Self taping for others

Most actors I know live in small rooms in London. The younger ones are in a shared house, then they’re in a house with pets and babies, or they’re on a main road with sirens like I am, or a street where some guy with aggressive mental health issues randomly screams out expletives. Either way there’s chaos and there’s noise in the environs. And we frequently have to tape ourselves at home.

Most actors I know, in the last few years, have bought lights, background screens, tripods and expensive apps on mobile phones so that they can email videos of themselves auditioning. It’s standard now, and whether or not you want to believe that the quality of the filming won’t affect your chances of getting the work, for every one person watching it that understands that technical aptitude doth not an actor make, there are three others that say “I want the one with the good lighting”. Not only is the kit expensive but it takes up space – my friend and I built a studio in her living room and it dominated the whole room. The cat was alternately curious and pissed off while we made sure we got it right for her. During the take we’ll probably keep, he started scratching the sofa – out of shot but noisily. Once it was finished we had to deconstruct the thing and all those tripods take up wardrobe space.

Still, it’s better than reading opposite somebody who died three weeks ago. I’ve had a few of those, in little rooms in Soho after sitting surrounded by people who look just like you for an apologetic hour. Some directors seem to deliberately employ actual zombies to read the other lines. That’s horrible.

Then there’s the stuff you have to do. I’ve taken my clothes off down to my pants and danced in front of a woman I’ve just met and then done it again and never heard a peep. I might have been more comfortable in my living room, but the video would still exist. Rumour has it that terrible auditions get shared for amusement. Ha ha ha. Not nice for some young actor who just needed the money and had a brainfart. At least at home, if you’ve got any discernment, you can delete the ones when you get a sudden frog in your throat and sound like Darth Vader…

Funny old business. I still love it. I just want to be working. I’m happy if I’m working. It’s as simple as that, really. If it’s going great you’re working. If it’s going ok you’re constantly having to audition but might be working because of it. If it’s horrible it’s because there’s no audition and you wonder if you’ll ever work again.

Self tapes at least give some control over your output. But they’re rarely done quickly. Build studio, test lights, sort out eyelines, LEARN LINES, choose clothes, hair, makeup, coerce somebody to read opposite you… Then dressing it all up nicely, combining the videos, uploading them… It’s an afternoon.

It was a pleasant enough afternoon though, in this madness, to see a friend because it’s work, and to make a little scene. Lovely. I hope she gets it.

Moving a friend to St Leonards

Today the driving had a purpose. Saint Leonards on Sea is effectively a suburb of Hastings with big houses. There’s a huge long seafront, and it seems half of the actors in London are moving there at the moment. I had a van load of stuff from one of my very dear friends in the industry. She’s moving out of town. She’s still paying big numbers in rent – I’m a very lucky duck with this pad. It’s expensive but she’s getting high ceilings and sunlight and a huge expanse of sea. I totally get it. As you know, oh constant reader, the lure of the seaside has been tugging at me, but another bit of me knows what it’ll be like when the world switches back on. The lights! The throng! The smell of sweat! The prices! I need to be in it, of it, amongst it! The preciousss chaossss! Let me lick it in the face!

Hmmmm.

By coincidence, my friend has moved actually literally next door to a friend of mine who is constantly making things. I don’t really believe in coincidence anymore but the phrase is useful. The neighbour is an artist musician actor maker type who trained at the same drama school as my friend. She’s one of a few like that down that way. Curious and motivated people doing weird things stylishly. There’s going to be another little company in St Leonard’s before long, as well as one in Hereford. At this rate, with all my friends setting up shop all over the place like this, I’m going to need a fucking helicopter. I’ve already got strings in Brighton and Hereford and Yorkshire and Lancashire and Scotland and Wales as well as Sussex and Kent and The Isle of Man and Jersey and fucking Nassau and Switzerland. I’m spread out like jam. Even with Covid there’s not enough time in the day. I just have to choose one thing and do it. I never like that part of the process as much as I like the endless mess of possibilities. But today I was van man again. Yeah I know yesterday happened and I’m supposed to be digging back into my vocation. One thing at a time. GoT can wait.

We filled a zipvan with her boxes. We got it all in apart from the bicycle, which is an excuse to come back in a few days. “Magic things,” read one of the boxes. “Shakespeare books,” another. My personal favourite: “Shoes and tax”.

Yep. She’s an actor.

Now I’m back in London. This week rolled in fast. Blizzards tonight I’m told, although you wouldn’t believe it. I was in my T-Shirt when we loaded the van…

Brompton Cemetery

I woke up, threw on some clothes, went down to the car, stuck the keys in the ignition and just drove. My mind was empty of purpose. I just let my instincts take me. My instinct took me first to Brompton library, where I had my first drama school audition. Then just down the road and into a parking space that must have been left by providence – the nearest to the entrance to Brompton Cemetery. The first time I went there was in my third year at Guildhall, where I had my headshots taken by Fatima Namdar – in amongst all the mausoleums. There’s strong light – good light. She takes great headshots. They’re gold plated but they’re good. Back in 2002 the cemetery was mostly empty, but for the obligatory guys giving each other angry hand jobs behind the tombstones. (The attraction wasn’t death, it was geography. Earls Court had The Coleherne – prime gay cruising territory – and it’s a long way to the West Heath, so the cemetery was the place to go.) I didn’t go there for cruising, despite what some of you might think. I went for memory. In retrospect, that’s what the day was about.

I’ve been neglecting the thing I’m here to do. Here we all are, frightened of infecting each other, hiding in our homes and waiting to be switched back on again. I’ve been looking after things connected to existence – trying to declutter and decorate, to sort antiques, to connect with another human in an non-habitual manner. But I’ve dropped the most important ball. The acting.

The Crown is out. I need to assemble my recent footage and hit things running. I didn’t even land the fucking advert – (found out today). But the sets are up and running with constant testing and restrictions. Everybody I talk to seems to be about to go on set and do something. I absolutely need to be on one as soon as humanly possible and I need to work out which mountains to move in order to make that happen. Enough with the Del Boy Trotter shit. Dancing bears and driving, selling pictures and heavy lifting – fine. It can keep ticking over. But it’s not what I’m here for.

That’s the result of the walk. At the time I was just thinking “oh, I remember this place,” but it was all connected to remembering this thing which I’ve been servicing for so long. I stopped by The Finborough, a pub theatre where many plays happened in the early days. I buzzed by the site of a church where I did an early Hamlet with Lost, before I trained. I swung over to BAC and The Latchmere. I let myself remember the joy and the passion and the time and the love and the craft over years and years and years that currently culminates in my agent’s assistant telling me they took the pencil off for a reaction shot but well done for getting that far.

It was the perfect day for it. Shocking bright sunlight. Fatima would’ve got some nice photos. I did some grave watching, and found John Snow. He knew quite a lot, John Snow. He’d have been in his element right now – the epidemiologist who worked out Cholera was caused by tainted water, and took off the handle from the tainted pump in Soho. At the time his conclusion was widely resisted – that it was poo in the water. People didn’t want to think about it. They thought it was in the air – they were likely walking around with big thick leather masks on, overheating and having a nice cool glass of deadly water.

A lovely day to go for a walk through the past. It’s all still there somewhere. Those we’ve lost. The things we did. The people we were. It’s just an edge away. And it’s nice to remember it, to remember the hopes and dreams and temper them with the reality and forge forward into the future. Onwards, ever onwards, ships against the tide. Until we move on and the stuff we live inside ends up somewhere like this.

Mad dreams

It was about an hour afterwards that I started to feel sad again. When I had the head on it all seemed to make sense. Life was simple. Achievable. I was just Lego Man. Big tall reliable Lego Man. I was wrapped in pink, fashionably dressed, constantly smiling, hitting that damn Spotty Frog with that gimp gummy bear thing.

An hour later I had crossed London in the rain, and once again I was installed in a penthouse full of antiques, dressed like a geography teacher, with just this weird head on with all the hairy bits. The inflatable balloons with “LOVE” written all over them had been replaced by possible tiny pathogens. Lego Man could’ve fought off the blues even though his eyes are in his mouth. Lego Man was still in Bond Street though. My head is smaller, and often it gets full of noise.

I sat in my flat feeling sad.

Thankfully I have good friends, even if it’s hard to raise them these days. I ended up in a long conversation with a dear friend, taking tea and finding a way to paint the smile back on without the Lego Head.

We are still a long long way from home.

The tube is empty. Completely empty. I would’ve walked into work like I did at Christmas, but the rain had other ideas, and so I went underground. And the tube is a ghost town. If I wanted to catch Covid I’d be much better off choosing vegetables. Still, I didn’t put my hand on anything just in case.

You have to be alert, as the drivers close the door as soon as it’s open. They’re used to finishing their rounds in record time. If you’re dreaming you’ll miss your stop. There’s no faffing. I very nearly DID miss it.

Christmas ads vie for your attention with health warnings and the occasional leftover summer festival banner. The few people who are using it are isolated and scattered. Leaving the station at Bond Street at noon it struck me that we are hopefully never going to know another time where London is so peaceful. I might look back on this and miss it. I bet the people who live in Soho are sleeping well for the first time in years. It’s probably them licking all the avocados in the hopes they can sleep well for another six months, the buggers.

I’m in the bath now, with my big teapot, surrounded by candles, trying to cheer myself up so I don’t have chaosdreams again. My dreams are bonkers these days. Psychedelic crazy madness. I dreamt I was a Lego Man, hitting a spotty frog with a gummy bear, and somebody was paying me to do it.

Safer places than this

Having been tempted for some time to go back to The Isle of Man, they’ve now got themselves into the news for being mask free. Mel had heard about it all the way over in New Zealand. “I wish you were out here,” she says, and I concur. It’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere, and there aren’t people suffocating to death on wards. I try to explain to her how it feels over here and I just can’t. All the precautions. Everything being cancelled or postponed. The different types of anger and grief. People aren’t well in the head in London. They never are. But it’s worse than usual.

Mel goes to the pub quiz every Thursday. She’s directing theatre in the daytime and socialising in the evenings. She’s barely been touched by this thing that has left so many of us with invisible scars. New Zealand tourism is gonna get bumped right up once they open the borders. “Why not visit a place where everybody isn’t suffering from PTSD! New Zealand! Where you can clear your throat and nobody screams!” New Zealand and maybe The Isle of Man – future popular holiday destinations to look at the unbroken humans.

Maybe I should wrangle a ferry ticket and sit in the flat on the island and eat Ocado for three weeks over there safe in the knowledge that things won’t have improved in London in that time frame. Likely there’ll be all sorts of admin involved. If I were to suddenly appear on the island, my neighbors would come round wearing horses heads and carrying torches. They know my business when it isn’t Covid times. I’d end up getting burnt in a giant wicker motorbike for accidentally breaking one of their obscure bylaws. Best keep hibernating in my nice flat.

My flat is beautifully warm and comfortable, up on the third floor above the miasma. I’ve filled it with daffodils.

Daffodils, and the usual random shit

Every obscure receptacle capable of taking daffodils has them. Those ones are in a pretty little Royal Worcester Pheasant Vase that I pulled from Tennant’s cos I liked it. The grey thing they’re leaning on is the compass from the destroyer HMS Vanguard that my grandad pulled from the wreckers for the same reason. Still tons of random stuff in here…

I haven’t finished decorating the spare bedroom. Chelsea Flower Show is postponed to September but I’m an idiot. I need to get on with it.

Steps

Seven fire trucks this evening, all at once outside my window, bundling down onto the sheltered housing where the smoke alarm is rigged up to automatically call them in. I’ve written about it before. It happens every few weeks in the evening when somebody there is cooking a steak and sets the beeper off. I was standing at my window lighting a candle when they showed up, having taken down all my baubles and switched off all my flashing lights.

Immediately the flashing of my Christmas lights was replaced for Candlemas by the maniac blue blink of seven simultaneous fire trucks. They had everything. Big ones, small ones, ladder ones, all packed with volunteers who usually have to do very little and then occasionally have to do everything. This is the same district as Grenfell. Tough people, these. Something like that will happen again some time, as the companies at the heart of it have neither changed their ways nor paid anything but lip service to any requests for change. Lots of noise, no difference.

It’s like “Clap for carers”. It’s all very well to clap in the window, but it won’t fix decades of under-funding. Bless Captain Tom for walking around the garden, but that only further conditions us to think of the NHS as privately funded. And now Captain Tom has died with Covid. Great shame. He picked up the public imagination and walked with it a while. One of the early tales of hope in this mess all the way back in April. How did he even get noticed? Providence and timing, I guess. And his niece probably works for a newspaper. You rather wish that he might have made it out the other end of this shitshow and died quietly in his own bed. It doesn’t seem fair really. But then very little does these days.

Here we all are, at home.

I finished posting pictures, and some of them even got feedback already. That’s a thing that isn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I’m pleased. One inch closer to the end of the storage.

Lou is back in Brighton, and I’m trying to be ordered about what to prioritise in the long list of things I still have to do to get my life in some vague order. I don’t mind the chaos, sure, but there’s the notion of some sort of peaceful existence where I’m not living surrounded by noise. It’s years away most likely, and I wouldn’t really like it if I ever got there, but it’s something to strive towards and have fun on the way. It keeps me honest. There are a lot of scripts I want to write now, and the dream of having a space in my home set aside for writing – it is getting more and more persuasive. Better a surface than yet another pile of plates.

One step at a time. Like Captain Tom.

Imbolc again

Imbolc is upon us. The triple goddess Brigid shifts to maiden from crone. Her saint’s day is honoured as her rituals are observed. All sorts of beliefs all pointing in the same direction – towards Proserpine returning from the underworld. Towards the tomb being found open. Towards life returning to a cold and bitter earth.

Perhaps this has been a colder winter than many. We saw a pied wagtail at a service station today. We threw it some bread. The ground is bare, the empty branches rattle in the cold wind. Light falls early and comes back late. Tomorrow, before dark, I’ll finally be stripping down the Christmas decorations that I’ve left up to cheer my flat. Baubles and lights and even a little Nativity scene for nobody but me.

They’ll all be bagged and boxed and consigned to the attic for a year, despite their absence making the flat less cheerful. I’ll put candles in the window instead, and trust that the change of the year will come, the light will return, the shoots will shoot up, and we’ll finally start to be able to pretend like we’re normal human beings doing the fun things and the worky things that we always do, and we’ll be able to do them in sunshine.

I packed up my car like Santa’s sleigh today and drove the rounds of eBay buyers between London and Brighton. I dropped off little presents in the porches of people’s houses between my flat and Brighton. A tray in Battersea, a fan in Beckenham… I’m already getting surprised messages from buyers who woke up to presents they’d paid for. I couldn’t do it for everybody – one guy was in Moray, for instance – but a fair amount of people are going to get their item early. The least I could do for them helping me make my tax bill.

When we finally got to Brighton I sent Lou back to her lovely seaside flat and slogged back to London to get my nose into the grindstone once more. There’s the golden acting job just waiting to be dug up. I’m back on the hunt, ready to be ready when the light comes back and shines by my face again. Dig dig dig dig dig dig dig.

I’m ready for the spring. For the world. I need it. This has been a long dark time for so many of us. We’ve lost a great deal. Some of it will never return. Some will come back slowly. But when we can, together, we will build beautiful things again and we will honour the memory of those we’ve lost along the way.

Right now I’m thinking I should just go home to The Isle of Man. I’d have to quarantine for two weeks. But they’ve switched the world back on. I’ve got a place to live there, things to do there… It’s tempting…

Wrapping

Far too much time was spent today wrapping pictures up in bubble wrap. But it was happy time, because some of them sold well. I was particularly surprised by the damaged ones landing well. I think lots of people want to restore art during lockdown. They’ve been vying for doer-uppers.

My favourite watercolour didn’t make the reserve so I’m probably going to put it up on the wall instead. The prints didn’t go either but they’re hard to photograph well because of the glass, and they’re even harder to send easily for the same reason, plus they’re not unique. Nothing to really recommend them. The idea of putting them in the post filled me with enough dread that I chose to put the starting price high enough to take the dealers out of the equation. I guess I’ve saved myself the bother of posting them for bad returns by pricing them up, but I’ve still got them in the flat now. Hmmmmm.

Quiet Sunday. Tous ├ža change. Morrissey had it in 1988. Every day is like Sunday. Today WAS Sunday, at least, so it’s perfectly justifiable to lounge around. We watched Lucky, a film by John Carroll Lynch. Very glad we did too. The directorial debut of Lynch (a character actor), it was Harry Dean Stanton’s swansong, holding down the lead six months before his death at 91. It has a cameo by David Lynch that had me googling to see if he’s John’s dad or something. But no, they aren’t related. He must’ve just liked it. It’s a good script, done gently and with honour. Dean Stanton shows us all how it’s done. I hope I have that in me at 91. He’s so old, and has nothing to hide. The film is as much a study of the life left in Dean Stanton as it is a contemplation of the characters struggle with mortality. That makes it all the richer. And there’s so much life it makes me sad to think he went so quickly after the release.

I love watching really old actors. I love meeting them. Like the woman whose shopping I was doing. She must be in her eighties. I wish I’d been able to hang out and drink wine with her. I have lots to learn from her I’m sure.

John Mills came on set for Bright Young Things at 95 and did a lovely cameo. I got to talk to him a tiny bit – it was my first movie, while he was in the hundreds. I’ll have to seriously up my game to catch up with him. But I remember his joy, undimmed through near blindness and being trolleyed around in a wheelchair.

Some of us just keep on going. But there’s not much work for ninety year olds. Michael Beint – Tristan’s grandpa – is still on his agent’s books and he’s got to be the same age as Dean Stanton was in 2017. He’s still painting and I bet if the agent rang for the right job he’d be out the door quicker than his hat. Last time I saw him, just before this Covid lark changed it all, he showed me his latest oil painting. He’s still bitten by the need to create things. He’s good at it too. I bet it would’ve fetched a good price if I’d eBayed his one with all of mine.

Enough pictures. This evening I’m nesting, warm from a bath, happy of this chilled out day, safe and warm in my lucky flat. I’m supposed to have paid my tax bill today but I haven’t as it’s huge by my standards. I had a good year before everything fell to pieces. Now I’m just thrilled so many of the pictures sold as that’ll help me effectually pay back my SEISS furlough type thing. But I said enough pictures. Pictures.