These days, like it or not, no performer’s on-line profile is complete without a showreel or at least some audio clips.
I’ve written in the past about how much better many of these need to be if they’re to get the actors featured a theatre audition, complaining about the lack of footage showing how an actor actually sounds or moves, amidst the action shots and posing.
As a result I was contacted by Nick Polley of iStage Studio who wanted to tell me about his new service that aims to offer an affordable solution.
I imagine it will be of most interest to emerging actors, particularly those leaving drama schools that are too poor to equip their students with a film clip of their work when they graduate.
He offers a one stop service, driving you from Chelmsford station to a small but well equipped studio where he’ll spend several hours shaping and recording film and audio clips of you that he believes will best showcase your skills to potential employers.
The price ranges from £50 - £370 depending on how much material you want to create, which seemed great value but only if you have cash to spare, so I was reluctant to wholeheartedly recommend him to anyone crippled with a student loan.
As I used to be a jobbing actor Nick offered to convince me by putting myself through the process so, with my editors blessing, I headed to Essex to test-drive iStage Studio on your behalf.
The first thing that struck me is the care and attention to detail he brings to every aspect of the service. He even attaches the studio logo to his car so you can easily spot him in the station car park. He’s charming and unassuming and the facility is well equipped and immaculate, there’s even a very playful puppy to greet and relax you.
We began by shooting what he calls a “LIVE Headshot”, a relatively new idea he’s trademarked and believes will catch on. Instead of a conventional still photograph it’s a little clip of you introducing yourself that will come to life when anyone viewing your profile clicks on it.. Of course you also have the option to use a single frame as a headshot in the conventional way. The idea being to help you stand out, by quickly showing whoever views it a hint of your personality.
This isn’t common practice yet but Facebook offers you the opportunity to use a clip like this on their profiles so I can really see them catching on and that having one produced professionally is useful and forward thinking. On “action” you engage with the camera, say hi (or hello) and then “I'm” and give your name. A short, simple and painless process.
Next we recorded the clips for my voicereel. I’d chosen the text from a newspaper ad, a Beatrix Potter extract, the opening passage from The War of the Worlds and the voice over for a nature documentary and a museum instillation. In each case we had various goes at it with Nick offering gentle but insightful suggestions and playing the results back to me after each take until we were both satisfied.
Then it was time to sing, and I must confess cowardice and lack of prep time prior to the session meant I bottled it, growling through just one song (I’d been offered the chance to record three) in order to report on the experience. Once again Nick was very patient and understanding about my nervousness as a singer.
I’ve done quite a bit of acting on film and audio but I’ve zero experience of recording a song. The way Nick guided me through the process of singing in a studio makes me confident he’d get the most from first-timers with a mic or camera too.
Finally we shot the monologue showreel scene. I used a piece from a play I’d been in last summer. It’s your choice whether to film it in the studio against a choice of backdrops or to shoot it out doors “on location” I opted for the local park.
Amidst curious dog walkers Nick took time to carefully set up the shots and balance sound and vision to achieve something of broadcast quality. While not having the complexity of a TV or film sequence, this simple approach certainly offers an effective recording that focuses on your performance.
How much you get out of these sessions very much depends on the preparation you make. Nick admits he struggles sometimes with clients who arrive not knowing the lines of their monologue or who haven’t rehearsed it a little.
I’d also advise warming up properly, I didn’t and it made both our jobs a little harder and probably compromised what we recorded.
But if you invest some time along with your money the results could genuinely enhance your on-line presence whether via a professional casting service or on your own website, particularly if you haven’t got a showreel of camera work yet or are returning to the profession and your material is out of date.
You can check out what we created at www.istagestudio.co.uk/philwillmott
If, like me, you don’t have the specialist knowledge to make the best use of today’s technology then entrusting a specialist like Nick to do the work is a sure and reliable way to get your promotional material together fast and efficiently.
In the interests of balance I now ought to tell you of other companies offering the same service but as far as I can discover Nick’s is the only one currently offering a package that includes quite so much all in one relatively inexpensive session.
VERDICT: Highly recommended. A great value, one-stop service
Jack Watson and Phil Willmott in Crime and Punishment (photograph by Alex Jones)
Dear Theatre Millennial, from a 52 year old, by Phil Willmott
Having posted the article below I promoted it via facebook and Twitter to gage reaction and many people posted many interesting responses.
These divided equally between an immediate and personal reaction “but I'm not like that – here’s how hard I work...” (mostly from millennials) to many more considered analysis then mine of the challenges young people in theatre face today (this is what I hoped to flush out from commentators of all ages)
Many writers took exception with the way the younger generation were characterised. Interestingly very few were as irritated by the way the older generation were characterised.
Obviously the consensus was that generalising is useless and a considerably more nuanced analysis is the only way of addressing issues from every perspective, also that there are good and bad practices in all generations. That’s such an elemental point it seemed hardly worth making but it can’t hurt to have it reiterated.
I love working with intergenerational companies and direct many, many brilliant and hard working young actors. I hope they understand why I felt in unnecessary to hammer this home. I believe the great theatre we’ve made together speaks for itself.
Having read everything carefully my personal pick of excellent points made were –
1. It is much, much tougher for recent graduates to work on the fringe because of student debt and because it’s impossible to sign on and rely on benefits to support you as you build a CV in this way.
Yet still the only way most young people can build a profile is by working on projects which don’t stack up commercially (There's minuscule demand for the few seats in tiny theatres) and therefore pay little or nothing, desirable artistically and fulfilling though they may be.
Is the answer to relook at the rehearsal models we use on the fringe?
These are still pretty much 10 – 5pm sessions and people, including me, then do paid work in the evenings during rehearsals and in the day during performance to subsidise participation. A well managed fringe project will also incorporate days out the performer and creative team need to take to maintain an income.
At present I receive an average of 600 audition applications to appear in musicals and around 1000 applications to appear in plays rehearsed on this basis but it may be that the opportunity would be an option for more people if say, rehearsals were morning only or evenings and weekends.
2. There’s clearly a lot of great issue based theatre being made by millenials that I'm just not hearing about.
This is particularly troubling because my survival job with which I personally subsidise my unpaid work, is being a theatre critic. In this capacity I go to the theatre most nights of the week and my inbox is chock full of press releases and invitations to review work YET I’M NOT HEARING ABOUT THIS GOOD STUFF.
So if I'm not, steeped in theatre that I am, how does the public find out about it?
I'm not sure what the solution to this is. Perhaps it lies in promotion via social media but, as we’ve learnt from the fake news that filled our facebook and twitter feeds during recent referendums, you only tend to see stuff that conforms to what you already believe.
3. Drama School teachers have conveyed that graduates leave training with the desire to work hard, it’s their financial circumstances which beat them down.
It’s a strange phenomenon that there’s no end to the amount of people who’ll pay stupid money to train in theatre but in comparison the amount of people who’ll pay to see theatre is tiny. I guess because with drama school fees you’re paying for a dream. A dream that no amount of reality checks will dislodge.
This is good, youth should be about chasing your dream, mine was. There’s plenty of time to get cynical in later life but we, the older generation need to find ways of facilitating the aspirational without crippling them financially for years to come. And we’re singularly failing in this.
Can anyone think of a model outside the drama school norm that might do this? My generation can see the cruelty of the current system so it’s our responsibility to change it.
Here’s the original article, if you haven’t read it. What’s your response?
We’ve all been working together for a while now. On the whole it's been great and so many of you have helped refresh, reinvigorate and inspire us... whilst in return... well, on the whole I feel we’re at best necessary irritants to you, who stole all the resources and messed up the economy so you can't afford a flat. Still, mostly it's been, and continues to be, a pleasure.
Recently however an idiotic job advert disparaging your generation was rightly shot down in flames. It might have ended there but it prompted more of those opinion pieces across the media in which my lot rehashed our well established prejudices i.e. that you're lazy and entitled, whilst your team reiterated that we're exploitative dinosaurs.
Co-incidentally, amidst all your social media posts about how unfair life is I've also noticed grumbles from older actors and directors upset and mystified by what they perceive, rightly or wrongly, as your lack of professionalism.
We need to keep in mind that there’s never been a generation that haven't complained about "the youth of today" Our elders despaired of us and you'll find yourselves disapproving of the kids coming up behind you, and much sooner than you think.
But it concerns me that our two specific generations seem to be drifting apart a little more than is usual. That's sad and destructive so, as part of what I hope will be an ongoing dialogue, I thought I'd offer you my take on why my generation think and behave in the mystifying way we do, along with my perspective on where you’re at, in the hope it'll promote a little more cross-generational understanding. Also debate.
The parents of many of my generation expressed their love by telling us to "stop showing off" and trying to convince us that the dreams we had of a life in art were not for the likes of us and could only lead to misery and disappointment. Consciously or unconsciously we compromised our mental health trying to prove to ourselves and our parents that they were wrong.
The parents of many of you expressed their love by telling you that you were unique, special and could achieve anything you wanted in life. Consciously or unconsciously you've compromised your mental health whilst adjusting to adulthood in a real world where that's not the case.
We were taught that life is an ongoing journey of self-improvement whilst you were told to always uncompromisingly and proudly be your wonderful self. Neither perspective is entirely helpful or healthy.
We anticipated our future by watching a film and TV series called Fame about the New York High School for the Performing Arts. Yes, they'd occasionally dance on a taxi cab but mostly they were miserable and a fierce teacher banged her stick on the floor and warned "Fame costs and this is where you start paying, in sweat"
You've watched contemporary talent shows in which anyone with a sad story about their nan can miraculously open their mouth, sound like a recording artist and become a star. Why wouldn’t you expect the same for yourself?
In prehistoric times we only had 4 TV channels and most evenings the entire country watched the same stars to the extent that they felt like gods. When we got a chance to work with them we were in awe of all they'd achieved and the graft and craft it had taken. Subsequently we didn't resent understudying, playing supporting cast or giving our stars the space and respect they needed to give a leading performance.
I imagine it's tougher for you in an era where the term celebrity has been so debased, applied to anyone from reality TV who makes an idiot of themselves.
My generation had relatively free higher education, we didn't always appreciate what we had so our mentors were sometimes too tough on us.
Your generation had to pay an obscene amount for their training, turning it into a commodity in which you, the consumer, were the boss and your mentors had to provide you with a nurturing, positive experience even if you were lazy or crap.
We would never dream of being under-prepared or late for work, it wasn't something we gave much thought to, it was just ingrained that we should make the most of any opportunity. It wouldn't have occurred to us lie to the stage manager’s face, take a sickie or not perform in Act 2 because we felt a bit under the weather from a heavy night before. Also, when assigned a valuable audition slot ahead of thousands of unsuccessful applicants we were thrilled, turned up and gave it our all.
Today it's becoming increasingly common practice to simply not show up for an audition, rehearsal or even a performance, with little or no explanation or apology, if you don't feel like it.
Investing Spare Time.
Faced with our oversubscribed profession that always has and always will favour the elite, we sort of knew we had no value unless we built up a CV and if that meant working unpaid, in our time off from our survival jobs, then we did. We knew that success, via this route, isn't a dead cert but plenty of my fellow "profit-sharers"' back in the day are now at the top of our profession.
Of late your generation has been persuaded to think unpaid graft is unnecessary, that it must mean you’re being exploited and that it’s even shameful; to the extent that it's become impossible for you to comprehend why no one's offering you great paid work straight off.
Ours was a terrible world to come of age in. We had a witch of a prime minister cynically asset stripping the country whilst she took us into a ridiculous war, denied minorities equal rights and turned her back on a health crisis that killed our friends. We got angry and made theatre about it.
You have Trump, Brexit, Climate Change, no chance of getting on the property ladder, erosion of civil rights and ISIS. But you have no inclination to make theatre about it. I'm not sure why.
To sum up, some of us can’t understand why some of you’ve no inclination to work as hard as we did and we get cross when you take what we’ve built for granted.
Meanwhile some of you can’t understand why we were prepared to graft so hard to create the industry that you feel you’re entitled to thrive in. We were mugs.
However, although we may seem poles apart, I think we can still learn from each other.
Maybe we did work too hard and care too much, maybe if we lightened up a bit, took our mobile phones into the wings like you do and placed equal importance on rehearsals and getting to the gym we’d be better informed, happier and healthier. Perhaps we should also be asking, as you do, why our earnings don’t reflect how talented we are, walking away when there’s insufficient reward.
And in return maybe we can show you how fulfilling hard work can be. Honestly it was fun somehow and the knock on effect was an exhilarating sense of achievement.
Give us a chance to help you understand this and in return we’ll listen to you when you believe you know better than us. After all fresh perspectives fuel change. And change is always an opportunity. For us all.
9/21/2016 7 Comments
1. What was your inspiration for creating F*cked.com – A Tale of Bubbles and Crashes?
This was observing some bubbles - the staggering delusions that have grabbed hold of the minds of many millions of people three times since the year 2,000, in the markets themselves, but in the other spheres of life that were swept up too (namely the dot.com mania in 2000, the sub-prime frenzy of 2007, and the current bout of speculation) and then noticing that the phenomenon has never been portrayed on stage, or in fiction.
As I mused on the subject, it occurred to me that the all the writers who covered the events in these periods identified corruption as the driver of the process. But while Enron, The Big Short, Wall Street etc are fantastic dramas which I couldn’t hope to emulate, it seemed to me they had missed the point when it came to financial market speculation, and that the truth was much more unexpected and probably more interesting than plain old corruption, and would revolve around the questions: how can we all, not just financial types, periodically abandon our reason? How can we think we are being rational and objective when we’re not, when it’s our environment and our emotions that are dictating our thought? How come brilliant people are no better at figuring out what’s going on, that intelligence doesn’t help? I think these questions are not just relevant to trying to understand markets, but ourselves.
In a way, the best dramatic portrayal of financial bubbles and crashes is Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, because it gives a genuine insight into how a group frenzy can occur. Miller was brilliant at seeing how demented and destructive people can be when they think they are being rational.
2. Where do you do your writing?
I only ever write between 9.30am and 3pm, when my concentration, never great, rapidly wanes, but the location can vary. I once heard of a writer who wrote going round and round the Circle Line in the London Underground, and always rather liked that idea. Infinity would give you enough time for adequate revision.
2. Do you have a favourite line or moment in the play?
Yes. I have a friend who recently had a manic episode. One evening he turned up, sat down in my sitting room, and began holding animated discussions with himself. He then suddenly ran out, saying he was going to commit suicide. I chased after him, and called the emergency services, but we couldn’t track him down. Later in the evening he wandered in again, and picked up his conversation with himself. Then the police came, and one of them took me aside and told me that when I’d lost track of him after he turned into the High Street, he’d slipped off down into the tube station on the corner, and thrown himself onto the tracks. A train had actually gone over him but not touched him. He’d then climbed out between the carriages, and come back to my sitting room, to sit back in front of the TV. Eventually an ambulance came and they bound him and took him off to a secure psychiatric ward. When I visited him in his bolted room with sealed windows a day or so later, he was doped, but still disturbed. At one point he leaned forward and said to me, confidentially, “Some of the people here worry me.” I thought, in the circumstances, this was a great line, and included it in the play when one of the characters is in a psychiatric institution.
If you had to give F*cked.com a theme tune what would it be?
I’d like to write the lyrics for a new song if I could find a composer. I toyed with somewhere including Tom Lehrer’s ‘Selling out’.
5. What are you most looking forward to about having your play staged at the Traverse?
Seeing which bits work and which bits need work, courtesy of a sophisticated audience.
6. Do you have a favourite Edinburgh haunt?
My daughter Hannah lives in Edinburgh, and my favourite place would be wherever she is.
Otherwise, the marvellous art gallery. Edinburgh is obviously a majestic city with countless wonderful haunts – that said, I’m half Glaswegian, so that city has to have a place in my affections, too.
7. What’s been your most memorable theatre experience?
Maybe watching a children’s show when my son Joseph was still inside the tummy, and noticing him kick in time to the music; now that he’s been out for a few years he is interestingly still hyper-sensitive to sound, so perhaps personalities really do develop in the womb. I remember seeing another show when a tide of emotion, which you could almost see, suddenly rippled over the audience, and you knew that from that point that the audience were on board and had bought into the show. I always love seeing Shakespeare because you know that no matter what the quality of the production you can be thrilled by the language, so a Shakespeare production is a risk-free proposition. Ranjit Bolt’s Tartuffe at London’s National Theatre was a specific high point.
8. What’s been the most useful piece of writing advice you’ve been given?
I love advice, and I’d cite three pieces of it. I read that the playwright Duncan McMillan said: don’t write what you think people like or ought to like, or what you think theatres want, write what you yourself would like to see. I think that’s a good principle for everybody trying to write for the stage. In my case, it’s encouraged me to put in lots of plot/story, and as much action and spectacle as possible. David Hirson the playwright once told me: be extreme! Moliere was extreme. Thirdly, Timberlake Wertenbaker said: people write plays with the characters sitting around in a room all the time, and that’s dull – people’s imaginations are rich, and you can set scenes anywhere you like, and change scenes too, and that will make it more interesting.
9. If you could put together your dream cast to perform in any play, who would they be and which play would you choose?
In finance there’s a thing called ‘The efficient markets theory’ which basically means that the price of a share makes sense – it accurately reflects all that we know about it and its environment. Actors live in an inefficient market. That is, there are lots of absolutely top class actors who are not that famous but who are better performers than some with Oscars and Knighthoods/Damehoods. I think this is particularly true of Scotland, where there is a wealth and depth of amazing acting talent. So the dream cast would include brilliant professionals who are not necessarily the biggest names. But, who specifically, I’d prefer not to say here and now.
10. Finally, describe F*cked.com in three words.
A different take.
Actress Steph Parry boasts a rich and varied CV which includes the musicals Thoroughly Modern Millie, Billy Elliot, Annie and Mamma Mia!.
And yet Steph is not resting on her laurels. As well as understudying the role of Madame Morrible in the West End production of Wicked, Steph is currently hard at work putting together a one woman show. Entitled Rewrites and Delights, it will play for one night on the Battersea Barge and promises to be ‘filled with comedy, music and fun’.
Steph was recently kind enough to share a little more about the show and the life of a West End understudy.
Your cabaret is entitles Rewrites and Delights. What made you choose the title?
I'm a big fan of taking a song and rewriting the lyrics so it becomes relevant to my life. I wish I could write a song from scratch. Maybe that is a future goal for me but for now it’s all about using the comedy of the rhythms that people expect with different words. The ‘delights’ element will be songs that people know and love or just downright good songs. As my musical director Chris Hatt so rightly said, "no one wants to laugh solidly for over an hour”, so I'm hoping to take the audience through a whole host of emotions.
You are a highly respected comedic performer. Who are your comedy heroes?
Oh, thank you! There are so many. I worked in a stand up comedy club for a few years and was absolutely fascinated watching comedians at work every week. I thought I can do that, and next thing I know I'm doing stand up comedy myself. I've moved away from that now but the skills I learnt have really helped with cabaret. I remember when I couldn't even speak on a mic, just a quick thank you after I'd finished a song. I love Kristen Wiig. I think she's incredible. I sit for hours watching Saturday Night Live. Her and Melissa McCarthy are brilliant. Bette Midler is a dream. She's someone I look up to hugely. And of course, Victoria Wood, who we are hoping to do a little tribute to on the night.
‘Rewrites and Delights’ is a one woman show. Having performed in some of the West End’s biggest musical casts, do you miss the energy and companionship of other actors around you or is there an element of liberation being the only person on stage?
A bit of both I guess. I love being a part of a company, connecting with my fellow performers and bouncing off each other's energy. However when you're alone on stage the only people you can connect to are the audience. That ‘imaginary wall’ is taken away and it's just you and them having a conversation. You may say a very one sided conversation, but you'll be surprised at how much you can feel from an audience. It's totally about a connection. If you're not enjoying yourself up there then they will get that and switch off.
You are currently understudying the role of Madame Morrible in ‘Wicked’ and have previously understudied Mrs. Wilkinson in ‘Billy Elliot’. What are the joys and challenges of being an understudy?
The joy of being an understudy is the amazing opportunity I've had to play certain roles that I'm probably still too young for. I've played some fantastic women. Mrs. Wilkinson was probably my favourite. That part is just a dream. I got to do it on a night when one of the young boys playing Billy was leaving. It was so special. The energy in the theatre that night was electric (excuse the pun!). In Mamma Mia!, I understudied all three of the dynamos so that was pretty cool. I can say that I played them all too - even if I only got to do Rosie just the once.
The challenges of an understudy are mostly fun challenges: Being thrown on during a show, having to be prepared at a moments notice, or not having done it for seven months. Suddenly you're wigged, costumed and ready to go.
Working on ‘Wicked’ and ‘Rewrites and Delights’ must keep you very busy. What do you like to do when you’re not on stage?
Oh gosh, lots of things! I train pretty consistently in the gym - it's my second home. Spending time with my husband, seeing friends, eating, writing… I'm pretty busy!
What does the future hold for you?
Wow! I have no idea. I'm choosing to not get scared by that thought. I have four and a half weeks left at Wicked, then I go on holiday and then who knows?! But the great thing about this business is that things can change in an instant. I'd love to do more film and TV work so hopefully that's where I'll be in the near future. All I can say right now is that I'm excited about the possibilities.
Rewrites and Delights plays the Battersea Barge on Sunday 21st August at 6.30pm. Tickets can be booked here: http://www.wegottickets.com/event/364664
7/27/2016 35 Comments
Actors and the Science of Passion by Phil Willmott
When someone tells you they have a passion for acting, how do they seem to you? Perhaps a warm smile spreads across their face as they describe their feelings for the craft; or perhaps a steelier, more determined look appears in their eyes. The response you get may well be influenced by their levels of what psychologists call ‘harmonious’ and ‘obsessive’ passion.
Harmonious passion is experienced by an actor as a pure enjoyment of something she’s good at. When the acting is finished, she goes about the rest of her life quite happily, looking forward to the next time she can act, but her passion is in balance – harmony – with the other things in her life that are important to her.
Obsessive passion, by contrast, develops when other important psychological needs are tied up with the activity: the young actor who realises that acting is a way to get her parents’ approval, or a feeling of belonging, enjoys her craft every bit as much as the ‘harmonious’ actor, but when the acting is finished, all that sense of approval and respect disappears too, leaving her with anxiety and low self-esteem, and a desperate desire to get back to acting as soon as possible. A degree of obsessive passion may be useful for professional actors in providing a drive to get out there and find more work, but – perhaps not surprisingly – it is also linked with anxiety and burn out.
A study at the University of East London is currently looking at how different levels of these two types of passion impact on psychological well-being and career satisfaction in professional actors, and how harmonious and obsessive passion arise. Lead researcher, Andrew Sharp, told me, “Passion is clearly very important for actors – no one becomes an actor because it’s the sensible option! – and I’m interested in the role it plays in well-being. We know that harmonious passion is associated with higher levels of happiness and well-being, and what we’d call ‘flow’ – that satisfying sense of complete absorption in your work that makes you forget about time passing, or needing to eat or drink.”
“Obsessive passion, too, appears to be important in most professional actors’ lives, although we don’t yet quite understand how – which is another thing we’re hoping this research will shed some light on. Not enough of it, and the actor may simply give up and do something else when times are tough; too much of it, and the resulting anxiety may damage both their mental health, and their chances of finding or getting work. Obsessive passion may well be at the root of that toxic feeling of desperation that many actors experience in audition rooms after a period of unemployment.”
Because of the scarcity work, and the multitude of agents and casting directors, who sometimes appear to act as gatekeepers to what little work there is, actors can often feel rather powerless. This perceived loss of autonomy can be deeply corrosive to actors’ well-being, and many can come too feel like they’re no longer in control of their careers. By better understanding how passion works, the researchers hope that more actors will be able to take back control both of their careers, and of their psychological well-being. “One of the things we’re seeing from initial results is that activities that keep your skills honed, and put you back in control – like having your own creative projects, or collaborating with other creative people – is strongly correlated with harmonious passion, as well as positive psychological traits such as hope, a sense of meaning & purpose in life, and career satisfaction. Agents hate their clients having their own projects, of course, because they can stop people from being available for paid work, but there may well be a scientific case for finding a balance between availability, and pursuing less profitable ventures that nourish one’s passion, and one’s sense of autonomy.”
If you’re a professional actor, and you’d like to participate in this research by taking an online survey, you can find more details here:
7/27/2016 13 Comments
Interview: Denholm Spurr from The Chemsex Monologues
As sell-out success The Chemsex Monologues returns to the King’s Head Theatre from August 15-20, we speak to one of the cast, Denholm Spurr, about the play, and his own experiences being a young gay man in chemsex-era London.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I'm an actor, director and producer based in London. I also go to the gym a bit... Ummm, I've two degrees, is that interesting? I can cook too. Basically boyfriend material.
What drew you to the role of Nameless in the Chemsex Monologues?
Patrick Cash (the writer). But if you want other reasons I guess I'd seen several other plays on and about Chemsex but none of them had been brave enough to take the audience to the heart of the world and answer the question: what drives gay men to spend sleepless weekends on cloud nine having their brains – and hearts – fucked out of them? 'Scuse my French. Patrick's play gives an answer to this question.
As a young gay man living in London, do you feel the play is relevant to what’s going on in the city today?
Absolutely. I have no shame in saying I was sucked head first (in many ways literally) into the Chemsex scene when I arrived in London. I had been really depressed after coming out and when the first man I went home with shoved mephedrone up my nose I was like: “Wow, I feel incredible”. It was the magic answer to all of my problems: suddenly the world loved me being gay, loved my sexual desires. But what was originally a solace quickly became a prison: the real world isn't like this and the draw to return to 'forgetting' every weekend was overwhelming, despite the two day hangover... I mean, three days... Sorry, four.... Wait, what does it feel like to be happy and sober again?
Do you have any opinions on why such a large cross-section of gay men appear to get involved in the chemsex scene?
There's a lot of pressure on gay men to be highly sexual, and to be desired physically. Add this to feelings of self-loathing from growing up in a heteronormative world, and living in a community still dealing with the fallout of the AIDS crisis, and you've got a perfect boiling pot to make any person go off the rails when things get a bit tough. I’m not saying sex and drugs have to be used badly - I have plenty of friends who are able to use them for 'enhancement' rather than 'escapism' - the problem is there's plenty who aren't and from thereon in it's a slippery slope.
We hear the play is funny as well as serious: how does it find humour in what are often dark issues?
Because it has to find humour, right?! What makes Mercutio so tragic in Romeo & Juliet? Because he's so entertaining and funny and he does this to hide his flaws, making him all the more human. There are also some pretty ridiculous things that happen at chillouts.
Why do you think the play should be seen by a straight/mixed audience as well as a gay male audience?
It's directed by a straight man for a start – Luke Davies' ability to tap into the motivation of these characters shows that the trials faced by gay men in modern society are not just relatable to the LGBT minority. What Patrick has done so brilliantly is explore every facet of the phenomenon, from he who dabbles occasionally in Chemsex but stays in control, to the sexual health worker who attends his first chillout – there's even a straight female monologue! Why would a woman want to go to one of these parties?! It's got it all.
And finally, what would you ideally like a spectator to leave the play feeling?
That having chemsex and taking drugs doesn't make you a somehow lesser, disgusting or evil person. Hopefully they’ll leave feeling like they understand why people might be driven to take such risks with their own safety and how they might be able to support people around them with acceptance.
The Chemsex Monologues is at the King’s Head Theatre (115 Upper Street, N1 1QN) from 15-20th August at 9.45pm. £18 (£15 concs), £10 previews on Monday 15th. Booking: www.kingsheadtheatre.com
The Chemsex Monologues is being published by Oberon Books for this run. To pre-order a copy, follow this link: http://oberonbooks.com/chemsex-monologues
Denholm will also be appearing in Simon Blow’s ‘The Past Is A Tattooed Sailor’ from 2nd-27th August at the Old Red Lion Theatre (418 St John Street, EC1V 4NJ): www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/the-past-is-a-tattooed-sailor.html
7/17/2016 5 Comments
Over the past few months, we've all been shocked by a series of humanitarian, political and ethical horror stories illuminating the mindset of those whose thinking is opposite to most of our liberal artistic community.
HERSTORY : FEMINIST THEATRE FESTIVAL at Theatre N16 6&7 of August
By Nastazja Domaradzka
I recently became a literary manager at the fringe venue Theatre N16 in Balham. Since taking the position in April, and reading plenty of new writing, I have been thinking a lot about the female voice in theatre and how often it gets lost amongst many other things. I began to crave a platform for women's stories, a way in which playwrights and artists be it male or female could come together to talk about modern feminism. This is how HERSTORY was born.
“I am a feminist”, in the liberal world of theatre in which I tend to spent most of my time; is a statement that won't really shock or cause a negative reaction from anyone. Of course bad apples tend to pop here and there with their chauvinistic attitude, but in general artists are happy to admit that women are people too. But does that mean that gender equality has been achieved in the arts industry? No. As I write this article there is a Facebook post going viral from a young female director who was rejected for a position at Kenneth Branagh New Writing Awards at the Windsor Fringe Festival. The post includes a screen-shot of the rejection email in which it states “the committee and play's writer have agreed that a male director would be better for this play”. Pretty shocking. So, yes, still a long way to go.
However there is also a different agenda behind HERSTORY. I want to curate a festival which will be a chance for up and coming playwrights and artists to tackle important issues surrounding feminism. We live in times when one of the main contestants for the position of PM, is a woman who openly admits she is not a feminist for she is not anti-men. Are we regressing? But forget this country for a second and look to the east, where women in Poland are under threat as the right wing government gets ready to alter abortion law, making the termination of pregnancy illegal under all circumstances. Yes, that includes rape too. Look further east and see women being stoned to death. You might think that serious gender equality problems don't really concern the “modern western world”. Have a look at Ireland, where every day around 12 women travel to the UK to undergo an abortion. And then of course there is the Sanford case in the US, where in the aftermath the newspapers decided that it was their duty not to highlight what happened, but instead publish Brock’s swimming times.
Gloria Steinem, one of the most influential women on this planet, began her fight for women’s rights over 50 years ago. A lot has changed since then, but not enough. I believe that it is our duty to keep this fight going, speaking out for the vulnerable and ill-treated. Making theatre is all about telling stories, provoking thoughts and inspiring revolutions, no matter on what big a scale. And it is time to make HERSTORY, not history.
HERSTORY A FEMINIST THEATRE FESTIVAL IS ON AT THEATRE N16 6&7 OF AUGUST
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