We all learn from our mistakes, but this is especially true for those beginning a career in the arts. These are a just a few of the lessons I’ve learned throughout my career in the arts.
There is no Right Way
A piece of art whether it be a performance, a painting or a piece of music can be created in many different ways and none of them are wrong as the piece’s value is up to interpretation. This makes studying to become an actor a complicated task, how do you know what’s right when there are supposedly no wrong answers. Several times during my early career I choose to believe mentors opinions on acting as facts as this made it easier to learn. This became a detriment to my performance as I placed un necessary restrictions on myself.
Learn from as many teachers, experienced professionals, mentors and friends as you can but don’t take advice as a fact, it will stilt your creativity. Over the years I have combined many techniques from my training and now I use a method that works best for me. I’ve learned that what works best for me may not work for another and vise versa and that is the beautiful thing about creating art, there is no one size fits all because artists are unique.
Get a Contract
When I began my acting career I completed several shows (paid and unpaid) without mention of a contract. I was fresh out of drama school and eager to work. Paperwork had crossed my mind but I was so grateful for the opportunity’s I was given I didn’t want to rock the boat. In those early productions there was a great sense of community and friendship. I feel this contributed to a lack of professional paperwork. It would be awkward to ask someone you considered a friend to provide a contract, it could somehow imply you didn’t trust them.
I can not speak for the entire community but I know these were my concerns at the time. This led to me being underpaid and having no leg to stand on when wanting to dispute it. When feeling awkward about asking for a contract or even asking about money I remind myself how much worse it felt to be underpaid and I suck it up. Contracts can also insure you are fully credited for your work, protect you against bullying, guarantee a safe working environment and make sure you receive adequate breaks.
Learn to Say No
At the beginning of my career (and for an embarrassing number of years after) I was terrified of missing out on opportunity’s. This led to me saying yes to absolutely everything, without considering;
Will this further my career?
Do I have time for this? / Can I give this my all?
Is this worth the money?
Is the work environment safe?
Will this role negatively affect my physical or mental health?
Will this bring me happiness? / Do I want to do this?
On several occasions I stretched myself too thin, ended up exhausted and therefore unable to enjoy the work I was doing. Working on several projects at once also meant I was unable to live in the moment, I always had the next task in the back of my mind. The fear of missing out also meant I took on roles which in hindsight I didn’t have much interest in. The job could have been done with much more passion by another artist.
Eventually I burnt out physically and mentally after working on a total of seven different jobs at once for several weeks (from day jobs to shows). Since then I’ve prioritized my health and the work I feel the most passionate about. I still work several projects at once as I enjoy each day being different but I now make sure I have the time and energy before agreeing to taking on another role. This was the hardest lesson to learn and I still have to fight the twinge of “but what if it’s a great opportunity” when I turn down a project due to time or prior commitments. But it’s not good for you or the project if you can’t give it your all.
Don’t Be Intimidated
At the beginning of my career I was so nervous when it came to interacting with other artists, especially when I moved to Galway and knew no one (except Hazel). Looking back I had a very bad habit of putting other artists on pedestal rather than viewing them simply as other humans that made art. Through my eyes anyone working was a big shot and I’d be pestering them if I reached. I’ve been very fortunate to have learned this lesson through working with those I was originally so intimidated by. I’ve discovered that often the further toward the top you go the more down to earth the people are, at the top there is nothing to prove.
Story time example ; When I was 18 I went to see a live talk with Gary Hynes in Cavan and was in absolute awe, I then became obsessed with Druid wanting to learn everything about the company and focused both my undergraduate and postgraduate dissertations on their work. Many years later I ended up interning at Druid and discovered all of these award winning artists (including the fabulous Garry Hynes) were some of the soundest, down to earth people I’d met and not so scary at all.
So don’t be afraid to introduce yourself at an event, send an email or ask a mutual friend to introduce you to another artist. The majority of my work in the arts has been secured through networking. Gaining connections through mutual friends, theatre events or through Theatre 57. Unfortunately it’s the world’s worst kept secret that it’s “who you know not what you know” when it comes to the arts in Ireland.
Every Production is Different
This was a bizarre but important lesson I had to learn quickly after drama school. It was drilled into our heads to always be professional and take the production seriously. Some rules that are always consistent; always be on time, treat everyone with respect, have your phone on silent and meet your deadlines. However every production is different and will therefore have a different atmosphere. Some directors have a very strict and quiet rehearsal room while others are relaxed and encourage laughter and improv throughout rehearsal. The later was confusing to me when I was straight out of college, I viewed the behavior as messing rather than actors having fun at rehearsal. I was confused about how to act myself, I had been trained to take everything super seriously at rehearsal for years. I had to learn to relax very quickly as not to stick out like a sore thumb. I learned to gage the atmosphere at a first rehearsal and meet the director/producers expectations going forward. It’s been quite fun working on such different productions in such different ways and I’ve learned no two directors will want to same rehearsal.
Happy August/September all! Hope everyone is keeping well in yet more uncertain times in the arts world. To anyone affected by the latest announcements and are left in limbo, I feel ye. This is why I thought this month I’d send you guys a reminder to look after yourselves, and each other.
When you’re in the arts world, it’s hard to find the line between separating the love of your craft and your ‘working craft’. There are days after where you don’t even want to look at a paint brush, a play, a laptop or an instrument. That is ok. Even as we approach ‘normal’ again there is still time to find something new and or set personal time for yourself. Recently, I was listening to a podcast called ‘Ready to be Real’ by Sile Seoige. She was talking to Dermot Whelan who said that we’re so generous to our work and being busy. He said that we should allocate a time each day for ourselves to do whatever we want. Even if you don’t know what you’ll do with that time at least you know it’s there for you. For example, have activities in mind that you usually have ‘no time for’ and do it (adult colouring, reading, walking, going outside, watching the soaps with your mam). If you want to do more of your craft during this time then that’s ok too.
GO TO BED!!! REST!!! LISTEN TO YOUR BODY!!! Even if you can’t nap, do take some time to rest if you need to. That application, draft of an email, script for proofreading or paint isn’t going anywhere. We are at such a heightened emotional time right now, some of you are back to ‘normal’, others are still in lockdown or somewhere in between. In order to be your best self artistically, you need to be at your best physically and mentally. The same goes for meeting up/video calls, if you need to say no. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
I can’t stress this enough. Talk to your peers and check in with your colleagues. Countless artists/arts organisations/arts teachers have been hit hard with the latest measures for workshops/classes. For some this is their steady income outside of show/exhibition season. If someone seems like they’re ok or if you feel there’s something off, check in with them. They could’ve had a rough night or day, are crippled with anxiety of the unknown. If you need to talk to someone do. If you’re feeling anxious or worried please talk to someone.
To end this I want to emphasize that now more than ever the arts community needs to come together and stand together. We are creative, strong, adaptable and innovative people who have faced many challenges and will get through this. Get involved, show support and let’s unite.
This month I thought it would be fun to give some acting tips for complete beginners. As well as being a theatre maker I’ve been a drama teacher for over ten years and I’ve noticed a lot of habits repeating over the years. Here are some of the first bad habits I correct in class.
Projecting is a difficult skill that is developed over time. When new to acting it is totally normal to have difficulty with volume. Often actors have difficulty remaining natural and in character while projecting as at first it can feel very unnatural. This skill can be developed through warm us and vocal exercises. For example I find the Radio Exercise very useful, you simply repeat a sentence over and over changing the volume from mute, to low (stage whisper), to medium (this is your ideal projection) to high (a stage shout). It’s important to learn how to warm up the voice and project correctly as to low the audience can’t hear you and shouting damages your voice.
Blocking is another skill that will become second nature over time but feels completely unnatural at first. On stage actors will be positioned as not to block one another from the audience’s view and they will turn their bodys in a way to show the most of their physicality. On screen actors will often have to stand much closer to each other than feels natural for close up shots, this however looks completely natural on screen. During filming actors must always precisely note their blocking to maintain consistency.
Sometimes new actors can feel totally engaged with the text, feel connected to their character and feel as though they are truly experiencing the scene but they aren’t showing us that. This again relates to feeling unnatural. Although it may feel as though we are acting un-naturally and exaggerating our expressions or physicality it reads as natural to an audience who are viewing you from a distance or framed on a screen. A common myth is that film actors act more subtly, it is a completely different style of acting but it is not subtle. Next time you’re viewing a great actor on screen, mute it and examine how often the actors change their expression and you’ll see how much they are communicating in their ‘subtle’ performance.
Dressing The Part
This is a very practical and simple tip that repeatedly pops up, dress appropriately for class or rehearsal. In my rehearsal room or class the following are no gos for actors; Jewellery that makes noise, high heels, skirts, very tight clothing and hair or hats covering your face. Basically anything that could restrict your movement or distract you or other actors is out. I suggest comfortable, breathable clothing that you can move freely in. It seems like a small thing but being unable to move freely limits the range of physicality for your characters and makes it difficult to warm up / cool down, hindering your progress.
Don’t be afraid to fail
This is the most important tip for any actor beginner or experienced. The rehearsal room or classroom is a space in which you can be totally creative, try anything you’d like, so don’t be afraid to grab that opportunity! It can be really difficult to come out of our comfort zones, especially for those new to acting. It’s important to remember you won’t look silly for trying, everyone else in the room has the same goal and is looking equally ‘silly’ together.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my top five tips for complete beginners. I’d like to take the opportunity at the end of this blog to make a special announcement. As you know we have postponed all Eva’s Echo production’s until a time when it is safe for us and our audiences. During this time we have decided to start a new adventure and launch Echo Acting and provide professional acting classes in Galway and Athlone.
To learn new skills, make discoveries, gain confidence, and dive into the world of acting! Simply click on the link below.
These words still ring through my ears since I, like many others, discovered the horrific last moments of George Flyod. How could this have happened? Why was this allowed in this day and age? Who are these people in uniform? From the outside looking in, I naively believed the world progressed in equality and acceptance. Seeing the election of Obama at the bright eyed age of seventeen, I had thought that the U.S. had come so far. The events of the last few weeks have proven that premature.
Of course, Ireland also has so much to answer for when it comes to racism and direct provision. Céad Míle Fáilte? 5 out of 6 acts of racism are unreported. This week, a secondary school is undergoing an investigation of racism complaints made by past pupils. Imagine that. There are approximately 6,000 people living in direct provision, 30% are children. They have an allowance of €38.80 a week. They have no right to work, no access to higher education and live up to 2 years in direct provision. You could get a Masters in that length of time.
Ireland is no stranger to oppression and tragedies (not at all similar) throughout history from the troubles to the maltreatment from the Church. My grandfather was forced to flee Omagh Co. Tyrone during the early 1900’s troubles. My grandmother and her siblings were almost taken away as the priest believed her father and uncle couldn’t raise them. It does make me wonder have we moved past it or is it hidden from us now? This made me reflect on our own canon of oppression. Irish theatre and arts have explored historic brutalities, whether rebels or women. Christ Deliver Us! by Thomas Kilroy echoes the power of the Catholic Church over the young, especially young girls. Winnie is stripped of her innocence by Michael’s sexual advances later leading to her tragic death while birthing by the river. This is not ancient history here, but sometimes feels further than we should let it feel. It is saddening to think of those young girls in their last moments who couldn’t ask for help and or were sent away. This would’ve been the world our grandmothers grew up in and I can’t help but worry if our granddaughters will grow up in a similar world if we do nothing to sustain the hard earned rights to agency. The same applies to Steve McQueen’s Hunger (commendable performance by Michael Fassbender). Bobby Sands was treated like a criminal prisoner rather than a political prisoner. This resonates with the ill treatment of U.S. protesters who are being painted as ‘thugs’ to criminalise them and ignore their argument.
My co-founder Rena Bryson explores the challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ communities in both Jungle Door and Vlogger. Through Jungle Door, the question of how equal are bi sexual people are to their gay or lesbian counter parts. For example, it is suggested that Michelle is not fully accepted in the LGBTQ+ community as she’s bi sexual and is marrying a straight man. The same is true for Mia from Vlogger who is labelled as a ‘lipstick lesbian’ which can be often ridiculed. She is also often harassed with inappropriate messages about her sexuality and appearance from her YouTube audience again making an objectified mockery of her.
Although Uniform is yet to be performed, I do hope that it sparks a fire in at least one person to use their voice for the greater good. That was the objective of the play, to give a voice to numerous women of various backgrounds. I had an interesting conversation recently where the following question was posed to me: what if my own writing was performed by a woman of a different background? How would that translate and what would that actor bring into the play? I guess time will tell if it ever comes about but I would love to see a woman of colour feature or star in one of my works. In writing Uniform, I was inspired by the Faces of Eve and the Hecate Sisters tropes to branch my own understanding of femininity in the modern world and the masks we must wear. To work with someone of a different background, religion, country or creed may reveal to me many more women that I didn’t know about or couldn’t see before.
Like so many, I’m looking for recommendations on any plays, books, films relative to these times. If anyone knows any I’d love to hear them. Also, we’re always looking for new artists of all backgrounds to work with so please get in touch and apply when we have our next casting call or script call. I also want to pass my sympathies onto anyone affected by these current times. Finally, if you can please donate to these worthy causes.
For this month’s blog I wanted to explore how actors are portrayed in the media and explore what troupes consistently pop up. On Facebook and Instagram I asked for your help and I got lots of responses so thank you, it really helped. It also quickly became clear who is the first character that people think of when thinking of actors in the media – Joey Tribbiani.
Some honorable mentions were Withnail from Withnail & I and Nicole Barber from Marriage Story but it was a landslide for Joey from Friends. I also asked What tropes / story lines do you dislike about actors in the media? And I received so many different answers including “Starving actors still being able to live comfortably”, “They seem to paint actors (particularly in sitcoms) as dumb or ditzy” and “That they’re vain, shallow, narrow-minded and lazy, and get where they are through corrupt activities.”
I took the list of characters you guys sent me and the ones I’d compiled myself and tried to find connections between characters and there were quite a few. I noticed five different ways actors were repeatedly presented.
The Bad Boyfriend
Male actors were often seen as bad partners, usually the man the protagonist dates but doesn’t end up with as they can do better.
The main reason for this choice I imagine is to show the protagonist’s growth when they choose a more steady and practical lifestyle. Not just because the love interest is an actor, also these characters are usually awful awful people. Even if they’re not framed as awful people like Joey in Friends their actions are undisputedly shallow but can be framed in an endearing light. This is often because the characters are seen to be in this prolonged adolescence where they’re chasing one night stands and difficult dreams. This childlike quality whether it’s endearing like Joey or full on tantrums like Adam shows a need for these characters to grow up. A part of growing up is often “Getting a real job” and the choice to leave someone who doesn’t have adult aspirations is often a moment of character growth. So why is this so recurring? Does it stem from a fear of being brought down by your partner’s aspirations financially or emotionally? Is it a fable to warn potential dates away from shallow and self absorbed actors?
Or does it stem from some truth that actors make difficult partners? It is a very demanding career that many form their identity around. Although the same could be said for many careers, no one says they wouldn’t want to date a doctor because they’re focused on their career. Are creative people more prone to causing drama in a relationship? Or is there truth to some actors choosing their careers out of vanity rather than a passion for the craft? Or does the actor as a love interest represent a more frivolous time in peoples lives when they lived more creatively and freely, a time when they were young and it was okay to make mistakes, the more passionate and dramatic the mistake the better.
The Flambouent Gay Actor
The next pattern I noticed was again with male characters but this time not the wominsing kind. The stereotypical flambouent gay actor is still present on our screens but has developed from a joke to a celebrated role model.
This character is similar to our bad partner actors in their vanity and self absorption but in this case that vanity is usually framed as confidence. They are also similarly never a main character, usually a character within an ensemble or a comedic relief character.
An interest in the arts especially theatre is so associated with male gay characters that having a male character with these interests can lead to them being coded as LGBT+ even if this wasn’t the writers intention. This stems from an interest in creative practices being viewed traditionally as a feminine quality. As well as femininine characteristics in men being perceived as indicators of homosexuality. Although stating the obvious their are gay men who would not be persieved as feminine and lots of straight men who enjoy the theatre.
Although these characters can be empowering to those who relate with them the presence of mainly one type of male gay character can be damaging to those who don’t. Making young men question their attraction to men because they’d rather play sports than sing show tunes. The interest in acting is expressed as a genuine love for performing, even if for superficial reasons. This genuine joy for the craft is often lacking in the other character types. I’ve also observed that each of these characters is seen as weak and harmless erasing the view of homosexuals as something to be feared. Which poses the question are so many gay characters comic reliefs rather than protagoinists because they are still viewed by the media as entertaining but not aspirational.
Personally I welcome any kind of diversity on screen and am thrilled that gay characters are being celebrated but I feel we have a long way to go. It’s fantastic to show gay characters as warm and funny but I also want to see them as well developed protagoinists, In my own work I’ve strived to bring LGBT+ characters to the stage that face issues irrelevant to their sexuality and who both do and don’t fit into queer sterotypes. For example Michelle in Jungle Door being the girliest character I’ve ever written lead to some interesting discussions around her place in the LGBT+ community. But I really can not comment on the affect of sterotypically gay male actors in media on gay men for obvious reasons, so I’ve reached out to my friend and fellow actor Killian Glynn for his insight.
“I think that for me gay male permittivity hasn’t impacted my life on a daily basis, luckily. But I do think that it’s ingrained in the general populous a type of psyche that isn’t necessarily beneficial to the cause.”
The Young Ambitious Woman
The next recurring character type I noticed was female. It’s actually quite unusual that for a “feminine” interest the majority of characters sent to me or I found in my research were male. This is likely just a symptom of male characters being a default in much of our media, but that’s a topic for another day. I noticed several young conventionally attractive white aspiring actors that were resilient in their struggle. With each female character the struggle to become a successful actor is focused on and they often work a low paying side job to support themselves financially.
It’s also interesting to note that female actors are often love interests but are framed very differently to the male love interests we discussed. Male actors were framed as a bad choice of partner but female actors are framed as desirable. I believe this is for many reasons, a female actor is always conventionally attractive, not just because she is an actor but because most women in media are. In the male partner stability is desired as traditionally in hetrosexual relationships (these women are always straight) a woman depends on her husband financially. Making this an issue for a woman dating a male actor but not the other way around. Often these aspiring actresses have male love interests who help with their finances.
Their dreams can be framed through adolescent lenses but it is often more flattering than it is for male characters. The female actors’ dreams don’t seem dangerous; they’re aspirational and their desires although challenged are rarely mocked with the same force. However even though they are not strictly viewed as bad romantic partners does not mean that they are ideal. The theme of sacrifice and suffering for your art is present throughout most portrayals of actors in media and for female characters this usually means their love life. A troupe that is seen repeatedly with female characters is prominent for female actors, they must choose love or their career. This troupe is more connected with gender roles than actors in media but bears mentioning as due to the intensity of a career in the arts often female actors must be single to strive. Or perhaps they just have to sacrifice a particular relationship that stood in the way of their ambitions.
Overall it would seem that female actors with ambition are treated with more kindness by writers than their male counterparts. Although male actors on screen come in many shapes and sizes and are rarely objectified in the same way, but again this is an issue not strictly linked to the characters being actors but that they are female actors.
I’ve realized in writing this that there are so many patterns repeated with female characters that it’s difficult to determine similarities that are because they are actors rather than just because they are a woman. This isn’t to imply that they are badly written characters, rather it’s an observation that the character type could be represented with more diversity. Some of the best representations of actors on screen are female, a topic I’ll discuss at the end of this blog.
The Self absorbed intoxicated actor
The next character type I would like to discuss is the self absorbed intoxicated actor. This character can share a lot in common with the bad boyfriend character type but is far more developed.
Whether these characters are deep or pretentious is usually up for debate but they certainly are all introspective in one way or another. The characters’ suffering and self reflection is tied to their career or lack thereof. For these men their self esteem and self worth is binded with their success as actors. They don’t necessarily strive to become a great actor but rather they push themselves to be recognised as successful. For many of these characters they find joy in what could be regarded as ‘less serious’ acting but they push themselves towards projects which don’t bring them the same happiness in exchange for outside approval. Often they are trying to escape their fixation with the career they had in order to grow.
Although these characters are well written and often open up conversations about issues such as substance abuse and mental health they also walk a dangerous line while framing the issues. Having a character that suffers from addiction and mental health issues but is also a terrible person is trickly. As the audience views the world from the protagonist’s perspective they will sympathise with them and as they grow to like the character more and more they can begin to make excuses for their behaviour. Bo Jack Horseman addresses the glamorisation of these character types directly when he ends up playing a character similar to himself.
Although the career of these characters are a central part of their world the plot extends well beyond that in their effort to create a three dimensional character. Their work as actors is a vehicle to explore territory more relatable to a large demographic. Allowing the audience to both enjoy a world unknown to them while relating to the issues, humanising the actor.
The Villainous Actor
The last character type I discovered was actors as villains. This was mostly present in films and shows for younger audiences.
The vanity and selfish traits we’ve seen before are here but I also noticed something interesting. Characters that are both villains and actors to me seemed to express the most love of their craft. This could be due to the playful nature of the media, the young audience it’s directed at or because it’s not taking itself too seriously. They are motivated to commit crimes to fund their acting or to get ahead in their career, showing the sinister side to sacrifice for your art. They really genuinely love acting more than anything. Using their skill set and costumes frequently in their schemes.
Usually the characters are male and when they are they are often queer coded, meaning they have many traits that intricate they may be LGBT+ but this is never explicitly stated. Outside of characters that are actors there is A LOT of queer coding in childrens media and it’s usually the villain.
Once you see it you can’t really unsee it. Again a topic for another day but I felt it was relevant.
So we’ve identified the different character types used to portray actors in the media but are there any examples of good representation? I asked you guys and most responses were either Nicole Barber from Marriage Story or Mia Dolan from LA LA Land. I also received one response saying “Part of Whitnail and I lol knowing actors from that era” which was quite intriguing. For me Marriage Story was one of the few films I felt captured working in the theatre accurately. Nothing about their lifestyle felt extraordinary even though their jobs were in the arts. It also addressed the differences between the worlds of theatre and film and how it can divide artists. Although Nicole doesn’t look down on her film work she’s very aware that her husband the theatre director does.
Mia’s struggles attending audition after audition while working as a barista. I felt in this often stylistic film there were moments that felt very grounded and relatable. She puts everything she has emotionally and financially into producing her one woman show which she performs to an audience of one. Feeling crushed she returns home to reevaluate her life path. This moment of defeat felt very raw but was quickly flipped as the one audience member happened to be a producer that lands her an audition.
Other Types of Actors in Media
As this blog ended up being so long I stuck to characters on screen for this discussion but honorable mentions from animation and the page are Mary Jane Watson from Spiderman, Baby Doll and Clay face from Batman and Laura from Laura Cassisys walk of fame.
I also received some response that referenced real actors rather than characters, referencing how famous actors are presented on TV, online and in tabloids. Some responses to the tropes they are tired of included “Work they’ve had done”, “Some are expected to be outrageous while for others one bad moment ruins their reputation” and “People who shoot up the fame with hits.” I think it’s a really interesting if not very postmodern topic how the media creates storylines about actors when they are not being characters. Whether it’s to humanise or further other the actors they continue to dramatise their lives for our entertainment. This could be an interesting topic for further discussion but it is too complex to explore briefly at the end of another blog.
In conclusion it’s been interesting to discover the many different personas of actors in media even if they are often detached from reality. There have been connections and similarities between characters from Paddignton to Tarantino. I covered characters from popular media as I felt these would be the characters that have the most impact on how the media portrays the profession. Meaning there may be characters from lesser known media that I have not discussed. Let me know your thoughts on the topic and what character’s you feel best represent actors in media.