26 May, 2009

Behind the Scenes: Half Hour Call

Join me backstage, and follow me as I get ready to play Julie.

This is the half hour call at The Savoy Theatre, enjoy!

21 May, 2009

Domestic Happening, Episode 9: Star Trek

It went like this:


D: Wanna go to bed?
A: Sure. Wanna watch something in bed?
D: Sure. What?
A: Lost?
D: The Pilot of Lost?!
A: No. Star Trek?
D: Really?!! Excellent! Which one?
A: 6?

[Horrified pause]

D: What...?
A: ...six...?
D: Um, Al.... which Star Trek did we watch yesterday?
A: 2?
D: And... what about 3 4 and 5? You wanna just miss those out?
A: But you said 6 was your favourite. [D throws a stern look A's way] ...didn't you?

[thought gathering. there has clearly been a communication breakdown here. "This is MY fault" thinks Damian, I will try again to share the importance of the sequential order thing...he speaks again, VERY. SLOWLY...]

D: ...At the end of the movie when MISTER SPOCK DIES...AND HE TOUCHES McCOY and SAYS "REMEMBER..." ... um.... you don't... ya know?... wanna.... know what happens there....?
A: [Searching for the right answer] ...not particularly.....?
D: [Sigh] Okay, Al. What is the title of Star Trek 3 [Gets Star Trek 3]?
A: "The Search for Spock"!
D: Yes. [Patiently reads the back of the DVD jacket] "IN the wake of Spock's ultimate act of sacrifice, the crew of the USS Enterprise returns to Earth from the newly formed Genesis planet. Upon arrival, the crew learns that life back home will not be easier: Scotty get reassigned, Doctor Bones McCoy appears to be going insane, and the Enterprise is to be decommissioned. It is only when Kirk is to be confronted by Spock's father that he learns his old friend may have another chance at life. If the crew can survive the Klingon interference, and return to the Genesis planet..." I mean, my GOD Al! How can you NOT want to see what happens next?
A: [Thoughtful pause] But... you said 6 was your favourite...?
D: [Hangs head in shame] You cut me deep Al.... you cut me deep...


17 May, 2009

It takes three

What a week.

It took...

A cut pas de deux
a carnival boy crisis
The threat of a show cancel
The great Adam Cooper
The Rodgers & Hammerstein Estate
and THREE Julie Jordans

...to get through this hell of a week, but if you could have been there on Saturday night, feeling the thrill of togetherness, experiencing the rush of an entire company plunging the period, the full stop on to the end of this violent sentence of a week; well... you would know what it feels like to overcome tremendous adversity and emerge victorious. And victory it was.

Saturday was the best show we have ever done. We burst, we radiated, we trembled with the energy--like the pile of ash that remains from a fallen phoenix. Or a collective creature raging against the dying of the light. This one is for us, we thought. This one is for principle, for nothing other than the fight. We are fighting against our fire going out, "spark by irreplaceable spark." We will not let the heroes within us expire. But Saturday? We were magnificent. Because we are magnificent, and can not be spoiled.

The crowd gave full throttle cheers from the first moment, and were wiping tears off of their chins by the end. The audience was on their feet in a way they have not been since Press Night. And we, more than we ever had, had earned it.

Sometimes in this world, we get burgled. We lay our souls open and bare, like a trusting person would a front door, and people take advantage of our openness, of our extraordinary courage to be so, and burgle us. And who knows why? Jealousy, greed, shattering envy, fear, arrogance, carelessness. The list is infinite. But the terrible transparency of truth reveals these dark forces to be brittle and stooping and banal.

What I do know is this: we could not have reached this serenity without all the violence we have known. But then again, isn't that true of everything?

14 May, 2009


...as Carnival Boy.

Adam Cooper Comes to Rescue of Carousel
Date: 14 May 2009

The audience at last night's performance of Carousel at the Savoy Theatre got a special treat when renowned dancer Adam Cooper (choreographer of the show) stepped in at the very last minute to perform in place of the injured Tom Dwyer, who plays the Carnival Boy. Dwyer's usual understudy, Leon Webster, was also off injured, and the second understudy James O'Connell was too ill to perform.

Cooper, who is currently choreographing a production of the opera Roberto Devereux at Holland Park, only agreed at the last minute to go on, with producers facing the prospect of having to cancel the show if he couldn't do it. After 30 minutes of frantic rehearsal, he went on to perform the famed 15-minute pas de deux segment with dancer Lindsey Wise, and a bouquet from co-star Leslie Garrett at the curtain call.

But Cooper, famed for his performance in Matthew Bourne's seminal 1994 all-male version of Swan Lake and appearance in 1999 film Billy Elliot – is unlikely to be called on again. Leon Webster has today been given the “all clear” by doctors and will resume in the role this evening.

All I can say is this: sitting in the wings with the entire company, stage management team, crew and theatre staff, we experienced a communion of sorts. There, bonded together in the presence of such astonishing greatness, we simultaneously glinted for a moment, and bathed in a feeling of unity that I have only ever experienced in the theatre. Tonight was what being in the theatre is all about. It was beautiful and a shattering honour.

What a day.

11 May, 2009

Ask Al: Valuable Lesons

Dear Al,

Since making your West End debut you have worked with many theatre greats.

What was the most valuable lesson you learned and from whom?


* * *

Great question. I don’t really believe you can learn “life experience” type lessons from anyone but yourself. However, there have been a few things I have picked up along the way from incredible people that I have found endlessly helpful.

1) Ladies. Always. Curtsy. (Sir T Nunn)

When we were first staging the curtain calls for WiW, I came out and automatically curtsy-ed (years of ballet, thankyouverymuch), and he called out from the stalls, a hearty and congratulatory "GOOD GIRL!" before giving me the little tidbit above after we were done. I'll never forget it.

2) Being gracious to everyone you work with is the most important thing about being an actor-- showing appreciation, respect, and courtesy; and above all, using good manners. Courtesy costs nothing. (A Andrews)

And believe me when I tell you that he is indeed a man who lives his life by this principle. A kinder, more gracious man in this business you would be hard pressed to find. His generosity knows no bounds, and extends from the leading lady right down to the cleaners. Everyone matters, everyone is a part of the experience, and everyone benefits from his attentions and attitude.

3) Leaving the stage door after a show is “Act 3” of your job. (R Henshall)

She's right. If you are going to be a performer, you have to accept that being gracious to those who take the time to thank you for your performance, to get your autograph, perhaps a photo; that those people are what keep you where you are, and they deserve a piece of your attention. If you don't feel like it, too bad. It is as much a part of your job as Act 1 and Act 2. It is Act 3. She's a smart woman.

4) You only have 100% of what you have today. Don’t beat yourself up , use what you have to be 100% truthful TODAY.

Oh my goodness this is the best piece of acting advice I have ever been given.
Within the given circumstances of the piece, and within the limitations of your character's breakdown, use what 100% of what you as an actor possess TODAY and your work will be constantly truthful. Feeling vulnerable today? Then, within reason, so is your character. Are you feeling strong today? Then so is your character.

To use Fiddler as an example: there were days when I was feeling very tenderhearted or exhausted, so I utilised all I had available to me that day and Hodel was therefore more broken up and outwardly moved by the events of her life that day. There were days when I was feeling strong, and thus, Hodel was better able to keep her emotions under control. See? Both situations were truthful to the way Al the actress was feeling in that moment. This prevents so much pressure to hit your "best ever 100%." Give all you have today, and that is all you can give.

5. IT'S ALL ALLOWED. (Adrian Howells)
This pearl comes from a teacher/director/performance artist/all around incredible human being whose sole philosophy in working with people, is keeping their "love tanks" full. He believe you get the best out of people when they feel great about themselves, and what they are doing. Questions, mistakes, experiments, failures, celebrations, successes; ALL of it, IS ALLOWED. And this permission, this exquisite freedom paves the way for a truly safe and beautiful creative environment indeed. There is nothing that you can do that will be wrong or incorrect, it is all a part of the process of creation, part of the journey, of the experience. It's all allowed.

6. "When you come across an onstage experience as incredible as the one we share everyday, hold on to it. Remember it. Cherish it. It doesn't happen very often. And it's GOLD-DUST GIRL." (H Goodman)

This man keeps his cards close to his chest. And not only was this one of the greatest compliments of my life from one of the most reserved (offstage!) actors I've ever worked with, but incredible advice. Those glowing moments keep us afloat when we feel defeated, deflated, uninspired, misunderstood. When we lose sight of why we do what we do. Why we love it. That moment I shared with Henry was magical, inspiring, and good every day, and he was right, when I lose track of my inner fire I remember it, and I feel heartened.

And the best part of all this advice? It's not just true of the theatre...

06 May, 2009

Skippy Vs. Jif: A Tawdry Tale

America has had it's debates over the years, it's share of very public divides.

Do we or do we not secede from the Union?
Do we or do we not get involved in WW2?
Chocolate or Vanilla?
Pepsi or Coke?
Rachel or Monica?

But. I present you now with a controversy of cosmic import. I lay before you one of the most hotly debated issues in America:

Jif or Skippy?

I know, I know. One sounds like a bathroom "cream cleaner", the other like a benevolent fictional marsupial, but it is not the end of the dilemmas. Crucially, and perhaps even more importantly,

Smooth or Crunchy?

That's right. This is about peanut butter.

Now there is Reduced Fat Jif, Skippy Super chunky, Natural Skippy (with "no need to stir" which is a categorical LIE let me tell you)... the choices may never end. Will the debate only be made more heated and vehement? Will Skippy and Jif continue to divide our nation, continue to rip apart families by now offering MORE choices?! MORE opportunities for us to deviate from the simplest of all foods?!

Has there ever been an issue more contentious? Has there ever been a food so fiercely disputed? ... What was that?! ... I'm sorry, did you just say YOU DON'T KNOW?! Well, LISTEN! This is controversial food talk people, dust off your Debate Team jackets and break open your accordian files, spruce up your hand-me-down briefcases filled with sources and o-rings and note-cards and get ready to kick some peanut buttery ass because this is serious stuff. Don't take this lightly. That's right. Take it like a man...

Some of you out there might think that the two brands both have their virtues. That they are both synthetic vats of trans-fats and hydrogenated oils. That they are, frankly, extremely similar in most ways. And you might be correct.

But. Skippy vs. Jif is a true dilemma, people! Families have been torn apart, friendships ended, and states gone to battle over this crucial issue (in fact, speculation that the civil war was on the verge of re-ignition in the late 1970's due to a peanut butter misunderstanding between visiting relatives in Georgia is still yet to be determined).

So. Let's make a list shall we?

Skippy's virtues:
- Creamier texture,
- Great spread-a-bility (even in "Crunchy" PB)
- Melts to almost liquid on toast (which is dreeeeeeamy), thus "mixable" with jams/jellys
- Very light and (i.e., not too "heavy" in the savoury sense)
- Whimsical blue lid

Jif's virtues:
- Terriffic peanut(-ier) taste
- Great "biting" texture perfect for "off-the-spoon" consumption
- Sliiiiiightly sweeter (especially their Reduced Fat Jif, which has extra sweeteners in it)
- More and larger peanut pieces (in "Crunchy" PB)
- Whimsical red lid

Tawdry Points...

Jif takes the time to print a label that blantently plays upon one's ignorance. A few years ago the label listed this: "Made with no partially hydrogenated oils!" Intrigued, since Jif is a lowest-common-denominator PB that has always contained three lousy ingredients: refines salt, refined sugar and hydrogenated fat, one thinks to themselves, "How exciting! Jif got rid of the rapeseed oil! It will be less rancid and toxic and solid—both in the can and in my blood stream! Hurrah!"

Then one picks up the product and reads the label and it says, “Contains less than 2 percent fully hydrogenated oils (rapeseed).” Unbelievable. They’re bragging that they don’t have partially hydrogenated fats, because they have fully hydrogenated fats! I guess they’re hoping the "choosy moms" who buy the peanut butter are dumb enough not to investigate.

So. Jif. Liars.... Whatever.

But. BUT... no one, NO ONE I TELL YOU, can deny the fact that as far as stories go, Skippy's conception wins it with a tale of (ongoing!) seven-decade-long lawsuits, a comic strip, and an insane asylum. I mean.... please. That is amazing...

Via Wikipedia:

“Skippy” was first used as a trademark for peanut butter by the Rosefield Packing Co., Ltd., of Alameda, California, in 1933. Percy Crosby, creator of the “Skippy” comic strip, had the trademark invalidated in 1934, but Rosefield persisted after Crosby was committed to an insane asylum, and its successor companies, most recently Unilever, have been granted rights to the trademark over the objection of Crosby’s heirs. There has been much litigation on this point over the decades, some of which remains in progress.

Oh. WOW.
and, from the Associated Press:

Monday, April 5, 2004; 4:59 PM

ANNANDALE, Va. - For nearly 40 years Joan Crosby Tibbetts has waged a one-woman campaign against the makers of Skippy peanut butter, claiming the name was stolen from her father’s popular Depression-era comic strip. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately refused to hear her suit against Skippy’s manufacturer, a division of the multinational conglomerate Unilever. But Tibbetts, 71, said she’ll continue her battle in the court of public opinion.

“This case involves a very important principle … ‘Thou shalt not steal,’” Tibbetts said Monday. “If this case is allowed to disappear and they succeed in shutting me up, who has won? These big corporations that believe they can just wear others down.”

Tibbetts’ crusade began in 1965 when the state of New York tasked her with administering her father Percy Crosby’s estate. She had not seen her father since 1939, when Crosby’s wife divorced him and took the children. Crosby died in December 1964, after spending the last 18 years of his life in a mental hospital, his cartoon character by then largely forgotten…

Her research led her to the conclusion that the trademark for Skippy peanut butter had been improperly obtained by the Rosefield Packing Co. She has waged her campaign ever since, a few episodes of success interspersed with endless legal wrangling and frustration.

She acknowledges crusade’s toll - financially, emotionally and physically. She also has been subject to nasty e-mail comments, including one writer who hoped she drowns in a giant vat of peanut butter.

So, there you have it people, what shall it be? The Red Lid, or The Blue? I will admit here and now, that I am a connoisseur, an aesthete, if you will, of both brands, grabbing "American" peanut butter where I can and when with glee in my heart and a spring in my step (not entirely unlike a certain superheroic kangaroo...)

Some might say that the crunchy/smooth debate is a matter of not only preference, but a matter of the specific use of PB. For me, I am of the latter party. Celery? It has to be crunchy. Sandwich? Creamy (with raspberry jam). Cookies? Creamy. Off the spoon? Crunchy in summer, creamy in winter. But all of that, it must be understood, is just me. This is something that must be decided within yourself, it is like choosing a religion, it has to be a spiritual calling of sorts... and I understand that some people are die-hard creamy/crunchy fans too-the-DEATH... and while naturally I respect your (possibly radical) adherence to your party of choice, I reserve the right to play, (as they say), for both teams... (hm...)

What does this say about The Silber? Perhaps simply, that she loves her peanut butter, and appreciates it in all it's forms and brands-- like fine cheeses or wines, The Silber appreciates the subtle complexities each brand and style of peanut butter can offer. She makes a judgment about the moment at hand, then utlises an appropraite sampling catered to that moment. She is not a creature of indecision or maliable loyalties, The Silber is a gastronome in the world of the pulverised peanut... an epicure... a specialist... a buff...

One might wonder why in this time of credit crunching, real-estate collapsing, apocalyptic economic crisis, swine flu, global warming and all around pessimism, just why one should take the time to ponder the intricacies of such a subject.

I riposte with this: isn't it refreshing to dwell on the infintesimal details of peanut butter selection rather than dwelling on all the doom and gloom?

Answer: Yes.

So. Just so I don’t leave you without a peanut-y taste in your mouth, here is a (sliiiiightly sexist) Skippy peanut butter television commercial from the 1950’s. Don't let it stick to the roof of your mouth.


Oh! And! Have you been here? (My friend had this to say: "I had their daily special, The Johnny Appleseed: bagel, freshly-chopped apple, peanut butter, and optional cream cheese. A bagel so life-enhancing it fueled a whole day’s working around Manhattan – but that is NOTHING to the glory of Bea’s of Bloomsbury’s new peanut butter brownie: chocolate brownie simply oozing with peanut butter AND peanuts! Genius!")

03 May, 2009

Ask Al: A Second Opinion

Here are a few second opinions on the "Acting Vs. Musical Theatre," and other general training questions. I thought it would be interesting to glean some insight from those who experienced it from the other side. A few reliable resources are listed below.

Michael Jibson (Guilford School of Acting):
Interesting... There are some better colleges than others for Musical Theatre courses - Guildford - Mountview - Arts Ed. But I think ultimately, if you are in plays and films, you are an actor. If you are in Musicals you are still and actor. You would still approach a song in the same way as a piece of text - prose or verse.

There are some really good drama schools out there, and they will all give you the best opportunities - with the best agents going along to performances and showcases. If you want to be in musicals you audition for them. If you don't want to be in them, you don't audition for them.

I think what ever course you do, Acting or Musical Theatre, you are still an actor. If you wanted to be a singer, you would go and do an Opera course.

Conclusion: Whatever course you do, you make it work for you as an actor. Just make sure you take the course you will be happy on.

Rosanna Hyland (LaSalle College of the Arts):
I acquired a BA (Hons) Musical Theatre at LaSalle College of the Arts in Singapore. I went there because the choices in my home country of Australia were limited and I heard LaSalle had a reputable faculty.

So here's my two cents:

Find a course with a selective yearly intake. We had twelve people in my class, you can imagine the kind of personal attention and intensive training we got from that! Consequently, the course tailored to our own needs (ie. more dance classes because we were crap dancers, accent workshops because we sucked at accents, etc.)

If you're specifically interested in pursuing musical theatre, I would recommend a course that encourages students to actually study music! (I am shocked that most MT students in the UK graduate without being able to read music. They struggle to prepare for auditions and rehearsals as a result.) You don't need to be a maestro but it's comforting to know you can thump out your melody on a keyboard if you need to. Musical directors love you when you can sight read and learn your part independently. (That being said, music theory is naturally something one can always study on their own).

Go to some open days. Have a look at the students. And ask questions:

- Are they performing to a professional standard?
- Compare the MT students with the Acting students. Will the MT course give you intensive enough training to hold up in a straight or classical play?
- What is the student-teacher relationship like?
- Is the curriculum up-to-date?
- Are the students encouraged to 'find themselves', to experiment without fear of failure, to question their teachers, to be independent learners?
- Or are they expected to fall in line and nail that triple pirouette?

At an open day you can ask ANYTHING, you're not a student there yet so no one is going to penalize you for asking confronting questions!

What I'm trying to say is, find a course that is less worried about it's own reputation and standards, than more focused on giving it's students what they need. My class was such a motley crew of dancers, singers and actors, we were all so different from each other, and it was great to see twelve students emerge as individual, confident performers with different strengths.

Whatever the course, you don't want it to be about conformity and obedience. They are good if you want to be a lean mean dancing machine in the chorus, but if you're want to be a creative and unique performer (ie. "leading lady material") I'd say you need a course that encourages one to wipe off the makeup and explore yourself in a greater depth.

That said, I believe in a simple equation when it comes to education: INPUT = OUTPUT. That is to say, how much you learn and develop depends largely on how much you commit and devote yourself to the course. For that reason I tend to think a person can make the most of any course they take!

Damian Humbley (West Australian Academy of Performing Arts):
In my opinion, the training question is only relevant, insofar as, you should do it. If you want to work as anything in this world you have to train and learn the skills required. I've worked with people who've trained, and people who haven't, and I've always had better professional relationships with the former.

Training teaches you a language, which makes the creative process of any piece far more efficient and enjoyable.

In regards to what sort of training:

Al writes that acting drives everything, and while I agree, I'll be more specific and state that storytelling drives everything. Understanding what skills the story needs, to be told, is what takes training. While singing is a technical skill, there is nothing so moving as hearing a proficient tenor sing the final moments of Puccini's Nessun Dorma. Watching a dancer perform unimaginable feats with the human body to express a spellbound Odette in Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake is equally as affecting as an actor delivering an inspirational speech from Shakespeare's Henry V.

My point is - What do you need to learn, to do what you want to do creatively? Because, that's why we enter the arts - to be creative. AND to earn money doing it. But in that order. If your goal is to earn money, then I suggest IT, or Accountancy (something to do with numbers). People who are trying to find the 'right' form of study as a step in plotting out a successful career, are already off to a disappointing start. The piece of paper is worth very little, sometimes it gets you in the door, but it's for absolutely nothing if you don't have the skills.

Find a course that you connect with. One that offers classes you want to take. Lesson you want to learn. It sounds obvious, I know, but we can get lost with the planning. If I study this, people will see me as this, and therefor, I'll get this... It's all a lie. Learn, Understand, and be Good at what you do. That is where true greatness lies.

* * *

Interesting, huh? Thanks to Michael, Rosie and Damian, and hopefully this will spark some more discussion. All the best to you all, and I hope this proves stimulating if not helpful.

01 May, 2009

I've been:

busy attempting to catch up with friends who I never get to see or talk with

trying to find a sliver of time to write here.

wallowing in exhaustion

loving daffodils in vases, fresh coffee and morning light in my kitchen

struggling to keep up

dreaming of northern michigan, british columbia, russia, los angeles...

operating under a psuedonym ("Daisy")

baking "Daisy & Portia's Chocolate Coconut Cupcakes" with Rosie (Portia)

ignoring the cleaning duties

singing out loud in un-theatrical places

contemplating my favourite three sisters

eating peanut butter straight out of the jar with a tiny baby spoon

making very. small. collages.

talking to strangers on public transportation (again)

anticipating pink heady blooms

reading and watching


wishing for lots of magic dresses

feeling a little inadequate

waiting for a comedy

working my way through my Old Classic spring clothes (with tremendous joy)

listening for the tinkly music of the ice cream truck, hoping for the ice cream man to come through our neighborhood.

thankful for the sun...

...What have you been up to?


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