Sunday, 25 August 2013

Mentors: With a little help from my friends

by Greg Bepper

Throughout my career I have been blessed with the generosity of my peers freely giving their advice, experience and know-how of this industry as well as their support.

As a young actor, veteran mentors that pass on their vast knowledge are an absolute gift. You can't buy this advice but if you could, it would be valued as priceless.

*See list of names at end of article
Although you will never stop learning and discovering new techniques, nuances and your capabilities, passing on this knowledge to the next generation of actors is not only essential but a your legacy.

So, for this article I have asked some of my peers to do just that. As you will see, their reminiscence of their mentors have had a lasting impact to this day. 

As for myself, I have already mentioned two from my early television career; John Hamblin and Willie Fennell in my blog article: The Director is God. But I need to go back a little further to my ATYP (Australian Theatre for Young People) days. 

My love of theatre and the art of acting was certainly strengthened by my tutors Chris HaywoodShane Porteous AKA John Hanlon, Christopher Pate, Ronne Arnold and Lawrence (Larry) Eastwood who at the time were all still NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Arts) students. But the greatest influence was without a doubt, Artistic Director, Richard Wherrett AM.

Heading in the right direction
Richard instilled within me a direction of purpose for the craft. The capabilities the actor has, to not only entertain but to touch people's lives and perhaps change them. He also taught me the subtleties that can change an over-the-top performance to a real and believable one.

Ironically, armed with this burning desire for theatre and the expectation of thrilling audiences with characters to change their lives, my first professional job was in a different genre; as a host of a children's television show: Cartoon Corner with Greg.  A medium, that technically, I knew very little about and no character to hide behind. 

A very special mentor to this, then sixteen year old, that came to my rescue, was the shows' Producer, Jim Badger OAM.  Firstly I believe, if Jim had not cast me for the show, my 'big break' would have come many years later, if at all. It opened many 'career' doors. It gained my first agents, the wonderful Jean Cinis & Martin Bedford. Which then led to being 'in' the industry and followed the normal course of auditions and casting sessions.

Greg Bepper - Humphrey Bear - Marty & Emu
It was Jim's guidance that taught me on-camera techniques and how to 'play' an audience. He also gave me one very special attribute; the creation of magic and mystique when entertaining kids. No more so when it came to 'suited characters', for instance: Humphrey B Bear. Nothing makes me sigh more with despair than when I see a suit carried into a venue uncovered or standing in the wings, head under an arm revelling the actor inside.

"The magic vanishes" Jim would say, "You have killed the illusion and replaced it with reality. Every kid wants to believe in the magic. Don't take that way from them" Still to this day with all my productions, I do everything within my power to create the magic and preserve the mystique.

The more years you are in this industry, the more you come to respect the advice handed to you freely with no strings attached. Just one experienced peer keeping the art alive to another. 

For me, these include Australian industry icons, some of whom are sadly no longer with us: Leonard Teale, James Condon, Beryl Cheers, Gus Mecurio, Edward (Teddy) Howell and June Salter

But don't just take it from me...
Here, as I promised earlier and to highlight the importance of mentors in this industry are a few of my actor friends with the impact their mentors have had on their career. Please note that the list is in alphabetical order to avoid any controversy over the billing... I mean, you know how actors are! 

Don Bridges - Freida Hodgson
Don Bridges - Frieda Hodgson
I first worked with Don in the late 70's when we travelled to primary schools throughout north west New South Wales with a touring company for the Arts council of New South Wales, performing two plays: Clown & Drought.

Don to this day is still in constant demand as an actor, director and tutor.

"My most influential mentor was a woman named Freida Hodgson. She was a teacher/director I worked with in London in the early 70s. She was quite eccentric and in her 70s at the time. She had been teaching at LAMDA for 30 years. I was taken under her wing for weekly classes where she worked with me on monologues and scenes. She brought in people to watch me perform and they turned out to be examiners from LAMDA I became qualified, whatever that means. I had 10 or 12 monologues at my disposal once we finished. She inspired me and encouraged me to follow my dreams and aspirations. She was a very generous woman and also inspired me to "pass it on."

Alex Broun - George Ogilvie
Alex Broun - George Ogilvie
In 2010 I had the privilege of producing and directing one of Alex's plays PFV (Potential For Violence).
Alex, who is not only a playwright but also an actor and director has been associated with the Short & Sweet Festival for many years.

He is also extremely generous with his works, providing them royalty and copyright free through his website:  

"George helped me to understand the true nature of the actor-director relationship. Why was this important through your career: In every play or film I have directed since I have always been conscious of empowering the actors and allowing them space to collaborate in creation of the finished work. I have always aimed to achieve George's goals of making the experience a positive one for the actors – mentally and spiritually."

Anna Hruby - Max Phipps
Anna Hruby - Max Phipps
I met Anna in 1979 when I was working with her brother Frank on a children's television show: Carrots.

Although I have never had the pleasure of working wit her, Anna is a delightful actress and everyone in Australia hears her voice everyday as she is now one of the most, constantly working and sort after female voice-over artist in the country.

"When I was 15 years old, I met and worked with the wonderful Max Phipps. It was his influence that sent me to study with Hayes Gordon and Zika Nesta at the Ensemble in the late 1970's. Max's dedication and love of performing has been a constant source of inspiration to me throughout my career. Such a committed actor and such a talented and charismatic one. I still miss him today."

Barbara Llewellyn
Barbara Llewellyn
The year was 1974. The show was Class of 74. Here I was working with Barbara, who although, was around the same age, was virtually a veteran within the industry at the time. She continued to grace the small screen for decades during which she met her then-to-be husband: Teen heartthrob (he's going to love me saying that.. but he was!) Rod Kirkham 

In 2004, Barbara, now also a published author, opened  Bright Light Multimedia with Rod. Publishing and promoting books, CD's and electronic downloads. They also collaborate in writing, arranging and producing some of Australia's most catchy jingles and promotional songs. 

"In all honesty, there was never any one person who I consider to have been my mentor or inspiration. I was literally raised “in the business” with my mother running the top theatrical agency of the time – my father, who was an actor, didn’t want to go to all the first nights of plays that my mother had to attend to nurture all her actors and actresses so she took me instead. I loved it. And basically, as we were seeing plays and talking to the actors backstage immediately after the show almost every week, I was in a constant state of training. Plus I started working professionally myself from the age of seven so, once again, always learning. I was basically a sponge, absorbing everything. The truth is that every teacher, every director, every actor/actress I’ve ever had the good fortune to work with has taught me something – and like most of the folk in our trade, there’s a part of me who observes everything and everyone, including myself when I experience some major emotion or event (you never know when you’ll be able to use it – that turn of the head, or glistening of the eyes or tightening of the chest). Life, itself, is my true mentor – don’t mean to sound esoteric, that’s just the way it is."

Denise Roberts - Hayes Gordon 
Denise Roberts - Hayes Gordon
I met Denise early in her career when I was teaching at a North Sydney Drama School in the 1980's. Denise has been a familiar face on Australian television since then in long running shows such as GP, Packed To The Rafters, Mrs Biggs,  Blood Brothers, Razzle Dazzle and Always Greener, just to name a few. 

These days, while still continuing her acting career, she is also the Principal & CEO of SCREENWISE Film & TV School for Actors 
"Hayes was a wonderful tutor and mentor.  Not only did he teach me tools that would define me as an actor, but they would define me as a person too. He instilled in me the importance of using my craft wisely. Theatre and Film he said was the most dangerous of all the arts because it can influence the way people think, it can manipulate the way they feel, it can make them a 'gentler giant'.  Theatre was a loaded gun and therefore use it with care.  Know what your are doing with it. Respect it and aim the gun carefully.   And this is what I too try to instil in my Screenwise students."

Joanne Samuel
Joanne Samuel
As with Barbara, I worked with Joanne on Class of 74. Joanne's career spans many decades and she has graced the small and large screen in productions such as: Mad Max with Mel Gibson, The Sullivans, Young Doctors, Hey Dad, The Wiggles Movie and All Saints.

These days Joanne is heavily involved with the fabulous Katoomba Theatre Co
"I have had many people inspire, teach and mentor me, in 41 years of working as a performer.  People like Queenie Ashton and June Salter when I did Certain Woman for the ABC and Bud Tingwell when I worked on Skyways. Starting to ponder this, I realised the greatest of all my teachers and mentors were three women. Two were my dance teachers, Elaine and Shirley Honeybrook, from Honeybrook Dance Studio. The other was my Aunty Ric, who studied at Trinity College in London, and is a fantastic voice teacher/director.  Elaine and Shirley taught with a loving firmness. I danced, sang and performed in an old hall, from age 5- 16 years, up a steep and very narrow stairway in Balmain. I never wanted to leave that studio. Aunty Ric made sure I read and saw as many plays as possible, especially Shakespeare, she encouraged in me, a love of the theatre and the discipline of the craft of acting. These three women took what talent I had, trained me up in technique and self discipline, to have the tenacity to stay the course and work hard. I still tap, sing and act today. My love of theatre, Shakespeare, and all things performing arts grows deeper the older I get."

With thanks
I can't thank my peers enough for their contribution to this article. Here's hoping our examples of the importance of listening to and taking in all that is said from mentors enriches the journey for young actors.

Author: Greg Bepper © 2013
Artistic Director
Greg Bepper's Thunderbolt Theatre & Film Productions


Thursday, 1 August 2013

So, you want to be an actor

by Greg Bepper

Seriously? But what are going to do for a real job!

Those of you in the profession would have heard this at least once in your career; it goes with the territory.

Outsiders find it hard to comprehend that the person standing in front of them could make a living like their favourite movie or television 'star'. 

It's that line between reality and fantasy. A perception that they [stars] were ordained by the Gods and beamed into their stardom. This, clouding the reality that they were once at the same crossroad and decision you [the newbie actor] are at when starting out. 

So with that in mind, this article is not how to be an actor but the cold, hard truth of what it takes to have a long, sustaining career in this profession.

Expect unemployment... that's a giv'n
It's a life of casual employment, both within the profession and in the 'real world'. In the latter, forget the idea of holding down full time employment to pay the bills and have a career in this industry. It ain't going to happen unless you have a very understanding employer that will give you time off at very short notice for a day, a couple of days, a week, or even 3 months or more.

This is the uncertainty of an actors' life. You never know when a casting call/audition will come your way, especially for commercials. When a part does present itself, it will be anything from a bit, guest or contracted. They all come with their own time-frames of employment. A full time job is not an option for the immediacy required to 'down tools' and go be an actor.

It's a casual life
Many jokes are made about actors, if fact any performer, like the one above when they are 'resting'. Although funny, it's not far from the truth. 

The actor needs to have a few strings to their bow to pay the rent between theatrical engagements. The most common, worldwide are: bartending, waitering, barista God and cab driving. These casual professions allow the actor the flexibility to attend auditions and day roles without loss of employment as they can swap shifts. With longer roles, the actor can find a new employer when their acting contract finishes.

For around fifteen years, one of the non-theatrical professions that I found was right for me, and kept food on the table, was: on the road sales rep. Not only did this allow me the flexibility to attend auditions since I was already 'out there' on the road but a company car and free fuel is a great bonus. It also was a great training ground to hone my acting skills. I mean lets face it, selling a customer or selling an audience it all comes down to technique.

Casual employment also applies to every theatrical job you will EVER attain. It only lasts as long as your contract, be it; a one day shoot on a commercial, a six week play run or a 5 year stint on a television series, they all come to an end. Then it's back to; do you want fries with that, till your next engagement. 

Flush one day, poor the next
When it comes to your finances through your acting career it will be feast and famine. It's a juggling act of surviving on casual job hours and wages then being sensible when a boost from an acting job fee finally comes through. Although when it does most of it goes on paying back bills to bring you back to square one. 

The cream of this industry is the television commercial. They are usually very well paid for one or two days work, especially if they are a 'hundred pecenter'  (main talking character), national or international release. What you end up with in the end depends on your countries tax rate and rules. Here is Australia your tax rate on the fee is deemed as that is your weekly wage. This makes a huge dent in the fee although you can usually claim it back at the end of the financial year. The other piece that is deducted before you get your hot little hands on it, is your agent/manager's fee which can be anything from ten to twenty five percent.

You will notice I said "being sensible". Easier said than done when a couple of thousand to tens of thousands hit your bank account. But no matter how much you earn from each acting job even long contracts: remember what I said... they ALL end eventually. So 'try' and save for the lean times.

Disappointment with sprinkles of elation
You will spend your entire career proving your worth. Auditions don't stop, even for the veteran actor. They just get a little more civilised.

You will go from the early career 'cattle call' where you are just one of many, sometimes hundreds, all waiting to hear your name called by the very overworked and tired casting assistant, announcing it's your time to shine. To the established actors' casting, with a handful or maybe just you, waiting to audition. This sometimes comes with coffee and a biscuit. 

Then it's the waiting for the phone to ring game. Every call, you prey it's your agent. You really want this part. You really need this part. Remembering that it's rare that an agent will telephone to tell you missed out this time. That news is usually when you finally call them after a week or so because the stress of not knowing has finally taken it's toll. 

You are not going to get every part; that is a fact of this life. Disappointment will come in different degrees. It will vary from an 'Oh well, didn't want it anyway" to "I really, really wanted that" 

The elation of a 'thumbs up' makes all the past rejections disappear. It's a great feeling of anticipation of the work, the peers and the outcome of an art you truly love. Even the news you have been short-listed or have a call-back produces the glow of elation and a happy dance.

A hard day's night
Now to the work itself; one of the most demanding of occupations.  The never ending glitz and glamour that is associated with this profession is as illusional as the product it produces... It's hard work!

Long, long days and nights. More energy expelled on stage than running a marathon and doing it seven to eight times a week. Hours of waiting between set ups on film locations trying keep the character. Hour upon hour on the road when on a theatre tour, followed by 2 star accommodation and broom closet dressing rooms.. literally. 

But before you even get to the performance side you have all the preparation. Line learning, character development, rehearsals, screen tests, make up tests, costume fittings, tech rehearsals, publicity photo shoots, last minute rewrites and so much more, and so much to control. 

Your social and family life takes a backseat for the run of the contract, especially a film production. Shooting schedules can be amended at a drop of a hat due to a myriad of reasons. In theatre, you become a night shift worker with a couple of day/night shifts a week for matinees. Then of course you have months away from home for a film shoot in far off places and sometimes years for a successful theatre production, especially musical theatre.

BUT... What a life!
I tell my students that as actors we are the most privileged in the world. Outsiders go through life with one personality, one journey, one purpose. But we get to be them and hundreds more. We bring to life personalities, journeys and purpose of people, real and fiction, released from the mind of a writer hundreds of years ago, right up to last week. 

It's also a tough life; an emotional roller coaster that lasts your entire career.
You constantly question your ability, wrestle with self doubt and beat yourself up. It takes it's toll as actors fall by the wayside with frustration, disillusion and bitter disappointment. 

But to the true actor, the passionate actor, it's not about the lifestyle; it's all about the work. The journey you are able to take your live or viewing audience. The lives you touch and sometimes change from your craft. This is an actors greatest contribution to their 'meaning of life'.

Author: Greg Bepper © 2013
Artistic Director
Greg Bepper's Thunderbolt Theatre & Film Productions



Tuesday, 23 July 2013

It's not ego it's selling soap

by Greg Bepper

Actors often get a raw deal from the outside world branding them as egotistical. I hope that this article may enlighten and give food for thought, to those of you not involved in show business. To my peers, it may help you explain your 'look at me' behaviour.

Don't get me wrong, yes we have an ego, I don't really think you can be in this industry without one, but there are two varieties of ego lookatmeus

The inner ego:  This is the very personal one. The one that makes the actor smile inside when an audience applauds or they get a good review or receive genuine accolades from their peers. It's also that satisfaction when the actor knows they 'nailed' a performance. 

The outer ego: The public one or should I say the perceived public one. The one that seems to do nothing but talk about themselves, viewed as self absorbed and brands the actor 'up themselves'. This is the ego I want to dispel, right here, right now. 
It's only business
Anyone in business, be they; the owner or employee, that makes a living by selling a product or service, talks about and promotes their product/service during the course of their working day. This is how they make money, this is how they pay the rent. 

I have yet to come across anyone who brands a butcher, baker or candlestick maker an egotist because they talk about their wares. Never heard of a shop assistant being called egotistical because they outline the benefits of an electrical appliance. Why? Because they are not the product or service. 

Now lets look at it from an actor's perspective. When I talk to my students about this side of the business, I bring it down to it's simple form; an actor is a cake of soap. In other words, they [the actor] are the product.

So, just like any other salesperson in any other business making a sale of a product/service, the process is the same except in this sale the actor being the product. They talk about how great they are, the benefits of using them, their past track record, their advantages and any other attribute to make the sale (get the part). That is how they make a living. This is how THEY pay the rent.

With this in mind it is easy to see how the outside world brands this as 'bignoting', 'swellheaded' ... egotistical. 

I found this comment on a Facebook post in reply to a Hugh Jackmans' status update. I think this makes my point.

Look at me, I'm brill 
Actors are also perceived to be the world champions when it comes to 'name dropping' 

So let's go back to our cake of soap. If a product or service is promoted as the preferred brand by a celebrity, do people accuse the manufacturer, provider, sales assistant of name dropping? When you talk to your friends about work colleagues, are you accused of name dropping?

This is the same as actors talking about who they have worked along side or who has contracted their services. The obvious  big difference is that your work colleagues may not be known to thousands or tens of thousands or millions of people. To the actor, these are just their everyday work colleagues and some just happen to be famous. 

The equivalent in the everyday life of people not in 'the biz' would be; the writing of your resume. To gain employment your prospective employer wants to know all about you, your skills, experience and personal thoughts to assess if your the right person for the job. You fill the resume with details of how great your are, how skilled you are, how experienced you are and all the companies and people of note you have worked for and along side. 

The difference here is, that when you get the job the focus changes to the business and no longer on you. For the actor the focus is always on them.

Don't believe your own PR
Publicity keeps the actor in the minds of their audience and most importantly; Directors and Producers. This is the equivalent to our cake of soap being advertised or talked about through newspapers, glossy magazines and online. 

Generally this publicity is generated by PR (Public Relations) gurus or publicists, either contracted by production companies, the actors agent/manager or the actor themselves. 

It's all about keeping our cake of soap in the public eye. The generated story must have a 'hook', something interesting, something appealing, something that is unknown. This where the actor [product] can be seen in whole new light, similar to a cake of soap having a new formula. BUT, just as in advertising the product claims can be over exaggerated.

Barbara Llewellynn, Leonard Teale, Anne Lambert, Megan Williams
Early in my television career, I was lucky enough to be in Australia's first teen drama series Class of 74. The majority of the cast were aged from mid teen to early twenties. The story lines tackled ground-breaking 'tabou' teen subjects that by today's standards would be seen as very tame but it was headline making stuff back then.

As the shock died down and the ratings levelled out the publicity mongers needed to find a new hook to keep the show in the press, so they turned to the private lives of the actors. 

I remember being constantly telephoned by the television station's publicity department and my own agent for stories outside our lives on set. 

As the program was a five nights a week, most of our long waking hours were in rehearsal or in the studio, so not that much time for an outside life. Our snippets of social life were given the 'spin' treatment by the publicity machine to make them newsworthy.

A prime example that will always be burned into my memory is 'Young stars sex romps and orgies on island hideaway' Eye catching headline you must admit, but the facts spun more than a clothes dryer on steroids. 

This story emerged from two of the young cast members liveing in a rental property on Scotland Island in Pittwater, Sydney. Occasionally, a few of us would trek over there on the weekend for a BBQ.. end of story. Although they were fantastic lunches that continued through to night, full of laughs and merriment, I don't recall a single romp and I'm sure I would remember an orgy!

The age old saying "there's no bad publicity" is a double-edged sword in this profession. I have seen careers blossom due to off screen/stage antics (real or not) and also seen them flushed down the toilet by it as well. No more so than this day and age we live in of social (access all areas) media. 

So next time you see or read about an actor spruking about how good they are or shaking your head in disbelief on their latest fall from grace or adventure, give them some slack. For just like you, they are also trying to make a living. 

Author: Greg Bepper © 2013
Artistic Director
Greg Bepper's Thunderbolt Theatre & Film Productions


Friday, 12 July 2013

The Director is God

 by Greg Bepper

I have not doubt that among my peers this will certainly be a controversial topic. The attitude of the role and power of the Director, be it; in film, television or theatre, varies greatly from actor to actor. 

Although I'm on both sides of the coin, as an actor and director, my attitude to this role as never waned since I started in the industry.

It's not a democracy
As far as an actor is concerned, the director should be the supreme being. This is now where the controversy comes in, as there are many actors that do not believe this to be true. 

Whether the production be professional or community based, feature film or short, this rule must always apply. The fact of; why, is very simple. As an actor you are one cog, a very large cog but still one element that must fit into their [the director] vision of how they see the overall production working. It's the actors job to make that vision happen.

Trust in the director is a huge part of this process. They are the one person that watches and listens closely to every line you utter, every inflection, every movement and gesture, all with the big picture constantly in mind. 

I'm not saying there are no bad directors but be they, God's gift to directing or the director from hell, everyone in a production has their job description. As an actor, directing yourself or anyone else is not in your criteria.

It's a partnership but... 
A partnership: Actor & Director Photo by Kate Hall
Any director worth their salt will set out to form a partnership with their actors. So I'm not suggesting that it's a purely dictatorial relationship. The bouncing of ideas, interpretations, combined visions of characters or scenes is an integral part of a good director/actor balance. 

The ultimate decision though, no matter how much the actor may disagree, is landed directly on the shoulders of the director and must be adhered.

I have experienced many styles of directing. I have seen the director be 'the buddy/best mate' resulting in the cast running-a-muck with their own conflicting, self motivated interpretations, leaving the production in tatters.

Many years ago I was involved in an 'ensemble movie' where the original script was clever and very funny. The director unfortunately became their buddy and let the actors have their own way. The result was a mish-mash of ideas no where near the original concept of the script. In fact, entire story lines were changed on a whim of the actors. To say it flopped on release would be an understatement. Although, it did get a small cult following a decade later. Most likely spurred on by the actor's children.

Directing as a buddy and no authority is almost, always heading the production to a disaster. 
The actor a walking talking prop

I often joke that an actor to a director is a walking talking prop. Although a flippant statement, there is a small amount of truth contained within. The actor is only one element of an entire production overseen by a director.

The final say on auditions, sets, props, costumes, lighting, rehearsals, shots and all the other elements is squarely on the director and must fit into their 'vision' for the production. This includes the actors.

Clash of the Titans
Visions do clash, especially where an actors' character and dare I say costumes are concerned. A good director, will listen and if they agree, and it fits the vision, adopt the actor's suggestions. But if they do not, they will explain why or a little trick of the trade is to allow the actor to try it their way, then explain why that doesn't work, and for the actor to do it way they have been directed. Unfortunately this is not always successful, resulting in the detriment of the actor and the production. 

A few years back this was the case with one of my actors. We didn't see eye to eye on how their character should play one of the scenes. Although they listened to the reasons and direction, even to the point of rehearsing the scene perfectly to my vision, when it came to the performances, they did it their way. Their interpretation missed every time, that was until the understudy went on one night and played the character 'as directed'. The scene leaped off the stage and into the hearts of the audience. 

A mirror will only reflect what you see. An actor needs a two-way mirror so others can pass on comment of what the actor cannot see.  

Willie Fennell & John Hamblin
"Say your lines, don't bump into the furniture and collect your money at the end of the week". 

Very early in my television career I received this advice from the veteran Australian actors, Wille Fennell and John Hamblin  At first, you may be forgiven for thinking that Wille and John were suggesting to  'coast' my way through the scenes.

This was far from true. Their advice was based on the foundation of; do as you're told and take direction. I never saw these experienced mentors ever coast. They would put in the hard yards and always find a way within the parameters of the direction to make it work for them.

Does 'God' have a boss? 
Above every director lurks a powerful force. The only being more supreme than they: The Producer. 
The 'seedy' side of all productions; the money
The Producer holds within their grasp, the Golden Fleece, the Shroud of Turin and the Holy Grail all rolled into one: The budget.

While the creative side of a production should be left in the hands of the director to weave their magic. The 'seedy' side of all productions; the money, and all decrees of approval that go with it, is totally sealed within the producer's domain. 

The director is bound by their decisions and just like the actor must adapt and find a way to still make it work. 

In film of course, this all powerful position is commanded by an Executive Producer, a few more rungs up the ladder from a director but their modus operandi is still the same.

A theatre director does have one more body supremely powerful but only for very brief periods throughout a production; The Stage Manager.

 Director's supreme status has no authority
Come the half hour call an exchange of power begins between the director and stage manager. By the five minute call this exchange has been completed and now not even the director's supreme being status has any authority here. For the length of the production the stage manager calls the shots. They are the numuro uno of all the backstage staff and the actors. 

The similar positions in television and films falls to the floor manager and assistant directors. Similar positions but not similar power. They are more disciples or messengers. God [the director] communicates their edicts through them to the actors and crew on set.

Our industry on the artistic side may seem strange to outsiders. But when it comes the nitty-gritty, the chain of command is the same as any other business. It employs people to produce a product. A product that will hopefully produce a profit or at least break even. Hence the name: Show Business.  

Author: Greg Bepper © 2013
Artistic Director
Greg Bepper's Thunderbolt Theatre & Film Productions

Monday, 1 July 2013

The stare of a 1000 deaths

 by Greg Bepper

There are many perils that befall an actor on stage or live television. The most soul destroying being: the stare of a thousand deaths.

Forgetting your lines; AKA Drying, with a multitude of concentrated eyes fixed directly at you, hence creating this frightening phenomenon.

Within a micro-moment, your eyes glaze over. Your pupils quiver. Your brain bounces back and forward in your head causing your skin to go cold and clammy. It seems like minutes before an utterance comes forth out of your mouth again, when in fact, it's been less than a couple of seconds.

You have to say something; anything, to cover the fact that you have dried. Eventually, you will get back on track, a little shell shocked but the scene will continue. Of course you may have a fellow actor 'save' you to help jog your memory. This can be in the form of a question or they may even spin your line around and say it for you. Whatever happens the audience must be none the wiser.

Have I ever been struck by the stare?
If I answered no, you wouldn't believe me because I certainly wouldn't believe any actor who said they had not. It's a fact of theatrical life. The aim here is to be so well prepared, so well trained, that when it strikes you can breeze right through it.

There has been one time in my career when I could almost claim a dry free run. Back in the mid eighties, a ten month stint on the Australian television soapie: Sons and Daughters, I was dry free every scene until the second last on my final day, I blew it. So close but no cigar! 

At other times, on stage or set, I have been waiting in the wings, or behind a film/TV set door to make my entrance with no idea of any word in my first line. In film or television you have the safety net of simply yelling out "What's my first line?" On stage, you're net free. Your only option is to enter and pray your opening line spurts out. It usually does. It's one of the miracles in live theatre that scares your brain into automatic. 

It's all in the work
Ian McKellan, The actual 'doing' is his fun time
Drying does not mean you are a bad actor but drying constantly means you need to spend more time in preparation and revision. It takes work but ultimately, as a professional, that's what you are paid to do. 

In an interview I saw with Ian McKellan (Gandalf: Lord of the Rings) he said, the learning of lines, developing the character, rehearsals; this was the work, this is for what he is paid. The actual 'doing' is his fun time. 

Hello, is this thing on? I'm dying here! 
The thousand deaths can also rear its head in other forms. You may have heard an actor say they have died on stage. This does not mean they physically ceased to be, although sometimes you wished you had, just to get some kind of reaction from a 'tough' audience, especially in a comedy.
'the beast' [the audience]
No two audiences are the same. In fact, you could have exactly the same audience two performances in a row and the reactions would be different. Although they are there for you to take them on a brief escape, outside influences always creep in. The type of day they encounter before arriving at the theatre, world events that day, the weather, the car park, the pre-theatre dinner, the size of the audience, age range, their seat, the behaviour of people around them, a late opening curtain, all factor into 'the beast' [the audience] that performance.

With a 'dead' audience, the sound of shuffling feet, coughing and crickets, induces the stare to appear, as your mouth moves and words project outwards while your brain is trying to work out; what you need to do to awaken the beast and get the play to a level of at least breathing. 

Death by props
Never trust a prop
Never expect or trust a prop or working set piece to do what it is designed to do, on cue. Their uncooperativeness is the catalyst for yet another thousand deaths.

This includes: stage or set doors and windows that won't open or close, lights that don't light, lighters that don't light, books that fall apart, chairs that fall apart, feather boas that molt, flowers that droop, pencils that break, pens that leak, guns that don't fire, fire that smokes, smoke that chokes, and the list goes on.

In essence, if you have a working prop or set piece, have a back up plan to avoid the stare.

With a little help from my friends..

Now, to avoid having to relate some of my other close encounters with death on stage, which would only have you shaking your head wondering why I ever gave up my day job. I have recruited a few of my actor colleagues, who are brave enough to let you into their inner circle with a few of their thousand deaths anecdotes.

Denise Roberts
Denise Roberts
I met Denise early in her career when I was teaching at a North Sydney Drama School in the 1980's. Denise has been a familiar face on Australian television since then in long running shows such as GP, Packed To The Rafters, Mrs Biggs,  Blood Brothers, Razzle Dazzle and Always Greener, just to name a few. 

These days, while still continuing her acting career, she is also the Principal & CEO of SCREENWISE Film & TV School for Actors  

"Over 20 years ago I was performing in a play at the Ensemble Theatre directed by Crispin Taylor called FOUR PORTRAITS OF MOTHERS by Arnold Wesker.  It was a special presentation in honour of Hayes Gordon. The play was four one woman monologues. 

This was my very first time performing a monologue directly to the audience and on stage completely on my own, and as you can imagine, I was pretty apprehensive.  During rehearsals, the lovely Carol Willesee who was starring in one of the monologues tried to allay my anxiety by telling me that she always keeps a glass of water backstage with her script and if she dries on stage, she simply says she's going to get a drink, walks off stage then has a quick look at the script and enters back on stage with the water.  But there was no way I was going to do that...I was a professional.

On opening night, I entered with my shopping trolley full of groceries and started talking to the audience.  All of a sudden I dried.  My head began buzzing with panic, my spirit left my body and floated above me watching me as I kept flicking through the groceries trying desperately to remember my lines.  Then all of a sudden an overwhelming sensation came over me and I looked up and said 'SHIT .. THE MILK!  and ran off leaving my shopping trolley centre stage.  My intention was to run in to the dressing room, have a quick look at my lines grab some milk from the dressing room fridge and then come back on.  However, the stage manager who had been listening to everything...had already grabbed the milk from the fridge..and as I came off she handed me the milk straight away, leaving me with no choice but to turn around and run straight back on with the milk in hand and still not knowing my lines!

That was my first experience at ad-libbing.  I went on and on about escalating prices, the state of the shopping trolleys and whatever else I could come up with until my lines came back to me.  It was nerve wracking, but the audience including Hayes Gordon were falling off their seats with laughter."

Denise's IMDb Filmography

Coral Drouyn
Coral Drouyn
I worked with Coral in the 1980's in the ill fated Australian television series: Arcade.

Coral is what we in the biz call a 'real trouper' who has been treading the boards since she was a child; which was not all that long ago. That's brownie points for me!

Coral is also a screen writer and has written for such Australian shows as: Prisoner, Neighbours, Blue Heelers and Home & Away.

Currently, as well as her acting career, Coral is a reviewer and feature writer for Stage Whispers

"Okay....I came to Australia in 1962, and was the ingénue in a Tivoli revue called Paris by Night. We did a sketch, in medieval costumes, called Opera without Music....I was (at 17) supposed to be the "Old" Contralto.

There was a long pause for me, standing on the OP side down stage while my Dad Terry O'Neill did his shtick. Bored, I started counting the house. It probably was no more than 10 seconds but I suddenly realised there was silence on stage. I looked round and there was my Dad, and Avril Angers the female comedian...just glaring at me.

I'd missed my cue completely while counting the house. The audience started to laugh. I was mortified. After glaring, my Dad covered for me and said something like " Don't mind her, she's doing her homework!" because every one had seen how very young I was in other parts of the show. Fortunately it gave me enough time to try a line....the wrong Dad said "try another one" this time we were getting more laughs from me drying than from the sketch itself!"

Coral's IMDb Filmography

Alan Cinis 
Alan Cinis
I've known Alan since I was seventeen. His lovely Mum (Jean) was my very first Theatrical Agent.

I have also had the pleasure of working with this very talented an comedic actor in fringe theatre.

Alan's career spans over forty years with such Australian Film & Television credits as: Water Rats, Grass Roots, All Saints, Home & Away & Oyster Farmer. 

"Doing 'Stand Up' is tough, it is really obvious when you're not winning the audience over. I was paid a motza to do a Birthday Party in a RSL Club way out West (Sydney).

The whole family was there and generations from fossils to babies. I don't work blue as such and everything I did was little yarns and impressions and chatty jokes.

This mob were clearly unhappy and wanted quick fire, one line jokes and they wanted them foul. I can't do nasty jokes in front of children nor elderly people for that matter.

They heckled me and said tell up some filthy jokes. I wouldn't and they said, "Don't worry about it! Do you have a writer for your material?" I said "Yes." (it was my friend at the time Mal Frawley) They said, "Fire him." Had a long drive back to Sydney feeling like rubbish. But if you can do 'Stand Up' you can do practically anything."
Alan's IMDb Filmography  

Fran Margan (Keeling)
In the late 1970's Fran and I were members of a Fringe Theatre Co in North Sydney, although we never performed together. Fran is 'old hand' at life on the road with touring companies; and the all stories that go with touring.

These days she has hit the long and travelled road of archaeology and is an educator at Sydney University's Nicholson Museum and Archaeologist at The Australian Museum

"An Arts Council tour of an Aykbourne. There was no communication between back stage and the hall - so lighting had to climb out the gents' room window to get to the desk, which was at the back of the auditorium.

The window was so high that we had to park the car under it, for him to climb out safely. Just before interval, the CWA ladies turned on the urn to prepare for supper. The stage lights blew. Oh Merimbula! "

Author: Greg Bepper © 2013
Artistic Director
Greg Bepper's Thunderbolt Theatre & Film Productions