Well, it seems I’ve got a bit better at dealing with huge rooms full of distracted teenagers. I was back in Tower Hamlets this morning, and frankly I was dreading it. It’s the most deprived borough in the UK I’m told. I’m the last minute emergency pick-up tutor for these guys, which tends to mean I end up bustling into all the schools that the more seasoned guys try to avoid. This one today, I was meant to be just the assistant guy. It was gonna be one big room, the expert leading it all, me running around after them like a helpful little balding troll giving out bits of paper and nuggets of wisdom. But inevitably it wasn’t to be. I ended up having to run it as well in another room. It’s the same workshop I wrote about a few days ago after I got crucified all day in Canary Wharf. It’s just not a great piece of content. You have to fill the shortfalls somehow. There are long videos, and videos normally provide some relief when you are delivering things like this, but the videos that involve actors are atrocious and the ones that involve interviews are vague and not particularly interesting. It needs charisma and energy to fill the gaps. I was rested though. And I was ready for war.
I’m learning. Yes, if you can hook them early you can win the whole day with positive energy and charisma which is my happy place. But if you can’t hook them early – if the noisy ones are gonna be noisy no matter what… All you can do is speak softly. No point shouting over them, collectively they can make more noise than the loudest voice. Bring them in with quiet if they can out-shout. That’s how I managed today and it’s a useful reminder for my acting too. I’m easy with bombast, but if you go to the audience it’s your energy not theirs that they meet. The best place is in the middle – they come to you, you come to them. You meet through the story halfway between.
I’m in deep cover for this particular workshop now. I find it helps keep the room tight if I tell them engineering is what I do and I’m volunteering my time to share my passion. I’m telling them all I’m an engineer, have been all my life, really care about batteries, want them to be thinking about engineering too because it gave me this wonderful life. I have some dear and old friends for whom that is true. Dan and John will never be far from my mind while I talk about the possibilities. It might have been me too, engineering in a life where the acting hook didn’t slip quite so inevitably into my throat. My friends at school – the ones who have lasted – were that way inclined. I’m not telling my students the truth, but I’m inspiring them as best I can using the friends I have and the knowledge I have. Yep, I’m an actor. But my brother is a scientist. It’s a path I could’ve taken. Plus if I’m gonna talk about myself I’m long past talking about being an actor in an engineering workshop delivered to schoolchildren. Every hand that goes up afterwards is asking what I’ve been in and who I know. Our industry is still slightly wrongly framed, even by people in it, to overlook the huge workforce of jobbing actors.
Like any dayjob though, I’m conscious about the danger of doing it too much – especially since I write my days down here. “Oh he’s an actor but he mostly guides boats these days,” was one that came up before I was doing this. I went into an audition and was asked “How are the boats,” by a casting director who had clearly done her research – but when actors do jobs-that-aren’t-acting we trigger an old stigma – borne out of historic privilege in our industry largely – that we cannot and should not do other things for money and that it is some sort of failure if we do. I totally fly in the face of that. You cannot maintain that without even more privilege than I have. And no matter what the numbers are, some of us just have a work ethic.
I spoke a few years ago to an old friend who was essentially the lead in a multi-series TV drama, and they were telling me how they got a job between series in a local bar but had to pretend they were just a lookalike so as not to trigger some article in the gutter press and way too much unwanted attention.
Anyhow. A better day today in a hard area. It’s nice to know I’m good at this and it’s helpful making young people think about their possibilities and their energy use. And this shouldn’t come to the dreaded moment when somebody says “congratulations, we’ve found a full time position for you,” when I have to explain that I honestly don’t want it. I can pass the time with this. Until Spielberg rings.