16/06/2012 at 12:30 pm Leave a comment

(and other stuff they won’t teach you at drama school)

We recently developed a bit of full-on facial scruff for a some performance work. It took about six or eight weeks to get to the appropriate length and about an hour to shave off for a gig that lasted two-days. We thought this was worth logging on the web because in recent times it has become clear that beards are coming back, and not just on the jaws of auteur director types at that. Historically in times of financial uncertainty facial hair has come back into fashion (something about anxiety in the modern man being offset by the visible virility of the something-something-sexy-man-hair and like metrosexual is so 2006 or whatever. But perhaps that is a topic for another day…

The beard is back, and in rehearsal for another show last year we got into a conversation with a recent WAAPA graduate about moustache cultivation techniques. Surprisingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly) the majority of young male actors (and by the look of them, most young men) think growing a beard is simply a matter of *not shaving* for several weeks. This far from the truth. Theories on the subject have been explored, expounded and explained to us over the nearly two decades of life in and around the theatre, for the most part by the old-school actors passing on their wisdom to the up-and-comers such as yours truly while shooting the breeze about various theatre-tricks-of-the-trade. It comes down to one or two basic techniques:

  1. Let your stubble grow out for four or five days.
    • During this time, develop a habit of pushing the new growth forest downwards towards your neck with the palms of your hands. This has the effect of getting your beard into alignment, or what they call ‘consistent grain’.
      • Shave it off, preferably with a straight razor or at the barbers. If you can’t do this an ordinary razor will do, but electric razors will simply push the follicles back out of alignment. Albert Einstein espoused a technique for shaving using only warm water – no foam – as this allows the follicles to stick together more closely. Take this as you will; the man was a genius, but his fashion sense notsomuch.
        • As the new growth comes back it will naturally align downwards, if you have time, depending on the length of beard or moustache you are aiming for, repeat Steps 1-3.
          • Keep pushing your new beard downwards as it gets longer.  Make it an habitual thinking technique. Be careful to keep pushing in the same direction though, as distraction can lead to twisting and pulling back out, which invariably becomes uncomfortable as the length increases.
            • Again this is a stylistic choice for the role you may be preparing, but for god’s sake trim. Nothing looks shabbier than a poorly groomed neckline where a decent beard gets all patchy.  Same along the cheeks and sideburns, where your facial hair will grow at different speeds and thickness.
              • Choose your moisturisers wisely. Face-dandruff is unsightly and embarrassing when a minor snowstorm erupts from your chin mid sentence.  With this in mind the cosmetic industry is the world’s biggest scam and we can only recommend that you investigate the credentials of the brand before buying something unethically produced.  It’s entirely possible that flaking can be prevented by adding more zinc and Vitamins to your diet, drinking plenty of water and staying off the turps between shows. Good luck with that.

              So there you have it, a complete how-to on getting your soup-strainer in impeccable shape. No longer must we put up with Grug-style facial fungus when we have the technology to grow a beard and not look as though we’ve just got back from Nimbin.  Not mentioning any names of course…

              While it’s perhaps surprising more ‘trained’ actors aren’t given this kind of granular practical performance skill set, there are other tips and tricks we’ve learned whilst on-the-job that young actors can possibly bring to their craft. Here are just a few more to bring to work with:

              • Lighting a match onstage? Use two matches at once to avoid misfiring and having to fumble around for another one.
                • Don’t listen to anyone who tells you how fantastic you are. It unnecessarily inflates your ego which in turn, makes it that much more difficult to leave at the door. All the best actors (while often total raging ego fiends in the real world) know only too well that the complacent performer is a dead actor walking.
                  • There is no such thing as ‘your natural voice’. Every character has their own vocal tics and tone. Don’t be fooled into thinking you need to constantly fall back to ‘natural speech’, it’s a myth designed to prevent actors from getting stuck in a particular speech pattern for their lines, to free up interpretation.  But your ‘natural voice’ changes every day, every hour, depending on your circumstances.  It’s just that mostly we aren’t conscious of it.
                    • And the one thing they definitely don’t tell you at Drama School is possibly the most important thing of all: Industry Politics is Bullshit. Don’t get caught up in that insider mumbo-jumbo crap about the right way and the wrong way.  Right, Wrong, Good, Bad, there’s only one mistake to be made in this game and that’s pulling your punches. This of course does not preclude the power of listening in collaboration. Just know when to hold ’em. For every visible in-club there’s a whole undercurrent of creative practice happening on the fringe, willing to accept and embrace difference. If we all stop playing the game, everybody wins.

                    But perhaps that’s a topic for another day…

                    Any other industry secrets you might have learned while working in this wild and woolly world of walking the boards? Do Share!

                    Entry filed under: Inside Theatre PROCESS.

                    FRINGE DIARY pt 1: SONS OF SUN

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                    VICTOR SANCZ vassanc [AT]

                    since 2009

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