SAG Elephant

Given the conflicting points of view on the YouTube commentary on this video, I’m interested to hear the reaction from ‘middle-class’ actors in the US on the implications of the AFTRA ‘deal’ struck with the film industry. As an Australian-based actor I can’t but feel that these issues will arrive onshore pretty darn quickly down here.

Given that most see the arrival of web-based entertainment in a big way over the next few years, what are the unions – SAG doing to assist their membership? What does this AFTRA deal really mean?

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Ben Kingsley in conversation with Charlie Rose: ‘We do our best work when we are happy.’

Sir Ben Kingsley at the premiere of Tennessee ...
Image via Wikipedia

I couldn’t resist posting Charlie Rose‘s recent conversation with Ben Kingsley … for a couple of reasons. Firstly Sir Ben talks about the nuts and bolts differerences between stage and screen acting … something we all like to sift through. But in the second part of the conversation, he opens up in quite an extraordinary personal way, providing an intelligent and insightful glimpse of how he works as an actor.

It proves to me, if I needed to be convinced, of what I reckon is the secret ingredient in good performances – the emotional and intellectual intelligence of the actor in the role.

Listening to books: Alan Bennett at the BBC

I can thoroughly recommend Alan Bennett at the BBC which is currently available from or the iTunes store. I’ve just finished listening to the inimitable Mr Bennett reading what is a miscellany of his work from the past 30 or so years, and all via the BBC. By the way I very much also enjoyed his reading of The Uncommon Reader which is all about HM the Queen’s discovery of the joys of books and reading. It’s a wonderfully witty little piece of fiction, and the reading is made all the more enjoyable by Bennett’s own droll performance style. He’s got a great line in character voices … have a listen to him doing The Telegram in the video above. This piece is also included in the collection.

With Alan Bennett at the BBC, we get pieces which range from anecdotes during interviews, pieces from his radio plays and television productions, diary entries and commentary on family, friends, and people he’s worked with; his portrait of Peter Cook, a colleague from Beyond the Fringe is especially moving.

I love Bennett’s work as actor and writer. He is a most English playwright whose brilliance lies in an ability to capture the poignancy and detail of the ordinary lives of his characters. His wonderful series called Talking Heads must be one of the finest collection of extended monologues ever written for actors. They are funny, achingly sad, wise … the whole box and dice that make up a good piece of actorly text. Talking Heads was written for the stage and filmed for television, and if you don’t know it, then treat yourself and do something about getting access now. You’ll see Bennett at work in Talking Heads in a piece called A Chip in the Sugar. You’d be hard pressed to pick a favourite, but I still vividly recall Maggie Smith as the alcoholic vicar’s wife who found companionship and love with an Indian grocer in the extraordinary Bed Among the Lentils. Bennett  like Chekhov, writes plays which bob and weave their way between comedy and tragedy, wrong-footing their audiences at every turn, and the adroit Maggie Smith was perfectly cast in the role.

Anyhow … Bennett can time a punch line to perfection. He tells a slew of jokes in Alan Bennett at the BBC … many of which are self-deprecating. However there’s one which is particularly pertinent which concerns the late Harold Pinter. We’ve all be appropriately reverential toward the great man and his memory of late, so it was a bit of a relief then to hear Bennett tell a Pinter joke.  On the occasion of Pinter’s 50th birthday, Bennett recalled being asked by someone from the BBC for an appropriate way to mark the occasion. He says he couldn’t think of anything at the time. Only after he’d put the phone down did he think of suggesting, ‘… perhaps 2 minutes’ silence?’ Delightful.

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Creativity, motivation, and failing well … Twyla Tharp

Please note that this video has been removed by the user … at least this is the message you get when you click the play button – no idea why this has happened.  You might enjoy some of her commentary, interviews and videos here instead.  Thanks to @PrincessJuleski on Twitter for this pointer to the Academy of Achievement website.

I have to thank Merlin Mann for this. If you don’t know his blog 43 Folders, check it out. I stumbled on this little 3 minute treasure quite by accident, thanks to being a Merlin devotee.

Over the past few years, he has sent me off on small quests that have enriched my thinking on creativity. I learned of Steven Pressfield The War of Art from Merlin. Here is a video from the estimable American dancer Twyla Tharp. She knows what she’s talking about, and she says it well.

I am reminded also of Dan Pink’s The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: the last career guide you’ll ever need.  One of the rules Johnny has to learn is to ‘make excellent mistakes.’ Tharp understands this; it’s often the way of the creative.


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Give it to me live please!

Dumb Waiters album cover
Image via Wikipedia

I couldn’t resist posting this, if only to prove how a great play can get sandbagged by good intentions. Here’s Harold Pinter‘s The Dumb Waiter, a brilliant, dark little piece for two actors. It’s been animated and condensed and posted up to YouTube.

The point, I hear you ask? Well maybe it will hook someone to read/see live the whole play, perhaps it’s enhancing the Pinter profile … mmm, maybe not.

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Back from a big dark room

That’s where I’ve been for a week or more … in the theatre sitting out front at the director’s desk. The Groundling apologises to readers for the long time between drinks; theatre has a habit of taking over your life when you’re in a production. Thus, an excuse for neglecting my scribbles here.

I’ve been working on a student production of The Rimers of Eldritch, Lanford Wilson‘s 1967 take on societal decay in a small American town. It’s about lots of other things too of course, and a fine vehicle for the actors and technical production students in the professional training course.

I took random pictures throughout the process of workshops, rehearsals, and then at a dress rehearsal. We open tonight and welcome the missing ingredient, the audience.

Here’s just a taste of what it looks like. Heigh ho, on to the show!