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Whether t'is Nobler In The Mind To Suffer, Part 1

Hey there Bazlingtons! Are we well? And good, and healthy? These aren't just pleasantries (though it is pleasant and we care about you all lots) it's a deeper question. So, riddle us this: as an actor, you must disappear into a role, behave, act in a way that is not yourself, right? (we promise it won’t be the simplistic all the way through) but in this split personality, and the divide between actor and role, issues, trauma even, can fester and grow - and a need for support and awareness of this issue, is only just coming to light. It’s often tamped down, the run is only six weeks or whatever, no I don’t need to talk about it, I’ll lose my focus, etc, but as we all know repression is dangerous, and the repeated action, say of playing a reprehensible or disturbing role, in a eight show week can make the tear wider. Something of a hushed-up side effect of the acting industry had stayed hidden somewhat in all this recent, modern ownership of mental health in the population generally, so why has this effect on the acting profession been so ignored?

 

Fantastic imperatives such as National Mental Health Awareness week are great, but they are soon over, and the issue isn’t  - 1 in 6 people will have experienced a mental health issue this week alone. A nationwide, worldwide issue, there's so much to be said about stigma, seeking help, and helping each other - and we want to focus on a particular issue that's come to light. We here at Baz have talked about mental health and the arts - what defines an  'artist’ in our blogs before, and the view that’s normally held water is that there is an element of 'madness' to the creative mind, and so it is upheld, solidified as a stereotype and we all move on, yes? Well, no. In this era of social media and blogging, many actors, artists and musicians have been honest and frank about their struggles - and how issues, far from the necessary evil that makes one a genuii, can hold you back. The romanticism surrounding the chaotic and often harsh realities of mental health has, not surprisingly, not done the stigma any favours. However, in this blog we want to look past the set, costume, stage, lighting- and to the time away from the spotlight - and to the strain of the profession - as art can sometimes imitate life.

So. We want to talk about actors. Here at Baz we are a close-knit yet open and frank community - we love the actors we work with-  and it is an imperative that we always provide a safe, open, equal and secure environment for our actors to do their best most honest work, and not at the cost of their equilibrium. Our most recent work at Wilton's Music Hall, where we R&D our version of The Trial with hearing and D/deaf actors was, like most of our work, planned before we entered the rehearsal room - but we found it necessary, more than, to hold regular talks, debates and invite members of the D/deaf community into our rehearsal room and process, learning a great deal about the struggles that community faces in order for our story to do them justice, at the cost of an audience feeling uncomfortable, but ultimately, informed. As a company, we're looking at works and classics that show the truths of life: the struggles, the faults - in our production of dreamplay we had actors stretch themselves to the limits of their limitless abilities, in a safe and encouraging environment in order to bring raw, true theatre to our audiences.

Drama, or to refer it by Aristotle's definition of 'tragedy' is, 'the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself . . . with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such emotions.' Well. That sounds jolly. And boy did they get serious in their catharses: Ancient Greeks pushed the boundaries of plot and storyline to still shocking lengths and this has not abated throughout the centuries. Great actors of the ages have emulated the madness of  King George VI, King Lear, Ophelia, Oedipus, Medea, Hedda Gaebler, Lady Macbeth and Yerma - all roles that and transported us with their talents and skill - but to do so every night? It's a given, it's what the actor must do - but have we ignored the wear and tear of the repeated action? With the classics, there is a distance that can be afforded - after all, who nowadays can relate to a king or queen? (open statement: we'll leave it at that, ahem) but what about roles that are not so desirable, or so distant and 'safe' in their academia?

After the turn of the century we were treated to many an undesirable - from Dickens' wronguns, to Pinter's despicables, theatre and writing in general is littered with baddies. Whilst this is the prerogative of the writer, and in most cases, a necessary stock character, these bad apples are, at least in the modern pantheon, meant to get us thinking, meant to show us the worst of the world to educate us. The boundaries of these 'lessons' we'll talk about another time, our focus is on the actors - imitating murderers, both real and imagined, peodophiles, abusers - every night on stage and the effect it has on the psyche - for too long now, perhaps the idea of the  actor as many things, has omitted the one of vulnerable to toxicity and damaged mental health.

So - what can be done? Apart from a constant and encouraging  year-round movements, charities and Mental Health Week, as we mentioned earlier, which boasts a fantastic hashtag full of positivity, bravery and ownership of issues. This is all fantastic, but Baz were delighted to learn of Equity, the Actor's Union, launching Arts Minds, a fantastic new prerogative that listened and provided a space to share issues within a community of artists and peers. It's a fantastic step forward, and with it, no few column inches to the strain of mental health for actors, such as Lyn Gardner’s inciting article on the strain of mental health on actors for The Stage. Indeed, last year's Fringe Festival brimmed with plays that tackled depression, PTSD and a host of often maligned issues - and this year looks to be no exception - it seems we are finally ready to open up debate, share, and heal.

Cheers to them, and here's hoping the directive spreads - whilst we still have some way to go, these little starts, little patches of stigma, judgement, repression and ignorance on mental health and creatives will start to grow more green, overgrown and bear more fruit.

Talk soon, exciting news to come!

Best,

Baz x

 

 

 

 

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Rolling Up Your Sleeves and Acting On It

Susan Sarandon takes the mic at a protest.

Susan Sarandon takes the mic at a protest.

First post of Baz 2017 (our year) and bang - an exploratory essay! Okay, it’s not three layered chocolate cake, pass the parcel and party favours, but hold hard a moment. Now’s the time. So, a theory for you: art is the natural predator of fascism. Discuss? Okay. When Donald O’Connor sang Make ‘Em Laugh in the seminal Singin’ in the Rain - he kind of had it dead on. Satire, from Punch to the Private Eye, standup from Bill Hicks to Hannibal Buress grabs hateful types by the scruffs of their necks, holds a mirror up to their laughable beliefs  and says, ‘Look: I don’t even need to do my job’ - as we go to the theatre and see The Producers and Springtime For Hitler, as we put in a DVD of Chaplin’s The Dictator, and  as we click on entertainment sites to see clips of Alec Baldwin as Trump on Saturday Night Live, art proves it has teeth, a lipstick smile and diamonds to match.

All art, really is a response to the time it’s written in. Even if it’s written in a future, a past, in science fiction - ours is to imagine, but the best futures, the best stories come from real stories. The best drama is real drama. Brechtian theatre is the best example of currently using current affairs, of literally taking the action dictators made and dramatising it, speaking clearly to audiences and encouraging them to be educated, to act. There’s a great imagination in writing - but sometimes the truth is the most dramatic, most real and most scary. Parables have been the foundations of our society, how we behave - whether it’s holy books, myths, legends - values, ideals, aspirations have been subtly drip fed into our imaginations from a young age. That’s mainly why despots usually don’t have a wide vocabulary. All this could have been avoided if they just paid better attention in class.

Later this month A Very Uncool thing is going to happen in the United States. But we here at Baz take faith - in art, and weirdly, artists. Historically, British theatre talent has been no stranger to picket lines: Vanessa Redgrave, Glenda Jackson, and more recently, the likes of Michael Sheen and Samuel West have stood in the cold in solidarity using that duality of populism, the fact you recognise them to get you to realise they care about a better deal for you and your family, and a better society for your kids to grow up in. As you do. In the USA, for decades, as acting dynasties came and went, it seemed it was only Jane Fonda stubbornly upholding this value - enter Meryl Streep, stage right at the Golden Globes, 2017. In an age where awards shows are about self-congratulation, under-representation, what dress you are wearing, and infamously, Oscar goody bags containing amongst other things, a Vagina Rejuvinator (really) you get played off right in the middle of thanking your agent. Usually. Instead, Meryl said what we were all thinking in a shocking moment of un-glitzy lucidity. We attach it here for posterity.

Well. That’s kind of the end of the discussion, right? To borrow from her speech, Bravery inspires Bravery. There’s talk of top events producers in the US launching their own Freedom Concert on the day of the Inauguration- live music, comedy from your favourite A-List artists signed up on a ridiculous lineup on a rival channel - and they are encouraging you to watch that live channel all day to make Trump’s inauguration the least-viewed swearing in, ever. This is what we mean by art as a predator to the right wing. Meryl knows as much as the star of your local community theatre starring at your local church hall that art can only come from a place of unity - the crew, your fellow cast, your writer, director - no one role can be carried out alone. In a way, it’s the most Utopian workplace that can be imagined. Meryl knows the importance of an audience, of working together, and encouraging each other. With more artists breaking character and speaking out more than ever, taking roles as characters, and platforms as actors  that directly contradict a terrifying new status quo there may just  be a way out of this. That, for us, is what art is based on - having put on productions, ran workshops in rehearsal rooms, class rooms and meeting rooms, meeting new people for different walks of life, with different views, different stories, learning about  he specific threats to the futures they face, the skills of performance and creating art can’t not help but bring people together, eradicate that fear, and fight back. Our manifesto has always stated that we want to make challenging theatre, and tackle the bad habits we have fallen into. So, our conclusion: we’ve done it before: with satire, humour, performance, music, dance - and we can do it again. That’s a great message to start 2017 on.

 

Roll up your sleeves everyone. We have work to do.

 

 

Love,

 

Baz xx

 

 

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The Lost Blogs - An Actor Rehearses. Jack's Blog

Hey hey Dreamers! (We refuse to let go of the dream so what!) Just because the run has ended, doesn't mean that dream has too! Oh yes, we still have content coming out of our ears like a Peter Gabriel Aardman music video (long story) so stay tuned. First up, from week two of rehearsal, actor Jack Wilkinson reflects on the new: cast, rules, games, and freedom. Super interesting to read especially now the run is over…sniff. Don't look at us. Allergies. Anyway, a great blog, take it away Jack!

 

“Just say yes…”

Was actor, Colin Hurley’s response to being asked if he was really going to use a Sainsburys shopping bag as a bathtub.

 

I feel that comment sums up the feel of the room so far in rehearsals for ‘dreamplay’. It’s week two and the atmosphere is just as open and playful as the first – sometimes in a rehearsal processes there comes a point where people want to start to nail things down, even have the answers given to them, but this is a play very much made up of questions rather than answers. What is it to love, to hurt? What is it to dream? And to try and discover these things, I think it’s about creating the right atmosphere in a rehearsal room, one that’s safe for people to “…Say yes.” To be able to try things out and not be afraid to fail.

With dreamplay, we often have all the actors in the rehearsal space at all times, and sure, even though sometimes it may be good to shoot off into a green room, have a brew and learn some lines/check facebook, there is a sense that you’re all building a play together, as an ensemble – watching each other work, adding ideas, picking scenes apart as a company and getting to know the play as a whole not just individual parts. We have an actor who has a clowning piece in the play and instead of being a personal endeavor all of us over the past few weeks have been playing and developing individual clowns.

One of the actors said to me the other day – “It’s like being back at drama school”. I wondered if that felt regressive, but then I’ve never been as brave in my career as I was back then. It is like being back at drama school: large voice and body warm ups, dancing, clowning, large improvisations – and the ability to watch fellow cast members work and be able to learn. It’s one of the things many great performers talk about, that we should never stop learning, but sometimes it’s easy to fall into a place where you feel the need to succeed, impress and ‘get it right’ – a lovely director once told me, “Acting is a very simple thing, made complicated”.

It’s amazing what happens when you’re in a room full of people that are open enough to express how they felt during an exercise or scene. “I felt I was maybe not being as open as could” – “I was probably too polite...” the whole room becomes braver and when somebody makes a discovery, it’s doesn’t panic the rest of the room into believing that they’re behind in their work – but acts as a bar being set, a challenge, something that galvanizes everyone to create.

When I took this project on, somebody said it was maybe too experimental for them – but I think all theatre should be an experiment, a place to explore. And it is a joy to share with the audience. Why do these characters do what they do? What is it like to be human? A question I think we can all have a little say in… and one I’m very much looking forward to trying to answer with audiences at the Vaults.

How about that - even in week two, no shying away from the difficult stuff. And no hint of a Killers lyric in sight (are we dancer? What?) more the first bit: are we human?

We went some way to trying to show that in every light we could. To err is to be human.

To quote is to blog. 

Love you Bazzers, thanks so much on making this run the best yet, your support, your reactions and your donations. You all rock harder than Axel Rose on a Tuesday (we presume he rocks then, may be untrue, but you get the jist!) 

Baz x

/This blog was featured on Reviews Hub.com in Sept 16, and wrongly credited. The words are credited to Jack Wilkinson and should read as above.

 

 

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