Friday, 11 July 2008

Open Air Theatre


In June, it seemed like a great idea; summer was coming and the prospect of being at Hampton Court and Kensington Palace in August, working on Private Lives was too good to miss. Now it is July and I am wearing a thick jumper and socks, indoors. The rain is washing away the lettuce and it is too dark to read without electricity at lunchtime. Last summer the whole town flooded and jet skiers were fined for speeding in the high street. How did I forget?

Next week we start rehearsing. For now, I am staring out the window wondering what a 1930's cocktail dress looks like with an overcoat and galoshes.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Network (Going to)

The traditional pilot season in the States has been decimated by the WGA strike, and the ongoing discussions with SAG and AFTRA over the renewal of the actor's contract, threaten the order of the mid-season pick-up. It may be that the whole edifice crumbles and even 'going to network' will be a process consigned to history and only remembered by those who stumbled into the jaws of corporate television. It is a system unlikely to be missed.

The definition of a 'working' actor is one who seeks work and generally takes what is offered. Working or 'jobbing' actors are the core of most television, film and theatre productions. They earn a living but are usually available when needed and they tend to just get on with it. They also audition, which in the US is a lengthy process. For network auditions, the actor might already have done a 'pre-read', with just the casting director, a taped audition with the writers/producers, and then a callback. They will know the scenes by heart and may have formed an attachment to the role after weeks living with the script and driving around Los Angeles looking for offices in a road where six lanes divide one side of the pavement from the other and the only parking is a twenty-minute meter, but not on Tuesdays when they clean the street. It is hard to read parking signs when your head is busy fighting mutant lizards on an asteroid belt or forming a flirty but argumentative relationship with the other detective at your quirky agency. Your car will get towed. 

Having been summoned to the network studio, your agent/manager will be busy negotiating your fee and the terms of your agreement. These will be the arrangements for where you will be filming, where you will be living, what you will be earning and how you will be working. For the next five years. American television contracts don't mess about. None of the British '6 episodes and then we'll find out if you're free again for the next series, if we get re-commissioned which we probably won't'. The US pilot television contract will be a book length document assuming you will shoot, first the pilot and then 26 episodes a year, every year for at least five and maybe more. The reality is that hundreds of pilots will be shot, some will be aired, a small percentage will be picked up and made into series, and most of these will be cancelled before half the series has been shown.  

Regardless of the pilot's potential, the contract has to be signed before the job is offered. Just before you go into Room 101, you will be summoned to an antechamber to sign, in triplicate, the contract for the show that you have yet to be asked to appear in, to work with a director you haven't yet met, in a State you have probably never been to. The script is rushing around in your head along with 'five years?' and 'I'll never get it'. At this point you have no idea if you even want the job, but you do want to be asked and if you are asked, well, you've already signed the contract. 

In the waiting room are the actors auditioning for all the main parts in the series, also in triplicate. You can look about and see the variety of directions the show could go in and understand absolutely that the producers have no idea who it is they want, they just want something and they all have to agree on it. Today. The other two actors going up for your part, will be much younger or more famous than you. They seem very calm. Their car is not being towed.

At some point, shortly after you've signed the contract, your name will be called and you will stumble into the office/screening room/boardroom they have assigned for the purpose of auditioning you. It will have absolutely no atmosphere, no obvious 'stage' area, no other actor to work with and everyone will be wearing a suit. It is not unlike going into your local bank to perform 'The Sound of Music'. The casting director will introduce you to the room and most of the suits will look up. She will tell you that she will read with you but she will remain seated while you stand at one end of the room on your own. She will not particularly raise her voice. When you are done with your scenes, there will be utter silence while you leave.

Later that day, your agent will call you and tell you have booked the job. You start Monday. You don't know if it will be for a month or a decade. You never will.
Or, your agent doesn't call and the next day you get a message on your voicemail. You put the script in the recycle box and wonder how much longer you'll be out of work. You don't know if it will be a month or a decade. And you still have to get your car out of the pound.