For the longest time, I have wanted to be a B-list celebrity.
I get a kick out of being recognised as “that guy” from a play or a television commercial, but I would not want my face plastered across the front page of the newspaper (or Buzzfeed, he said, bringing his references up to date) after a rough night out. A B-list celebrity would also have a day job to keep them busy.
I do not think it is possible to have a normal life as an A-list star, not to mention the stress and invasion of privacy for family and close friends. And there is always the past that people remember too well. I have done innumerable embarrassing things, most of which would make you cringe.
Nevertheless, I have pursued, mostly as a hobby, a life in the performing arts. My deal is comedy, and making people laugh.
Last weekend I took part in a workshop, run by Peter Skagen, called Audition Hell. For two days, I and eight other people were taken through the business and on-camera sides of life as an actor.
Incidentally, per year, actors earn about as much as I did as a teacher in South Africa in 2005, if you account for exchange rates. It is not a glamorous job by any means, unless you are “noticed” and then make it big.
I am almost 40 and still very much unknown, so I decided to stop hanging around street cafés, and do something about it.
This Monday, I have my first ever photo shoot. It costs a lot of money, but you get 150 photos taken of you, and then three are selected and made into your official headshot. Peter will be on hand to help out.
As I learned in the workshop, the headshot is critical to sell your “brand”. Are you a suave and sophisticated leading man? Are you a thug? Many foreigners (to American audiences) are cast as villains or “redshirts”, and the occasional few become comic sidekicks.
Which brings up another aspect to this whole ordeal: the Standard American accent. No one speaks it except in the movies and on television. My accent is all over the place, thanks to the Randburg accent (where I grew up), the Mondeor accent (from my mother and her siblings), and the Received Pronunciation of my father’s family, though he spoke in a standard Johannesburg English accent, as he was born there.
Now that we live in Canada, our accents have the rhotic R and it sounds awful and now I perfectly understand why Charlize Theron started speaking in Standard American all the time and oh my goodness my accent is awful.
I am a good mimic. I can do a passable Jack Nicholson or Malcolm McDowell, and even some cartoon characters. I am really good, but only for a couple of lines. Then the Seff Effriken comes out and I sound like Simon Baker on The Mentalist when he is talking fast. To my ear, my Standard American accent is horrible. I plan to take lessons to fix that.
An even bigger hurdle for me is being on-camera. My first love (after teaching) is being on stage. I have played the leading man in a two act comedy, and I can do the funny character in a drama. As I mentioned previously, I enjoy making people laugh, and a lot of that is in physical comedy.
On camera, it is way too big. Michael Caine, in his acting class video, points out that it is all in the eyes. In my theatre background, my whole body conveys the message. I really have to learn to pull in my performances to the point where, in Peter’s words, I am boiling on the inside but calm on the outside. That intensity is what people look for in the eyes.
During the workshop, we had several opportunities to practise in front of the camera, and even in my final piece which I reviewed last night (without audio because I hate my voice), I noticed that my actions, while expressive, were still too big for the scene. I plan to work on that too.
This post is my official notice that I am going to do something about this acting bug. I do not want to stop singing in the Calgary Men’s Chorus (for six months of the year), nor stop acting on stage for three months of the year, because the feedback is immediate and I thrive on that energy.
I am however going to do this other thing. This scary thing. This terrifying thing. This thing where you are stripped of the theatrical side, and the only reason you are believable is because no one can tell that you are acting.