Friday, 4 May 2012

My inner voter turmoil

Politics. What a good way to spoil a party.

Yesterday British people had the opportunity to elect their local government leaders. In London, undoubtedly the most prominent election that took place was the mayoral one: the battle between “Buffoon” Boris Johnson the incumbent and “Red” Ken Livingstone in an attempt to reclaim his seat at City Hall. The votes are still being counted as of today.

I have friends who shout from both ends of the political spectrum. A quick trawl through my social networking yesterday and I could easily find both “BACK BORIS” and “SACK BORIS” as well as “Anyone but BoJo” and “Not Ken again”. My own political opinions aside, these people are exercising their free speech and voicing their opinions, which is of course fine. But among those very same pages are other comments I’ve seen which remind me that I have a growing problem with another kind of people: those who don’t vote.

A lot of my friends do, don’t get me wrong. Some of the comments are “Just voted, make sure you do too!” or even “I just voted, though I’m getting tired of the whole thing.” But some people simply refuse to vote. I’ve heard many excuses: “My one vote won’t make a difference.”, “I can’t really stand any of the candidates.”, “I don’t have time.”, “Oh it only encourages them”, etc. etc. ad nauseam. And then the BBC came out with a [link] report today saying that only 32% of the population actually voted, which is the lowest figure since 2000.

What? WHAT!? This baffles me. How is that supposed to be an accurate representation of what people want? From this, the people who get into government may simply be the candidate who got the most people into the polling station. 

Now, I completely sympathize with people who call themselves apathetic towards government in general. But that’s no excuse to be lazy. These are the people who make decisions that directly affect your life. If you are not happy with the decisions, not voting seems hardly the best way to do something about it. My point is, if you choose not to vote, you have no right to complain about what the government does. Or about the people in government.

You may be asking, Wow, Jon, why do you feel so strongly about voting? Well let me tell you. In Wisconsin, where I’m originally from, there is a very rare event taking place that stands to alter the state’s political landscape. Arguably the whole of America is watching us to see how it’s all going to turn out. In 2010, the citizens of Wisconsin elected a new governor by the name of Scott Walker. In that election, voter turnout was approximately 50%. Within his first month as governor, Mr Walker passed controversial measures that subsequently angered enough Wisconsinites that massive protests were held in the state capital and he is now under threat of being removed from office via a recall election. You may have heard of this.

The recall election is set for June 5th. In all likelihood I will probably still be in London at that time (What, you think I’m going to miss the Diamond Jubilee?), but thankfully Wisconsin has a helpful measure that allows residents to apply for an absentee ballot no matter where you live (unless they’ve registered to vote in another area). This means I can vote by mail, and I’ve done this before. However, because I have been living in London for over 5 years, my residency status is in question, and it may be possible that due to a technicality I won’t be allowed to submit an absentee ballot and therefore will not be allowed to vote in this once-in-a-lifetime, important election. I’m still trying to sort this out.

Also, as I am an American citizen, and not (yet) a British citizen, I am not allowed to vote in ANY election here in the UK. European citizens who reside here are, but not me, even though I’ve lived here long enough to be eligible for citizenship.

So people who tell me they’re too busy to vote or don’t want to because it’s pointless really get my goat. If you think your one vote doesn’t matter, then you’re not looking at the bigger picture and you need to get out of your bubble. I won’t even start talking about parts of the world where people aren’t allowed to vote.

In my ideal world (i.e. if I were president of the universe) I would make it against the law not to vote. If you don’t, you are not allowed to receive benefits or any sort of advantage from the government (though you must still pay taxes). You may choose to abstain from voting for any particular candidate, but you must go to the polling booth and actively decide that. You cannot simply stay at home.

As easy as it is to be apathetic towards politics, I’ve learned that it is an unavoidable part of life. Yes, I know that there are many things wrong with politics today (as there ever have been), but choosing not to take part in democracy is no way to change that. No, not everyone has to be an activist or a lobbyist or whatever. But everyone should do the least they can do and take a few minutes of their day and tick a few boxes. Come on, Britain, 32% is pitiful. 

Friday, 17 February 2012

Tell me a story...

To me, not just as an actor, but an all-around theatre person, the most important thing to do while on stage is tell a good story. All other aspects of theatre are still important, but if the story is missing or flawed, those aspects are irrelevant. For example, you can have a wonderful set design or cutting-edge lighting and sound, but without a story to support, you might as well be in a museum. You can have amazing choreography or someone with an exceptional singing voice, but without a story to tell via the dance moves or through the lyrics, all you have is someone showing off their craft. You can have outstanding actors with the ability to evoke any emotion on demand, but without a story to tell, well, they’re just being pretentious. (There’s actually a word for that kind of theatre, but it’s a bit rude so ask me later and I’ll tell you.)

The same applies to other works of art as well, film and TV particularly. If you’re not telling me a good story, I’m changing the channel or walking out of the cinema. (Actually I would never walk out of a cinema. I did walk out of a theatre once during intermission – and I felt so bad! But it had to be done.) At a stretch you could even say the best music or the best paintings, for example, tell stories in a way.

Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with going to a museum or watching someone perform their craft on stage … but it’s not theatre. Theatre requires an additional element: the story. This is why I love being an actor. I get to tell a story through performance, through acting it out. It’s also why I love being a writer, though in that case, especially with playwriting, there’s inevitably a point where you have to finish messing with your creation and relinquish your storytelling power to someone else, say, a director or a producer.

I’m mentioning all this because the other day I was looking over my recent (i.e. London) acting history, and I realized that the theatre productions I’m most proud of – the ones where I felt a good story was told – have all been with the same theatre company. Myriad Productions specializes in adapting classic novels, and they have been perfecting this craft for many years. Since they’re focussed on classics, there’s already a good story there. But the adaptations are done so well, in my opinion, that you can tell the adaptor has fully understood and has digested the novel’s meaning and author’s intentions, and is able to produce that on stage and expertly bring out the dramatic parts of plotlines. They’re also fun to perform, and engaging to watch.

I’ve performed with them twice previously, in The Hunchback of Notre-Dame and The Count of Monte Cristo, and now my third production with them, Anna Karenina, is opening this coming Tuesday (21 February). I am so excited about this show that I have invited just about everyone I know living in London. I have invited casting directors and producers and reviewers, and I still have an itching to invite more people. If anyone reading this blog knows of any reviewers or industry people who would be interested in seeing some new talent, get in touch with me via my website or my twitter or somesuch.

I’m playing the young, sexy, military man Count Vronsky in this new adaptation of Anna Karenina at the Barons Court Theatre. We run from 21 February until 3 March with performances every night at 7:30pm (except Sunday and Monday). If you are reading this blog, then you should come see me. Full details are on the Myriad Productions website or the Facebook event page. (I’ll update my website this weekend so it includes the number to call to reserve tickets.)

So come see me on stage. Come watch a well-told story, with superb acting skills on display (I hope). No guarantees, but I may or may not look like this:  

Sunday, 5 February 2012

The snow makes the cold acceptable.

Snow snow snow snow snow snow snow snow! Snow snow? SNOW!

So it snowed in London last night. It started about 11pm, just in time for the Saturday night party-goers to get drenched with the first wave, which is always inevitably slush, before it sufficiently cools the ground and allows it to stick. Overnight it continued to pile up; the official reports say in places there was up to 4 inches of snow.

That may not seem like a lot to my friends back in wintry Wisconsin (though apparently there's not much snow there at the moment - very unseasonal) but in London, this is a BIG DEAL. Similar to the snow we had a few years ago that ground London to a halt, there are already reports of public transport being unable to cope. Apparently a few trains on the Underground stopped mid-station, and passengers had to disembark and walk to the next station.

Sorry, Londoners, but I laugh at you. Yes, I know that you don't have snow plows (which you strangely spell "ploughs" - which I think should be pronounced "ploffs") that clear roads or put down salt or grit for traction, but snow is amazing and wonderfully fun and can be enjoyed with enough care and common sense. If you drive in London, please be careful on the roads. You're not used to it!

I grew up in a place where winters are known to be cold, and I always used say to people that the cold was unbearable until it started snowing. I love the snow. After completing the finishing touches on my website, my fella and I went outdoors and played in the snow at 1am. It was amazing! The serenity of the late night, and the pristine, untouched snow were all ours. We made snow angels and funny tracks, and even a couple of snowmen on the hood of a neighbor's car (don't ask me whose).

So I'm glad it snowed. People have been complaining all week about the cold weather (Londoners will complain about any weather, though) and I couldn't really argue with them. But now that it's snowed, they can complain about the snow instead and I will not be fazed; I will remain in my private joy.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Introductory Offer: two blog entries in one!

Well here we are. My blog, welcome back. Can I just say right now that 2011 pretty much sucked thank you very much. Last year, all in all, more shit things happened than good. I’d really like to avoid any clich├ęs about how the New Year is good for starting new things and resetting yourself and blah blah blah. But they’re all true.

So that’s how I’m viewing the beginning of this year. Never mind that it’s already February; I feel exceptionally ready to take control of my future, many thanks to the three weeks over Christmas I spent in America with friends and family. Man I needed that.

Actors will agree with me that it’s terribly common to hold a day job while building up acting experience and waiting for an acting career to take off. Well I’m so sick of waiting around for my career to take off that I’ve realised how vital it is that I go for it on my own terms. I need to stop waiting. I currently have a stable but temporary day job and I’ve been telling myself I’d be able save up some money so I could eventually have a proper go at acting, but instead, after two months, I’m broke already. I need to prepare myself for that moment when I don’t have a day job and no guaranteed income. Considering I’ve told myself I could live off little and therefore manage to save money – and haven’t – I must admit it’s an indicator that I could be headed down the same path if I’m not careful. I’m also afraid that suddenly six months – half a YEAR – will have gone by where I’m not advancing my acting career. I can’t let that happen.

So I’ve had some luck already. I’m in a new play. That’s good! (Click here for details!) It’s handy – and I’m lucky – that it fits in with my day job. I’m very excited about it. But if I just do that play and don’t capitalise on it, I’m back in the same situation I was before. So what I will do is re-kindle all my contacts, milk my networking for all that it’s worth, and get reviewers and casting directors and producers and everyone I know to come see it. But that will take effort, and it won’t happen all by itself. I must go about networking my play to the extreme. Actors cannot wait around for the right casting director or producer to see them. They have to find that person. I have recently realised I have to make my work myself, but now this has to become more than just an occasional job. It has to be my career. And I can't wait much longer.

When I am not acting, I want to be writing.

“There is no such thing as writer’s block. All writers should allow themselves to write crap once in a while.”

That quote is based on a tweet I read recently; I don’t remember who said it and the words are not exactly what I had read, so in a way I guess you could say it is my quote, except that it’s not really and it doesn’t matter anyway. In any case, the point is still valid, as well as pertinent to me. Any writer – whether you are a blogger, author, playwright, musician, etc. – cannot be expected to create a perfect composition every time they sit down at a keyboard. (See what I did there with my words? Pertains to musicians too!) This expectation – which I know is sometimes self-imposed – causes writers to self-edit as they go, which disrupts the internal creative process. Writers, you know what I’m talking about.

This entire double-blog is a perfect example. When I first sat down to write something (a few weeks ago), I wanted to write about how 2011 wasn’t that great, and about how I have new plans for 2012, etc. But I began to do that self-editing thing as I went along: I doubted every other word I typed, went back on ideas and phrases, and struggled over words I couldn’t quite pin down. I think I ended up hitting my backspace key more than all other letters combined. I thought to myself, “Cheese and rice, I’ll never accomplish anything at this pace!”

But then I saw that quote, and, like advice you hear over and over from one friend but never actually take until you hear it from another friend in a different way, it finally sunk in. I decided to write whatever came to my head, and not to judge anything I wrote as I wrote it. I even resisted the urge to correct grammatical errors! (Those who know me understand how difficult this was for me.) After 4 pages and almost 2,000 words I stopped. And the result! … well it was mostly crap. But some of it was interesting crap! Looking over what I wrote, I see I had duologues with myself, provided self-encouragement, tried to be clever at points and then admonished myself for not being clever, and then eventually tried to determine why I haven’t posted in here since May last year.

Of course I’ve whittled it down a lot and added things since I finished, and no, I don’t pretend that it’s gold. But the result (like it or not) is a much better version than my rambling original! That’s what my head is usually like, though: a rambling, incoherent mess of ideas strung together with the most tenuous of threads. Getting my thoughts on paper is such a good way of getting them off my mind, which also allows me not only to organize them, but also to continue writing with a clear head.

I don’t proclaim to “suffer” from writer’s block, but this is a method I’m going to continue to use. From here on out I am going to utilise my 69 WPM fingers and write unrestrainedly! I will whip out the writing that unleashes my bottled anger, my hidden fears, and my unbounded joy! Or whatever. I’m not promising anything.

I strongly encourage any other aspiring writers to do the same. I know I’m not a famous author or anything, but I have seen things I’ve written produced, and the best things that you write will be the things that you write without restraint.

It’s what I’ll be doing from now on. I’ll use it when writing blogs as well as plays I’ve been working on. There are already a number of plays I’m in the process of writing, and I even have fellow actors in mind for specific roles, but the writing is currently stalled because every time I actually sit down at the keyboard, I start to self-edit. It’s time I stop doing that and pick up that writing again.