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