Tuesday, 4 November 2014

London for the morning

Check out Margaret Jackman (@MargaretJackman): https://twitter.com/MargaretJackman?s=09

Saturday, 18 October 2014

At last! a video upload!

With Shoebox Theatre, our not-for-profit community enterprise, I have been working on a local WWI project since January 2013. Our latest presentation at the beginning of this month was a mixture of poems from 1914-18 and contemporary writings which grew out of that conflict, together with another showing of our film, based on research into local stories. The group comprises adults across the age and aptitude spectrum, with a handful of teenagers. People come and go as other commitments allow, or their interest in a particular topic draws them in.

At last, after taking receipt of a purpose-built editing desktop and software upgrade, I have been able to export to a suitable format and upload the film to Vimeo for everyone who is interested to view. For ease of handling, I have divided the 45 minute film into 4 sections of unequal length, but as long as you go in the numerical order of the titles, it will make sense.

Poster for our first WWI presentation

Included in the film are interviews with individuals who researched family members or others with a local connection, who were involved in The Great War in various capacities. Also included are improvised sketches based on the stories we unearthed.

Most of the community participants were conducting research for the first time, and it was a pleasure to see how absorbed and dogged they became as they strove to unearth the stories they had chosen to find, and how much information it was possible to uncover despite the lapse of time. They searched archive copies of the Tamworth Herald, and with the facilities of Tamworth town Library and the support of its staff, checked facts in local history collections and parish records. On the internet they plumbed the BBC WWI history site and contacted unknown family members through ancestry. com and Face Book. From the Commonwealth Graves Commission website they found the resting places of the fallen, and through the Google search engine discovered poems and letters.

Of you would like to see some of the results you will find the film at this location. It is not a professional work, so please forgive the lack of finesse in the making.

 Shoebox Theatre - "Lest We Forget": stories from WWI, 2014 

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Coming Soon.

This Friday, I'll be Mrs Newman in "Statues" in the CBBC series "All at Sea". 5.30pm.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

A Sucker for Surveys.

Yet another survey! I know I'm not alone, being bombarded with email requests to respond to a Survey Monkey or similar online questionnaire almost daily. I'm about to bin them, then I think, well, I seldom get any joy from the political ballot box so perhaps this is a way I can add my small voice to others and, if not move mountains, perhaps together we can shift a little bit of earth from here to a little nearer to wherever it is we are trying to shift this particular mound. 

This one, though is different and came via my agent - by no means the first - from a student requesting answers to help with course research; and, at whatever level, the questions fall more or less into the same pattern of requested information. I thought I would share the questions and my answers from this one here, so that, with a bit of luck, this can be my last full answer. In future I can simply add what is missing from future surveys and post a link to this page. 

Sent: 01 September 2014 12:34
Subject: A level project

My name is ... and I study A level Performing Arts at ... Academy. I have been given the task to set up an A level project to develop my understanding of the job roles of an actor and what skills the job involves and what tasks it consists of. To gather this information I would like to have a short interview over email where I hope you will take the time to answer a few simple questions, thank yuk[sic] very much it would be a great help.

Q1. When did you start out in the business?

September 1957. I was 19 years of age and I was interviewed for the job of student actor/ASM in a weekly repertory company, and offered the job at the interview. This either meant that I was the outstanding candidate, the one who seemed most willing to accept the conditions and very low wage on offer, or the only one that replied to their advert.

Q2. How did you find work? And what work did you do?

At that time, I used to search the situations vacant columns in The Stage weekly newspaper among those looking for "Stage cat for pantomime - must have own skin". I had been learning acting and different technical skills with The People's Theatre in Newcastle upon Tyne, an amateur company with its own theatre. George Bernard Shaw had thought highly of the company and had given them one of his plays to premiere and they were well respected in the region.  As well as skilled amateurs, the company was made up of 'resting' professional actors and directors, student actors, those like myself aspiring to join the profession and those who had given up the struggle to make a living to support a wife and family. The output of The People's was far in excess of the usual amateur group and the production standard was extremely high, so that over the course of my nine months with the company I had: acted a small role in Arthur Miller's "The Crucible", which I took over at 24hrs notice when the original actor went down with chicken pox; which led to an audition for the juvenile lead, which I then played, in "The Mulberry Bush" by Angus Wilson; worked with the wardrobe mistress making & preparing costumes for one production; was ASM for another and DSM on 'the book' for Christopher Fry's "The Lady's Not for Burning"; and  on another learnt basic lighting design & operation from a skilled technician. This last was very exciting because the production required flashes and explosions which we rigged up electrically and set off on cue by flipping a switch. When I applied for the professional job, which was advertised in The Stage, at a theatre less than 20 miles from my home, I knew that this varied performance and production experience would stand me in good stead for a job requiring both acting and backstage experience. 

Q3. Did you earn enough of money to support yourself financially when you first started out?

My first few weeks of training was paid at a weekly rate of £2.10 (shillings). After 9 weeks, when I was able to change from being a student member to a full member of Equity, the actors trade union, this was raised to £3. In this first job I supplemented my income from a small savings pot I had managed to put away the previous year working as a temporary civil servant. During that time I had given my mother £5 a week towards my board & lodging, but I discovered later that she was saving it for me and when I got this job she gave it all back. Because of the distance from home, and the length of the working day, I couldn't continue to live at home and had to rent a room near to the theatre. This took almost the whole of my student wage, so I couldn't have afforded to do the training/job without that money behind me. The company actors were very kind and would buy me my supper on Friday nights when we all had fish and chips. My landlady very generously provided me with a Sunday lunch, though that wasn't in our contract!

When that job ended I moved to outer London to stay with one of my older married brothers for a few weeks until I could find another theatre job and I don't think I paid anything towards my keep, though I might have done when I got the hospital job. It was only with the Colchester job, see Q4, that I became self-sufficient from my wages alone.

Q4. Where did you live in the early years of your career?

While staying with my brother, I found myself a London agent who also found non-theatre work for resting actors as well as acting and backstage jobs, and I worked in a Notting Hill hospital for a couple of months as receptionist in the x-ray department. Then I moved to Colchester as a scenic painter, assistant to the designer of the repertory theatre. I took a room near the castle, which was an army base, in a lodging that was mainly used to house army people. After a few months I had a long contract (for a year and and a half, more or less) in the North West of England, where I started off in a room in lodgings, then after a few weeks, moved to a small flat, in a private house with two flats as well as the family quarters. The other was also occupied by an actor at the rep.

Q5. How did you ensure you were successful?

How do you measure success? I was happy to be working in a job I loved. I don't think the concept of 'success' ever entered my head. I had a couple of long-range ambitions about companies that one day I would love to work in - one of these only recently achieved, but I didn't think of myself of having a career as such... how can you, in a vocation that has no structured path of achievement, no progressive pay scales. This is not a job, it's a love affair. I moved from one job to another as each contract expired. These days, you are hard put to find a contract that lasts more than a day or two (film & TV) and four weeks in theatre.

Q6. Did you spend money on general living costs?

Well, , even if I had had surplus funds, there wasn't any time to spend it on anything else in my working week of 7 days (performance, rehearsals, line-learning, costume alteration & finding - (and, with my stage management head on, add: prop-making & collection, furniture borrowing, set building); continuously, with a play change every week. But I got by most of the time, though hardly living in the lap of luxury. There were days, at a point when one company was struggling to break even, when our weekly Saturday payday was delayed until Tuesdays, but no-one walked out... we just went on doing what we always did. Because it wasn't just a job, it was a way of life. .

Q7. Did you ever have a back up plan?

At that time, no, because I was working most of the time in theatre, and the longest I was without work in the business was never more than a few weeks, although I didn't always work as an actor, for which I thank my broad training. Before becoming an actor I earned money while still at school, and as a student, on a very broad spectrum of paid work, in shops, restaurants, offices, factories; delivering newspapers; acting as a sports instructor - so I could have turned my hand at different things.  But for young people starting out now I always advise them to learn a trade or profession before embarking on actor training, because acting is a part-time occupation for most of us, and you are more likely to make a living from the back-up job than you will acting, and you need something that will provide an income when you are older - your pension pot will be a small one if you rely on acting to build it up.  I had many years away from the profession while raising a family and I was fortunate to fall into a teaching career, so before I reached pensionable age that was my back-up; but I also ran workshops and school drama projects which brought in a modest income. I now have a pension, which is my back-up income.

Q8. What is your biggest strengths?  Are!

I have an excellent London agent with whom I have a good relationship - very important. I'm old but still able to work. I keep fit by exercising three times a week at a gym. I am willing to travel, and I say "Yes" to audition requests without hesitation, even if they are for the next day. I have kept up with technology, so when requested I can do a Skype audition, or self-film and edit an audition piece to upload to Vimeo for a director and/or casting director. As a performer I am versatile within my playing age: accents (I have quite a few in my head from places lived and parts played previously, and I can learn a new accent in a few days), physicality, acting style (theatre studio or large auditorium), radio, TV and film. From my time in stage management, I have a good eye and memory for prop placement and actor positioning, so I'm good at continuity and consistency across different shots in the same scene (for screen) and moves and positioning in stage rehearsals.  I am told that I have the ability to 'lift' a character from the page for radio - important because there is very little rehearsal for that medium. 

Q9. What is your biggest weakness?  Are!

My agent, and those who work/have worked with me - other actors, directors, camera and sound technicians would know that best. I'm not convincing at selling stuff, so don't get cast for commercials (I try to avoid that sort of castings, but my agent has to make a living, so I'll go along to one when he asks).  I tend to be forthright in auditions where the character I'm up for is a sexist, ageist stereotype, and that probably doesn't go down very well; though I notice lately that TV is presenting more characterful parts for older women, so clearly others have also been making the same sort of noises. I don't learn my lines accurately ahead of rehearsals or shoots. This is deliberate, because I want to be able to learn moves and technical things to go with the words and to adjust to the other performers' interpretations; and to get a feel for their characters so we can build up the inter-character relationships together before doing it for real. This probably annoys some directors, though I do then learn the lines accurately very quickly once those first walk-throughs are complete.

Q10. What do you find most enjoyable about your job?

It's different for every job... so I think my answer has got to be the challenge that each brings. 

Q11. Are you in a union of any sort?

British Equity.

Q12. What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out a new business?

Research thoroughly the one you have chosen. Listen to as many informed people you can find to learn more than you can discover by reading.  Know your own strengths and weaknesses, not only in the area of expertise in the job you choose, but also in life skills generally and consider a) if you are cut out to follow the chosen path through thick and thin; that you have the will and application; b) find out if can you train, or otherwise prepare yourself in order to improve on those areas you feel are your weakness; c) can you realistically take on the financial hardships that might result from your choice; d) practise 'reflective learning' in order to test, evaluate and improve; and, finally, if it comes to it e) have the courage to admit that you set out on the wrong path and change your job. Nothing is fixed for life. There are always other openings if you are willing to look for them.

Thank you for your time,

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Phew! Last two weeks have been crazy.

I live in the English Midlands,  and for the last two weeks have been whizzing up north and down south at a right rate: two London visits and three to Manchester  in the space of nine days. Fun,  though.  One rehearsal,  two readthros, an audition and one get-together with other  actors  and our agents,  and a morning workshop in a Lichfield  school.  The next three weeks look to be just as busy. It's a basic law of acting that you spend weeks with no work and then  the entire year's work falls in the same date slot so you're hoping they won't clash but they frequently do.  Keeps you on your toes.