I’m dreaming of a Swiss Christmas

It’s been a quiet year outside of trips to the US and luckily things started to pick up by October. I was beginning to think I wouldn’t ever get a job again. Prior to the good news I went a bit mad – I discovered that my year-long slog trying to raise funds for my children’s theatre piece Captain Pancake had been unsuccessful. The Arts Council grants people had said no and now it seemed all doors had closed. That plus a lack of paid work and I found myself pacing my apartment with a big beard, dwindling funds and dwindling self-confidence.

I started calling all my other (regularly employed) actor chums in turn reassured me that it was dead. We all know that most actors are out of work 85% of the time, but after 11 years in the business you start to be able to gauge normal deadness with real deadness and this year was significantly stiffer than the rest. So dead in fact that one of my more successful chums had started selling artisan ice-creams to make a buck, which ended up with other ice-cream vendors threatening his life! Now every actor has a B-job, but this poor bugger had just finished a stint on a well-known period drama and was now embroiled in an ice-cream turf war! Who knew that market was as competitive as showbiz?

So rejoice! I got a job and flew to Zurich to put my bearded self to good use in a series of ads for Swisscom. First up was learning 3 language scripts, as they shoot all ads in French, Swiss-German and Italian (who knew?!) and I found myself in a room with a language coach and my co-star, sporting exquisite facial hair. There was something very familiar about this guy, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

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It turns out that this man ACTUALLY spends his whole life as St. Nicholas and when not being the big man himself, he teaches other men to be the ruddy-faced gent. Ironically this ‘Method Santa’ was from Los Angeles – one of the sunniest places on the planet. I found myself wondering at what point does a Californian sun-kissed man make that decision to embrace Babbo Natale? Do you have a particular long period without work, grow a beard and then have a unfortunate accident with some bleach? Or is it more of a calling, like a festive Moses, where instead of burning bush there was a frozen dinner that spoke to him? “The beard maketh the man!” it whistled, as it defrosted in the microwave. Whatever it was, I stared at him reciting lines in a medley of languages clearly riddled with beard envy.

You can see me tackling three languages HERE. Personally, I think I prefer me as an unimpressed Frenchman. 

Winner!

Quick post to congratulate the great team behind the short film Cancer Hair which has just done the DOUBLE! Taking ‘Best of Fest’ and ‘Best Short Fiction’ at the Isle Of Man Film Festival. Gail Hackston, writer and director, even got to meet Mark Kermode – making that a TRIPLE, no doubt!

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Did I mention I was in it? Yes, I played opposite the lovely Laura Aikman and a little known secret is that I was incredibly ill throughout the shooting. So victory tastes even better to after you spent the in-between takes with your head in a bucket.

Watch the Cancer Hair trailer HERE

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Year of the Horse.

Sorry blog! Sorry. I have neglected you. My urge to spill my thoughts and career experiences has been slightly smothered by the actual work that I usually waffle on about. This year has been galloping along a quite a lick and so for an update…

January saw me disappear off to Los Angeles for an extended holiday/recon mission to see if I fancied moving there. Well, guess what? my chances were fancied and upon my return in February I decided to try for move out there. First thing to do was to snag myself a decent lawyer for the 0-1 Visa application. I called around my celebrity mates for advice (that’s a lie) and found an excellent lawyer who specialises in visas for entertainment professionals. Initially, I thought I had to be ‘famous’ to be able to work out there, especially being a minority, but after my lawyer sifted through my 11 year old CV, sorry, resume´ (already learning the language, see?) it turned out that I’d been doing alright; in regular employment (rare for an actor) and had pretty good status to become, get this, an ‘Alien of outstanding ability’….. I always knew there was something strange about the spaceship my Dad hid in our barn. Superman_075Pyxurz

I had always had the impression that LA would be this weird flakey place where everyone looked like Brigette Nielsen from Beverly Hills Cop 2 or Hugh Hefner or a twisted hybrid of both. But it turns out that there are normal people there like you and me, just getting on with life and getting shit done. I’m guessing the weirdo rumour was probably started by someone who actually had a bad encounter with a Neilson-Hefner-Hybrid during a kinky pool party in the mid-80’s and then slunk back to England all cynical and went on a huge smear campaign. That rumour soon seeped into popular culture and somehow made it into my playground when I was 9.

Yes, there are the flakey industry people in LA – those types who say, “Yeah, you’re so now, you’re great…yeah, yeah, I’ll call you!” and then never return your call, but those people are in every city. There will always be a band of weird ones who float around the fringes of creative circles just talking drivel to each other to give themselves a sense of worth. But if you scratch the surface there are some wonderful folk out there in Tinsel Town and there seems to be sense of opportunity for those who want to work hard. Also the industry is THERE. It’s right in your face. I’ve lost count how many camera crews I’d see on a daily basis. A colossal amount of productions right at your finger tips, well almost…I guess that’s the great carrot being dangled that has brought so many young hopefuls there. So why wouldn’t you want to have a crack at it? Oh, they do nice sunsets too…

IMG_7380March came along and my theatre project Captain Pancake was been back in the rehearsal room at Chats Palace over in Hackney, East London. We applied for Arts Council funding to help get the theatre piece off the ground. Sadly, we didn’t receive our grant, BUT we are allowed to reapply later in the year as we have application was strong. So I’m not too disheartened – these be the perils of launching new theatre.

We have an excellent team now in place (see photo below) and amazing designer Ellan Parry is onboard to bring life our pirate vision. We are also looking at working with East London’s community schools to get underprivileged children within the development process and get a first hand experience of the theatre world. I’m also planning to make a new short film about it, so watch THIS space for previews.

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This horse-themed year has also had me de-cluttering my life and I stumbled across my old Equity diary from 2003 which was my graduating year from Bristol. Interestingly, this was the page it fell open on:

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This was February 2003 and during our production of King John at The Old Vic Studios. During the daytimes we had regular meetings with agents and casting directors and as you can see I met some rather sexy people, like the Royal Shakespeare Company (still waiting for that elusive audition) and these notes are from a meeting with one of those industry bods. The statistics on the note page were the most harrowing: “5 out of 30 (graduates) will be successful” I remember scoffing at the idea at the time, but to be honest it’s pretty accurate. There aren’t many of us left from that year – probably around 7 or 8 graduates who are still working…myself included…

Hold on, does that mean? Woohoo, I made it! *fist punches the air* I’m not a statistic!

So, to celebrate still being here I’m going to get a VISA and work in America. Yeehaw! Come on Horsey!

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January News

Sorry, it’s been a while. Moved house, did a bit of filming here and there and now in Los Angeles. It’s been full speed ahead!

November was busy with raising funds for my theatre project, Captain Pancake, and sadly didn’t get the 2nd phase off the ground with our Kickstarter fundraiser, but it did put the project out into the public domain and was excellently received. To understand more about the project, you can watch the new trailer that I made below:

Next phase is securing Arts Council funding, so watch this space. You can like out Facebook page here to keep up to date with regular news from the frontline of new theatre!

What else? Well, I filmed an excellent little comedy short film called Cancer Hair which is due for release onto the festival circuit this year. I starred alongside the very talented Laura Aikman and we shot over two days in London. It’s a humble tale about a young women in remission from Cancer and the writing balances pathos and humour perfectly. All directed and written by the lovely Gail Hackston.

In voice over world, I did a corporate training video for Virgin Atlantic and you can hear me on the TV as the VO for the new Nicorette Quick Mist commercial.

 Just before Christmas I worked on a new commercial for Cadbury alongside Blink Ink productions who used the wonderful Movi-Rig to create a smooth one-take shot. It’s due out this January and we spent a wonderful week rehearsing and devising the routine with Chicken Shed Theatre’s choreographer Rachel Yates. Catch it below.

 

And now I sit in my Venice Beach apartment (check out the view below!) escaping the January winter of London. I decided to pop over to LA for a few weeks to meet and greet people and to see about moving out here full time in 2015. So, I’m driving everywhere and seem to live in my car. This is the dream? On the plus side it’s sunny and the everyone is SO positive, even the actors I’ve met who haven’t worked for a year; “I’m in a really good place, right now, you know spiritually.” And so, to get into the spirit of things, I’m off to get my wheatgrass enema…

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Captain Pancake!

For the last 2 years I’ve been working alongside fellow Bristol Old Vic graduate, Simon Spencer Hyde, and together we have been creating a rather fun piece of physical theatre for kids. We’re now raising funds to help take it the next stage of development. To help do this we launched a Kickstarter page to help crowd source the funds. There are only 30 days to raise the funds and if we don’t reach the full amount we don’t get a penny! This will be the first phase of fundraising and after that we will be approaching The Arts Council to help set sail!

Check the page out and watch the video to learn more about our new theatre company, Pancake Productions, and this exciting new piece of comedy theatre:

All the video was shot by myself on 5D with editing from Katherine Janes at The Assembly Rooms in Soho, London.

Comedy Pilot News

I did a comedy pilot last year with the old gang from Zeus’ Pamphlet. Call Girls is written by Andrea Thompson Burke and I played the lead role or Marcus – a miserable middle manager with IBS. Twas much fun and was filmed on location in Bridgend, Wales. Here is a wee trailer for it which has just been released. Not sure what’s happening next, but I do believe it’s being pitched in some form. Watch this space!

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New comedy delights!

A few years ago, back in halcyon days between 2009 and 2012 I was in a lovely little sketch group call Zeus’ Pamphlet and after a few years on the comedy circuit in London and after rather tasty debut at 2011 Edinburgh Festival we bagged a comedy pilot and then went our separate ways. New creative paths we’re formed; I went on a ‘comedy sabbatical’ and decided to write plays and do triathlons, Frank became a stand-up and the rest of the gang went on to become a new comedy group called Don’t Shoot The Mermaid.

Since 2012 these comedy sirens have been building up a rather sexy web channel with a whole load of new material. In July I was invited to star in a new and improved version of one of our old favourite sketches written by Emma Rasmussen and directed by Simon J Riley.

It’s pretty racy in parts, so only click if you’re a proper grown up!

Spymonkey-ing

At the beginning of May and straight after my physical endurance week in Spain, I returned to London and it was time to start my two-week Clowning Masterclass with the renowned physical theatre troupe Spymonkey. A physical and emotional roller-coaster journey to discover my “inner-clown”. Now, I know that sounds INCREDIBLY wanky, but don’t be alarmed my feet stayed on the ground and my head was no were near my bottom…apart from when I fell over.

As an actor in my 10th year of being in the business, I felt I needed to give myself a little shake up as my tools have gotten a little rusty of late. It’s so easy, as a performer, to get stuck into bad habits and I wanted to be challenged. And what better way but to bear yourself and become an idiot in a clown workshop.

Now I’m not talking about a red-nose and silly shoes. This clowning was more about tuning back into your gut instinct when on-stage, finding the complicity with your fellow performers and reading  audience. No character, no lines just a costume of your choosing and your own idiot self. As an actor this was strangely terrifying because I usually spend so much of my time hiding behind a character or a voice.

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A class of twenty, we were holed up in Highgate at Jackson’s Lane Theatre, a beautiful space in the eves of an old church and everyday we were guided masterfully by Spymonkey’s Aitor Basauri, on a diet of games, impro’ and general physical madness to tune into our clown and to help us find the complicity between each other and the audience whilst letting go of ‘trying to be funny’. A lot of this required us to FLOP in front of our peers. We constantly tried out ideas from costume to routines to see what worked and what didn’t. That was tough. As a performer you want to get the laughs, you want approval but this didn’t happen overnight, it was long process that tested a lot of us to the limit. I know I kept thinking, “Am I just shit?” as I constantly flopped in front of my fellow clowns. And to be honest, I was shit. But that’s what you do, you keep being shit until you are let go of your actory ‘look at me’ ego and find your glorious idiot self. Aitor put it succinctly:

“The performer who dares to stand before a crowd, unafraid to make mistakes and find pleasure in being wonderfully silly will reap fruitful rewards. In Spymonkey we strongly believe that it is in this moment that the seed for the best performances can begin.”

There were tears and tantrums but equally some of the most spontaneously hilarious moments I’ve ever had with a group of strangers. By the end of the two weeks I felt like I’d undergone some kind of a mental change as a performer. There was always a cautious side of me that wouldn’t dare so much on stage. But after this I felt unblocked, reinvigorated, inspired and lighter in myself…Now I know that sounds like an advert for colon cleansing, but that’s almost what it was! – a clown colonic for the jaded insides of my performer self. If you’re a comedian, actor or just someone who wants to dare to find the glorious moments of your own ridiculousness – then DO this workshop. It will make you a better (and maybe funnier) person all round.

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Any excuse to wear tight clothing.

Last month was pretty bonkers and now I’m finally finding to time to sit down and type some twaddle about my galavanting across the Globe: One man, no mission, just some lego hair and an ability to pull a funny face for money…

It began with a trip to chilly Gdansk, in Poland to film a quick commercial for the very Polish Zyweic beer. Me and the very British cast endured -5 temperatures on a night shoot pretending to be having a ‘summer’ party. Remarkably enough we don’t look that cold considering. Might have been the hip flask we smuggled on set* Have a look:

*disclaimer – that’s a joke. Don’t want to get told off by Polish Acting Union, or my mum.

Not much else to report on Gdansk. Other than it was bombed so much in the WWII that most of the old town was destroyed, so most of the buildings are new with ye oldesky prefabs on the front. Felt a little like a movie set or a model town.

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Once Gdansk was G’done, I was off to Spain to train for this season’s triathlons. Now I haven’t mentioned this before, but was very aware of sounding like a bit of a tool banging on about lycra all the time. In-between jobs I like to do triathlons. For the uneducated that is basically a swim, bike and run race, in that order. I got into to it about three years ago when my flat mate set up a club in Hackney, East London and I always fancied having a go. My cycling and running was always pretty good, but I couldn’t swim very well so I thought this might fix it. And to my surprise it did. Cut to three years down the line and I have a bit of addiction to this multi-sport discipline. I’m trying to kid myself it’s about the fitness, but the truth is LFTC is just a good craic and a great antidote to the fickle world of acting and showbiz types. It’s a good leveller.

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We go away every year to do a training-camp and this year we hedged our bets on Andalucia, Spain at a tri-specific sports hostel. Our days started at 7am with a 2k swim in the on-site lake, consisting of various drills that are specific to triathlon: sighting, drafting, race starts and general getting used to swimming in open water. After that we saddle up, apply weird cream to our nether regions and don more tight-fitting clothing and head out for a 90-120K bike ride.

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Andalucia has some serious hills and I don’t think I’ve encountered the pain of a 14k hill climb before, but I now have some serious respect for those chaps doing their lycra-ery thing in the Giro D’Italia at the moment. Also, I never realised how much you need to EAT when you do a holiday like this. I never really stopped. Two breakfasts (one before swimming, one after) then eating cereal bars whilst riding, plus coffee and cake stop-offs. Light lunches and then enormous carb-fuelled dinners. And what goes in must come out. I think our 29-strong combined eating must have put a strain on the neglected Spanish sewer system. Let’s hope it didn’t end up in the lake…

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Projects New

Hello…

We finished the play and survived intact! What an crazy couple of weeks that was. Now we’re on the case of having a re-jig and getting it put on later in spring. We had some lovely audiences and quite a large chunk of industry bods came to watch too. Which wasn’t scary at all, no no, not in slightest. *rocks back and forth* In the meantime the director Marianne Oldham is getting ready to take to the stage again for the Arcola Theatre’s Sons Without Fathers and David Ricardo Pearce is getting ready to be Oberon in The Midsummer Night’s Dream. What a talented team!

So, onto my projects new…

Currently under construction is a play I’ve been working on for about a year. This piece is for 7-12 year olds (and you adults too) and we are are trying our best to create “a folk-music fairy tale”. It’s been tough trying to find the time to rehearse/write as we both need to work to bring in the money, but things are finally moving forward! The ‘we’ is me and Simon Spencer-Hyde. My good friend and wonderful comic actor who I trained with back at The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Here he is:

Simon!

We’re looking to start full scale rehearsals this next month with a scratch version ready for April. The key thing is now to find a really, really nice director, producer and some money. Money, that’s the problem – there isn’t any at the moment. Theatres are being shut down and thanks to our delightful coalition government, the Arts (as is usual) is at the bottom of the list. I’m not gonna get on my soapbox, but a multi-billion pound spend on a nuclear submarine….. REALLY? Another problem with money, or the lack thereof is that theatre/performance becomes an elitist thing and people with only money or access to money can create work. There’s not a lot of support for people with none, who want to create. The Edinburgh Festival has definitely been affected by this. Stewart Lee’s article here is a worthy read.

Anyway, RANT OVER… hopefully I can raise some funds off the back of my commercials (like a ‘low-art’ for ‘high-art’ karmic pay off) and also through a bit of good old fashioned hounding. Any offers – drop me a line! Nica Burns, You listening?

In other news – I’ve just signed up with Kate Moon Management for voice-overs. What good news! I’ve already been plodding away in my new home-studio and getting all excited by my new toys.

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