Of course, that isn’t to generalise a whole profession (including my own!!) but theatre certainly seems to be a more serious business than it did in 1979, and I’m not sure that’s necessarily a good thing.

Swagspeare