Dealing with bullying
Participating in the creation of a theatre show, means that everyone comes together in a tight team of people. Some who are regulars, and some new to the organisation - and from a huge range of backgrounds and levels of experience.
Ensuring that the space is a safe, respectful place in which to work, is as critical as learning lines and characterisations. People may indeed disagree - indeed people may not even always like one another; but what is imperative is that people are respectful, calm, patient, and supportive of one another.
Bullying, gaslighting, aggression, intimidation, sexual impropriety, victimising someone over anything like previous training, race, health/disability, other committments, gender, religion or anything else, is completely unacceptable in any situation.
Sadly in the industry anyone, whether actor, crew, director, producer, or admin, can be targetted, when somone decides to act in a bullying manner, and it should be remembered that such targetting can not only destroy a production, but also the health, and even the life of the person being targetted.
It can be extremely frightening (in fact it usually is literally incapacitating terror in my experience) to speak out, but little can be done, if we do not know, and if action is not taken, it will only continue and become worse. Regardless of who or what is causing distress, it is critical to speak out.
If an incident of bullying or victimisation takes place in our company, please in the first instance, email us on email@example.com, along with any evidence you may have. Please rest assured that you will be listened to seriously, and the matter looked into, with action taken if needed. If we are unsure what to do, we may take external advice from Equity, or other organisations.
If for any reason you feel unable to do that, we would urge you to contact Equity, the actors trade union, directly; you can find more information on their website HERE
You may also find suppport and advice via the following help sites:
Dealing with mental health concerns
Mental health is also enormously important. Actors and entertainment creatives, as a demographic, are disproportionally affected by poor mental health, up to and including suicide.
We all react differently; there is no-one size-fits-all for help, but often it can be needed.
Therefore, it seems appropriate to list a number of resources for assisting mental health. I do hope that these help.
For Torbay-based people, the NHS MENTAL HEATH CRSIS LINE is 0300 456 4876, available overnight every day, and 24/hours on bank holidays. They will share details that you tell them with your GP. I have found them very helpful, especially when you feel you will need medical assistance.
SHOUT This is a free 24/7 text service for people experiencing a mental health breakdown. Text "Help" to 85258. All texts are free and confidential. This line is brilliant and has seriously saved my life several times.
The THEATRE HELPLINE provides free mental health support and advice via phone or email, to people working in theatre 24/7.
ARTSMINDS is a website providing advice and support for a number of issues that may cause someone working in the creative industries poor mental health.
PLAYING SANE is a signposting website full of useful information
WOMEN WITH AUTISM/ ASPERGERS UK SUPPORT GROUP Additionally for female-identifying autistic people like myself, a safe and supportive facebook group for discussion issues or questions relating to your autism and wellbeing.
When marketing a theatre production, it is incredibly important to look at the marketing from the point of view of a potential audience member. Forget that you know all about your production, and the venue. Remember, that the audience member doesn't. They may have never heard of your company or your shows before.
You want the potential audience member to be able to judge if this is a show to their/ their familys taste, and to encourage new visitors.
I recently conducted an online study across various theatre audience discussion groups, mainly based in the UK, in the autumn of 2020, especially focussed on what information is often missed out by venues and production companies, in marketing theatre shows, and consolidated the main feedback.
Where a reason may be more obscure, I have included an explanation as to why people like the information.
For us as a company, this information will be used to redesign our box office page, as well as creating a template document of production information for the box offices/ marketing managers of all venues which we tour to, in addition to the usual supply of posters and usual marketing materials.
Content notes that people like to know
One of the things we and many other actors & creatives have found, is that during the Covid pandemic, we have ended up working on Zoom, online.
Zoom is powerful video conferencing software (basic package is free!), (GET IT HERE) which also allows for things like digital effects like digital backdrops - brilliant for transporting your audience into the enviroment inhabited by your character, while remaining socially distanced and safe at home.
I should add that at the production (directing, tech) end there are many more considerations than the ones below. This is written strictly to support our actors who are new to zoom, and how it works from the point of view of a performer.
We expect all our actors who are working with us online during the pandemic, to be fully conversant with at least these basics prior to beginning. This blog allows actors to explore the basics of Zoom, and have a central place with information on how to practice. As professional actors, everyone should be working to expand their skills on a continual basis, at the best of times, and while this is a lifesaver during Covid, for full shows; I can personally see this becoming very useful and common for auditions and workshops as well even as we move back to normality when this crisis is over.
What we have found though, is that there can be a huge range of ability levels among people joining zoom projects, and a lot of anxiety around the use of the technology, which can make for quite stressful experiences, when in reality, they need not be anything approaching stressful. This blog article tries to set out the basics of what a performer will need to know (from our experience) in coming to use Zoom, and what tools they will need.
We cannot reccomend enough that as you explore these skills for the first time, that you spend an afternoon on Zoom, practicing. You don't need a partner to conference with, though it can help to check that they are seeing what you are seeing. Open up zoom on your laptop, explore the buttons and links and menus, and familiarise yourself with where things are and how to change your settings.
Zoom runs on any computer, tablet or smartphone. For the purposes of this blog article, we are writing about running zoom on a Windows PC or laptop.
Before you start:
You will need
- a computer or tablet (I would personally reccomend avoidng a smartphone though they do work too) with a passable webcam and microphone (providing a steady, reliable sound and image)
- Moderatly good, to good WIFI signal (you can use 4g or 5g phone signal, but it will eat up your data allowance.
- Reasonable computer literacy, to learn how to use menus, screenshot, type, etc.
Create a basic (free) Zoom account. This lets you access with ease, and be sent the weblinks for signing up. There are a number of ways to join a zoom meeting, but it is easiest when it is created as a "scheduled" event, and a weblink sent to all those being invited.
Next, if you need to create a meeting, follow the screenshots below: Set your time and date, and use the video and audio settings as in the second screenshot. Zoom will then give you a link to follow to the meeting.
Getting set up for a Zoom show.
Lets assume you have already been sent a link for your rehearsal or performance. You click on it to join the meeting. If there are several people in the meeting you may see their faces in tiles across the screen.If it just you, then only you will appear in the window, like so:
The important thing here, is the menu at the bottom of your screen. You have here, access to all your controls, including your audio and video settings, which are your most important settings as an actor. In audio (the settings are the small upward pointing arrow next to the icon of the microphone), it is best to turn on "original sound" as it picks up clearer audio from your computer microphone. It also improves bandwith issues, the bane of all zoom performances, which we will come on to later.
HOW TO TURN ON ORIGINAL SOUND TUTORIAL
Next, you need to look at your video settings. In here, you will find things like the all-important digital backdrops.
HOW TO SET UP DIGITAL BACKDROPS
In reality, if you are like me, with an older laptop, do not be surpised when your backdrop first looks like this,
(This is happening because the computer is struggling to differentiate the colours. Try, for the first time, with a plain wall, you may be lucky and rectify the problem. If not then, like me, you will need a greenscreen. This is a bright green (a specific shade of green) cloth or background. You can buy them on ebay for around £15, £20, and they are invaluable for modern actors to keep at home anyway!
As long as you do not also wear green, the computer will now be able to run the background clearly. (this screenshot also shows the selection window for setting up your backdrop).
But wait! your director or stage manager have just sent you some photos on email or facebook, that they expect you to use for your backdrops. You need to load them into Zoom first.
Again, look back at that screenshot above. Above the tiles of 8 thumbnails, you will see, at the right hand side, a small + sign in a box
First of all, save the pictures to an easy-to-find folder on your computer, then come back to Zoom. Press that little +, and then click "add image". You will need to add the images one at a time, and speaking as someone who several times has nearly wept, as people struggle, having not uploaded their pictures in chronological order for their different scenes beforehand, or kept a note of which backdrop is for which scene, please make sure that you upload your images in a way that you can easily identify them for each scene. In a live performance you will have 20 seconds to swap your backdrops between scenes, and you do not want to get confused. Nobody can do this for you!
When I am acting, I upload one image per scene, in chronological order, so that I know as I finish one scene, I can use the next backdrop for the next scene, and so on.
You then will want to explore other fine tuning such as three point lighting. The last thing you want in a zoom performance is natural light, which cannot be controlled. If your room lights do not work on their own, then you will need to add extra lights, and we have proven that it is viable to use anything from studio lights (if like me you are lucky enough to own your own lighting rigs), though to torches and phone lights. You will, however, need to be conversant with the basics of three point lighting
READ ABOUT THREE POINT LIGHTING HERE.
BANDWIDTH AND THE JOYS OF INTERNET SIGNAL
This can be the bane of any Zoom based performance. Dropped signal, especially for any of us living and working outside a major city, is a fact of life. However, the details below should make life rather a lot easier , if not disaster-proof, for everyone!
- First of all it is crucial to ensure that you are working close to your router, or plugged in via an ethernet cable.
- Next, make sure all other programs, (yes including Facebook!) are turned off on your computer. Let your computer focus fully on Zoom. If you are in rural Devon like me, with ghastlly internet at the best of times, you may also find you have to ask the other people in the house to not be streaming on the TV while you are performing. I found that can be a make-or-break request, especially in the evenings. The other day, I was struggling with the internet signal in a zoom meeting. I popped into the living room and asked Mum to turn off the Netflix. Instantly my internet signal picked up and was fine.
- Remember me talking about Original Sound? Make sure that is enabled, that helps too.
- When you are not in a scene on zoom, mute your microphone and stop your video. Not only does this stop any accidental jumps of the camera to you, in a scene that you dont appear in (to the great confusion of the audience) it also frees up Zoom bandwidth for the actors who are in that scene. As a director I am hugely fussy about this.
Bad signal or low bandwidth may result in all kinds of issues, like sound and video not syncing, stuttering or frozen images, low microphone volume, or even your internet dropping out completely as you give that dramatic speech. While these things can happen anyway at times (roadworks cuttiing a cable? Everyone in your street streaming Netflix at once?) , we can hugely reduce the number of times they happen.
Unfortunately, if we see your internet signal, or computer being unable to keep up with Zoom on a general basis (no penalties for occaisional issues, they get us all from time to time) , or an ongoing lack of ability to work with the techincal instructions, this may preclude involvement in digital shows. (the door will still be open as usual when we can get back to physical live shows though, because dodgy internet dignal does not detract from your skill as a performer!).
THE CREATIVE SIDE
And after all this, you are now in a rehearsal. You will notice how Zoom automatically highlights the camera of the person who is speaking or making sound. (Thats why we need everyone to mute microphone and cameras when they are not in a scene!)
Clicking in and out of a scene has a good convention as well.
Microphone On, Camera On
Camera off, Microphone Off.
This allows for the distracting clicking of a mouse or keyboard, to be covered by the next actions taking place in the scene, and not to break the immersion for the audience.
The chat window may be used by the tech team, to send cues to the actors (on zoom theatre, if actors are provided with a cue script, then that cue script becomes their show Bible! Never ever pre-empt or be late for a cue (so we discourage the use of the chat box for general team chatter, to prevent any cues getting lost) .
While we all have to be fully conversant with the techincal aspects of zoom based theatre, and these are the main points for the actors, not everyone learns technology at the same speed.
If you are someone who finds it harder to learn, then you will likely find it an anxious time as you learn. We are happy to help where possible (remember that anyone helping you is doing it for free in their spare time so please respect that!) if we can see that you are truly trying your best.
If you are someone like myself who finds technology fairly easy to learn and adapt to, then it can become inwardly quite frustrating to explain something several times that seems so simple, though it is very obvious that they are doing their best .
What has to be remembered on all sides, is how the other side feels. And that we are a team, who all want to achieve the same goal for a paying audience. However scared or frustrated we may feel, the rule of thumb is to think how the other person feels, and be nice! If someone genuinely needs help, then we do our best to help.
Thats mainly why I wrote this article. With this available to our actors, (current and prospective), it provides a central place with links and information to practice. I am happy to add more information to this article on request!
One of the things that we have been working on, during the Covid-19 crisis, is looking at how we can improve and expand our production work when we get back to doing live stage shows. One small part of this, is looking at how we can improve our tech.
Obviously, there are no budget, funds or resources to do this, and even less than usual in these times of crisis for the theatre industry, so it is very much a case of finding what we can, for free, and cobbling together.
Having been very pleased with what we found, we decided to put together an article, linking to the software we found. It is all available for PC and is all free & legal. Some of the software does have paid upgrades for such time as you can afford them, but the basic functionality is free.
When you are looking at software for theatre, you have to consider many aspects. Marketing/ publicity/ admin in the office, creating posters and videos, audio editing, and then you can go on to more complex software for visualising and controlling lighting and sound in a theatre setting.
Ultimately, there are also options for online broadcasting of shows.
So, without further ado, here is our "must have" list of free software. Remember, if it is possible for you to donate, that most of the freeware creators, welcome a donation to thier funds.
Openoffice is a free answer to Microsoft Office, with added functionality of being able to export documents direct to PDF.
Quickfile is a free business/ accounting program, for up to 1000 ledger entries.
Zoom is free for up to 40 min calls, using video-conferencing to work - especially useful during the Covid-19 lockdowns
GIMP is the internet's free answer to Photoshop. Very powerful, and with some great third-party plugins available, you can create your show posters, video overlays, image watermarks, batch edits and anything else with ease!
Hitfilm Express is a programme that contains basic video editing. It is also easy (and cheap) to buy add-on packages for special effects, motion graphics and more.
NCH VideoPad is a very simple but robust video editing program, ideal for beginners or lower capacity hardware. The non-commercial version is free (please make sure you are honest about how you are using it).
Da Vinci Resolve is a complex program for more advanced video editing, with a specialism in colour correction. Do note that you will need a more powerful computer to run Resolve - Laura's 4gb ram laptop can't do it.
Audacity is a fantastic, fully free, audio editing, recording and mixing program, with some excellent sound correction and noise removal functions.
In the Theatre
Mixx is free "DJ" software, but ideal for mixing different inputs from sound, eg microphones, and sound effects, or microphones and backing music. Can be integrated with Itunes.
Freestyler is free stage lighting control software, ideal for production lighting. You will of course need to use this linked to external lighting equipment to control the lights.
Magic 3d Easyview is a free 3d modeling program that can be used in conjunction with Freestyler, to create virtual models of your stage set, and to test out lighting effects and rigs in a virtual world - making design from home a lot easier. EasyView connects the DMX signal from any controller (console/desk, software) to your computer.
Open Broadcaster Software, allows you to create and stream live broadcasts to the platform of your choice (youtube, facebook live etc) from your computer/ webcams etc.
MapMap is a free projection-mapping program that allows you to project images or video onto any survace of your choice (you will of course need to use this with a projector)
and that, thus far is the list - hopefully it is as useful to others as it is to us. And now, of course, is the ideal time to download, test and learn to use some of these programs, ready for better times.
Stay strong, theatre-awesomes!
So, on top of all the other challenges we face as a small regional theatre company, we now have to face Covid-19.
This is going to be a death knell to many theatre and film production companies. With (quite nessecarily) theatres closed, and film productions shut down, and us all encouraged to at the minimum socially distance, and if ill (even with a cold) to self isolate.
As with all other businesses and organisations, it is down to us to help set a good example and not only look after our cast, crew and audience members, but also on a wider scale, to not break the reccomended methods for keeping people safe.
We have lost our main funding source - the market where we have our book stall is closed.
Theatres are closed - so we have no shows in rearly spring therefore no Spring earnings for cast & crew
We cannot meet to make films for festivals - social distancing.
This does not mean we are finished. FAR from it. We are adapting and developing new temporary ways of working. All work is now happening online.
- We are rebooking our shows for a time that hopefully life will be starting to get back to normal.
- We are rehearsing and meeting online using a video-conferencing system called Zoom. (many thanks to the people on Women+ In Theatre for reccomending). Until it is safe, there will be no meetings in person.
- We are setting up online broadcasting, so that we can live-broadcast Zoom-based readings and other creative work on a "pay what you can" model.
- We are finding ways that our people can offer their skills online, for a small fee just over UK minimum wage), helping them raise some money for the time being.
- We are working on funding bids, networking, and preparing all sorts of things to build company publicity, funds (ultimately to find ways to fund full wages for all cast and crew as opposed to profitshare), developing further expertise by online and book study, and networking.
- We are writing new scripts & training manuals, making new costumes, repairing equipment, and doing all those tasks that we didnt have time to complete before, that can all be done from home with no physical interaction.
- We are keeping a safe locked online network for our cast and crew to chat and interact, with friends from our productions - helping keep all our mental health together at this incredibly stressful time.
Ultimately, however upsetting and stressful (and absolutely heartbreaking) it is, we will survive this. We will even have developed new things,and when things are able to get back to normal, we will have used this time as well as possible. We will have the technology to reach many more audiences via online broadcast. We will have maintained interaction and operation. We will have developed and grown many things. We will be ready to hit the ground running.
For now, please stay at home if you possibly can, keep well and safe, look after those around you, follow social distancing advice, and do not, whatever you do, give up. This storm will pass. Decide that you WILL emerge victorious, just as we have decided.
Filming today with some of our lovely team for a micro-short film about VE Day in 1945, for a community project by Brixham Future
We are sometimes asked to take children, and under-18s into our shows, and we have noticed that there is often very little awareness as to what this entails.
As people will know from our auditions page, there is a section on the basics of casting young people in shows, but this article is intended to explain a great deal more.
What has to always be borne in mind is that this is a professional, touring theatre company. This means that shows are often toured to venues around the Southwest (and possibly further afield); and actors regardless of age need to be able to keep up to the performance quality, and be safe (and legal) coming to shows in unfamiliar spaces . We don't have the same facilities that amateur or small activity clubs may be able to offer.
First of all, you need to be certain that the show script, the specific roles in consideration. and the way the show is being staged, is suitable for the age and wellbeing of the young person.
Next, you need to consider the care of the young person. By law they must be chaperoned at all times, and there are specific rules about this: The very basics are that the chaperoning must be by a parent or a legally licenced and employed chaperone. The child must stay in the line of sight of the chaperone at all times, who in turn cannot be distracted by reading the phone or a book, and needs to be aware of the child's wellbeing.
The child must have use of their own changing space which must not be entered by adults other than the chaperone, while the child is changing. The child must not enter the space(s) where adults are changing, while the adults are changing.
The chaperone must ensure that the child has their legally required break times, and if necessary, study-time for schoolwork, and for arranging the child's travel to and from rehearsals/shows.
If the young person passes the auditions, their involvement in a shows is still subject to the Child Performance Licence that needs to be granted to them by (in our case) Torbay Council. This could be withheld for a number of reasons either from the theatre production or simply that the child has been involved in too much in the past 12 months and there is concern that it may interfere with schooling or allowed work hours. The licence application needs to be filled out jointly by the production producers, and the parents, as well as including a letter of support from the child's school.
The adults of the company need to be briefed, if they are not previously experienced, on working with child actors; this includes interaction on and off stage, making sure language backstage remains acceptable, and much more.
The child and the chaperone, need to be aware of company policies, data protection, non-disclosure of intellectual property, health and safety regulations as with everyone else in the company.
There are, to be realistic, reams of documentation on legislation and good practice, but this is a quick look at the basics, and hopefully an explanation of some of the things that we have to consider, for every young person who is considered for a show.
It may seem like overkill, but theatre is a complex workspace in terms of production health and safety, and with the requirements for late night working, clothing changes, etc, a lot that has to be taken into account to keep the child's wellbeing paramount.
This is probably the one political post you will ever see from us. As an organisation, we are strictly non-political, we work without political bias, but on this pivotal day in history, with Great Britain leaving Europe tonight, we wanted to acknowledge how our working with European nationals utterly saved this company.
So last winter, we were in late rehearsals for our production of Shakespeare's Macbeth. It was a "make or break" show for the company after some difficult months.and it was about ten days before the show, when the lead actor found he was unable to continue with the production.
Recasting Macbeth with 10 days before opening night required a miracle. Either an actor who had already played Macbeth, or an actor with an exceptional learning ability who would be able to learn it in time. We usually only cast locally in south Devon, UK, but we had only one place that we could find an actor who could pull this miracle off. French-Italian actor, living in the republic of Ireland, Christophe Lombardi, whom our company director, Laura, knew of, due to being friends with Christophe's wife.
That same evening, an urgent message was sent to Christophe and his wife; and to everyone's extreme relief, he agreed to take on the role.
For the next week, Christophe was learning the role online, and with video conversations, as travel to England was arranged. Christophe was now learning the uncut text, in a "Second language", in ten days.
He arrived at the theatre for dress rehearsal - and had it down perfectly. Singlehanded, he saved the production from needing to be cancelled- and the probable ensuing closure of the theatre company.
The productions of Macbeth continued through 2019, with two tours, ensuring the survival of The South Devon Players, and winning a theatre award in New York, as well as incredible audience feedback.
Following this, Christophe again took a lead role with us, playing local Victorian Brixham trawlerman Bob Sheppeard in our historical production The Great Gale of Brixham 1866, utilizing his unique skills to help bring local Devon history to life.
Working with this highly talented European actor, and maintaining cross border working relationships has, with no exaggeration, saved this small British theatre company, allowing people from across the Southwest of England, access professional acting opportunities, in an area where such chances are hard to find. Without this working link having saved us, it is highly unlikely that we would still be able to exist.
We remain always, immeasurably grateful to Christophe, and hope that as the political climate settles down, we will all be able to work together again.
Find out more about this amazing actor on his website: www.christophelombardi.com
Being based in rural Devon, and far away from the centres of performing arts, theatre and film (indeed, the opposite end of the country from London!) and where perceptions of "serious professional performing arts in the Southwest" stop at Bristol (over two hours away by train), we have a huge mix of backgrounds and skill levels, from people who have performed professionally for years, in some big name productions through to people completely new to professional performing - and on occasion new to performing itself.
Of course, while on stage/ screen , and backstage, we require fully professional behavior from all cast and crew, we also like to try and help those new to the industry to also present a professional aspect in their wider performance lives; this not only helps the performer, but also in turn reflects on us as a production company.
A lot of the issues we encounter are born of desperation, or enthusiasm, or simply not knowing. So, while not all things can be covered in this article, we are attempting to cover common issues that we have seen. These are linked to what is considered "standard" in the theatre and film industry. On a wider scale, casting directors and production companies, will expect you to adhere to excellent practice, and will not make allowances for "not knowing".
All actors will ultimately need a "toolkit", as we call it. It is a good idea to get compiling this as soon as possible, and having the links and documents easily accessible to send to any job applications.
This of toolkit consists of
A showreel video (best clips of performance)
A formatted resume
A professional Facebook page and/or Twitter account
Preparing your professional profile.
To begin with, you will need to get professional headshots. Usually actors need to pay for these, and you can be looking at anything from £70 through to around £500, depending on the photographer. They must be to industry standard, and show you clearly. We would suggest getting several headshots showing different expressions and styles. Spotlight gives you an insight as to what to expect.
A showreel video, may take a little longer. Traditionally this a video lasting no more than 2 minutes, showing two to three clips of your best performances. The camera shot should focus primarily on you, and ideally should be from actual productions you have been in. If you do not have these yet, then it is acceptable to film some short scenes to make into a temporary showreel. You can host this on your Youtube account, though always keep a file to send direct as well. People can pay a lot of money to have thier showreels professionally edited, though if you have the skills, you can do your own (look at software like NCH VideoPad )
Next, you need to look at your resume. This should be ready to send out in PDF format, though also keep a Word-format copy which you can easily update. (Tutorial on how to format your resume ). The most common pitfalls people fall into are when they lie on resumes. While many casting directors and agents will want to see your resume, and your agent will require it, we have come across so many resume's with incorrect claims, that we actually now barely look at them, and instead judge on the audition in front of us. However, if we see something that is blatantly untrue, that is a big turn-off from casting. Remember that casting directors and companies talk, and lies or exaggerations are found out sooner or later. That is only going to harm your career - who wants an employee who lies?
It is also not considered acceptable in the industry to include extra / non-speaking/ crowd roles.
The complete beginner should not (with us at least) fear being a beginner - we are far more impressed with someone who arrives saying "I have never done this before, but I really want to learn, please give me a chance", than someone who falsifies or "bigs" their experience to try to impress.
Now, you are ready to get your online presence underway.
You are going to want a Facebook page (probably not the "person profile" you use for friends and family), and a Twitter. These are great for networking. Set them up with your professional name, and what you do (example Fred Smith; Actor).
As well as networking and learning, you can use these as your newsfeed. Update them with all your news, regular photos and videos. Make sure that you have permission to share everything; don't breach any non-disclosure agreements you have made with production companies, or share things that you are breaching the copyright of. It is also a bad idea to share things like "on-set selfies"! If in doubt always check with the production company.
Then you can build your website: To get started look at using a free editor like Weebly (this site is built using Weebly, though we then bought a .com domain name) , and again apply the same rules as for your social media - you can also upload your resume and showreel. Embed your Facebook and Twitter as your easy -access newsfeeds so that people can read your latest news.
Now, you have the bare bones of what you need to start applying seriously for work.
Auditioning, means arriving on time. We have a section on our site, about our audition expectations, which we need not repeat here. But when applying for any casting; read the casting call advert as your first point of information (it can really annoy a casting director to wade through dozens of applications from people who have never read the casting call; on the other hand it makes a good impression if your application shows that you have genuinely read the casting call. This is one of the most common complaints on casting directors social media groups!)
If you get an invitation for a video audition (self-tape) film it as clearly as you can (even if only with a smartphone), and get it in on time.
When you arrive for your audition, you need to be on time, well presented and pleasant. The casting director will often be looking for more than your audition (we certainly do). When you arrive, we are also looking for professional courteous behaviour towards the other people in the room, positivity, the asking of knowledgeable questions. Our quickest turn-offs are lateness, egotistical behaviour, sexual impropriety, disruption, and rudeness (as extreme cases, the lady who once walked into our auditions three hours late, marched up to the table, and jiggled her breasts in the face of the rather horrified casting director, may be memorable, but instantly removed her from any chance of being considered by the casting director for that or any future production, as did the actor who came on time with a badly behaved small dog which ran around the room dragging a chair it was tied to, and jumping on people, while the actor demanded the lead role, due to having once been in a chorus dance line in the West End).
We have cast Hollywood name actors in small one-scene roles, and beginners in lead roles in the same shows, and vice versa - the true professional knows that they are the part of a team, and that there is no "small" role.
When you get that role
It is a good idea to confirm acceptance as soon as you are offered a role, and get the production details through. Make sure you are available for the rehearsals, or at least the vast majority, and communicate any clashes at once with your contact in the production team.
As with auditions, arrive on time for rehearsals, in a pleasant, clean, manner. Wear comfortable clothes that you can move in (just a hint on clothing to avoid: men - super tight skinny jeans, or ladies - short skirts may be fashionable, but severely restrict your ability to move comfortably and retain your dignity). Be a pleasant member of the team, (interact, help each other, focus on the show, don't distract others, and leave your phone in your bag!)
Sexual humour or that which is at the expense of someones race/ age/ health/ size/ religion/ nationality/ gender identity, is not acceptable. Being helpful and building each other up is the way to go.
A common problem that occurs in productions, especially, unfortunately, when female-led. is where members of the cast try to direct other cast, instead of referring to the director. This is a major sign of unprofessionalism, and will result in warnings, and could result in being re-cast. While it shows total disrespect for the production team, it also results in complete confusion, especially for new performers..
Instead, work with your own directions, ensure that you are learning your lines and cues to deadline, and setting that excellent example.
It is the responsibility of everyone to leave venues clean and neat, to respect the privacy of people changing (another common problem is when people unthinkingly burst into the changing rooms of others! Always knock!).
Let the publicity team do their work. If you have an amazing suggestion, let them know, but dont go off on your own trying to arrange things like interviews and articles without the approval of the production company. You could end up in breach of non-disclosure agreements, sharing incorrect information, or causing other problems for the production company.
Many productions will not permit the use of phones on set in rehearsals or in performances, many large productions have had so many problems with this, that they take all phones off cast and crew until the day is over. We dont confiscate phones, but we do require that you make sure your phone is turned off and in your bag.
If you are working with a celebrity, treat them as another normal person - dont demand selfies/ signed stuff.
Be nice to your audiences. People coming to see your performance are the people ultimately paying your wages! Being rude or egotistical towards them, is only going to alienate. At the same time, if something has happened that you are being seen as "famous" (it can happen) you will need to have certain boundaries (we will touch on that in a future blog article), but always be pleasant!
For anyone who really cares about improving work in theatre and film, profit share is never the first or ideal choice. However, for grassroots organiations - like us - with little to no external funding or sponsorship, and no wealthy benefactors, it is the only honest way to reward the cast and crew of a show. We can proudly say that as a result of this good practice, we have never once ended a show in the red, and our actors have always earned money from the shows they are in with us.
Regardless of the budget of a production, you should never, ever, for any reason, promise anything that you cannot guarantee offering your cast and crew.
Sadly, as with anything, people jump on the bandwagon to use it as a fancy way of saying that they have no intention of paying the cast and crew, or add so many "dodgy costs" to the outgoings that they make it look as if no profit is made - which then badly hurts the companies who are genuinely paying whatever they can and supporting their cast and crew in whatever way they actually can.
We spent a lot of time working out the fairest possible way that we can do this. One day hopefully, we will reach our ideal - which would be to have the funding and income to be able to offer all cast and crew a regular weekly salary. In the mean time we are constantly looking at best practice to benefit everyone involved with us. After all, we started to benefit local people wanting to get into paid theatre work, in an area where there are few, if any, such opportunities, and in an area of high poverty. We would be extremely remiss not to benefit everyone!
So today, we decided to share what we have developed as our best practice for honesty, open-ness, and supporting everyone in our team. Obviously this is always looking at improvement but this is where we are at, at the moment.
So, we looked at funding day to day running costs in a way that this does not come from the actors earnings from shows. That covers rehearsal space (we use a local community centre), and annual insurances.
We traditionally have had tables at carboot sales and fetes; and while this will continue, we will be soon opening a regular book stall at our local town market. This covers the costs of the rehearsal venue, and the insurances for the most part - as well as providing extra publicity for our shows, which of course sells more tickets to earn for the actors! Again, none of those costs are taken from the show ticket sales. We are also able to provide free tea, coffee, biscuits and milk for free rehearsal refreshments - on a week when income is low, one of the company directors will purchase these for the group.
Then of course there are show costs. With early planning, and always keeping an eye out, we have been able to source most of our costumes, props, and even techincal equipment, by touring local second hand charity shops, and picking up things from Freecycle. We have some lights (fully tested, and working beautifully), and a sewing machine for repurposing fabric and costumes, that had been found dumped. It is amazing what you can find, and remake, with planning and effort.
Then it is down to getting the show on the road. We only book venues which can offer a box-office split, rather than an upfront hire cost. The usual split is 80% to the production company and 20% to the venue. We did learn in our early days to be very careful with contracts for the venues, to make sure they do not add hidden extra costs that you never agreed to. As a regional and female-led company, there are venues which will try to change things from under your feet.
We tend to be quite clear that we only accept actors and crew based in our regional area - this is because many of us live in less-than-ideal accomodation where we cannot put another person up, and we do require people to attend rehearsals and performances in person. With no possible budget to cover travel and hotels, we therefore are restricted to working with people based in our local area.
So, once shows are booked, we work ourselves crazy in publicising the shows - after all the more ticket sales we get results in the more that the actors and crew earn. Publicity on little or no budget is a whole other article, and takes a huge amount of work, but it can be done very effectively.
After the show, we get the ticket sales reports from the venues, and the payment for our (usually 80%) of ticket sales, from the venue to our company. This is usually quite detailed information, and we make this available to all cast and crew, in our productions locked cast/crew facebook group, as screenshots, so that everyone involved in the show can peruse and check the figures should they so wish. Once the show run (which may include several venues) is over, and all sales reports recieved, we refer back to these reports as made available to the cast and crew; and also provide the final breakdown of total earned by the show.
This (again in a group post provided to all cast and crew) is then broken down equally by the number of people involved in a show, so that each person will recieve an equal amount, down to the nearest penny. (Regardless of your role in the show, you recieve an equal share, because you are equally valuable to to the show - without you it couldnt happen!).
The payment then is made available and paid out within 7 working days, of our having it, to all cast and crew.
That is how we deal with the financial side. However, that is not the limit of what we provide.
You can provide more than money as well.
Regardless of a low or non-existant budget, you can provide extra things to your cast and crew, which is seriously valuable. It can vary a little by show but there are constants we developed our list by looking at portfolio development opportunities for your people, creature comforts, and tangible things! It also doesnt need to be the often nebulous and undefined "exposure", hated by all theatre and film professionals. It is far better to consider what actual things you can guarantee being able to offer. These do not need to be expensive things, or even cost you much time, but can be very valuable to the recipient none the less!
Our guaranteed "extra" things for cast and crew on any production include:
- Show photos (character photos, on set, or in a themed location)
- Individual character posters (featuring a character poster of the actor)
- Video clips of the show featuring the work of the actor or crew member.
- Copies of any publicity (think newspaper articles, etc) featuring the cast or crew members image or name.
- Social media shoutouts where possible for the cast and crew members.
- In-rehearsal / backstage refreshments (tea, coffee, biscuits, fruit squash)
- references for work or education (after show run has ended)
We do not ascribe a financial value to these things but instead provide them in addition to the financial profit-share.
What is important in any profit-share production, is to offer everyone what you can guarantee: in our team, nobody, from the company owners, to the tea-lady, is treated differently from any other, or gets any more or less than the others. It is also critical to be open about everything. Not only does it allow people to see for themselves, that you are doing all you can for them, but in a world where all of us are jaded by malpractice, it builds confidence, which is also important - it adds to a positive atmosphere, and a positive atmosphere makes for a happier cast, who put on a better show, which builds the production following, and so on.
Our ultimate aim is to find the funding and support to be able to move to regular weekly salaries for the team, and in fact active attempts are being made to find the support to take this next step, however, in the meantime, this is where we are. And doing our best with the circumstances we find ourselves in.
About this blog:
This a blog about what it is like, behind the scenes, to admin and promote, and grow, an arts organization. This is an area for the musings, research, discussions, and posts which have public value, but which are not compatible with a general "news" page.