It’s All In the Timing

One of the talents I envy most in an actor is the gift of good timing. Of course you don’t have to be an actor to take advantage of this skill if you have it. It helps in life as well as in art.

I saw good timing in action yesterday morning at a breakfast launch of ‘Life Is …’ the Empire Theatre’s Season 2008. Chairman Peter Swannell has the gift of the gab as a speaker, and as MC, managed some deft one liners and killer punch lines. Ruth Hodgman, the Empire’s Manager of Programming, Promotions & Development had the job of coordinating the slideshow presentation, and did so with a beguiling ease. It’s not a simple job to stay focussed and keep the audience’s attention, while interacting with media, and all this at 7am. Nice work.

And it was time to announce the theatre’s own production for next year. There was a good buzz in the room of mainly business sponsors, staff, board members and friends as season 2008 was rolled out. As far as Cabaret is concerned, it’s now time for the theatre management to start the marketing and promotional activities, and for the creative and artistic team to block out the calendar for the rehearsal period and start the prepping.

Time for regular singing lessons for me in the New Year, and for hitting the fitness trail again. For me it’s always been running that’s got me fitter faster. I remember a nearly 6 month prep period way back when I was readying to play Nora in A Doll’s House for Queensland Theatre Company. I knew I’d be on stage for most of the 2 and a half hours playing time, wearing 19th century heavy costume, corseted and bustled, and in summer.

I’m not sure whether it’s going to be running for me just yet. Let’s go with walking and the stationary bike first and see where that gets me. Increased stamina, breath support, flexibility and just feeling as though I’m physically ready is what I’m aiming for. It’s the support system I need as an actor; if I’m feeling good physically, I’m ready for the creative and imaginative challenges … without it, I’m running to catch up.

How do you prep for a role?

Quite by accident I’m reading a thriller set in Munich in 1929. The ‘by accident’ part refers to the fact that a lot of my thinking right now is centred around the production of Cabaret in which I’ve been cast. The ‘reading a thriller’ part is simply what I do for recreational reading … the kind of reading I do without a pencil in hand. It’s a Fay Kellerman Straight Into Darkness. It’s a good read so far … neat thriller, good characters … but it’s also full of terrific descriptions of the times … food for an actor getting a feel for a role.

I remember working with an actor once who swore by finding the right sensory trigger for his character. His was the sense of smell. He used Bay Rum in a production of The Rainmaker in which we toured for months. The smell of Bay Rum brings back that production immediately to me. More importantly for the actor, that smell aroused the character; it was a sensory springboard for each performance. Nice that I quite liked Bay Rum.

Other actors use talismanic items to assist them to get into the ‘creative state’ Stanislavski wrote about. For me it’s reading, but also finding the music of the times, of the character, the rhythm she moves to … I have used music as my springboard for years. Going to be interesting working on a musical …

The Phone Rang! - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more

OK I haven’t been sitting by the phone waiting for it to ring. But
ring it did this morning with some sweet news from the producers at the
Empire Theatre. It was the ‘We want you’ call. I’ve been cast as
Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret! Yessss …

What a nice feeling it is to hear those words. OK, so the ego likes
it, but I’m also delighted at the prospect of the whole getting ready
to work again phase starting up … singing classes, fitness routine,
accent work, researching Germany and Berlin during the 30s … the
whole box and dice. Love it. Rehearsals start in February, so a couple
of months before the fun begins.

I’m going to blog the rehearsal process … natch … so I hope you’ll drop in from time to time to follow my fortunes.

Ms Blanchett and the art of fine acting

I’m just back from seeing Elizabeth: the Golden Age. It’s all about Cate Blanchett and her fine, very fine acting. It’s a gorgeous looking movie by any account … we can only guess at the number of zeroes in the production design budget. As far as the performances are concerned, the movie is not a patch on the first, which ended with the beatification of the young Elizabeth as servant of her people.

This one is about the canonisation of the queen as she battles approaching age, lack of love, lack of confidence, threats from abroad (the creepily villainous Spanish), the opposition using Mary Queen of Scots … and we know what she’s in for don’t we … and so it’s all about how it happens, not what. Been there, seen that. There’s a real woman inside all that Elizabethan drapery and wiggery, and Blanchett’s job is to humanise her and get the warrior-queen-woman balance right. She’s not helped a lot of the time by the director Shekar Kapur and the screenwriters William Nicholson and Michael Hirst.

The tone is more than a bit pompous at times, and the actors have to struggle with the kind of dialogue that accompanies ‘portentous moments.’ Some go down gnashing and chewing the scenery, especially the villains. Not our Cate and Geoffrey Rush though. They sail through triumphantly.

The thrill of it all lies in watching the infinitesimal and fleeting reactions across Blanchett’s face … and her surprising gutsiness and physicality when she’s driving the action, and not put into saintly-icon reactive mode. I love the scenes where she’s wigless and sporting a very fetching 21st century haircut … a clever touch this. A Woman For All Seasons?

Finally though, it’s the sheer finesse of her work that makes the movie worth the 2 hours or so of screen time. Good acting takes an audience by surprise, and Blanchett is capable of doing this beat by beat. This is an actor on top of her game, and it’s mesmerising stuff.

‘Theatre artist?’

I’m hearing the term ‘artist’ bandied around a lot lately.
Maybe it’s a bit of strutting, maybe not. Maybe it’s just time actors claimed the title, and admitted egolessly to being exactly that.

The word ‘actor’ works for me, but so also does ‘artist’ when it’s used by someone who’s talented, experienced, and who’s paid her dues. I hate it when it’s splashed all over the place by wannabe no talents. Rant over.