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Tales of an Actor Winning anecdotes submitted for the Backstage competition

It is the nature of the beast that an actor, over their career, will accrue a solid collection of anecdotes from training, auditions and rehearsals. I asked people to send in their tales of struggle, revelation and hilarity and the response was overwhelming. All the submissions were a joy to read, but here are some of the best ones. (Share yours in the comments section below!)

  1. Master of the House – James, East London
  2. Cows and Cats – Kieran, North London
  3. Supergirl – Anonymous, Essex
  4. Worth It – Hafsa, Seattle
  5. Crossing a Line – Rachael, Wolverhampton

 

“Master of the House” – James, East London

I once sang Master of the House from Les Miserables in an audition for a musical. One of the lines in the song is ‘3% for sleeping with the window shut’, now realising that this line was coming up and seeing out of the corner of my eye that there was indeed a window open, I decided to show a little bit of initiative and shut this window on the correct beat. Upon slamming the window shut I in fact broke said window into a thousand pieces. Safe to say I didn’t get the part…

 

“Cows and Cats” – Kieran, North London

I had a very interesting start to my voiceover career. Like most, when I was in my teens I decided to join an acting school to really learn the ropes of becoming an actor. Most teens go through that ‘Awkward Phase’ and, well, I was right slap bang in the middle. I started attending the evening classes and remember thinking ‘These guys (my classmates) are literally all mental!’ Those who had been attending the classes for a lot longer seemed to have just let go and lost their minds. At the time I didn’t quite get it but in hindsight it all makes sense.

So one evening I was on my way to another class and for some reason had a real moment of not caring about anything (listening to Rage Against the Machine as a teen does sometimes). Walking up to my class I could hear these strange noises coming from somewhere. It sounded as though a farmer had dragged all his cows from the local farm and parked them somewhere in the old Victorian building. I opened the door into my class and for a good minute or so I thought my class were possessed and that I had better call a priest or something. They were crawling around on the floor like cows and cats. Some meowing, some moo’ing, some just going barking mad! Now for some reason, despite my mindset, I thought ‘You know what, I am diving into this madness and will be the best cow or cat I can be!’ So without encouragement, I dropped my bag and jacket and dived right in.

I felt so liberated and free after that session. The reason behind that exercise is to let go and not be bothered what people think. My classmates were not mad…well…actually, they were, but letting go and giving your all is what’s important!

A decade later I now work full time as a voiceover artist and always think back to that turning point. Learning to let go is key to a good performance. It’s not easy to let go but if you try and succeed then it’s the most liberating feeling, which can lead to more opportunities and the best performances.

 

“Supergirl” – Anonymous, Essex

In the first year out of drama school, the angst kicks in pretty quickly about keeping your CV up to date with work and you soon find you can’t be selective with jobs. Being a little naive about the industry, I had no issues with being offered fight performance work for a day. The description was simple. ‘Looking for someone highly skilled in stage combat for a fight scene.’ It was only a day and the pay was good so I thought why not. The only thing they required of me was that I bring a Karate Gi (the traditional Karate uniform). I didn’t look too much into it as I already knew someone who had worked with this particular production company before and it started off alright. I was greeted and taken to the set where I met the DOP and the Director. Then things got a bit strange. First of all, I was fighting ‘supergirl’ who was dressed in a very suggestive version of her super suit. Second thing was, after looking at the rushes, there was a load of close-ups of cleavage and the like. The day, however, went without a hitch and I thought nothing of it until I had a look at the production company and realised they specialised in a particular fetish of porn. I couldn’t believe it and had no choice but to laugh and ponder the fate of Supergirl that day. It was safe to say that I did not include that particular job on my CV. Still, researching the production companies you are about to work for is a valuable lesson that I use to this day!

 

“Worth It” – Hafsa, Seattle

Growing up, I was raised in a very culturally homogenous family where gender segregation was strictly enforced and religion was our centre focus. So you can imagine how restrictive my life was. I was always interested in the arts; from acting to singing, that was my life as a child. I remember writing about how I liked to sing in my diary once and my father inevitably found out and forbade me from singing, convincing me it was bad, that music was bad. So I never sang again. This is just an example of the sheer restriction my life was surrounded with. As I got older my own views always conflicted with my parents’ and at some point, I stopped believing they knew everything and decided to think for myself a bit more. During High School I had a long conversation with one of my friends and that’s when I realised I wanted to act full time. And that was it, no ifs or buts or plan Bs. Naturally I struggled to tell my parents, knowing damn well I’d be disowned. I decided to secretly pursue my “vile” passion for acting and the months rolled by. I began to realise many things about myself and one of the things I asked myself the most was “How can I truly transform into a character when I was never able to truly be myself?” I’ve always had to pretend to be someone else, someone who my parents would be proud of, someone so far from who I really am, I like to sing and dance and most importantly act. She didn’t. She wouldn’t dare. While I did consider this an impediment and weakness I recently saw it as strength. I’ve been acting my whole life and I created this righteous character and became her, so much so that I lost myself in her and got comfortable being her. But I survived and managed to embrace the part of myself that my parents hated the most. Soon enough, I left the reign of my parents and set out in this wild world to pursue something so worth it that I sacrificed my family for it.

 

“Crossing a Line” – Rachael, Wolverhampton

After drama school, I landed my first professional role in a production in London and was excited to get my first taste of the industry. I distinctly remember, on our very first day of rehearsals, the director saying ‘If someone leaves this rehearsal process having not cried at some point then I’ll have failed.’ I didn’t really think much of that at the time (being young and eager to do well), other than ‘this sounds like it’ll be a bit of a challenge.’ As the days went by the director tended to rehearse separately with people, and people invariably left rehearsals having ‘been broken down’ after being pushed to access deep emotions and delve into past experiences. One day the director spoke to everyone playing a leading role individually, asking them about their personal life until they were satisfied that the actor was sufficiently distressed. Unbeknownst to the rest of us, the girl playing the lead role was really struggling with what was being asked of her to the point that she’d started to suffer panic attacks. The director decided to sit us all down and get her to ‘share’ with us how she was feeling. She got extremely upset;  she couldn’t really speak and ended up having to leave the room. Watching our friend be forced into having a near-breakdown in front of us stirred up a lot of anger, especially from one cast member in particular. This actor let his emotion loose in a genuine (and frightening) eruption of anger. Afterwards he was immediately forced into rehearsing one of his own scenes. His anger was absolutely real and uncontrollable and this, combined with the physical nature of the scene, put his scene partner in real danger of being hurt. It was only at this late stage of the rehearsals that it began to dawn on me the gravity of what was happening and actually how detrimental it was to the process.

In the end, the production was received poorly. To tell the truth; it was bad! We were dragging up emotions from situations deep within our own pasts and then forming tenuous links between how that made us feel and how our characters might feel. I know different things work for different people but in this particular case, I realised that emotional recall wasn’t for me. Luckily, I’ve never since encountered a director that’s worked in this way!

 

Share YOUR stories!

If you have a good anecdote, share it in the comment section below.

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