Acting Off Stage

By Rena Bryson

As an actor I’ve performed shows in many unusual spots Prison, (The Big Wall) The Park (Alice In Wonderland) and an old factory (Halal Daddy). But the most fun I’ve had performing in unusual spots has been when not part of a traditional show. This month I’d like to share some non traditional jobs for actors that can help build your performance skills while paying your rent. 

Discover your Elf Self

Best suited for: Expressive, physical actors who like children. 

Each year I celebrate my Christmas cheer by working as an Elf in the lead up to Christmas. I’m fortunate to live in Galway where Elf Town shares a full interactive Christmas Adventure with their young audiences. But in every county at this time of year many shopping centres, family fun day organisers and Elf Town variations are looking for Elfs, Santa’s, Mrs Claus etc. It’s a lot of fun and seeing young audiences experiencing the magic of Christmas can really melt your heart. 

Step Back In Time

Best suited for: Actors interested in history with strong improvisational skills. 

Photo Credit – Catriona Bonner Photography

One of my favorite non traditional acting jobs was working as a nanny / housekeeper at Glenveagh Castle. The project was produced by Dark Daughter so all of the costumes were beautiful, authentic and vintage. As tourists were guided through the castle they would encounter actors in the rooms. I would greet them in the dining room and describe my life in a beautifully written monologue by Maura Logue. I would also wander the grounds in character and interact with the visitors I encountered. The role really strengthened my improvisational skills as well as my stamina as an actor. There are many similar acting roles out there, especially during the summer months. Many companies look for actors for national parks, historical buildings and for tour guides that can add an extra dramatic flare. I’ve even performed as Lily Yates at her 100th birthday party, there is an eager audience out there for everything!

Faking Sick

Best suited for: Actors with stamina and strong emotional range.

Every year many medical students must pass their OSCE (Objective structured clinical examination) to continue their studies. This exam is extremely important as the students must interact with patients and utilise their interpersonal skills as well as their medical knowledge. The staff outsource and have their students interact with professional actors to make the experience as authentic as possible. This role really tests your acting chops depending on what ailment you’re assigned. I’ve had a fairly easy going day as a student suffering from skin irritation caused by anxiety and a very draining day as a patient receiving the news they have TB. Strong stamina is essential as I had to give each student an authentic reaction to receiving devastating news, a process that repeated itself every 20 mins or so. It was a fantastic exercise for my improvisation and acting skills. 

Special Birthday Guest

Best suited for: Actors who love kids and are patient, singing is a bonus! 

This is one I’ve never done but would love to someday! I know actors who

Snow Queen Character For Birthday Parties | Party Princess Productions
Image from Princess Party Productions

have that really enjoy their work. This job is usually suited to the self employed and can be quite lucrative if you invest in a few high quality costumes for popular characters. Starting out I’d definitely get an Elsa costume. As a drama teacher for 4 – 6 year olds I can confirm little boys and girls alike are crazy about all things Frozen. A good knowledge of children’s interests and popular games to keep them entertained is a must.

Murder Mystery Fun

Best suited for: Actors who have strong organisational skills

This is another role I haven’t experienced myself but my good friend and fellow artist Elizabeth Flaherty has lots of experience so I’ll let her take it from here. 

I’ve had lots of fun working on murder mystery parties. The company I’ve worked with the most is ‘Murder on the Menu’ and we host the deadliest parties. 

Elizabeth Flaherty (@elizflaherty) | Twitter
Elizabeth Flaherty

For this job I play the host, organizer and the most important role the detective. Parties can vary from birthdays to corporate events to hen parties. Everyone in the party has a role to play so you could say I also play the role of a director by helping the guests to get and stay in character. There’s a murderer, a victim and lots more. 

It’s a fun job for an actor because you get to work on your improvisation throughout the night, you learn to project well when speaking to a large group of people and sometimes there are themed parties which gives you the opportunities to practice various accents and get dressed up. The parties may not always go to plan but it’s always a killer night.

There are so many other jobs actors can excel at when off stage / set Drama Teacher, Arts Administrators, Script Readers and no one’s better at pretending to care about difficult customers than actors!

Double, Double, Scripts in Trouble

By Hazel Doolan

Scripts. When you’re in the theatre, acting, film, screenwriting and creative world you most likely have come across numerous of them. Whether you’re in college, an actor, director, producer or in my case have been all four, your shelf, laptop and desk (All the above apply to me, I find scripts in places I didn’t realize I had them!) are full of scripts. So I just wanted to share common things I would’ve seen in scripts and mistakes I’ve made in the layout. 

Title Page and Page Numbering

One of the first things; this is a common mistake I’ve seen and made myself. The joyous concept that is page numbering! The thing is though it is needed. There’s nothing worse than coming into rehearsals to the following: 

Director: Ok let’s start at Act Two! 

Actor: What page is that on? 

Director: …. 

Take this as another example:

Stage Manager: So during that run Ed, you missed a line on (spends next few minutes flicking through the script to find missed line)

It seems like a simple thing but it makes a huge difference in the rehearsal room and it looks professional if you wish to send it to a publisher. Depending on your laptop/software there are simple enough steps. I for example use a Chromebook and Google Docs. In this case you click ‘Insert’, then ‘Page Numbers’, and then sometimes you have options to add a cover page, choose where your numbers will go (bottom or top of the page). It also gives you the option to add a title or cover page so the next page starts at page 1 instead of page 2 (This has given me so many headaches with my own scripts until I figured it out). 

Copyright and Saving

Next and this is something I’ve just picked up in recent years is to make sure that you have copyright details on your script. In the unlikely event that a script should go astray or end up in the wrong hands it can end up being published by someone else. Most people are decent and won’t do that, but it’s still good practice. Some people add this to their cover page, though I read a script recently which had it at the border (top of the page beside page number) which I thought was a great idea. Not only does it look professional, it adds that little bit of extra protection to your script copyright wise.    

Spacing 

This is more personal but if at all possible, I prefer seeing scripts where the last line or stage direction of a scene doesn’t take up one whole page. It’s bad for the environment and a waste of paper. There’s nothing more annoying when I’m writing something, I am almost done, I can almost taste that glass of chardonnay I’ve been saving for after… And then alas, I look up and see the last line/word taking up the next page! The horror! There is a way around this, whether that be altering the type of font you use, the size of your font, the size of spacing (side note: I’d recommend using 1.5 spacing) and or go through your writing. Maybe there’s another way of phrasing a line or stage direction. 

Happy writing! Stay Safe! Oíche Shamhna Shona Daoibh!

Lessons Learned

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.

Studying Performing Arts at I.T Sligo

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.

18 year old me (bottom right) training in Cavan with Aaron Monaghan

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

My first show out of college Welcome to Wonderland by The Rabbits Riot

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.

Back to the Green Room: Artist Self Care

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. 

Personal Time

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. 

Sleep/Naps/Rest

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.  

Talk

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. 

#savethearts  

Acting Tips for Complete Beginners!

By Rena Bryson

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.

  1. Projecting

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. 

  1. Blocking

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. 

  1. Expressing

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. 

  1. 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. 

  1. 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. 

Echo Acting