I am magic.
I shift and change from thing to thing
One moment I’m an angel with wings
The next a panther running towards
My prey, seizing life and freedom
Feet stamping on dirt and wooden boards.
Sometimes I’m known as Ariel
Sometimes as a harpy or a witch.
I’m a bird soaring across dells
And a pixie playing in a muddy ditch.
I’m earth and fire, water and wind,
Sexiness and awkwardness,
Hope and sin
At times it is confusing
And I hide away inside
Scared off by feared abusing
Of the power that resides
Within and shines without
(When you let it).
I’m hurt but I’m alive,
I’m happy yet also lonely,
I’m everything from time to time,
Freed, or chained up in a moment.
I have days when I am wise
And salad days, green with naivety
But that’s the bittersweetness shared
By my baseness and beauty.
The globalisation of productions particularly for film has seen self tape auditions become an important part of the casting process.
Self tape, or self test auditions are recorded outside of the casting studio, which means that people can audition from anywhere in the world. This process gives casting directors a greater pool of talent and can lead to many other creative and financial benefits for productions.
While self tapes have been around for years, it’s only recently that they’ve really started to take off.
“The last three years have seen a landslide shift in the casting process,” LA acting coach to the stars Joseph Pearlman wrote for Backstage in 2013.
“Actors are being asked, with greater frequency, to “self-tape” their auditions and e-mail them directly to the casting office or production team,” he said, adding that a growing number of his private coaching sessions are actually booked and used to film self tape auditions.
They’re also becoming more common in Australia. For the past year I’ve been working as a reader at the Self Tape Audition Studio in Melbourne, and in that time I’ve come to the conclusion that self tape auditions are an essential part of the future of the film and television industry. The international benefits have already been established, and many Australian actors (including me) already self tape during the US Pilot Season.
But I suspect self testing will become a valuable asset to local productions as well. With vast distances between Australian capital cities, and tight casting deadlines to consider, the option of self test auditions means that more actors can be considered for more productions. So while a Melbourne actor might have previously been ruled out for a Queensland production unless they could fly up to audition, now they can at least self submit for the first round of auditions.
I find this whole process really exciting. I’ve already seen people get cast in major productions based on the auditions they shoot at the Self Tape Audition Studio. The Self Tape Audition Studio’s owner, Ben Steel, and me have also noticed an increase in the number of self test audition studios and workshops on offer. Even Coca Cola has recently taken note of the popularity of self tape auditions, and it’s a company not directly in the industry.
These observations and the growing commentary around self tapes suggest they’re here to stay in a very big way. That’s why I think it’s important actors understand every facet of self taping to make sure we all put our best foot forward for any audition.
So over the coming months I’ll be sharing some of the things I’ve learned about self taping, along with anything else I feel is relevant and interesting. In the meantime, you can check out this cool little intro to self taping that Ben Steel put down for the Self Tape Audition Studio.
I find the organic nature of performances hard to capture in one viewing or moment, which is why I rarely post my own theatre reviews. But I’ve made an exception in this case. I’ve worked with innātum Theatre before and I’m a big supporter of the company’s aims and ambition. This particular work also moved me and, as a piece intended to be toured to school shows, I thought a review of my experience could be useful for people studying Harwood’s work (or those interested in it).
Great poetry is a sensory experience: at times it will evoke sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch and personal memories. Australian poet Gwen Harwood’s body of work does all of these things, giving readers a glimpse into her reality as well as new facets of their own lives.
So when I heard about innātum Theatre’s production of The Lion’s Bride I was intrigued by how Harwood’s poetry would be translated and conveyed on a stage.
The show is an exploration of Harwood’s work, with director Tammie Kite bringing Harwood’s poetry and personal context to life through a series of songs and scenes that fit easily into the worlds Harwood herself created.
The cast – Amanda Knight, Gareth Trew and Déborrah “Moogy” Morgan – skilfully move between heightened realities in a way that is real, theatrical and poetic by turns.
Music by Hannah Riley both enhances the worlds on the stage and supports the transitions between them, with Déborrah “Moogy” Morgan’s musical performance both lifting the notes from the page and adding to the atmosphere within this work.
A lot of the discussions about Harwood’s personal context focus on her relationships with men. She was a women who challenged the system with her pseudonyms, and also championed and subverted love in her poems.
There’s a beautiful tension in her work that was highlighted in innātum’s production of The Lion’s Bride through the chemistry between Knight and Trew. Though these two actors play various roles throughout the piece, the strength of their connection is a constant, making the shifting stories and dynamics even more fascinating to explore.
Image credits: James Lee
Acting and writing allow me to connect to people through storytelling, to explore ideas, perspectives and the many facets of life. I’ve dedicated myself to these things because I love them, and I’m so grateful there are jobs out there that let me share this value with the world.
But I also know not everyone feels like they’ve found what makes them come alive. And it can change depending on life stages, personal circumstances, experiences and even our values. So it’s not always easy to know what makes you come alive, but sometimes there are clues.
What is it, in everyday life, that brings a smile to your face? What’s something that you always want to make time for? Is it a particular topic of conversation, a social situation, or maybe something like watching kids play together, working out or gardening? Maybe it’s a combination of things.
I’m no expert at this – I think it’s one facet of life that always keeps us on our toes – but I do believe it’s important to consider, explore and revisit the things that make us light up. Because when we find it, we can bring value to everything that we do.
I’ve been working on The Actors Process for over a year now, co-producing the series that interviews industry professionals and experts about the craft and business of acting. With 9 of the season’s 10 episodes already live, we currently have some downtime before the final episode’s release on the 10th of August 2014.
But after reading through some of the great comments on the show’s blog and Twitter (@ActorsProcess), I started thinking about what other video resources actors can find online. So here’s some of my favourite videos, YouTube channels and articles that have given me insights, inspiration and motivation as an actor.
The Hollywood Reporter Roundtable Interviews
One of my weekly habits is reading The Hollywood Reporter (among other industry news publications), and that’s actually how I first came across their Roundtable interviews with actors, actresses, writers, directors, casting directors and more.
THR has a whole series of these interviews – often an hour long – discussing different processes, specific productions and roles or challenges the creatives have faced. The first one I watched was the Actresses Roundtable for the 2014 Academy Awards (below), and I got SO much out of it, but just looking through THR‘s YouTube channel now I am getting excited by how many others there are for me to see.
Will Smith’s Philosophy
This video is one that a guest on The Actors Process, actress Sarah Roberts, actually talks about in her episode. I’d never seen it before she mentioned it, but I often go back to it now when I’m looking for the light at the end of the tunnel. There’s many videos and versions, but this is the last one I watched:
Shakespeare: Original Pronunciation
I love Shakespeare, and this video is a fascinating insight into the way it would have originally been spoken. It gave me a greater appreciation for the wordplay, much of which we partly lose now, and I think it’s well worth a watch for anyone with an interest in The Bard.
TED and TEDx Talks
Part of acting is the study of living and being a human. TED Talks and the independently organised TEDx Talks deal with this in every way, and whether you watch one or many of these videos, they are so valuable for acting and living.
Here’s one I watched a few months ago that took me back to my homeschooled roots:
Actor Audition Tapes
There are so many self tapes and auditions available to watch online, particularly for famous actors. These are great to watch as a way of seeing what helped people land a particular role, and also great if you want to learn more about self taping. I started watching them a few years ago – well before I started working at the Self Tape Audition Studio in Melbourne – and I still think they are essential viewing if you’ve never done a self tape or video audition before (and even if you have). Here’s one of the first I watched, of Evangeline Lily auditioning for LOST.
I’m sure there’s many more video resources out there that I haven’t mentioned or come across yet, and I’d love to hear suggestions of others. What other videos are out there for actors and other creatives? What else should I be watching?
The relationship between acting and emotions is clear, but where does human nature fit into this dynamic?
This question has been on my mind for a while now, and often comes to the fore when I’m in a production or watching theatre, film or an acting workshop.
On the one hand, an actor’s job is to live authentically within the circumstances they are given – which means being a human being, with all of the nature (and nurture) that brings with it. That in itself is often enough of a challenge to keep us busy with home work and preparation.
But, on the other hand, we are also living, breathing human beings, separate but entwined with the characters we play. Great acting requires complete commitment to the given circumstances and the moment, and in a sense that means the actor must surrender to that reality, giving up their own life temporarily in order to be real in a different way.
The challenge that I think we often miss is that human beings don’t want to feel everything. Human nature (and social conditioning) has shaped our views of emotional states, creating judgments around certain feelings.
Showing and expressing anger, sadness, embarrassment, envy and many other feelings is not something human beings openly and freely tend to do. At least not 100%.
But actors have to feel these things 100%. We’re often put into situations that we would hate in real life. Sometimes it’s a lot of fun to embrace these moments and explore things we can’t fully express in our own reality, but sometimes it’s confronting and challenging and incredibly scary.
And that’s where the challenge really is. Part of us, as actors, wants to explore these emotions and this work so that we can become real in the circumstances we’re given. Another part wants to stop us from feeling thinks like hurt, embarrassment, betrayal, abandonment, devastation, bitchiness or whatever the scene calls for.
I think these conflicting parts of our selves are often the cause for common actor problems. Human beings tend to do everything we can to not show how we feel or say what we want in everyday situations – and there are all kinds of “tools” we can use to do so, such as “collecting” ourselves before broaching a subject with someone, keeping busy with other tasks, lying etc etc.
Actors, bless us, have even more tools. We can use the script. We can pre-shape moments so that we “know” how to act, react and feel. That’s a real safety net for our human nature when you think about it.
These ideas all really me yesterday when I was auditing Howard Fine’s Master Class in Melbourne. I could see the struggles and I could see the actors overcoming those struggles, letting the challenges be in the moments rather than between their two realities. That is the goal.
At one point, Howard Fine said something that struck me as relevant not only to my theories about human nature and feelings in acting, but also in life: “The fear of feeling must not over power the need to experience.”
So it can be scary, whether it’s feeling in acting work or in life, but acknowledging and fully expressing emotions leads to more complete experiences and fulfilment in every moment.
Last weekend I went to meet a friend at Abbotsford Convent, where she was doing an acting workshop. I got there really early and decided to wander around the place, taking in the people having late lunches at the cafes, a happy wedding party and a very interesting photo exhibition that was partly morbid and partly fantastical.
I think I was fairly open to going with the flow and filling the time however I was meant to, and maybe that’s why what happened next was so strange and interesting to me.
I was in the bathroom (which has all sorts of inspired messages scrawled on it, like “I will love you no matter who you are” alongside other statements like “go vegan”), washing my hands next to a woman in her 30s and a little girl. The girl’s mum was waiting for her at the door, but she was there trying to reach the taps.
“Do you want me to help?” I asked the little girl. She shyly nodded and I turned on the tap as her mum came over to hurry her along. The woman next to me glanced towards us and started shaking her head.
“Well that may be the case but I just don think it’s right,” she said. “Just because a person goes to parties and takes some drugs in their 20s, doesn’t mean they are always going to be that person.”
At first I thought she was continuing a previous conversation with the mum, as if they knew each other, but as she kept talking I realised that wasn’t the case. I wondered if she was talking to me, or to herself? Or maybe one of the acting students that trains at the convent on weekends. But for some reason I made the decision to listen.
As she kept talking she revealed that she was “that person” who had gone out partying and taking drugs. She told me that she wasn’t accepted by her family or by anyone else, that her mum and stepdad had rejected her and that “everyone else can go and do all of those things and make mistakes and then be accepted, but I’m not”.
At some point I noticed the mother and daughter left and several more people came and went, giving the woman a wide berth, and looking at her like she was a crazy person. I stood there and listened.
She told me about how she felt strong and knew who she was but that everyone else “tries to make me out as someone I’m not”. She felt like she’d been made a victim and was all alone in the world. She said single people she knew hated her because of her independence and people in couples saw her as a threat to their relationships. I could see she was really frustrated by the assumption that she would interfere in other peoples relationships, and she told me that she had “more integrity than that”.
“I could have that,” she said. “I could go out and be in some relationship with a guy I don’t really love. I could be married with kids but I don’t want to do that if it doesn’t feel right.”
At this point I felt like I was in the middle of a scene from some kind of indie film with a message. What was I supposed to do? Drawing on my training as an actor, I decided to follow my impulses, which were currently telling me to stand there and listen. It was almost like doing a Meisner exercise, almost like repetition.
But my sense of being in a heightened moment, in a scene from a movie or a play, grew from there. Here I was, listening to a stranger open up about her struggle to find acceptance, choosing her integrity over “settling in some compromised relationship”, in a bathroom at an iconic location in Melbourne. Outside the bathroom – as if on cue – a man suddenly started belting out “I Will Always Love You”.
I thought it was the perfect soundtrack to what she was saying: a message that we can all find love. She wasn’t so impressed, struggling to keep up the rhythm of her story and eventually turning and yelling at him to shut up.
I don’t remember if he did go quiet (but I do remember hearing him about an hour later when I left the convent). I was listening to her again. I felt like I needed to listen, like maybe no one had really listened to her in a long time. So she told me how she thought jealousy had got in the way of her relationships with people. She said her mum was jealous of her and that her friends parents had been jealous of her when she was growing up.
She said she was undermined by her two housemates (“who have mums that come and look after them”) because they were jealous. She said her life would be different if her mum had been there for her. And I thought: “maybe seeing the mum and little girl earlier is what triggered this pseudo-soliloquy?”
Then she told me her mum accused her of having mental health issues, and assumed that it was because of the partying and the drugs. She said it was hypocritical, because her mum had once lied about having bipolar disorder as an excuse for her behaviour.
“I knew it wasn’t true,” she said. “She used it as an excuse to raise her voice and yell at me like I’m yelling at you.”
She softened when she acknowledged her raised voice, like it was a beat change. Her voice was sadder as she told me that if she ever had kids she would “raise them better than I was raised”.
“And I’m sorry for telling you all of this but I just feel like it’s really unfair that other people can do things and be accepted and I’m left out.”
“It’s okay,” I told her. “You needed to be heard.”
“Yeah, it’s just really unfair,” she said.
“What’s your name?” She asked me. We exchanged names and she apologised again.
“You don’t have to apologise at all,” I said. Then she thanked me and left.
Image credit: michaelgreenhill
Three years ago I took a plane from the airport near my hometown to Melbourne. I had just one suitcase and it carried my whole life at the time. It was less than a month since I’d moved back from living in Vancouver and traveling through North America, and I was still reeling from the experiences, nursing a broken heart.
I’d moved back to Australia partly because Vancouver hadn’t felt right and partly because I wanted to fully commit to being an actor in Australia. I’d never felt like I had done that, and after some modest successes in Canada I knew it was something I had to do to move forward. Melbourne was my city of choice.
Apart from those thoughts, I didn’t really have a solid plan. I got off the plane, was picked up by a family friend and spent the next few weeks intensely searching for a place to live and a job. The living came first, with one of my best friends from school setting me up with a room in her sharehouse. The job was harder.
I thought I’d try and get some office work, just to pay the bills while I figured out the acting industry here, but somehow I managed to fail at every job interview I went to (and I was normally at my best with the interview part of the process). While trying not to go mad without work I started searching for acting events and opportunities specific to my interested and training.
I soon found Meisner Melbourne and booked in for a free class. After meeting the artistic director, Clare Elizabeth Dea, I signed up for an eight week course. Not long after I met with a writing contact who offered me work that fitted in perfectly with my newfound Meisner training. It became the perfect balance and that acting-writing dynamic is a core part of my life now.
Since then I’ve worked hard, putting in countless hours searching and prepping for roles, meeting people in the acting community, expanding my writing assignments and generally getting established in Melbourne. I’ve grown as an actor, writer and human being through training, work and other experiences. I’ve made mistakes in all areas of my life and I’ve learned from them; I think I’ve even learned not to be quite so hard on myself when I do fall down, and now favour a more constructive approach.
In the last three years I rediscovered dance, enjoyed romance, suffered betrayals, shared achievements, and faced a lot of fears (like doing the Howard Fine Master Class last year, which was wonderful and made me feel like a part of the Howard Fine Acting Studio family). I’ve been cast in films and stage shows and written blog posts and feature articles for a range of publications.
I feel like I’ve really lived, fully, in almost every single moment of my time in Melbourne. I’ve stayed true to myself and my commitment to acting, to writing, to life. I’ve also changed a lot, becoming more self aware, open and adventurous.
Melbourne is this amazing, eclectic, multifaceted, creative, beautiful city that I’m so happy to be a part of right now. But more than that, I am so grateful for the wonderful people I’ve met here. There’s a real heart to this place, to the people that live here and are drawn here. The friends I’ve made in Melbourne are my inspiration and support. My friends make me love living here, they make it feel like a home more than a place I’m just staying for a while (and maybe I am just staying here for a while, who knows? But having that feeling is so important to me).
I grew up in a town with such a strong sense of community that it will always be my home and always have a big part of my heart. But I’ve found a community here that is beyond anything I expected. I came here with a churned up heart and soul and, three years on, I feel like I’m on the path I’m truly meant to follow, wherever it leads from here.
I love trying new things and after getting really sick three or four times last winter I’ve become particularly interested in all things health and fitness.
So last year when I was looking for something new and feeling inspired by the handful of springlike days that graced Melbourne, I happened to get an invitation from Mamamia for a gym trial.
It started with an email in August inviting me to be part of the site’s Opinionator trial for Fernwood Fitness, a women’s gym operating around Australia. I got two weeks there in exchange for writing about the experience as a Mamamia Opinionator (see link above) and really enjoyed it.
The team there and the members were so friendly and I enjoyed both working out on my own and doing classes. I had only previously gone to a gym three years ago, when I was living in Canada and I’d never done classes there.
My Opinionator experience has since led me to look at other gyms and fitness options available in Australia, and also inspired me to write about it. First of all, I’ve discovered that most gyms offer trials, whether it is one day, one week or even two weeks. You can sometimes even find them on the back of shopping dockets (which I’ve also done).
Some, like Fernwood, also offer free fitness assessments and tours to show you how things work, so you don’t end up feeling like you’re thrown in the deep end if you haven’t used a gym before. It’s a great way to figure out what a gym is like and whether you want to go there on a more regular basis. But I couldn’t help wondering what options are out there if you want something more flexible.
What if you work for yourself and don’t want to commit to a contract? What if you have young kids and can’t commit to a regular timetable? What if you’re a uni student or between jobs? Working out at home or doing a team sport are go-to alternatives, but I also think sometimes a gym is a nice refuge from weather or lack of motivation.
The more I’ve thought about this issue, the more I’ve wondered if we need some other options. And one of the things I’ve noticed is that there are some smart people and businesses filling in the gaps between membership options. Take Michelle Bridges 12-Week Body Transformation program, for instance. I’ve never done it, but I’m following the Mamamia team that’s involved now and think it’s a really great, flexible program. I love that you can do it from anywhere and still have the support of a trainer and a community of people all going through challenges during a 12-week period. It seems like a really affordable way to change things up and kickstart or boost health and fitness goals.
There’s also new technology that makes keeping track of your fitness easier, like FitBit, which helps track your steps, distance, calories and many other measurable health markers. Mamamia’s Natalia Hawk has also written a great post about other fitness apps, all of which cost less than $5 and can be used pretty much anywhere.
Another option I came across a few months ago is FitUsIn. This Australian startup offers temporary gym passes, class entry and other packages at locations all around the country, often at much lower prices than you would get at any gyms currently offering day passes. I actually came across the app in an article in the newspaper one weekend, got really interested in it and went straight onto the website to explore.
The whole premise of FitUsIn is to make it easier to visit gyms and get active wherever you are and whatever lifestyle and budget you have. So if you’re new to working out, a traveller or want to change things up a bit, you can search for nearby places on your phone or online.
It is the brainchild of Vanessa Picker, a 22-year-old whose future looks very bright. Already the company has graduated from the ANZ Innovyz START accelerator program and was a finalist in the NYC Next Idea competition.
The team behind FitUsIn seems just as inspiring and just as motivated.When I was first exploring the site, for example, I had a couple of issues and sent an email through about it. I got a response from the team almost straight away, and was encouraged to give more feedback and suggestions whenever I wanted. I’ve since contacted them about a couple of local gyms they could get in touch with, and have been kept in the loop about progress.
Towards the end of 2013 I also had a few chats with FitUsIn Co-founder and Director Liam Darmody about the app, and was really impressed with his passion for encouraging healthy lifestyles and supporting change in the health and fitness industry.
“We’re not here to do one off promotions that are unsustainable. We’re trying to get more people in the door and fill the gaps when gyms have downtime,” he told me. It’s this kind of creativity and open-mindedness that makes me really excited for entrepreneurs and fellow health and fitness enthusiasts like myself. Because the more options and flexibility we have, the easier it is to stay motivated and inspired.
I had so much going on in Movember that I didn’t end up spending much time asking for donations or promoting the cause. I did make a point of smiling at everyone with mo’s though, and I did get a couple of donations and words for my annual Mo Poem (in bold below). I think what I’ve learned this year is that it’s not about how much you raise, but how much you care. I hope that shines through here.
It was a slow progression
But day-by-day his life changed
From happiness to depression
As complacence rearranged
His outlook towards sums:
Figures in the bank
Pushed meaning into the doldrums
And his life’s meaning sank
Down to money and ticked boxes.
Now he just sits and watches
The screens in front of him
Trying not to think of doctors
Or the help he needs within.
See he’s lost all his power
Like a defamed plenipotentiary
Braking promises by the hour
He’s forgotten there’s such a thing as being free.
The spiral pulls in everything
And he’s numb to the world
Blocking out what he can
So feelings can’t be unfurled.
He’d rather be the sheep at the back
Than the bellwether in front
Better to hide the cracks
And run away from the hunt.
He lost his love of life
Everything turned grey
And he realised too late the strife
That came from turning away.
Until the day came when something novel
Snapped him out of the grey,
He was lifted from his fearful hovel
By moustaches gone astray
For a month of the year
Meant to get men to talk and cheer,
Supporting one another
Through the challenges and pain.
Backing the cause snapped his daze
Reminding him that he had dreams
And finally the dam broke
The sheltered, dreary life ripped at the seams
As he gathered his friends and spoke
About what he felt had true meaning.
It was a gesture that started
As a thirty day thing
But instead of ending it’s lasted
Because everyday brings meaning.
All it took was a spark
Of interest, and persistent curiosity
Scratched away the damp ashes
To relight the fire in his heart.