Tag Archives: cuts

Parklife

So there I was, stood beneath a tree with a cup of tea in my hand. To my left, a great wizard was muttering to himself with an almost insane look on his face. To my right, the Green Knight had just taken his head off and was standing around like a decapitated topiary figurine. He then began texting on his mobile phone. A woman then came jogging over from a Milk Float and nicked King Arthur’s sword and,… no, wait,… wait,… let me explain!

No, I wasn’t at Tim Burton’s birthday party and I swear that no strips of paper went anywhere near my tongue. I was actually on set with the great cast and crew of The Dukes Theatre’s latest show in the park; Merlin and the Legend of King Arthur.

Having missed out on the opportunity to join the cast earlier in the year, I e-mailed Joe Sumsion, the director of the show, and asked him whether I could look in on rehearsals. He kindly agreed and I joined the team on set in Williamson Park for an afternoon on Tuesday the 5th of July.

I was immediately reminded of why I love being an actor: there was a tremendous, warm-hearted ensemble feel to the rehearsal. Even amid the pouring rain, actors and technicians were chatting, sharing idea’s, helping each other with their lines and pulling together to bring the legend of Camelot to life. I came across a couple of old friends (including Ian Brown, the actor who had sadly been forced to pull out from Theatre Uncut) and made a couple of new acquaintances (including the incredibly talented Cristina Catalina). Everybody seemed so dedicated to making this the very best show they could.

Which made it all the more painful to hear that Merlin will be the very last of The Dukes’ famous plays in Williamson Park. Due to heavy funding cuts, both from the local council and from Arts Council England, the theatre can no longer afford to produce plays on this scale.

To me this represents a serious blow to both the cultural wealth of the region and the local economy. The annual Play in the Park has become a nationally-recognised piece of event theatre which brings in audiences from all across the UK. To many, it was the only piece of theatre that they would go and see in a year and it was one of the few large-scale theatrical family shows left in the North West. There can be some consolation in hearing that funds will be diverted into producing a greater number of smaller-scale in-house shows at the Dukes’ main theatre spaces but the cultural impact of such a move cannot be understated.

Once more we are seeing an element of our cultural heritage sacrificed at the expense of the numbers whizzing hither and thither in some unnamed and soulless Whitehall computer. For that’s what we are talking about; numbers. 1’s and 0’s. Ethereal and ephemeral computer code based on guesswork and traded as a government commodity on stock markets far away.

It seems almost perverse that audiences of hard working and, indeed, unemployed everyday folk in Lancaster, who will never see this “money” or feel its benefit, should be deprived of a piece of quality event-theatre to satisfy the needs of such markets.

Enjoyable days out, moments of escapism and entertainment to cherish; these things are needed more than ever during a recession. That these things are targeted first in the drive to “cut costs” so that “the numbers will balance” is truly a tragedy of our times.

Merlin and the Legend of King Arthur will be showing at Williamson Park in Lancaster between the 8th of July and the 13th of August. For more information and to book tickets, please visit http://www.dukes-lancaster.org

Tim Austin is an Actor and Theatre Dramaturg working nationally and internationally from his base in the UK. You can find his Spotlight CV here; http://www.spotlight.com/8218-3497-0502 and read about his work as a Dramaturg here; http://dramaturgtim.wordpress.com

Keepin’ on Truckin’

On Tuesday I met the wonderfully creative and talented Steve Byrne, artistic director at Interplay Leeds. After congratulating him on his increased National Portfolio funding (and if you know Interplay, you’ll know how much they deserved it!) we got chatting about our past work together and possibilities for the future.

Steve seemed keen to work with me as a performer and we discussed some projects that he has in the pipeline. Nothing concrete, but I’m hopeful that I’ll be back in rehearsal with Interplay before long.

I also had a chat with Darren at Morph Films about filming A Price on Life, the NHS protest piece that I developed a few weeks back (see my post below). We hope to be putting it in front of cameras sometime early in June, although we haven’t got a firm date fixed yet. I should have more news on this in my next blog.

I’ve been busy applying for new castings all over the shop this week. The most exciting of these is an opportunity to perform for the simply wonderful Theatre Company Blah Blah Blah on their Stig of The Dump tour later this year. I’ve wanted to work with the Blah’s for simply ages and I have many fingers and toes crossed for an audition. I love the ethos of the company and, having worked with disabled actors and audiences quite a few times in my career so far, I am always excited when a new project like this comes up.

My chat with Steve at Interplay got me thinking beyond my acting career, however. Having worked with me when I was Dramaturg on Daughter of the Winds and Happy Days, Steve was curious to know why I hadn’t been actively chasing Dramaturgy and writing work in recent months. I started explaining to him that there was little interest in this side of my career when it suddenly hit me; that wasn’t actually true.

In recent months I have been asked to write two plays and provide Dramaturgical feedback on a full movie screenplay! Red Ladder seem keen to engage me in more script reading too, although their plans are a little up in the air due to their recent ACE funding cut.

In fact, whenever I start talking to people about my career so far, ears seem to prick up when I mention my Dramaturgy. Life, as they say, is what happens when you’re busy doing something else – and I can testify to that.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to push ahead with the launch of a blog dedicated to this side of my career – You’ll find it at dramaturgtim.wordpress.com. It’ll launch tomorrow night (17/5/2011, about 20.00 GMT) so keep your eyes peeled!

You may also have noticed a major facelift to the site. I’ve re-jigged it to make things more accessible and information about me easier to find. Please take a good look around.

I’m off to a meeting with the Arts Council later today so I shall have to disappear off. But you stay frosty, y’hear?

Tim Austin is an Actor and Theatre Dramaturg working nationally and internationally from his base in the UK. You can find his Spotlight CV by clicking here and a full biography by clicking here.

A Very Public Mugging

A Man for All Seasons

 

Welcome back to Actortim! Take a pew.

Now, you may have noticed the comic at the top of the page and, if you have, you’ll probably have a fair idea of where I’m I’m going with this week’s post. If you’re of a nervous disposition you may want to go off and read something else. Something about bunnies or kittens or clouds. Maybe listen to some whale song while you’re at it.

Still with me? Good.

Engage rant mode.

There is a strange rumor going about. Apparently, we’re skint. Oh yes, apparently, the government hasn’t got two farthings to rub together.

Except for the £4000-a-piece missiles it’s shooting at tanks in Libya. But apart from that they’re skint.

Though no-one told Vodafone who have just persuaded the government (who are skint, let’s not forget!) to let them off from paying a multi-billion pound tax bill.

And the government kindly, out of the generosity, kindness and fairness of spirit that we’ve come to expect from them, allowed Barclays Bank to pay tax on only 2% of the profits they made last year; because the government obviously doesn’t really need the multi-billion pound income that this would provide. No, that would be silly; it’s not like they’re skint or anything. Except they are. Or so they say.

All well and good, you say, but what has this got to do with acting?

Well you see, because they’re “skint” the government can’t afford pesky things like paying for public services. They can’t afford to keep all those Police on the streets or to fund school renovations, sustain current levels of nursing or, indeed, pay us actors to “prance about on stage in tights”.

And before you all go running off to the Daily Mail to bemoan “another fucking woolly, liberal thespian crying because his funding has been cut!” just hold your horses; I am not for a moment suggesting that theatre and arts funding should be lauded or protected above and beyond other, potentially life saving, public services!

Of course arts funding isn’t as important as nursing or childcare provision. Given the choice, of course the money should be spent on front line public services to help the disadvantaged, the disabled and the infirm! But my point is this; none of these cuts are necessary; not cuts to nursing, policing, schooling and certainly not the arts!

The current financial situation wasn’t caused by us (and by us I include every man, woman and child in the UK who is suffering the effects of the banking collapse) and yet, breathtakingly, we are the ones who have been told to pay the price. Not asked; told.

And with that in mind, what I witnessed last week, where truly brilliant and inspiring theatre companies like Chol and Red Ladder were either wholly or substantially cut from the National Portfolio of Regularly Funded Organisations (NPO) by the Arts Council in England, was truly heartbreaking.

These companies, with inspiring outreach services that took theatre into deprived areas and spoke up for silent minorities in society, became the victim of a collective mugging. A mugging for money that the government doesn’t need.

Y’see, there’s a silent truth that stalks the halls of Whitehall. It is so dangerous and inflammatory that no one ever discusses it outside those hallowed halls. And here it is (hold on to something!);

If the government collected all of the tax that it is owed by the multinational corporations and banks based in this country, we could eradicate the public debt instantly. Not next year, not 5 years down the line; today.

Take a second to think about that. Let it sit in your mind.

Greedy, irresponsible and immoral banking practices got us into this mess. They effectively stole trillions of pounds of taxpayers money when the bubble burst. But has the government chosen to recoup this money from them? Has it placed significant taxes on them to claw some of this money back? Has even one UK banker gone anywhere near jail for this?

No.

I’m not here to second guess why the government would prefer to make the society that it’s supposed to serve pay for rich bankers to remain rich. I’m not in a position to guess why the profits of Vodafone come before local bus services in rural areas. And I don’t have the training to question why the Arts Council in England was forced to take away £100,000,000 from theatres, galleries, directors, actors, stage hands, arts administrators, puppeteers, musicians and dancers across the country.

All I know is that peoples livelihoods and careers have been put at risk this week. Theatre companies will have to close, outreach services will be struck down, kids who would otherwise have had access to the arts that we have, until now, taken for granted, will no longer get that chance.

And that stinks.

Tim Austin is an Actor and Theatre Dramaturg working nationally and internationally from his base in the UK. You can find his Spotlight CV here; http://www.spotlight.com/8218-3497-0502

The Trials and Tribulations of Housekeeping: Theatre Uncut.

A few weeks ago, Seven short plays were distributed for free to theatre companies and community groups all across the UK, to be performed in solidarity on the same day, as a demonstration against the current raft of government spending cuts. The project was called Theatre Uncut.

Saturday night (the 19th) saw the culmination of the work put together by the Lancaster group, and I’m proud to say that the reception was overwhelmingly positive.

But now that the curtain has come down on a fantastic night of theatre, what am I to make of it all? Well here are a few memorable stories about the creation of “Housekeeping”, which I directed for the Lancaster event.

“Housekeeping” started out in life as a play called “Oh To Be in Tunisia”, written by Lucy Kirkwood. Midway through rehearsal, Lucy contacted us to request a name change as she thought that the “Tunisia” reference had quickly been overtaken by events. I forgot to mention this to my cast until the day of the performance (Oh, how we laughed!)

Rehearsals began on the 27th of February but straight away there was a problem; we were an actor short. Our original choice for the character of Bill had to pull out before the first rehearsal due to overwhelming work commitments – always a danger when arranging a voluntary show like this. Happily, my wife was more than happy to stand in for this first rehearsal and everything would be alright as long as we could find a replacement actor within a week. I mean, how hard could it be?

Well, bloody hard, as it happens. After a frantic week of e-mails, phone calls and Tweets, Aliki Chapple (one of the producers of the event) and I had drawn nothing but blanks. The trouble was that the character of Bill had 9 pages of continuous dialogue to learn in an extraordinarily short period of time. What we needed was a professional.

Enter Ian Brown, a local actor who had just finished a mammoth 6 month theatre tour across the UK. Gasps of relief from all! What could possibly go wrong?!

3 weeks to go and we were back on track! Hooray! And when he joined us for the third rehearsal, things started to really perk up. He fitted in to the show like a glove and had already committed large chunks of the script to memory.

My two regulars, Maria and Yvonne, were working like the clappers to learn their lines and adapt to the rigours of theatre rehearsal. Neither of them were experienced performers and, indeed, this would be Maria’s very first time on stage. With that in mind, the work that they were putting together was truly extraordinary. And, as there was a lot to get through and we had already lost a week due to the absence of a third actor, I was working them hard – a cross that they bore with remarkable patience and grace. The last thing they needed was another crisis.

You know where this is going, don’t you?

With just over a week to go, Ian pulled out. His agent had found him a paid gig for the BBC with filming due to take place on the weekend of our performance. As we couldn’t pay him for his time, he had to go for it. But boy did it leave us in a hell of a pickle!

We had two choices; Fold or recast. I don’t know if many people reading this have ever been to Lancaster but I’ll tell you this – they ain’t the folding kind!

Enter Anthony Mercer, our third Bill in as many weeks. And, with only a week to go, he had a hell of a mountain to climb! Oh, and just in case things weren’t interesting enough, Anthony had never acted before in his life. Oh, joy.

I must admit to being a little dubious. I’m something of a perfectionist as a performer and I’m no different when directing. I was a hair’s breadth from chucking in the towel but Maria and Yvonne had worked so damned hard and spent so much time on the project so far; I couldn’t let them down by dropping out myself. After talking at length with them both, we decided to push on – even if Anthony was forced to simply read the play, script in hand, on the night.

The fact that he didn’t is a testament to an almost super-human effort on his part. An effort that has my eternal admiration!

With three rehearsals and many hours of line-learning walks in the park, a minor miracle took place; Not only did the show go well – it went very, very well! The audience loved it!Maria, Yvonne and Anthony rose to the challenge heroically – problem after problem, recast after recast (after recast), they adapted and they prospered!

And you can’t ask for more than that.

3 Weeks of Serendipity

Welcome back to actortim, glad you could make it. Pull up a chair, there’s tea in the pot – don’t mind the dog, he’s always does that.

I’d like to start off with an admission; Three weeks ago, before I started writing this blog and, indeed, before the idea even entered my brain, I was feelin’ blue. My career seemed to have lost momentum and I was struggling to focus. Without money and without an agent I felt, rightly or wrongly, that I wasn’t getting very far.

Which just goes to show; Sometimes I don’t know shit.

Fast forward three weeks. I’m now deep in rehearsal for two plays (performing in one, directing the other), I’m due on location in Liverpool in a few weeks to shoot a short film, I have a list of new arts contacts as long as my arm (and they’re all lovely – each and every one of them!) and – here’s the biggie – I’ve now got myself an agent. What a difference 3 weeks make.

No meet and greet, it seems, is a waste of time; EVERY contact is useful. My sudden change in fortunes is a testament to this.

A few months ago, I decided to meet up with Lancaster’s short film society. This was way back in 2010; there was clearly no money in it and I had no idea how serious they were about their work before I met them, but I went along anyway. Nothing much came from that initial meeting and, to the untrained eye, it might’ve seemed like a bit of a loss. But, among those talented and generous filmmakers was a lady who would, 3 weeks ago, call me up out of the blue to let me know about Theatre Uncut – a national demonstration against government spending cuts. I was invited along to a workshop audition and, well, here I am! Ta Daa!

And even this Theatre Uncut project might seem like a bit of a gamble. Although it’s a great cause, and one which I’m proud to support, there is, once again, no money in it – and you have to be careful about giving your time for free in this business. But I plunged into it nonetheless (anything to make my disgust at this current political shambles heard!)

But had I not taken that chance, had I decided that I had “better things to do” that day, I would have missed a superb opportunity to meet and greet some of the regions’ brightest and best media and theatre talents, many of whom began donating their time to the cause. And had I not taken this gig, I wouldn’t have an agent today.

So keep your options open, take time to meet other artists, performers and peers – whether you can see an immediate benefit or not. You never know where it may lead you.

Jammy Dodger, anyone?

Learn more about Theatre Uncut at www.theatreuncut.co.uk