Thursday, 30 September 2010

From Delight To Disaster

There are a lot of changes going on in the West End at the moment. Lots of shows are closing, and others are opening for very limited seasons. I guess its a turbulent time out there. Maybe the economic climate has finally caught up with the arts, after it had seemed that they had faired quite well throughout the recession. Knowing that this was the case I took the opportunity to see two shows in their final week at the beginning of this month.

The first of these shows was Tap Dogs which has just completed its season at the Novello Theatre. I appreciate that I am very much bias towards dance, and with tap being a favorite of mine it was inevitable that I would love this show. No surprises there then. I will admit I had my doubts as to whether a 90 minute show without an interval, with solely tap dance routines may become a bit boring, but somehow it didn't. I really connected with the show, even in the absence of Adam Garcia in the lead role. I wish I knew what it was that draws me in to tap dancing so much. Maybe it is the energy that flows from the performance? It could be the rhythm that draws me in... I really don't know, I just really like it.

The cast of Tap Dogs kept the routines energetic, skillful and at times witty. The audience often left in awe at the ability being showcased before their very eyes. The interesting thing about tap dancing now days is, it generally isn't seen in its classical and contemporary forms anymore. Rather routines have become more street wise, which is nice. It has opened this format of dancing to a whole new generation who may have overlooked it otherwise. In essence it is giving it credibility rather than allowing it to be seen as old fashion, like ballet is often seen these days. (Though I beg to differ on this point). Shows like Tap Dogs are the reason for this. Taking tap dancing and bringing it into a more urban environment in a manner that allows people to relate and connect to it.

In all it was a fantastic night. I think I enjoyed it much more than my friend Reem who too loves dance but failed to find the connection that I did. With regard to everything else that is on in the West End at the moment, Tap Dogs is definitely different, however the exorbitantly high prices which London theatres command, are the main reason behind dwindling door numbers at more specialised shows like this. I can't help but think if ticket prices were lowered it would draw in new people who maybe wouldn't have seen the show otherwise. None the less a fantastic show which I am pleased to have had the opportunity to see.

Later that week I went to see Hair, which was finishing its run at the Gielgud theatre. I will be honest I had heard mixed feedback about the show, and I wasn't completely sure that it was my thing, but as I have said before I am very open minded and I am open to seeing all sorts of shows. Generally speaking I have liked everything that I have taken the time to see, except maybe with the exception of Chicago. I never did take to that one even though Jerry Springer formed part of the cast. But back t Hair.... it was pretty poor if I am frank.

The show itself by all means should be credited for the fact that it deviates away from the production style of conventional musicals, by utilising the entire theatre - not just the stage, and by involving the audience throughout instead of just performing to them. There is also an element of improvisation throughout which is interesting. Hair's diversity within its performance dates back much further than this however. Back when it opened 30 or more years ago, it too was going against the grain rather than conforming with the standards of the time. The original producers took advantage of the recently loosened censorship regulations which had previously governed theatrical performances. This needless to say caused quite a stir.

It was the first show to include full frontal nudity during a performance back in those days, a feature that the show has kept in its revival. Though this fact alone aggravates me somewhat. Its not the first time I have seen someone naked on stage, I doubt it will be the last either, however it was the most pointless use of nudity ever. During a song at the end of the first act (don't ask me what the song was called - I was bored senseless by this stage) the entire cast strip stark bollock naked and just stand there. There was no meaning to it at all, nor any power conveyed in the actions. I can't help but think that in its original format this was mealy used as a giant middle finger to Lord Chamberlain who had fought to keep censorship in the theatres. I am not against the use of nudity at all - for the records. Used effectively it can portray weakness, vulnerability or even be used to emphasise the sexual side of a relationship. But in Hair it was just pointless.... much like the show in general. Are you starting to pick up my feelings for the show yet?

Just in case you are still mysteriously under the illusion that i loved the show, lets take this review a little deeper, shall we? The storyline was erratic and hard to follow. The standard of acting was dubious in my opinion. At times, particularly in the improvised pieces within the show (mostly during the audience participation moments) I felt the actors fell out of character too much which is a real weakness in my eyes. It was noticeable to me as a drama student, so surely the actors must have been aware of their own failings too?

If I am honest, the best part of the afternoon was the ice cream I had during the interval. Chocolate flavour... and an orange and passion fruit J20... strange mix I agree, but rather nice. I recommend it next time you are at a shite show! It makes the 2nd act much more bearable. On this tangent - I have a thought, why can you never get Ben and Jerry's ice cream at the theatre?

The ending of the show too came as a relief, not simply because it was over - but the fact that the audience were invited onto the stage to sing along with the final song. A unique and frankly genius touch to finish a show on. It certainly removes the barrier between "them and us". I stuck to my guns however, there was no way I could be a hypocrite and join them on stage. Not after cursing them in my mind for the last two hours! Though I will admit the opportunity did cross my mind, purely to say that I have performed on a West End stage. Come on... you have to admit that line does sound good, though with my decision to stay seated, the dream of the stage is still right out there! This in turn means even more blogs... sorry about that!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The Journey Continues

A couple of days ago I told you all about the shit week that lead up to my return to college. Despite all that happened I remained in good spirits, and though in a considerable amount of pain I decided to push ahead with my courses as planned. I guess what happened has made me defiant and along with it came a much stronger will to succeed. Had I have changed my outlooks on life and ambitions, or even just sat inside feeling sorry for myself, it would have felt like I was handing the attacker victory on a plate. There was no way that was happening. I would be there for the first day of term and that was that!

Right near the beginning of my many blogs (this is the 73rd whooooop), I had a blog called "The Journey Begins". I guess in essence this latest blog is a development of that early piece of writing which too, in turn has seen myself and my drama work develop also. I have achieved a lot since then, but really its all been working towards this. So maybe this is where my journey really begins or maybe this is just where the speed of my journey picks up. Either way - this is where things get serious, this is where drama has ceased being a hobby and is now shaping my life and who I am.

This term I am studying 5 key areas. These take the form of 3 long courses which last the full term, and 2 short courses. The theory behind this year is that I brush up on more specialised skills which in turn will give me the competitive edge when auditioning for more intensive courses next summer. It is a costly way to approach learning, but it will give me that edge, and that's worth the financial hardships - I say this, though I will admit every time I see the invoice for £1500 I cringe, more so when I realise I still have another £1000 worth of courses to book! Oh, did I mention that those costs don't include travel or books - which in two weeks alone have already set me back a further £150! Wow, I really need a sponsor!!!

The first of the three longer courses is improvisation. I know what you are thinking... improvisation is easy. But I would have to disagree with you there. I accept that pretending is easy, but improvising is not, and why? It has to be done in a way which is believable but most importantly it has to be spontaneous. People often don't realise what improvisation really is. I have been in groups before on more than one occasion where the course leader will say "spend 10 minutes working out a piece of improvisation to perform". This is not improvisation. It has been devised and has lost its spontaneous edge in doing so. All be it, the piece has been devised with little time and may be partially improvised, however in that time planning the work, the actors will have established some given truths for the scene. In improvisation you have to look within yourself or within your fellow actor to find the given truths, you act on impulse, and live for that moment in time... and that in essence is quite a skill.

The next full length course would be one that removed me from my comfort zone. In order to establish yourself within performing arts you need to be able to act, sing and dance. I have little experience in singing and dancing - in fact bar one course last summer I have avoided it like the plague. At this point I would like to say that I really don't understand this saying anymore. We say that we avoid things like the plague... but in itself this statement is a lie... the plague no longer exists, sanitation and medical advances have seen to this. So why on earth do we still use this figure of speech?

Anyhow, back on topic... I decided that I would take up a beginners dance class to improve my general performance skills. My reason for chosing this course does go a little deeper that it first appears to on the surface, just a look back at my blogs would indicate this. When I went to see the Rambert shows back in the summer I realised what a beautiful art form dance can be. Whilst the dancers there have trained for years, and are leagues ahead of anything I will ever achieve in my lifetime, it none the less inspired me. The biggest of these inspirations being Liam Mower who I have talked about before, who not only inspires me in performance but in life generally. The inspiration he has provided me makes the prospect of learning dance far less daunting than I would have found it otherwise, and you know what? After 2 lessons I am really enjoying it. The course touches on the basics of jazz, ballet and contemporary dance. I will tell you how I progress in the coming weeks!

The third area of study is one that is important to every actor - "Stanislavski's System". It can be argued that this is the backbone of acting in modern theatre today, though some would disagree I am sure. Either way like it or hate it, Stanislavski forms the basis around which most drama schools teach. The problem is broader drama courses barley touch on it, despite its huge importance to acting as a whole. In all courses which I have been a part of, I have spent no more than one evening per course studying his methods. For someone aspiring to move onwards and upwards this is not enough. I am hoping this specialised course will give me the edge and a greater understanding when it comes to this important area of study.

As for the short courses, well... I will tell you about those another day. The college itself it is based in the heart of theatre land - Covent Garden. Its so nice, and the rehearsal spaces are good too. I think something just feels right about studying drama in London. People had mixed feelings about me cutting my work hours in favour of this... well here I am and I am loving it, and there is no way I am looking back. Its official, I have made it on to the second rung of my drama ladder!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

The Fresh Start That Turned Sour!

September was to be a step further up my ladder to achieving my dream to perform on the big stage. In essence although it was mealy a continuation of what I have achieved over the last couple of years, it felt like a new start. Going part time at work in order to study further within performing arts was definitely a big change for me. I guess the only thing I can liken it to is riding a bike - eventually the training wheels have to come off and you have to take that risk of riding without them. That is the stage that I am at right now.

Talking of bikes I still remember 3 of the best bike crashes I had as a kid. The first, I almost ended up in a pond at a park... i forgot to turn a corner. The 2nd i ploughed at speed into a brick wall... again I forgot to turn the corner... and the third was where remarkably I remembered to turn a corner - and ploughed into a couple of old age pensioners. I think the moral to this story is that I should stick to acting rather than riding a bike. I get the impression I have gone off at a tangent again, haven't I?

In my mind September was gonna be something really special, so it goes without saying I wanted everything to go as smoothly as possible. The only issue with this is, that we live in the real world, so it was inevitable that my hopes would be dashed at the first hurdle. I am no pessimist, I am sure you have established this by now. But I am a realist and I know that optimism is never long lived in the real world.... well not without encountering some bad times on the way. I also know it takes strength to overcome the bad times in order to keep dreams on track.

The first stumbling block came when someone whom I had been building what I thought was a stable, solid and trusting relationship betrayed that at the click of a finger. I wont lie it was hurtful, especially when I ensured that I treated that individual with the care and friendship that I felt he deserved. I could dwell on this for hours. I could analyse it and say "what went wrong?", but you know what? I refuse to let myself get beaten down by this now.

Why am I not mourning this loss you may ask... What I saw was his true colours. It goes to show that people who seem nice, kind and caring on the surface can in fact (though i concede not in all cases) be good for nothing human beings who's mere existence becomes so self-absorbed, and spiteful that they lose all sense of value both in themselves and others. I won't lie - despite all this I don't hate that person, but I do realise that those months of friendship were very much one way and based on a lie... well on his part anyway. Do I have any regrets? No not really, I acted as a good friend to him and that's what matters to me. I know that may sound silly, but if I have been a good friend to him theres nothing more I could have done. Theres only one person at a loss here and its not me.

So as you can see I bounced back from this pretty quickly. This all happening on the Tuesday before I was due to start my college courses. I was pretty proud of myself that for once I didn't dwell on a matter like this, I wanted a clear mind for the following week. I will admit, usually I would be aannoyed for weeks about something like this. Sure I felt a loss and I still do to an extent, but my focus was onwards and upwards.

So Friday comes around, the weekend before my return to education! It was also the day which saw me resume organising gigs for local bands. This would allow me to pursue my other interest of local music as well as earn some extra money which would help plug the financial gap left by cutting my work hours in favour of college. I've never treated the gigs as a serious business, but now was a new start and if I was to make this work then I had to make ends meet.

So the gig... Its at a place I had worked at many times before with bands I mostly knew. The location was a small town near Staines in Middlesex. We only use a church hall there, its ideal for small gigs and cheaper than hiring a "real venue". So its ideal for what we do. I was very much comfortable in the surroundings there. Having done a years worth of shows there before I knew that the area was pretty safe and we also shared a good raport with the local police. So the last thing I expected was to be attacked.

Yes that right! The week had gone from bad to worse. I was attacked at the door of the show by some random pikey. I am not sure of exactly what happened I have been left with no memory of the entire evening, along with a couple of nasty wounds and a ton of swelling to the right hand side of my face. The problem with head injuries is that most of the pain cant be seen - headaches etc. It ended with me finishing the gig (not that i remember this), then spending the night in A&E. I am very lucky to work with some amazing people on the gigs who supported me on the evening and since. These are true friends... ones that care about me. So there you have it - not everyone is out to hurt people!

So I guess even before starting back at college I have learned a lot... not about drama, rather about the human race. There are some really nasty people out there, but equally there are some people who really care and value me for who I am. It is because of these people that I continued with my gig this week, just a week after the attack. Sure I was apprehensive... not that I would ever admit this to my friends before the show. I am pleased to say there was no incidents to report this week! As for college - well I will tell you about that another day!

G x