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“Just the pick-me-up I need” – Jen Banks

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WEDNESDAY 12TH SEPTEMBER 2012 – RHYTHM ‘N’ BLUES

Need a way to break your rhythms and shake off the blues? Two hours with Lee Toomes and a room full of actors at Act Up North is sure to do the trick…

It’s 7.35pm and after a night of poor sleep and a full day’s work, my energy and mood are low. I’m dragging my tired, sorry ass to my Act Up North class. And I’m late. The car park’s full, again, so I’ve had to drive round to Burley Road and dash back Studio 81, where I knock on the window to get someone to let me in.

When I enter, I’m told I’ve just been described as “the giddy one”. Giddy is just about the last thing I’m feeling right now. Knackered, fed-up and anxious about how I’ll do in class tonight is a more accurate description of my emotional state. What I later figure out is that what Donna sees as my ”giddiness” is actually my acute and debilitating anxiety when it comes to getting up and acting – and it pours out of me in just about any way it can.
Thankfully, Lee’s got some tricks up his sleeve to tackle tension and where we hold it when performing. He gets us to do a scene while consciously doing the physical things we usually do unconsciously. So, some deliver every line through gritted teeth, others have to frown throughout their performance, stick their necks out or shift their weight from side to side after delivering each line.

After the ‘freak show’ version of the scene – and believe me, some of these performances look well freaky – we’re told to drop it and do the scene as normal. Of course, when it’s my turn, I get a double whammy – I’m told to frown and shift my weight and that’s a lot to think about. But once I do the scene again normally, I become immediately aware of the frowning and un-scrunch those facial muscles as soon as I sense them becoming tight. I do wave my arms around a bit though – which leads me to the conclusion the nerves have just found a different way out!

Still, it definitely brings an awareness to my performance and a more authentic quality to the performances I see. Others say the felt more connected, more at ease or just plain confused at getting the balance right between keeping their involuntary movements under control and not being too stiff. Aye there’s the rub, that’s certainly something that vexes me. However, the exercise is a real eye opener, for all of us – and quite literally so for Natalia, who has to keep her eyebrows raised throughout her performance.

So, the purpose of the evening’s lesson is to bring our unconscious ‘ticks’ into consciousness in order to eliminate them, leaving us more open. “These things you do as an actor keep you stuck in certain rhythms,” Lee explains, “and this is a way of breaking the rhythm, so that you’re more open to be changed.”

“Acting is being open and flexible enough to change tactics and adapt to what the other actor is giving you. You have an objective as an actor in a scene, but the other actor has an objective too – they’re trying to evoke something in you and you have to react to that.” Lee’s lesson ends with another chewy nugget of acting wisdom. And as I scribble my final notes and snap my exercise book shut, I realise that I don’t feel tired and fed-up anymore. An evening of frowning, gurning and learning has been just the pick-me-up I need…

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WEDNESDAY 5 SEPTEMBER 2012 – TRUST ME, I’M AN ACTOR!!

Only trouble is, I don’t trust myself… so it’s back to school with an important lesson in what stops actors from being great

“It’s not about deciding to deliver your lines with acertain emotion. It’s about putting your focus on the person you’re workingwith, listening line by line and truthfully responding in the moment to how they say their lines.” It’s lessonone of the new term at Act Up North Leeds and, for me, this is the crux oftonight’s instruction from teach, Mr Hunt. Or quite simply, Peter, if you’renot trying to extend a Grange Hill metaphor.

His wisdom sounds so incredibly simple, and it seems to neatlyand concisely encapsulate the art of good acting. But why, oh why, oh why is itso blooming difficult to do? After two hours locked in a room with a lot ofjittering actors and their ‘first night back nerves’ the answer is all tooapparent – anxiety. And lack of trust. Or are they the same thing? I don’tknow. All I know is that I’m shaking like a jelly on a spin dryer when it’s mineand Jo’s turn to perform a scene from Lineof Duty.

We’ve been instructed to rehearse giving particular attentionto the three main things that let actors down in auditions and on set: poor eyecontact, facial tension and standing off centre. So what do I do when I get up there? Decideto deliver my lines with a certain emotion (see top of page for that one), dolots of my trademark gurning, tilt my head, forget my words and grasp for myscript.

Pass the dunce hat! Not even a C+ for effort. Still, thewhole point of the evening is to discover our own ‘nervous ticks’ in a bid toeliminate them. I’m told it’s myself I should be forgetting and not my lines –which is a sign of lack of trust in myself. That old chestnut.

So the solution is to physically grapple with the anxiety. Acouple of classmates get up to hold myself and Jo in place while we haveanother crack at the scene – the idea being that you can’t go throwing yourtension around when you’re rooted to the spot. And it works. It makes me focusand take Jo in a lot more. And I feel (on some lines at least) that I’m doing it – responding in the moment. I’m not theonly one. Time and time again, through the aid of physical restraint, we cansee how people connect with each other, and their performances become genuine.“Strip away the acting,” Yoda, er Peter tells us.

So we’ve come to an acting class to learn how to act bystripping away the acting. Which means not acting is acting. What a head f**k! Yetit makes perfect sense. Now all that remains is to do my lines (write 100 times“I must trust myself, I must trust myself, I must trust myself”), and learn mylines for next week. Until then, I’m off out to play eye contact games in theplayground…

Jennifer Banks

“I came across ActUpNorth and decided to be brave about it and audition” – Alice Weston

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I decided to go back to acting after a 5 year hiatus (aka‘life getting in the way’.) Having studied acting since I was about nine yearsold right up to degree level I was eager to find a class, get up there and meetsome new people. But everywhere I looked it was extremes: One class wasamateurs only, the next wouldn’t take you without a TV credit to your name andmost of them were obscenely expensive.

After trawling the internet Icame across ActUpNorth and decided to be brave about it and audition. I’mreally glad I did!

The classes have been helpfuland fun. It’s great to get together with a group of actors; there is no betterfeeling in the world than performing.

The tutorsare friendly professionals and the classes have a warm but focussed atmosphereto them. All they ask of you is that you turn up on time and behaveprofessionally. In return they will offer you advice and coaching to industry standard.

The most recent visit to ActUpNorth was by Rebecca Jenner; Casting Director and Agent.We were taken through the process of a mock casting with all the seriousness ofthe real thing. Easily the scariest thing I have ever done… and one of the mostawesome. We all worked hard for weeks to get our pieces right. The tutors spenta lot of time with us in class going through everyone’s piece with a fine toothcomb seeing how we could explore our characters in greater depth and play with
We were all nervous on the daybut we had received good advice from our tutors about managing nerves.

MeetingRebecca and getting to perform for her was an amazing experience. My nervesdrove my performance but she was such a nice person I discovered my nerves weretotally unfounded. The point of such visits to the classes, aside from gettingfeedback from people who do this sort of thing for a living, is to show youthat the act of going to a casting is scary,but not as scary as you might think… although having a classroom full of actorswho are on your side really does help!

My next project is a mockumentary being filmed with other members of the class, this isentirely independent of the lessons but I would never have met my newco-workers had I not been brave and just gone for it at ActUpNorth

What to expect: Greattutors, friendly class, professional work ethics, reasonable prices, guestspots by industry professionals, rare (but entertaining) bouts of corpsing andline-fluffing.

What not to expect: Egos or tantrums (unless it’s in the script of course.) Oh andwe all get up and perform; no one isallowed to sit shyly at the back!

“What an experience it has been!” – Anne Jones

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I joined ActUpNorth, in Leeds, earlier this year and what an experience it has been! I’ve met so many talented and inspiring actors/actresses, as well as guest tutors. The casting workshop held in August this year, with Casting Director, Sarah Hughes, gave us all a really good insight into how to use our imaginations in order to choose a monologue that would help us with auditions.

The classes are lively, great fun and we often have filming sessions where we can see how we come across on the camera. It is well worth the monthly fee, because it also provides so many opportunities through networking with other actors. I can’t wait for the classes to start again in September!

“The Dales and beyond!” – Amy Forrest

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Since moving to West Yorkshire two years ago joining “Act Up North” has been the BEST decision i have made career wise as going to this class doesn’t just teach you how to act in front of a camera it also advises you on how to actually get the job!

I graduated in 2003 with a HND in Musical Theatre and have performed in various plays and musicals over the years but my real love has always been acting.

Pete, Erin and David are amazing tutors and have opened many doors for me… Recently i was put forward for an audition by Pete for the role of Helen in the Trashy TV Show in The Syndicate on BBC1 and i was fortunate enough to get the part, which was an amazing experience and i got to work with some fantastic people!!

After the Syndicate i managed to secure a good agent in Manchester “Rare Talent Actors Management” and recently have just played the role of Lucy Hemingway in Emmerdale which will be aired on 21st June 2012.

Anyone i now meet that asks about getting into acting i always tell them to join, everyone’s so lovely and welcoming at the class, Pete does make you work hard and you do get challenged but its all worth it!! 🙂

“Comedy Gold” – Myra Pennington

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MYRA WROTE ON AUGUST 1ST 2011…

The last two classes of term involved a lot of team effort and self belief. Covering the genre of comedy we were once again invited to laugh at ourselves before we laughed at the script. In fact what I find the most fascinating about learning the art of comedy is more often than not the scripts, as written, are not always obviously funny. It is more the delivery, timing, pacing and sheer talent of the actor involved that brings the whole thing to an infectious giggle or laugh out loud conclusion.

As each pair of actors took up the mantle and showed our acting coach what we could do with the said piece, a pattern began to form. What we thought was quite funny and caused a few guffaws was just the beginning of what David was teaching and encouraging us to do. Although we still had to be aware of camera technique, we could afford to take a bigger and bolder decision on characterisation and quirky traits that would deem to get us a laugh.

During the playbacks of our filmed performances the floor was open for comment and suggestion of how to turn a simple gesture or innocent remark into comical delivery. Taking all of this on board my co actor and I became the guinea pigs, as we positioned ourselves on set ready to be filmed once more, but with the rest of the class watching the live feed on screen. Scary stuff but invaluable to learning what works and what doesn’t. So the team effort began! With each part of the performance being broken down and analysed the group offered commentary and suggestion for improvement. The resulting performance was a very different and very funny one compared to the performances of previous weeks.

As a closing note I would like to say that the best team effort during ActUpNorth ‘comedy’ weeks was the rendition of Happy Birthday sung to me by the whole class at the end of the workshop. Thank you team mates, it was …. pitchy, out of tune and the timing sucked …but the main thing is… it was funny!

MYRA WROTE ON JULY 15TH 2011…

This weeks ActUpNorth workshop was a master-class in auditioning for television. The very lovely and talented actress Samantha Siddall was both encouraging and constructive as she led us through a scripted piece written for a well known TV Soap.

The script was originally written for 1 male and 1 female character, but as there were more women than men in the class this week I paired up with another actress. We had a real giggle, getting to grips with the ‘flirtatious’ lines in the middle of the piece, which was only noted by us once Samantha had pointed this fact out : inner dialoguewent something like this “eehm! didn’t spot it-what were ya doin’- where were ya lookin’- focus – stop gigglin’ – do it!”

Because the storyline followed a confrontation between two parents about one child bullying another, as two women my co-actress and I played the “arms folded, hands on hips, finger pointing” stereotypical cat fighting mothers : I think we were trying to give Gail Platt and Sally Webster a run for their money! ( I’m not going to say which one I thought I was but my co-actress was a brilliant Gail!)

Samantha offered invaluable advice and guidance on how to find the character ‘as written’. i.e. in this instance – between a mother from one family and a father from another who, although arguing about the kids have sexual chemistry between them and potentially could become lovers. Talking us through gear changes, pacing, timing and delivery I was so glad I’d paid attention during the potty training/geometry lessons etc. (keep up – clues in previous blogs) because everything Samantha said made complete sense.

The industry professionals ActUpNorth invite in to deliver workshops for us mere mortals are giants in their own field and I feel so privileged and empowered. Determined in my pursuit of an acting career I am going to slap my thigh and climb that beanstalk, knowing there are willing and helping hands, not so much behind me but up above reaching down and pulling with all their might.

MYRA WROTE ON JULY 8TH 2011…

I can empathise with my Grandson, who at the ripe old age of 2yrs 5mths and 3 days is going through a significant development in his life. Because so am I. My ‘acting for screen’ training is akin to his potty training!

We both know what we need to do and when we need to do it, but just when we’re ready to take aim and go for a shoot – you’ve guessed it – it becomes a bit of a hit or miss affair!

Take last weeks class for example, when I attempted to walk, shoulder to shoulder, with my co-actor towards the camera: this is a definite MISS (think three legged race and you’ll get an idea of how much synchronisation this takes! I kept falling over my own feet.)
The next task was easier, because said Grandson helps me on a regular basis to turn ordinary dialogue into a drama : so this is a HIT.

And then on the final task, we had to look like we were walking through a fairground..
Just when David; actor, mentor, director and camera man, said ‘action’ I heard a noise, got distracted and peered through the window. OK I know,technically speaking I was being ‘nosey’ rather than ‘acting’ but it looked convincing on screen so I’m awarding myself : a Hit!

Now, going back to my Grandson, who today decided that 8, 9 ,10 precedes 1, 2, 3, I was reminded of the ‘mathematical’ journey we embarked on in class this week, as David introduced us to comedy. A genre not to be laughed at! (Pun intended). There are so many facets, angles and cornerstones to this funny business that the potty has been upstaged by the set square! There are no Hit or Miss options. The timing has to be perfect, the pacing just right and the characterisation spot on. As a comedy actor there is also a necessity to be able to laugh at oneself, and one of the first things I was encouraged to do, when joining ActUpNorth was to get over myself, or “get out of my own way” as Peter J Hunt our brilliant principal would say.

I fear my Grandson will have graduated before I master the art of comedic acting, but I have never been faint hearted and I have no inhibitions, so I’m ready to cover all angles and give it a shot. Hit or Miss? Who knows? But I bet I’ll have a laugh finding out!

MYRA WROTE ON JUNE 24TH 2011…

The first line of the script we worked on this week started with “ we’re different people ……” and it could not have been a more appropriate opening to the workshop.
Yes we’re different people, but we all had the same script and therefore the same text to work with, so what was really interesting was how all of us in the class had different interpretations of the two ‘characters’ in the story. As each ‘pair’ of actors rehearsed and then delivered the same script it was proved time and again that there is no right or wrong way to bring the character to life – but there are lots of different ways! And that’s what I love about ActUpNorth sessions – we, as people and actors are allowed to be unique: I can remain true to myself, even when I’m being someone else.

There was another difference to this week’s class as well. Not one, but twoacting coaches : So I had David, in one ear reminding me about the artistry and creativity of a piece of drama : Peter, in the other ear re-iterating the skills and techniques required for acting on camera. And on top of that, my own running dialogue in between both ears “ I think that was the line – oops no, said it wrong, never mind , moment passed, on with next bit, now he said it wrong- how do I answer that? – ooh pausing too long – quick, phew made it!” “smile – leg it to seat and hide behind script.”

So having been informed, enlightened and encouraged to develop my own interpretation and individuality I can’t wait for next week, when we film the same script but using different camera angles. Apparently I’ll have to walk towards the camera whilst delivering dialogue, stop at a mark, cut, re position both (actors and camera), deliver more dialogue but this time the camera will be over my co- actors shoulder and right in my face. Agghh! I’m not sure I’m ready for a close up yet – wonder if I can request just a wide shot. “ Coward – me? No!”

Now, excuse me while I go to practise walking and talking at the same time – and don’t laugh until you’ve tried to do it on camera – but that’s a different story for next week – watch this space!

“Yeah – why the hell not!” – Kristin O’Mara

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Since I decided to pursue acting part time last year, I’ve grown in confidence and even more so since I joined ActUpNorth in October 2010. When Illy (TV Director) came in to see us, during a Q&A session in December, he simply said “If you want to act, why not write your own play?” and I thought “Yeah – why the hell not!!!” So that is what I decided to do!

After writing a few of the scripts myself (which I think this is an avenue I will also follow in the future) I probably didn’t realise how much planning was involved with the 8 mini plays and approx 25 actors from across the North, many of whom from ActUpNorth!!! But I am thoroughly enjoying this and thank god 99% of the actors involved have been helpful and just as enthusiastic as I am.

By doing this I’ve met some great people, made some great contacts, and the event will be raising money for Manchesters Booth Centre (they look after homeless people in and around the city) which makes it all worth while. So if you’d like to come and see some ActUpNorth talent (I will also be acting in one of the plays myself lol!), book tickets on www.knockoutproductions.co.uk and if I decide do this again in a few months time, let me know if you want to take part!

Kristin O’Mara

“Really learning a lot about screen acting” – Marie Marsh

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I was so nervous about attending Act up North, I did not know what to expect when I got accepted in October 2010, or if I would ‘fit in’ or even if it would be useful to me. However everyone was in the same boat, the other students were really nice and friendly, such a variety of people. We all get on great now we are getting to know one another and David and Peter the tutors really make you feel at ease. Its great having their expert advise on hand each week, and I am really learning a lot about screen acting. I am hoping that as time goes on I can develop some really good acting skills and who knows what the future could hold for me then…..

Also the castings that come in are a really good opportunity for us all. I really look forward to my class each week and continuing to learn from my tutors and the guest tutors.

Marie Marsh

“Nearly a year!” – Joanna Sartorius

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Well it’s been nearly a year since I joined Actupnorth in Liverpool, and what a year!

I have met great tutors, guest tutors, successful actors and the most talented students.

Most of all I have thoroughly enjoyed every single minute of our classes each Thursday night.

The great thing is the classes are geared for all abilities and even if your lacking in confidence, each week and with encouragement from the tutors and other students the confidence just grows and grows.

I am now only kicking myself I didn’t join earlier!

Just wanted to say thank you to Erin and Peter for the opportunity, it has been invaluable and after nearly a year I still get excited about coming to class!

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JO’S PAST BLOGS…

‘…Mr Hunt I am ready for my close up!!

Well, what a week! After doing a few weeks of improvisation which is not a favourite of mine but had lots of fun and actually looking back made ‘fitting in’ with the class a lot easier. ( I am a relative newbie 5 weeks in) we are finally on scripts, Yay! Last week we were given a script from a film which we saw ourselves act out on camera. This week after learning the script we had another chance on camera and boy it was a close up! After viewing ourselves and having a bit of a laugh at ourselves, Peter gave us all constructive feedback. We have a great group in Liverpool and I have learned so much in these 5 weeks and I look forward to every Thursday. I find it challenging and rewarding and Peter brings the best out of us. We now have a script from an American film which I am trying to learn, and really looking forward to next week as we have a casting director working with us.Anyone thinking about joining ActUpNorth don’t just think it, do it, it’s the best thing I have done and you will gain so much confidence and gain lots of experience. Cant’ wait for next week, Mr Hunt I am ready for my close up!!

“Scripts from current TV programmes…fantastic!” – Tara Donelon

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Since I decided to pursue acting professionally I was at a loss on how to begin and what to expect. I started attending ‘ACTUPNORTH’ and learnt so much class by class. From how to audition, perform on camera (which was daunting at first and now is so much easier to do), what to expect in a casting and even had mock castings with respected industry professionals. The amount of scripts we have covered which are from current t.v programmes is fantastic and learning to get them off page as soon as possible is getting easier each week. I would highly recommend these classes to any aspiring actor, they also give you a great overview of the industry and are worth every penny.