Wednesday, 30 September 2009

When New Jersey Meets London

I think I may have mentioned the show "Jersey Boys" before in a blog. Though if I have it would have been a long time ago. I had last seen this show in the early days of summer, and boy that seems like a long time ago. Well that is of course if you can call it summer? Lets face it the weather was pretty awful, and as I write this the rain is pouring down outside. It's great to be British isn't it? But that is far from the theme of this blog, for this we need to hit East Coast America, New Jersey to be precise, which is the setting for the smash hit West End musical "Jersey Boys".

Now in its second year and still supporting much of the original London cast, Jersey Boys is still packing out The Prince Edward theatre, which is quite an achievement it must be said. Just one look at the sheer size of the auditorium is a statement to the calibre of show which is required to pack the place out night after night. Jersey Boys does just that. Unlike some shows based on musicians of years gone by, this show isn't just about the music. There is a solid story covering the rag to riches tale of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. Hell you don't even need to be a fan of Frankie's to enjoy this show, it's that good.

I was lucky enough to catch Ryan Molloy as Frankie Valli. For some reason I always seem to miss him when he is on. Maybe he is scared I will write him a bad blog or something! Well I assure you that would never happen, as all the actors, including the understudies, many of whom I have seen in the five times that I have seen this show always deliver a fantastic performance. This brings me to one of my most important lessons in drama, and that is the rule of "you must make a scene truthful in imaginary circumstances". Ryan does just this, he ceases to be Ryan Molloy, I guess he must have used some extensive method acting techniques to really fill the role of Frankie Valli like he has.

The musical of course includes all the hit songs such as "Sherry", "Walk Like A Man" and "Big Girls Don't Cry". Though they also include some of the more obscure numbers and the songs that you hear all the time, but never quite knew who had performed them in the first place. You know the ones? The songs from television adverts, or cover songs performed by current music stars. Either way, it's is a real diverse mix. You have to remember in their prime the band never really hit the UK shores as Beatle Mania was in its height, so for many fans this show is as close to seeing the real thing as you will get. Well not quite, Frankie still tours, but with regards to the original line up, its something that will never be able to happen since Nick Massi passed away in December 2000.

This show really demonstrates that a lot more goes on behind the scenes of any band than ever makes it to the spot light. Mafia links, money laundering, petty crime, love affairs, broken hearts and broken families just hit on a few of the themes covered in the show. As for the way the story is told, it is genius. The way emotion is once agaain used as a tool to toy with the characters is fantastic.

So why is the story's structure genius? Each of the band members tell their interpretation of the story which is split into four seasons. A clever twist on the name, don't you think? Tommy DiVeto is spring, telling his interpretation of how the band started out. Bob Gaudio becomes summer, with his take on the development of the band. Nick Massi is autumn, with his synopsis of events in the bands falling apart whilst Franki Valli covers winter which see's him go solo with a new backing band. Each season is told with the band member's personality in mind, and like one of the opening lines in the show "you ask four guys what happened, you get four different versions". Thats life isn't it? We all have different takes on how things happen, and we remember things the way that we want to remember them!

Well how do I remember this show? It is fantastic! It is a show you can see time and time again, and a definite recommendation of mine! So what are you waiting for? Go book your tickets now!

G xxx

Guest Publication: Tanner Pflueger Unofficial Fan Page

Just prior to Tanner Pflueger's departure from Billy Elliot The Musical in London last month, I was offered the opportunity to write an article for Tanner Pflueger's unofficial fan page. It was a huge honour to be given this opportunity by the team behind the fansite who stated they had enjoyed reading my other articles on this blog. It just goes to show that all my hours sat at my laptop writing these articles are worthwhile. I would like to thank the team at for this opportunity. Please head there to read the article.

A reminder of that address:


G xxx

The Forgotten Billy

Ok, the title is a bit misleading, but for those who have read my blogs about Billy Elliot, you may have noticed that Brad Wilson has never had a review. No no no, its not that I hate him! I can assure you that is not the case and the lack of reviews are for a very valid reason. Despite seeing the show many times, since starting these blogs I have always missed his performances. Unless you have some inside information, its pot luck which Billy you get on the day, though for someone who loves the show as much as me, you can appreciate each Billy individually so as a result never feel disappointed by whoever you get. But it is nice to get to see them all, especially one who you haven't seen in such a long time.

Now I had seen Brad before, twice infact but it was such a long time ago. I was really keen to see him again. Knowing that he would be leaving in a matter of weeks, I needed to see his performance, so I could feel in touch with his interpretation of the role of Billy. Ok that sounded rather cheesy I know, but for his final performance on the 31st October I really wanted to have an understanding of Brad's characterisation of the role. That way I could just enjoy the last show and let it draw me in much like Tanner's final show, rather than sitting there studying all the things that he does differently to the other Billy's.

My memories of Bradley's performances all those months ago were not that easy to remember. They came at a time where whilst I enjoyed the show, I was not as connected with it as I am now. So at that time I maybe didn't pay as much attention to the way that each boy who plays Billy makes it his own. I honestly didn't know what to expect as I took my seat. For me this was a clean slate, a chance to give Bradley the chance he deserved, and that chance I had been waiting to give him for so long now.

It soon became apparent that I had missed so much. I don't want to knock down other Billy's whom I had given glowing reviews to before, but Brad had set the bar high, his standards far exceeded that of those which I had expected and remembered from those early performances. He really was giving so much, putting everything he had into delivering the goods.

I really don't know the best way to explain this. Each Billy normally has a strength and a weakness in their performance. The strength is something you are drawn to specifically, Tom for example is his acting, for Tanner it was his ballet. Now for Brad... there is nothing that stood out... and no that is not a bad thing at all. Rather than one element of his performance standing out, his entire performance lifts you off of your feet and sweeps you away. With every other Billy you watch their performance, with Brad you are part of his performance. I wish I knew how he did it I really do. When you have seen the show in excess of twenty times, it takes someone very special to make it feel like your very first Billy show again... yet Brad managed this with ease!

I don't know where Brad sees himself in the future, but I sure hope that it is on a stage somewhere. He is such a talented actor. He adds little touches to the role which are so real, and his interaction with other characters is so believable. There are young actors whom I have seen who just look cute on a stage... their talents are debatable. But this isn't just a kid on a stage, Brad is an actor and a very talented one at that! As for the cute factor... he has that too, you only need to read the program to find this out. He was taught how to look cute by the Billy House guinea pigs! Does that mean if I get guinea pigs I can look cute too? No? I didn't think so... oh well!!!

There is not a single moment on that stage where Brad ceases to be Billy. To top this off Bradley has a great singing voice and dancing skills to match. I used to envision his ballet would be in the shadows of Tanners performances, and maybe it was. But dance is a very personal means of expression and you can interpret it in any way you like, and honestly my interpretation is that it was perfect! Brad has obviously studied the role in huge depth, it really does show... so is he the best Billy? I think he may well be. Sure I love Tom, Ollie and Fox to pieces, and I am sure my opinion will change but right now Brad is on par with Fox at the top of my Billy league after the performance he gave that evening!

I actually feel gutted that I have not had the chance to see Brad more times, to date I have only seen him three times now. I guess it's the way the cookie crumbles, but I know the final show on Halloween will be immense... far better than trick or treating! I only wish that Brad's leaving was a Halloween trick... but as they say all good things must come to an end, and whilst Brad is drawing an end to his time as Billy, I am sure there is a new chapter about to open somewhere on the horizon!

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Goodbye Tanner (Part 2)

We are told that saying goodbye is never easy, and its so true. I had never met Tanner, but as you will have gathered from "Goodbye Tanner (Part 1)", he has been very influential to me. Its amazing that in life, some of the most influential people are those who you never get to meet. For some it is politicians, for others its a sports personality. My inspirations however, have been drawn from actors and actresses both on television and in theatre. Tanner was one of these people, so seeing him move on from Billy Elliot certainly had some emotional strings attached to it.

The auditorium of the Victoria Palace theatre had an indescribable atmosphere. It was electric, super charged in fact. I must admit I had concerns as to whether the show would be as good as normal. There were high emotions among the cast who were saying goodbye to a dear friend. You have to remember there are a lot of child actors in this show, so there was the distinct chance that emotions could overcome them and detract from the overall performance. Well this fear was unfounded, what I would get to see in fact would be a performance of a lifetime, and not just from Tanner. Everybody was on form.

I have previously told you how good Tanner's dancing had become. I'm not going to dwell on that in this blog, having spoken of it so much before in part 1. All I will say is that Tanner received a standing ovation after both "Angry Dance" and "Electricity". Both of which were truly deserved. He was well composed, he stayed on top of the game and delivered both routines faultlessly. Angry Dance was aggressive, powerful and expressive, whilst Electricity was smooth and elegant. It was simply fantastic.

What I really want to talk about is bonds. We all make them with people whom we work with. It is at this point where people cease to be a work colleague and become a friend, its the way that the human mind functions. Though tonight there was a very special bond which shone through, between Tanner and George Maycock, who is one of the three boys who play the role of Michael. You have to bare in mind that the two boys joined the show only a couple of months apart, so go right back, unlike Jake and Connor who have only been in the role of Michael for a few months. So there had been plenty of time to build a genuine friendship, and it was on show tonight. There is a song in Billy Elliot called "Solidarity", that is the backbone to every friendship, and you coud tell that Tanner would be leaving behind some pretty solid friends.

I have seen George and Tanner perform together before, and they do work well together it must be said. Though tonight it was evident George was pulling out all the stops, to ensure Tanner's leaving show would go down as one of the best in history. I have never seen George give so much! I have always said how talented he is, but tonight he was something else, every movement was precision planned, every facial expression told a story and as for the "Expressing Yourself" routine, that was picture perfect, the timing, the steps and the singing. I know this show was all about Tanner, but I have to be honest, that was George's best performance to date.

The final scene where Michael says goodbye to Billy was the moment where the show hit me hardest. As Tanner walked away and the curtain fell, George started to tear up, like a dagger through the heart, the kid was broken. This was no longer Michael saying goodbye to Billy. This was George saying goodbye to Tanner. That is when the reality of what was actually happening started to sink in. Seeing George so upset, was horrible. Now I don't know him personally, but there is a human instinct, where if you see a child hurting, you feel for them and I really did feel for George. Its moments like this when you realise how real some elements of this show actually are. This would have been an emotional goodbye for Michael. But for George, he was no longer acting it... he was living it. So powerful... so emotional.

But you know what? After a performance like that, George can stand tall, and know he truly did Tanner's leaving show justice. What a performance! I will never forget that final scene, but for me the memories will be of Tanner's immense ability to perform which was summarised in a beautiful speech by Stephen Daldry at the beginning of the show.

As for Tanner, he was so well composed throughout. He held himself together and as ever his performance never faltered. What can I say? Tanner has never left me disappointed until now, and the only reason I am disappointed is because I know that I will never get to see him again in the role of Billy. In terms of his actual performance he blew me away like he does every time. There will be a huge hole for any future Billy to fill if they want to compete with Tanner's exceptionally high standards! Something tells me that he will he hard to replace.

Right down to his final curtain call Tanner gave so much over the year he was performing as Billy both in London and New York, and personally I am so appreciative of this and for the inspiration he has provided me. So from me, a very special thank you goes out to Tanner! Speaking on behalf of all the Billy Elliot fans, thank you for so many great shows, you are a real life Billy Elliot and may all the luck in the world go hand in hand with your immense talent and bring you all the success you deserve. Thank you so much.

If you are a fan of Tanner feel free to leave a comment, or anything you like. The comment spaces are there for you to use, It would be lovely to hear what other people think of young Tanner!

G xxx

The Return Of Saddlers Wells (Part 3)

Ok I am getting behind on blogs so I will make this update a really short one. We have started looking at method acting. Some guy many moons ago in Russia developed a theory that the actor should study their character in a huge amount of depth and in a sense become that person, rather than just act the role. Some actors do this through in depth analysis others use a simple"objective" approach. Hows that for a history and drama lesson fused into less than a paragraph? Who said education has to be difficult? Mind you, I have a feeling if you used my exact words in an exam, your results would be awful... so please don't quote me!

So anyway... this objective approach is where an actor says, "my character wants... ". So for example you may say my character wants to get revenge on character x. Its a simple objective that you can build a character around. You may have different objectives in different scenes, or possibly several in a single scene, but the theory is that you lay down the skeleton with this objective approach. So thats the skeleton, wheres the flesh? That is simply how you take that objective and work with it. Thats the drama!

So in terms of acting, I had two scenes this week. The first was a follow on from last week where I got to play the role of Harper Regan's boss. He is a creapy kind of guy and I really like playing this role. His unpredictability and dominance is such fun to work with and explore. Danielle actually commented after the scene, how creepy I made the character when we acted it out. It was perfect, just what I had set out to do. I like roles like this, people who are not at all bland and two dimensional. I think this is why i didn't really connect with my second character "Seth" who is Harper's husband. I dunno what it is he was just a bit to plain by my liking. There was no juicy depths to Seth that I could exploit. He is slowly growing on me, but I'm really unsure whether thats a role that is suited to me.

So in regards to the course... so far so good. Half way through, i'm happy and looking forward to next week. We will be exploring method acting further and an alternative approach to it. I will try to write a slightly more informative blog for that one! But as for this blog... I promised I would keep this one short... and look I kept to my word!

G xxx

Friday, 25 September 2009

A Large Trigorin And Tonic Please (Part 2)

So its a Thursday night which of course finds me back at RADA for an evening of drama related frolics. I was quite looking forward to this evening, after the success of last weeks session. There was however a lingering thought in the back of my mind that with the exception of Les Miserables, I am not really a fan of "classical theatre" (which is what we are studying), though this said I really enjoyed our brief encounter with "The Notebook of Trigorin" a week ago, the question is whether or not this play would grow or tire on me.

My problem with classical theatre is that it sometimes starts to bore me when I study it, which leads to me losing the drive to succeed. If I had to do eight weeks on Shakespeare for example, I think I would die. Looking back in history, I do often wish William Shakespeare would have become a milkman... a postman, or something like that... well anything other than a play write really. Macbeth for GCSE... that was awful, hell it was verging on child abuse subjecting us to that. Bad times!

I mentioned Les Miserbles... Stylistically I should hate everything about this show based upon my theatrical tastes and choices in life. But somehow I don't hate it at all, in fact I love it to pieces. It does however take a lot of concentration when watching the show, compared to lighter hearted productions such as Avenue Q which you can just sit back and enjoy. For some shows this is a real downer but for Les Miserables, such a degree of concentration is a very small price to pay, as the rewards are fantastic. The show is immensely powerful, full of heart and passion with a moving twist to the story. On the other hand, anything by William Shakespere is still shit! Though I will admit I was tempted to go see Jude Law in Hamlet. That was getting some great reviews, but its closed now... so I guess that won't be seeing it afterall. Interestingly at that same theatre The Shawshank Redemption is opening. That could make for some interesting viewing.

I have gone off at tangent again haven't I? So back to my evening of drama. We started with another name game to familiarise ourselves with one another once more. Needless to say, I was completely shit at this. remembering my name proves difficult at times, let alone remembering anybody elses. Especially when I have three different classes a week all with different people... soooooo many names!

Well we soon got on to some real acting which started looking at the characters in the play followed by a study of the first two scenes. Interestingly I got to play the part of Trigorin in both tasks. Ok... that fact alone wasn't interesting at all. What was interesting was how my characterisation of the role evolved from the first task. We have a really strong group, there were a few faces missing, but honestly I think everyone who was there last night was fantastic.

The task at foot was to perform a short scene from the play which was a conversation between two characters. The twist to this task was that although we had the script, we were given no real information on the characters or the setting for the scene. Why was this so? The concept was that we would need to read into our characters more in order to discover this. I like it this way, as when everything is spoon fed to you, it all feels rather false. Rachael had the part of a character called Nina. Nina is an aspiring young actress who has her heart set on becoming huge in Russian theatre much like her love rival Arcadina. Me on the other hand, as I already mentioned, I played the part of Trigorin. Trigorin is an established play write in Russia and is caught in a manic love triangle which he feels is damaging his work. I have to be honest, after this piece, although performed well by both myself and Rachael, I hadn't quite got my head round the characters background. Would this all become more apparent in our second task? Well yes...

As you can imagine in eight weeks it really isn't possible to study and perform the play in full. So in order to start getting our heads round the storyline of the play, the class was split into two. The groups were given a summery of one of the four acts that make up the play. Our group had act two. The task in short was to perform a short piece that summarises the key points in the story. We were given the freedom to perform this in any style we liked, as long as we kept to the character names and didn't stray away too far from the plays settings. We performed a mime with a narrator, and added slight comical edge to the performance. Nothing too brash, we just wanted to lighten it up a little bit.

I was really rather happy with how the performance came across. We spent a lot of time talking through the concept and very little time rehearsing it, but somehow it worked. I'm a bit concerned that everything is going so well actually. This means I am either beginning to truly find myself within drama or i have been really lucky. I am going to go with lucky... I can back this with evidence... at the Vikas after school club (aka the pub), I didn't have to buy one drink! Now thats what I call a good night out and rather lucky indeed!

Anyway a special blog coming your way tomorrow which will feature Eliot Carrington and Tanner Pfluger's final show in Billy Elliot the musical. Look out for it!

G xxx

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Goodbye Tanner (Part 1)

So this is the first of two part blog dedicated To Tanner Pflueger who is in his last week as Billy Elliot at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London. The second blog will be more a review of his last nights performance and the emotions that come hand in hand with that. This blog however is more a look back at Tanner's twelve month affair with boxing gloves and ballet shoes.

Tanner is currently the only American Billy, whilst not the first, like all the actors from the other side of the pond, Tanner brings with him a wealth of talent and the ability to capture the hearts and mind of the British theatre goer. But what sets Tanner apart from almost any other Billy I have ever seen either in the flesh or on video is his balletic performances. Ballet is in his bloodstream, and I don't think words even exist that will emphasise the sheer power a strong ballet performance can have on someone.

There is a scene in Billy Elliot called "dream ballet" where young billy dances a ballet routine to swan lake with his older self. Its a nice scene, but "nice" is not anything special in the grand scheme of things. Its always been a scene that just blended in to the rest of the show for me, until I saw Tanner perform this for the very first time. It was only then that the scene went from being nice to utterly beautiful and hugely powerful. It became an art form, which had the ability to move me and bring a tear to my eye. I'm not ashamed to say that... it really was something special.

So what makes Tanner's dream ballet that much better than all the others? Well i'm no expert on dance. Even in my own training I have only briefly touched upon the subject. However, when you watch Tanner everything is picture perfect. The posture looks great, the movement is smooth and elegant. Thats what ballet should be in my eyes. It needs to flow, and when I see Tanner perform that is exactly what it does. I guess to draw a comparison, think of some gentle ocean waves lapping the shore... thats Tanner's ballet, its perfect! But it takes more than one scene to make a great performer, so what else is it that I enjoy about Tanner's performance?

Sticking with the theme of dance, there is a piece called "Angry Dance", which is performed at the end of the first act. This is the moment where Billy's emotions hit overdrive. He has worked so hard to get his ballet up to scratch for an audition at the Royal Ballet school. His family are opposed to his ambitions to dance and fulfil his new found dream. As Mrs Wilkinson, his dance teacher and maternal figure throughout the first act walks away, he turns to his dad and says "Mum woulda let us" to which his dad replies "Your mum's dead!". This hits Billy hard and his reaction is "Angry Dance". The routine is full of big movements and a vicious tap routine which summarises just how Billy feels.

Tanner's performance of "Angry Dance" is one of my favorites. He digs deep to express himself so well, he is definitely the angriest of the current Billy's during this scene. The movements are sharp and jerky and show the fire that is fueling Billy's emotions. The movements Tanner opts to use are the complete opposite to ballet, but thats whats needed for a routine like this. Remember those waves lapping the shore for his ballet performance? Well now theres a storm, and the oceans waves are now hitting down hard, the waves are huge and relentless as they batter the sea shore. I guess the point I am trying to make is that Tanner has this immense ability to use dance as a tool to not only express Billy's feelings but to express his own also. Its quite a statement to make, but I think he is the best dancer I have ever seen, or at least my I interpretation of his dance makes him very special in my eyes. He is diverse, individual and very powerful in every routine he partakes in. It goes without saying that his "Electricity" routine is a blinding display also!

Away from dance, Tanner is very expressive in his acting, and his singing is purely angelic. I normally love Electricity for the dance routines, as every Billy is different, and don't get me wrong I love Tanners dance routine also. What Tanner does differently however, is he delivers the song and dance as an entire package. When I watch him its no longer about the dance in the middle bridge, my attention isn't focused solely on that anymore. Its now about everything, the singing is great, the dancing is fantastic and it all fuses to become one solid unit. I love it.

Many people inspire us in life and Tanner certainly has been an inspiration to me. He has really shown me how dance can be used as a medium of expression, and he has opened my eyes to the beauty that dance can have. I know all this sounds rather soppy, but I think its important to be open and honest about things like this. I wish I had the opportunity to thank Tanner for being such an inspiration to me. As among my actors training I intend to learn to dance also, something I wouldn't have even dreamed of before. He has been a key figure in my decision to do this.

Whilst I know when he heads back home I may never get to see him perform again, along with the other inspirational figures in life there will always be a place for him in the heart of every piece of acting or dancing I ever perform. This is because deep down he will have been one of the reasons that I would be standing there in the first place. Thank you Tanner!

Part 2 will come at the weekend after his final performance. I can't wait to see Tanner perform once more, but I am already saddened by the fact that it may be the last I ever get to see.

G xxx

Sunday, 20 September 2009

The Return Of Saddlers Wells (Part 2)

So i'm back at Saddlers Wells generally feeling a little better than I have been of late, which on the whole is a good thing, both for me as a person and for my drama. I'm going to cut to the chase right now, as I am not really in the mood to write a long blog today. So this week there was a lot of emphasis on voice, namely because one of my two Sunday classes specialises in vocal technique. This meant that there would be fair amount of repetition in my second session which looks at acting on a broader scale. At times this was a little tedious but it is all a good refresher especially whilst in my early stages of training. It was nice however, that Cat our course facilitator altered some of the exercises a little in order to make them seem a little bit fresher.

The most notable part of this week is that we started to look at the script we will be working on over the coming weeks. I think whilst writing this blog last week I said I had forgotten the play's name which we would be doing. I'm rather forgetful like that. Well its called Harper Regan. Its a modern piece which was performed in the National Theatre last summer. In a nutshell it is about the plight of a woman called Harper Regan who comes up against numerous struggles in life meeting some colourful characters on the way. Seeing as we have only just started work on the play, there really isn't all that much that I can say about it right now. However my first impressions are good, it seems well written and the short extract I performed which saw me play the role of Harper's boss was fun and really saw me get into character rather well.

So far I feel really encouraged working with Cat as a course leader. What has really boosted me is that so far she has given me little criticism at all compared to other class members. She is never harsh towards people, just offers some constructive words to help them build their skills. So far she has given me a lot of praise which has boosted me a lot. Its a really nice environment to work in. What makes it even better is that I have some great class mates. I worked with Sally again a bit this week. She was one of the girls I did my improvisation piece with last week. Shes fun to work with and has some great ideas. Along with Sally I also teamed up with Danielle in two excersises, she too is fantastic to work with and a very warm character to be around. I really hope to work closely with these two again soon!

In other news I am gearing myself up to be at Tanner (Billy), and Eliot's (Small Boy) leaving show at Billy Elliot the musical next Saturday. I've avoided social activity of late whilst I have been feeling a bit down so i'm little nervous about getting out there again so to speak. It will be a sad evening seeing two great guys move on from the show I love so dearly. Only problem is with a distinct lack of cash I haven't worked out how I am going to get there yet! Whats more theres even more sad news from Billy Elliot HQ, as Brad Wilson who also plays the role of Billy has too confirmed that he will be leaving. This won't be until the end of October but it will be sad to see another fantastic cast member leave. Bad Times :( There will be a special blog some time soon covering Tanner's last show so look out for that.

G xxx

Friday, 18 September 2009

A Large Trigorin And Tonic Please (Part 1)

Before I start this update, a note for the regular readers, you now need to concentrate a tiny bit more, as I am writing two series of blogs which will run alongside each other for the next few weeks. The first which was written a couple of days ago, is about my courses at Saddlers Wells on a Sunday. This new series of blogs refer to my course on a Thursday at RADA. Whilst I am sure the coming weeks will bare some resemblances to one another, the courses are very different and refer to two very different plays which we will be performing.

The follow on course for the initial set of classes I took before the summer would be one step further down the road to a career in theatre, well at least thats how I see things. It would be a long road, but I am determined to keep to it and find the success which comes at the end of it. Talking of roads, knowing my friend Vikas would also be part of the course, it lead me to think as well as taking a few steps down the path to theatre stardom, we would also be staggering a few steps down the road to the local pub. This guy has a reputation to uphold! Remember the "Vikas After School Club"? If Not I will refresh your memory in due course. It became a regular activity in the first wave of classes, and I had no doubt that the trend would continue.

Unlike the first classes, this would be a bit more focused on acting rather than just exploring techniques. I like the idea of a more structured and focused approach as you feel that you have achieved a lot more over the 2 months of taking the course.

We would pretty much base the next eight weeks around one particular theatrical piece using the experience which we gained prior to this. The play we would work on is a piece called "The Notebook Of Trigorin". Though it is relatively modern, it's roots can be traced back to the revolutionary Chekhov play "The Seagull", which was adapted by a gentleman called Tennessee Williams into the script which we would be working from in class. Although over 100 years old "The Seagull" has set the standards for acting in modern day productions as at the time it explored new mediums of performance which were diverse and different. These new methods of acting are now what we see and take for granted in modern theatre. But hey, this is a blog not a history lesson so if you want to know more go use google or something! So yes the adaptation of this was called "The Notebook Of Trigorin" and thats what we would be studying.

There were some familiar faces this evening as well as some new ones. It was nice seeing a handful of people from the old classes. It is a testament to how well we gelled as a group to see all of us back together once more. Felt like being back at school after the summer holidays. The space we had this time however was at RADA, which frankly is much easier for me to reach compared to Swiss Cottage where i took the beginners course. Its nice to work in such a professional space like RADA, though I must say the building looks much more glamorous from the outside than it does from the inside. Furthermore a pole in the middle of our rehearsal space is somewhat awkward at times! But hey lets not get too hung up on these little things so early on. Who knows with my new found dancing abilities I could take up pole dancing by the end of this course too!

As ever the first week is about familiarising ourselves with one another and the techniques we would be using within the course. We addressed the idea of soft focus, which teaches you to be loosely conscious of what everyone is doing around you rather than having a sharp focus on just one person. Imagine walking in a line. If you have to keep an equal distance from the person in front of you, your focus will be solely on that individual, as it doesn't matter what anyone else is doing. However if you focus on everyones movements, our focus is less defined and concentrated and therefore becomes soft focus. Its rather difficult to explain but was very interesting to explore.

We went on to look at the history of the play we would be studying. Split into two groups we performed a short improvised piece. We were given a lot of freedom to chose the characters we would play, however the scene would be set in the theatre bar after the very first showing of either the original play "The Seagull" or the Tennessee Williams adaptation "The Notebook Of Trigorin". The concept of the improvisation would be to convey what happened at those very first shows. Believe it or not "The Seagull" which was my groups improvisation piece, has become a legendary play in theatre despite having a disastrous opening night. In short our group had to convey that the first night had been disastrous and show how one mans inspiration took this disaster and turned it into triumph.

I think overall our performance conveyed what happened quite well. It lacked some of the enthusiasm and flamboyance an improvisation piece needs to inspire an audience fully, but for something pieced together in ten minutes flat it did the job. Working with new people for the first time can also be a little difficult as it takes a while to suss out peoples personalities and abilities within acting. With regards to my individual performance, I was ok, maybe not as good as I was on Sunday at Saddlers Wells where we had a similar task, but thats life. You win some, you lose some and the rest of the time you just blend in withe crowd. Today I just blended in.

So in all it was a productive class. We have started to develop a sense of where the next seven weeks are headed. As for where we headed after class... it was to the "Vikas After School Club" of course. We found a nice little pub, the staff are friendly and the beer is cold. After kicking out time when only me and Vikas remained, we headed to KFC which would prove to be a terrible decision. Not only are KFC chips awful, this delay caused me to miss my last train home which ended in a long walk, a taxi ride and huge dent in my wallet!

So thats class 1 at RADA summarised. Keep checking back for new blogs and of course part two next week, where hopefully I will get back home before the clock strikes 3am!

G xxx

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The Return Of Saddlers Wells (Part 1)

I will be honest right now. I don't think this blog will make the most enthralling read, I am hardly in the mood to do this write up... come to think of it I am hardly in the mood to do anything of late. Though for four brief hours I did find some happiness, which was rather unexpected for me seeing as these last few weeks I have been feeling terrible. So what happened in these four hours then? I was back at Saddlers Wells doing my drama classes after a month away from the subject. A month is a long time away from something I enjoy so much, every day seemed like a year. The great thing about partaking in drama is that you can just leave the real world behind. For those four hours I don't have to be Gareth... I can be almost anyone or anything I want to be. That makes me happy...

I have two classes back to back, both with a new course tutor called Cat. She is really nice and has an immense ability to get the creativity in the group flowing. Both groups were much smaller than what I had been used to before now. Maybe this was because the group was on a Sunday afternoon rather than a weekday evening which is when most of these courses are held. Who knows? All I know is it would definitely have a different feel working alongside so few people in comparison to my last two courses. I just hope we all get on well seeing how few of us there are! If we don't... well that would just be awkward, wouldn't it?

The first class is on a Sunday is based upon vocal technique, for me this is very important as the voice is one of the most important tools of the trade in acting, just like a paint brush is to a painter and decorator. Obviously being the first week we started on all rather basic relaxation and breathing techniques. Simple? Well yes it is, but you have to start at the bottom and work up. If you don't breathe properly you are getting into bad habits before you have even made a sound. You'd be surprised at how many people get the basics wrong. I want to have mastered the basics before going into a more intensive field of training next year.

Now for the second class, something a lot more relaxed, well at least it was for me... Acting. Like in my previous batch of classes before the summer we explored the depths of status after a few name games to familiarise ourselves with one another. Already I am starting to feel this group gelling well, which will be great for when we get onto the script work thats headed our way next week.

The vast majority of this lessons work was based upon improvisation. Improvisation is fun, as long as you can believe that you are who you are pretending to be. I really don't like the word pretend, it doesn't sound professional, but ultimately thats what improvisation is... it's pretending to be something or someone else. If you cannot believe that you are that something else you are trying to be, how will your audience believe you?

As I mentioned we will be going onto script work in the next couple of weeks. I am quite looking forward to it, we will be working on a modern piece that was performed in the National Theatre last summer... I can't remember its name for the life of me, but I always feel more at home in modern theatre than I do when working on dated script work.

This weeks class culminated with a brief performance which we had put together in two groups. I feel of the two groups we were leagues ahead. The three of us interacted well and produced a nice little scene. I really can't fault what we did too much, we used some great techniques which Cat picked up on, which went very nicely with the positive feedback she gave our group. I was gifted with the lead role in this piece which is rather unlike me. Normally I don't like to play a lead role, I prefer a part which is fairly notable, but not right at the forefront of things. I am rather pleased with the overall outcome of this class, a very positive first session indeed!

Only problem is... now I have to return to reality, and as you may have gathered my reality of late resembles a horror movie rather than the fairytale land we all wish we could live in. Well if i manage to pull myself through to Thursday evening I have another bout of drama then, lets hope this is as positive as what I have just talked about. Who knows it may help pick me up again.

G xxx

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Hitting The Wall... Really Rather Hard

A few blogs ago, I said that I am always honest when I write... so do you wanna know how I feel right now? Pretty crap is the god honest answer.

If you drop an egg from your bedroom window, the chances are it will go splat. Of course that is working on the principal that your bedroom is upstairs and the egg isn't hard boiled. Either way this egg... well thats me right now... I feel like I have just gone splat. Why? I don't know, I just feel down, everything around me just feels down. The crazy thing is I have so many supportive people around me who say the nicest things and get right behind me (though not literally you may be pleased to know). They're are friends that I wouldn't trade for the world. Some of these I have only met in recent weeks, others have stood by me for a lot longer. Either way this is a point where I would like to put a big shout out to all my friends who are always there for me, I value each and every one of you. All of a sudden this is sounding more like a speech at the Tony Awards or the Oscars rather than a blog about me feeling down!

I have potential casting calls coming up, all be it for nothing spectacular and three courses in under a weeks time which will further my skills and take me another step closer to achieving that dream of mine which I have waffled on about so much over the last couple of months. Anyone in their right mind would be excited... some how i'm not. Its not nerves, I just feel so emotionless right now. Its like my character, my sole and inner being has been torn from me leaving the empty shell of a person behind. Sure I can fake a smile when I need to, but i'd rather smile because I was happy and not because I want to make other people happy instead. I know that sounds so over the top, but it summarises how I have felt for these last couple of weeks.

I guess I just need to find some inspiration. Watching Billy normally does that for me, especially when Fox is performing. What a great idea!!! Oh wait... I have about £3 to my name... plan B anyone? I guess I just need to hear something inspirational... its amaxing how some wise words normally get me fired up. I know its a Billy Elliot reference again but the most inspirational thing I have heard of late was an old interview with one of the original Billy's called Liam Mower. He said "I don't care if I become famous, I just want to be successful". What very wise words from someone who was twelve years old at the time. I totally feel this, its my thoughts exactly. I am keeping that quote close to my heart. Everyone dreams of stardom when they want to act, I dream of living a lifestyle I enjoy. Hell if my living costs are covered who really needs fame?

So I guess in conclusion, what I really need to do is take that egg thats gone splat, and replace it with a delicious chocolatey easter egg! Shame its not easter time, though that said, at the end of August, Christmas sweets were already appeaing in the supermarkets So anyway, thats where I am right now. So anyone have some words of wisdom that may pick me up?

G xxx

Saturday, 5 September 2009

C Is For Cider, D Is For Drama

Remember that first course I took a few months ago which I have periodically talked about? I don't imagine you would between all the Billy Elliot blogs that I write. The thing to remember is, Billy Elliot The Musical is a huge part of the person I have become. Its a show thats close to my heart for so many reasons, hence why I enjoy going to see it. As this is all about my development within acting and theatre I think its equally important for me to keep writing up my views and experiences for you all to read. If you don't want to believe that i am quite happy for you to think I have an unhealthy obsession with the show instead. Maybe I do? Either is fine with me, believe what you like! Though this blog is ultimately about how I am training to act myself. So I think it is time I re-visited the story of my classes and bring to a close the talk of that very first course.

In a weeks time I start three new courses. So I think it is important I finish telling you all about the first, and how it has set me up for the future. The first course was intended to see how comfortable I felt acting again, as it had been an eternity since having done so back in school. Ok, maybe "eternity" was a slight exaggeration... but either way it had been a long time and I needed to work out whether I still had that flair and indeed the ambition to act. Its one thing to talk about wanting to achieve something, its another putting it into practice. As you will have gathered I obviously felt comfortable, as it lead to an intensive musical theatre course a couple of weeks ago which you may have read about, and indeed the courses I have lined up for later this month.

I think this first course was very much based around having fun within an acting environment. The problem with this approach is that whilst fun warm up games build a team spirit and encourage working together, you have to put the question to yourself whether or not you are learning enough about the actual principals of acting. I think if you asked different people in the class they would all give you different answers. Personally I liked the balance for a first course. Though going forward I think i need something more academically structured. So yes, it was a great experience. Wanna know why? Even if your answer to that question was "no" I am still going to tell you... I'm stubborn like that.

For me the concept of working with complete strangers was something that I feared, and in doing this course I have overcome that. Thinking back however, I don't think it was so much a fear, more anxiety or a worry. There are so many demands on us as people to fit in socially, I think we all worry about the consequences if we don't fit the picture. The strange thing is that after just a week a huge bond had built within the class. We weren't just class mates, we had become friends. Well most of us anyway. There were a few people that didn't fit the picture, but on the whole things were great. This was reiterated by the desire of multiple group members to socialise after the session. I just realised how posh and snobby I made that sound, though if I am honest the socialising wasn't quite afternoon tea's and jam scones. The location rather was the local pub, and it doesn't take a genius to work out that the beverages were not cups of tea! The last two weeks were fantastic, almost everyone came. This was a sign of the unity that this group had built over the duration of the course.

As a result of this unity, we could laugh at our mistakes and rejoice in the good times that we had. I think for me the worst moment was when we were exploring sound. Split into two groups we were tasked with composing a completely random sound piece. It was a ten minute warm up task almost, but even now I cringe at the end result. It was just a mish-mash of complete randomness. Imagine sounds you would hear at a nusrsery school... thats pretty much what we compiled. It was rubbish. This was the result of having no decisive group leadership among us. Whilst everyone is equal sometimes you need someone to steer something like this in a direction that is decisive and constructed in a way that produces the best possible result.

On the whole however there were so many good times. The script work was interesting and at times challenging. I was working with a guy called Hyun. He is from Korea, and was doing the classes to better his communication skills. He is such a great guy. At first I feared the language barrier would become a problem. but on the whole it really wasn't at all. Hyun is a great listener and wasn't afraid to ask for a word or phrases meaning if he wasn't sure. So by the time it came to performing, we were on the ball and delivered the piece well. In hindsight I wish I put a bit more into the character I had been given in the final piece, but this said I am very rarely happy with anything I do. After all there will always be room for improvement no matter how well you do. I refuse on the whole to let myself get complacent, but there are occasional exemptions to this rule.

One of these exemptions was exploring status, and the improvised "master and servant" pieces which we performed. For this I worked with a guy called Vikas. He is such a top guy, and what I like most is how well we get along both whilst working in class and indeed outside of the studio. In fact looking back it was almost a dead cert that both me and Vikas would be the only ones left in the pub at closing time and right up until we were kicked out! What I enjoyed most about the scene that we performed was how well we flowed off of one another. As it happens the scene wasn't supposed to be improvised. Both me and Vikas had rehearsed something, but opted to change it seconds before we were set to perform. There was a huge risk that this could go terribly wrong, but that connection we had developed allowed us to deliver what I feel was the best piece in the class for the task on hand. And you know what? After doing this I will never be able to look at a fairy cake again without laughing... but thats a rather strange story...

So can I say that I learned a lot? I guess not, most of it was refresher work. Though we all need refreshing, and it was interesting to have it taught in a different way. I had a lot of fun doing this course and I feel it was a great way to gently ease me into a more intensive structure of training which I have lined up for the next year. Of course there were some things I found difficult and other things I found really easy. But the beauty of acting is that there is no such thing as wrong or right, it is very much down to interpretation. Ok, there is then the problem of taking that interpretation and delivering it in a way that wows an audience... thats a little bit harder, but hey, thats why we train in theatre right?

So the question I originally asked myself was "is acting really for me?". Well, I really think it may be. Sure, I need to push myself and work hard, and yes, I am at the bottom of a very tall ladder, but I have taken that first step in doing this course. From here I would need to expand my comfort zone as well as work on the areas which I feel that I may already excel at.

So where did I take things from here? As you may have read I went on to do a musical theatre course. This was way, way, way outside of my comfort zone, but in reflection it was a great decision of mine to partake in this course. I will willingly accept that I wasn't the best in the class, but I certainly wasn't the worse. I think in hindsight I am quite proud of this seeing that I had not had any real vocal or dance training previously. Though if you want to read more about these courses there are 5 of them aptly named in last month's selection of blogs. So in September, I am taking the follow on course to this acting course I have just finished talking about. It is set to be a bit more full on and a move towards intense script work. Our course facilitator will again be Jenn Kidd, she is great to work with so I am looking forward to that a lot. Further to this I am taking a course that develops an actors voice as well as another basic acting course with the same company with whom I did the musical theatre course with.

I guess in reflection this course has set me up for much bigger and better things for the forthcoming academic year. I am going to try and keep these blogs updated in real time, you will get the news as soon as it breaks, god this is getting even better than BBC News 24!

G xxx

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Back To Billy (Part 4)

There are times when no matter how hard I try, writing an appropriate introduction is somehow beyond me. Why would this be? Well... how do you introduce an actor who on his 100th performance in a lead role, delivers by far the best performance of his life? A boy who at just 13 years old can out perform people of twice his age and experience. An actor who never gives anything less than 110% at every show. Words just cannot express just how good this kid is. His name is Tom Holland, and until you see him perform, you wont appreciate the power and emotion Tom is capable of conveying as Billy Elliot. If this wasn't good enough, his dancing abilities both in street and ballet are completely out of this world.

So his 100th performance, I am guessing it must have been rather special to him. So it went without saying that he gave so much to tonight's show. I've seen Tom six times now, and what amazes me is how many delicate touches he adds to his performance. I spot a new one each time I see him! A moment which tickles me every time is where he is told at the Royal Ballet School he would have to work hard on his academic studies. All the other Billy's just sit through this line, where Tom instead lets out a huge sigh and leans right back in his chair showing his disappointment in hearing this. Another more emotional touch is where his mum appears in "The Letter" and whilst crying he lips the word "mum". Its really touching and makes the scene so much more heart wrenching. All these touches are so small, yet so significant in developing the character of Billy which Tom has done so well.

I have to be honest, I am unsure as to whether they could ever replace someone as versatile and talented as Tom when his time comes to move on from the show. As much as I try, I just cannot fault Tom in any of the times I have seen him. His "Angry Dance" is loud and expressive and his "Electricity" routine shows the diversity that he has to offer, switching between street and ballet moves in a piece that has been choreographed so well. Tom is a huge asset to this show, and it always excites me to know when he is performing because I know he will always give all that he has got. I am so glad his milestone show went so well for him and indeed for me as I personally feel this was the best show I had seen to date with the exception of the newly altered boxing scene which I will tell you all about later.

But in a show like this, you are only as good as the cast around you. For me the child cast line up was second to none. Joining Tom were Fleur as Debbie, Connor as Michael, Jonathan as Tall Boy and Eliot as Small Boy. What a line up, I make no secret of the fact that I think Fleur is by far the best Debbie in the current cast, and indeed in recent times. She can play the role of the spoiled middle class brat so well. That sounds like a rather harsh insult I know, but honestly isn't... It is genuinely a testament to her acting abilities. Fleur is just far more natural on stage and has a much bigger personality than some of the other girls i have seen in the same role. This said I feel Francesca is coming on a lot more since joining the cast. I have to be honest when I first saw her i didn't think much of her at all, but over time she has grown as a performer and the hard work she has put into this part is now showing through beautifully. But I still maintain that Fleur holds the number one spot and she demonstrated just why in her fantastic performance tonight.

You will already have read that in my opinion Jonathan and Eliot are the best Tall and Small Boy respectively, so it goes without saying that I was pleased to have them both on this evening's bill, even if little Eliot wasn't quite up to his usual form. I don't think this was so much his fault however. As i mentioned above the boxing scene has changed a lot, so adapting to these changes must have been difficult, especially baring in mind he is only just seven years old!

Connor on the other hand, I love seeing him perform, and this would be the 8th time I have had the pleasure of doing so. He has such a huge personality that comes through at every show. Someone once asked me whether Connor my favorite Michael. I find it really difficult to choose between him and George Maycock, as I love how the two boys portray the character differently. I could sit here and compare the them both all night and try and find the answer, but honestly, I don't think I could ever conclusively come to a decision. So I can't say he is my favorite, I defiantly have a bigger soft spot for Connor. I think its that charm he has both on and off the stage which he wins people over with. Either way Connor was the perfect choice to pair up with Tom, though i must say i miss the faces he used to pull in the boxing scene before it was changed. Argh!!! I keep talking about the altered scene and still haven't told you about it!!!

So whats changed? Primarily the lead actor. Remember in one of the last blogs I told you that Trevor Fox had left the company? His replacement is a gentlemen by the name of David Nellist. With Nellist comes the adaptations of the scene which now see it performed much like it is in Broadway. I don't like the fact we keep having to change the London show in order to make it even more similar to the New York production. Afterall it was here first, and furthermore the old scene worked beautifully. Why fix whats not broken? The interaction between George and the boxing kids seems to have deteriorated somewhat. i am unsure as to whether this is due to the change of actor or the scene alterations.

For me this scene was all about the other kids other than Billy. When Michael manages to hit George in a rather sensitive spot (wow wasn't that tactful of me?) Connor always used to pull such a funny face, imagine somewhere between laughing and the shock of what he managed to do. It was perfect for the scene. Though it nowseems as this has been dropped in favour of George continually having Michael in a head lock. I personally feel this is completely over the top, and detracts from the child actors participation in this scene. Michael is a comical character, and removing these quirky moments makes it harder for an audience member to understand the personality of young Michael in the show.

I will be honest I haven't warmed to David or the changes yet. I can see him becoming a more comical George and I think in time this will work, but for now I am going to have to reserve a judgement. After all we are talking about his first night, nerves must have been present. Whats more I always take a while to adapt to change, so I will give him another show or two then let you know what I think.

In all, I still maintain this was my favorite Billy show to date. All credit to Tom for making it such a fantastic show. I am once more itching to see the show again, but with my drama commitments forthcoming, I foresee it being at least the end of the month before I am back at the Victoria Palace Theatre. You know what, I almost hope the next time I go it will be Tom again... then again I do love Tanner's ballet, and I haven't seen the amazing Fox Jackson-Keen in well over a month, or Brad Wilson for even longer. Oh and Ollie Gardner just gets better every time I see him. You know what? Bring on any Billy, they are all amazing... but that said, after what I have just seen, I think Tom is just a little bit more special.

G xxx