Self-tape Stories

Once upon a time there was an actress…and then the global pandemic hit.

Once upon a time there was an actress. She spent her days popping in and out of the city, attending auditions and meeting other actors and creatives. Sometimes, she would even book those meetings she attended and wouldn’t have to audition for months on end. Life wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty close. Then the year 2020 happened…

What no one knows is that I have a huge spot on the other side of my chin and pyjama bottoms on below my “nice” top

Oh, it’s been a funny one, hasn’t it? What I am grateful for is all the new skills I’ve gained thanks to this pandemic which now include sound engineer, director of photography, editor, creative director, camera operator, broadcast producer and lighting technician. This is all thanks to the rise of the dreaded “self-tape”, my least favourite “s” word.

A “self-tape”, for any readers who aren’t familiar with the term, is essentially a filmed audition that we actors create and then submit to a creative team for their consideration. Now there are plenty of benefits to this style of audition. Firstly, we don’t have to commute into town which saves everyone money and helps us not catch Corona – or something worse – on the Tube. We can also do as many “takes” or attempts to get the performance we want. In my case, this is absolutely a blessing and a curse. Being able to watch an audition back means I obsess over the smallest detail, a hair out of place, a distorted shadow in the background, one note that was held longer in the previous seven takes. Therein lies the danger: my inner perfectionist takes over and I lose all sense of authenticity with infinite takes of the same material. It also sucks the life out of both my phone memory and battery.

Since March, nearly all the auditions I’ve been submitted for have transitioned to self-tapes and let me tell you, it’s been a journey. There was an excellent occasion when I had less than 24 hours to get a tape filmed, edited and successfully dispatched via “We Transfer” and all on the hottest day of the year. When filming, it’s important that no extraneous noise is picked up by the microphone and, obviously, to achieve this I normally close all the windows and doors. This is very much less than ideal in the middle of a heatwave. Estimate how quickly the prickle of SULA (sweaty upper lip alert) began in this airless room once I’d added a ring light, a face full of make-up and a healthy shot of audition adrenalin to the mix. I grabbed a towel to dab my shiny face between takes, but completely forgot about my neck. It wasn’t until later, when I was editing the footage, that I realised that my neck and entire décolletage were slick with shiny perspiration. To quote the old adage, I was simply glowing!

I also noticed on the re-watch that my hair gradually got bigger and bigger, just like Monica’s in The One In Barbados episode of Friends

Another fun memory was the day that my tripod broke during the middle of shooting. I was already in a terrible mood as the brief I’d been given was really complicated and involved lots of scenes where I had to mime the action, which is always tricky to make look convincing. I’d banished poor Vince to working from home in our bedroom so I could have full access to our lounge and all was going well until I heard the crash of my tripod hitting the floor. Miraculously my phone was intact, it was actually still filming but the tripod had completely shattered, meaning I had no way of stabilising my camera. In a wave of panic, I phoned E, seeing if she had anything that could work as a replacement. Although she wasn’t able to lend me anything, she did manage to calm me down sufficiently to allow me to get my thinking cap on and I created a Jenga-like tower of coffee tables, piano stools and cook books. I balanced one of my Stan Smith’s at the top of the makeshift mountain, like an angel atop a Christmas tree, and nestled my phone into its new bed. All this Blue-Petering was worth it as I booked the job.

I wish I could say things were less comical once I moved and had a whole house to use as a studio. Sadly this is not the case. Just this week I had to film several scenes for a big commercial campaign but they were all set outside. I grabbed my phone as I only had a few hours before the sun set and rushed out to film. I can now add location scout to my list of skills! All was going well until my new neighbours caught me filming one scene in my car where I had to cry on cue. They rapped on my passenger window to see if I was ok…”no, no, I’m fine – I’m just filming something”; “yes, I’m an actress”; “oh, no, I haven’t got the job yet, this is the audition”; “yes, it will be on TV…if I get it”; “yep-I have been on TV before”; “I don’t know if I’ve been in anything you’ve seen”. I really do hope I get this job now, if only to validate my explanation!

I’ll leave you with a sneaky snippet of this day. I was hunting for a background which was pretty and scenic, but far enough away from any road so I avoided vehicle noises in the background. I stumbled across this field and began filming, just before a local farmer and his dogs arrived to hasten my departure. Oh, the glamorous life! ~L.

The farmer didn’t mind once I’d explained, just in case you’re wondering!

For more theatrical insights and horror stories, connect with me on Instagram!

My Secret Theatre

L spills the tea at work.

Those of you that know me and my Mum know that we love to write a list. We also love a glass of prosecco or three and chatting until the early hours, swapping stories and laughing until our cheeks ache. Put these components together and the result is E challenging me to write a list about theatre secrets. I’ve been an actress for the last eight years, working in film, television and on stage, and feeling incredibly lucky to do what I do, so I felt well placed to accept the challenge.

From the middle of this often misunderstood business of mine, here are some secrets about a life in the theatre…

  • Most actors/directors/stage managers are pretty superstitious. Maybe it’s the nature of what we do, using our overactive imaginations every day or the fact that we tend to work at night, or in the dark, but either way, most people who work in the theatrical industry support some form of superstition. Whether it’s a backstage ritual of passing the same actor each evening or getting your post show drink from the same bar each night, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who isn’t! I for one certainly never whistle in a theatre or speak the name of the “Scottish play”. I also get jittery if I don’t complete certain tasks by a set time, like getting my pin curls done before the warm up or finishing my dinner before certain members of the cast arrive at the theatre
  • We all get nervous. Every so often, I’ll get chatting to someone who’ll congratulate me on my career, claiming: “oh I’d be too scared to go on stage each night.” Here’s the thing, we are scared. Not all the time but certainly if I’m feeling under-prepared or I haven’t had a good warm up backstage I am riddled with nerves – there’s that superstitious side of me again! Auditions are a big part of your life as an actor and they are like attending a super intense job interview after downing a cold brew coffee on an empty stomach. A job interview you have to attend numerous times a week, for a position that will only last a few months until you have to start the process again. Oh, the glamourous life!
  • Getting to “stage kiss” a colleague is really not steamy in the slightest. Well, I suppose it could be if you’re both single and you fancy each other but nine times out of ten, this just isn’t the case. The art of choreographing a love scene is so technical, it stripes the smooch of any actual romance and after the thirteenth or fourteenth run through, the whole thing will feel as routine as a handshake. It is much the same on a film or television set except instead of sharing that intimate moment with an audience of 150, you get to share it with an entire crew instead. Mmm, sexy, right?
  • We can see you! Yep, I myself have settled into my plush seat as an audience member and relaxed into that state of anonymity that a dark auditorium can bring, but I promise you, if you can see us, chances are that we on-stage folk can see you too, especially if you are seated in the front few rows. I’ve seen some bizarre behaviour in the audience over the years, my favourites being: drunk people who attempt to interact with the on-stage performers mid-scene; people falling asleep (although even I have done this on one occasion); and one memorable moment when a patron decided to order and then eat an entire pizza mid-show. Seriously, at least offer me a slice if I’m working so hard for you
  • So many of the magical transformations you see on stage are done the old fashioned way. Quick changes in and out of costume are exactly that, a quick change. There is one change I had to make in Act One of the Phantom of the Opera for which I had 55 seconds. Six members of our hair and wardrobe department would silently gather in the wings, just off-stage, and use their many, super-talented hands to strip me of one set of costumes and wig and fasten me into another, while I tried to take quick sips of water before I was back onstage. All of this in near silence, in the darkness and with military precision. Everyone had an objective and would focus solely on completeing it. When I was appearing in the musical Cats, I was fortunate to play the role of Grizabella a number of times. Poor Griz had to effect a wig, costume and make up change all within the first thirty minutes of the show. This involved me slinking off stage (well, Grizabella is the glamour cat), then, once out of sight of the audience, running from the wings to my dressing room, taking parts of my costume off as I went. Once my wig was off, in a flurry of baby wipes, I had to clean my face and then reapply the character’s iconic bedraggled look. So long as I remained a cool cat, I always managed it.

God, I miss my job. Due to the pandemic it’s unlikely that my industry will be able to return to anything approaching normality before the New Year and even then, forgive the pun, I wonder about state of play. So many freelancers have been out of work for almost six months; our landscape has completely transformed. What I do know is that once we return, those first few weeks of performances are going to be a once in a lifetime experience. Keep your ghost lights burning and I
promise I will see you back in a theatre just as soon as we are permitted. ~L