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Sunday, 23 June 2019

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Spring Loaded...

As the blossom tree buds brave the early-Spring cold, there’s a scent of promise in the air. It’s slow progress, but I’m moving forwards...‘Everyday I’m Hustlin’ here’s a little Hustle Report of what I’ve managed to achieve in the past couple of months.

It was a great decision to audition for a play - an unpaid job at my friend’s fringe venue - Matchstick Theatre. A chance to flex my acting muscles and re-build my post-break confidence. I won the job and enjoyed the process and performances, which were warmly received.

An important realisation arose - that going forward I will no longer be pursuing stage work. Now I love theatre and I always will. 95% of my training has been for the stage- and (perhaps logically) 95% of my professional work.

But here at the start of my career whilst I’m trying to get a foothold, it seems the wiser option to pursue Film/TV which is by far the more popular, far-reaching medium. And where the money is!

Coming to this realisation has given me a wonderful clarity of purpose - I’ve since been dedicated to sharpening my screen acting skills, continuing Manuel Puro’s self-tape course to which I submit several audition tapes each week- a powerful discipline.

In turn I’ve set the important goal of improving my showreel - the most powerful tool that an actor has to win screen work. A showreel is a short portfolio clip - a selection of what projects you’ve acted on to-date. If a young actor is being considered for a project - their showreel is the first thing to be reviewed by the creative team.

If an actor is starting out and hasn’t worked on many projects they may consider paying hundreds hundreds of pounds to have a Showreel custom scripted and shot for them - from a company such as Slick Showreels. But as an aspiring filmmaker with my own kit - I’m set on making my own for free! Fortunately I’ve been getting lots of practice in lately...

Some great advice I got: the fastest way to get better at filmmaking is to get making films. Lots of them. Get on with quantity and don’t get stuck on quality. So in the past weeks that’s what I’ve done - shooting a varied mix of subjects/styles to get to grips with camera operation/editing...

 I approached a corporate mental health charity and offered to shoot event coverage:
I approached a contemporary dancer and offered to shoot her rehearsal to make a dance video:

I approached the organisers of a dance collaboration event and offered to shoot a promo video:

For experience of working on dramatic scenes I've been helping actor friends with ‘Self-tape’ auditions at my home studio. It was great to observe their work - understanding from a directing point of view how I can encourage their performance.

And last weekend I got together with a friend and filmed a two-hander scene - to be usable on my showreel. I made a few rookie mistakes and ultimately fell short of the professional quality I was aiming for. Turns out that camera operating a scene that you’re acting in is rather tricky!

Now the search is on to find more material and collaborating crew that will ensure high production value. To that end I’ve attended a couple of networking events such as ‘Cine Circle’ - meeting some great people to work with. Soon I hope to have an embarrassment of riches to edit my showreel from!

Finally - I wanted to make the pledge that I’ll be making my next blog post as a video post. Whilst I enjoy practicing writing - I have everything I need at this point to be making a decent Vlog - and I shouldn’t be missing any opportunity to work with my camera. So tune in next time folks!

Monday, 4 February 2019

2019 So Far...

Ah that New Year feeling of fresh beginnings!

Following my sabbatical search for meaning (and health) across the past couple of years I'm excited to be dedicating 2019 to igniting momentum in my acting career, whilst taking fledgling steps as a filmmaker.

Before Christmas I listed some specific tasks to complete in this direction (which you can find at the bottom of my last post here) and so I’ve decided to review my progress. Perhaps I'll try to make this a monthly habit.

#1 Home Studio Built

After painstaking research I managed to build my home studio -  gathering the following kit which in the right hands can shoot professional 4K cinematic quality film. (These hands of mine have some way to go yet!)

Tripod: Benro
Laptop: HP OMEN
Peripherals: Spare Batteries, memory cards, external hard drive

#2 Practicing the Craft

I enrolled in an online course in which participants must submit a self-tape (filmed audition scene) each day for 10 days straight. Here's a little excerpt from each scene for the lolz.

The course...entitled The Acting Habit is led by experienced casting director Manuel Puro. It was the perfect initiation into using my equipment, whilst getting on screen practice and feedback from Manuel and the other course mates. Highly recommended!

I booked a few workshops with casting directors through The Actor’s Guild - not exactly cheap at £31 a go - but a great way to gain insider’s knowledge and do a bit of acting for (and hopefully impress) a working professional who may audition me in future.

#3 Rejoin the Audition Circuit

With some recent acting experience under my belt, my Acting Portfolio Website completed and shiny new headshots taken - I was feeling as confident as ever to begin submitting myself for opportunities.

I’m directly applying for jobs on Spotlight and Mandy on the daily -the UK's two primary casting directories.

#4 Get Acting Work!

And lo and behold - I’ve won two acting jobs!  A play - this week - tickets available here if you fancy attending - and a filming job - portraying the anarchic musician Jimmy Cauty of the band KLF in a documentary feature about their antics.

Here's a little clip of me having fun on the first day of the shoot (which involved me chain smoking fags eurgh!)

It’s a wonderful feeling - following my recent confidence building steps - setting out my ‘acting stall’ - to be rewarded with some work. Now I’m hungry for momentum!

I’ve booked more workshops at Actor’s Guild - continuing the campaign to get seen by casting directors and I’ll continue The Acting Habit course online- staying match fit mentally and physically with plenty of exercise.

#5 Make Movies

Beside my acting goals I've been keen to put my expensive camera kit to work and get making short films! A couple of months back I took a half-day course ‘How to Make your First Short Film’ - the best tip was to focus on quantity not quality. Many filmmakers get stuck for years trying to write an epic original screenplay whilst shooting/learning very little.

So I jumped right in and invited an actor over (a fellow cast member in this play I’m in) - and filmed her in character doing some silly things - with the intention of editing the footage into an online trailer for the play. Masterpiece it is not, but it’s a start - and it’s been truly thrilling to be receiving warm feedback. Yay! I made a thing! Enjoy!

As a filmmaker I will be learning how to develop creative concepts, write scripts/screenplays, organise a team of collaborators...shoot, edit and release films. Being an actor, I’ll be able to perform in anything I make, which if successful will raise my profile, or in any case will create practice opportunities.

As a filmmaker I’ll be able to work on making projects with subject matter that is important or exciting to me. Actors generally serve someone else’s vision - playing puppet to their whim - how thrilling to dance to the sound of my own drum so to speak!

Overall I'm really pleased with what I've achieved in this past spell. Looking forward to writing again next month with further news of acting work and filming collaborations.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Episode 10: There and Back Again

This is the concluding episode of this series which I began around two years ago with Episode 0...which you can find here. Ahead lay my 9 month solo-backpacking trip: questing for as I wrote back then:‘fresh perspective on what exactly I want to be doing here in London’.

I’d identified that because I lacked a clear career goal (beyond being a professional actor) that I’d lost momentum. I needed to find a specific target to pursue, to fuel my passion - a direction to fix towards through the challenges of life as an actor.

I travelled and wrote about my journey in the following episodes/months through Colombia, Jamaica, Central America, Mexico and North America...taking time to explore new cultures and experiences, including finally an extended stay at Black Rock City for Burning Man. Which was...immense.

Alas, all blazing trails must burn out eventually. I returned to a bleak London winter with an empty bank account, an untethered lifestyle and a somewhat unhinged frame of mind. At a time when I needed structure and support to help my feet find the ground there was little to be found.
In my experience, spells of poor mental health emerge from stress factors stacking up in one’s life; that become increasingly difficult to juggle. Like an overloaded computer processor- our system whirls along, coping with the workload as best it can, until the stacked errors trigger a system failure and necessary reboot.

It’s difficult for me to admit (to myself most of all) that in certain ways I am not as robust as others. Bi-polar disorder is a lifelong condition for which I must be diligent and vigilant in my self-care. After all, the outcome of my ‘system failure’ can be psychosis and hospitalisation.

Lately I’ve read some personal accounts written by people with bi-polar - it’s amazing how the same waypoints signpost our decline. Cessation of medication? Check. Obsessive energy on multiple projects? Check. Self-medicating? Check. Delusion that everything is fine? Check.

The ‘Catch 22’ kicker? The only person who can make the necessary U-turn is you. But as the illness advances- personal perspective is increasingly compromised and the the downward spiral, fed by denial, is perpetuated.   

And then, day...July 6th in fact...prompted by the help of a dear friend - I was able to wake up and say to myself no more. Able to admit the truth of my reality and how denial of my illness was compromising my aspirations.

I commenced weekly therapy and connected to long-suppressed feelings of pain, sadness, anger...attended to the vulnerable child within whose needs I was well-practiced at neglecting. I’ve learnt to better identify the unhelpful, self-sabotaging thought patterns that distract my attention away from attending to these needs, which now I do my best to offer self-care and compassion to.         

And so here’s the ironic cliche it seems...what I’d seeked externally...what I set off around the world to find last year - namely - ‘fresh perspective on what exactly I want to be doing here in London’ - had been available to discover internally all along...beneath my emotional blocks and aversions.

By gaining access to this grounded perspective and making peace with my fears I’ve finally been able to approach my 64 million dollar question...what’s my goal?

Complimentary to my acting career, I want to develop a career as a film-maker - producing and acting in my own creative projects - making entertainment and education.

With the help of an excellent tool I’ve been working with: The Artist’s Way I’ve been able to clarify the necessary steps that I need to take in the coming year to work towards this goal:

- Build a home filming studio (DSLR camera, tripod, sound, lighting, backdrop, editing laptop)

- Host practice sessions with fellow actors on a weekly basis - building my acting confidence and technical ability on screen (and directing experience)

- Be consistently pro-active in looking for screen work of all levels - from unpaid passion/student projects, to soliciting paid opportunities from Casting Directors

- Create my own acting opportunities by writing and producing short films (around issues that I’m passionate about like mental health) whilst nurturing a community of fellow writers, actors and filmmakers - working together to progress creatively

- Develop necessary videography skills to be able to direct and realise these projects

- Trust that my increasing confidence and proactivity will pay off with a range of screen work - building my showreel-  leading to more work, stable income and eventually a proactive and well-connected talent agent who will offer access to further opportunities.  

I’ll leave you with a quote from author Neil Gaiman taken from this speech:

“Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal. And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain.”
With my compass point set I can now easily keep track of whether my daily actions are taking me towards my mountain or not. Looking forward to checking back in here with report of my progress.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Episode 9: West Coast USA Summer 2017

It’s been 6 weeks since touching down here in the Land of the Free.

First up was a thorough lesson in Civil Liberties courtesy of Homelands Security- they detained me for five hours with several rounds of interrogation over the details of my trip, my personal history, finances and past drug use.

My recent months within ‘interesting’ countries such as Colombia, Jamaica and Mexico must have flagged me up as a case worth investigating. And I probably look the sort with my small backpack and carefree smile.

Various cross-examination techniques were employed to destabilise/antagonise me into admitting something incriminating.  A drug test was repeatedly propositioned, seemingly to gauge my reaction - something I’ve since confirmed as a hollow threat and a dirty trick if you ask me.

Fortunately my visa was issued and I got through - many people have been denied entry to the US this year for admitting to less than I did - click to read more here.

Landing in the comforts of a developed society was a real culture shock after several months backpacking. And I totally lucked out -  being hosted in my first week by a friend’s brother who works in finance and was happy to share the luxuries of his lifestyle #hottub #pool #sunshine

For a time I was wide eyed with awe and appreciation over such things as a plate of food with minimal risk of poisoning...a temperate coolness in the air...sleeping under a downy duvet. I’ll work to keep an ongoing sense of gratitude and appreciation for these pleasures that can easily be taken for granted.

Being back in a Western society also felt significantly safer- I was able to relax in a way that I hadn’t been able to for some time. I’ve been living slowly in an effort to fully recover my energies...the lifestyle had become a bit of a battle recently - something I wrote about in Episode 7 which you can check out here.

As ever I’ve tried to distil my insights for your reading pleasure:

  1. It’s easy to get fat in America and I did
  2. Couchsurfing is AMAZING
  3. Social Spirits

1) It’s easy to get fat in America and I did

Can I say fat or is it politically incorrect nowadays? Well I gained weight and I suspect it wasn’t muscle mass - the only lifting occurring was my hand to my mouth.

As mentioned I’ve been taking it slow and enjoying more rest and less movement. Finding comfort in a homely setting has generally led to more indulgence…and if indulgent consumption is your mood then America is your Mecca!

From the best of global cuisine to the worst of fast food. O the milkshakes! The burgers! When you know you shouldn’t but you do anyway...for three weeks.

Worry not reader! I’m well on the way back to my lithe and supple self - it’s been yoga classes, long walks and low-carbs all week. Overall I think it’s good to allow and tolerate some slackening - provided you’re conscious and can find the discipline to call time and draw the line.

2) Couchsurfing is AMAZING

“There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met”
-WB Yeats

Couchsurfing is a social platform (kinda like Facebook) create your profile and look up others’ profiles who live in the area you’re visiting. You make contact and hopefully hit it off and get to stay on their couch for free...hence ‘Couchsurfing’. You’ll be able to pay the goodwill forward when you’re back at home and able to host future visitors.

I spent a couple of very happy weeks between four new San Franciscan friends/hosts - learning about their lives and diving directly into their best recommendations of local culture. If you’ve got a trip then I thoroughly recommend getting your head around this tool. Ask me if you’d like to know more!

3) Social Spirits

I’ve divided my 6 weeks so far between 3 cities/states on the West Coast -San Francisco, California...Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon.

In each I've been surprised at how many homeless people can be found sleeping rough/camping out on the sidewalks - many seemingly blighted by poor mental health.

Statistics indicate around four times more homeless per capita in the US than the UK with 25% having serious mental or drug abuse problems.

Homelessness is the visible tip of an iceberg of injustices - exacerbated (state depending) by a lack of Social Welfare, such as the system we've had in the UK.

It’s an ongoing source of astonishment that we can live in the richest society in the world, spending vast sums on silliness, whilst the sick are neglected.

Of course many people and organisations are doing fantastic work to plug the gaps left by poor government. This spirit of positive change, independence and courage is aligned to the reputation of the West Coast…originally the Wild West for the bravest gold digging settlers, later the fertile hotbed of many counter-cultural movements.

Nowadays it’s a global hub of technological innovation, but also of social’s no coincidence that these three West Coast states have been the first to legalise Cannabis...with the rest of the country and world set to follow suit. Let alone those working on the frontiers of justice around LGBT rights, immigrant rights, black rights...

It’s been inspiring for me to spend time around people imbued with this attitude - that change is possible with hard work, unity and open minds. I’ll be doing my best to carry this forward in my own work as an artist/actor/activist.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Episode 8: Top Five Latin American Highlights

This Saturday marks six months on the road, six months away from home.
Six months of solitary questing my own little trail of discovery of the world and myself.

Last episode I spent some time expressing some difficulties I’ve faced and so now, ever in the pursuit of balance, here’s my top five highlights of Central America and Mexico.

  1. Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

This Hispanic wild-eyed dude gets my attention as I’m entering the dorm…

“Are you going to Ometepe?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. Should I?"
“It’s amazing! You should definitely go..."
“You can take this back to my friend who’s working there at El Zopilote Hostel”
And with that he went back into the dorm and grabbed a dress from his bunk.
I remembered his friend - she’d slept in the bottom bunk of his bed. I accepted the mission and was on my way the next day.

Ometepe is an island formed by two volcanoes that rose out of Lake Nicaragua (one of the largest lakes in the Americas as you can see...even has its own sharks!)

Ferries depart throughout the day from the shoreside town of Rivas. For getting around on the island there’s a reliable yet slow bus system, taxis and the option to hire mopeds and bicycles...I even did a little hitchhiking.

El Zopilote Hostel was a great place to start - one of the major social hubs of the island - free yoga, healthy food, sustainability projects - all in an idyllic rainforest setting. I made some great friends there including a lady very happy to have her dress back!

New friends soon introduced me to the nearby ‘Chocolate Beach’ so named for its cocoa-coloured volcanic lakeside sands...and amazing Chocolate Factory- El Pital recently opened by a young Israeli raw food chef.

The factory come cafe/shop was also a hostel in the making with several hammocks slung up for rent at $5 per night. Here I passed a very happy week of chocolate flavoured relaxation…with mornings gazing out into the lake’s starkly flat horizon...and starlit nights of warm water wading in the shadow of moonlit volcanoes.

2) Mexico City, Mexico

In an odd sort of way I felt at home in the urban sprawl of this grand ol’ metropolis. Evidently you can take the boy out of the big city...but you can’t take the big city love out of the boy!

There’s an array of strikingly different and interesting neighbourhoods to discover...I enjoyed several days hopping on and off the metro system- generally exploring and enjoying the infinite selection of street food available on every other corner...late into the night.

Vegetarian? Gluten free? Lactose intolerant? Good luck with that Chica.

3) Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

If Ometepe Island is two volcanoes surrounded by a lake then inversely, Atitlán is a lake surrounded by volcanoes...and several Mayan villages too in which the culture is still prevalent and traditional colourful dress is worn.

All kinds of fun is to be had tuk tukking, walking or motor boating around..with amazing food and local crafts on offer...each village having embraced/endured the effects of tourism to varying degrees.

I made my home in San Marcos - a favourite haunt of hippies and spiritually minded students since the 60’s. As hoped I met some fascinating teachers and learnt some inspiring insights.  

I recommend La Paz Eco Hotel - I had the good fortune to make friends with the owner and his son who had seen it all over the years - hosting every kind of workshop from Chakra to Shiatsu.

4) Copan Ruinas, Honduras

A wind of ill fortune blew me to this small border town in Honduras.

I had originally planned to skip the country due to safety concerns….but a visa error on my passport saw me barred from passing through. The inconvenient days that followed were entirely offset by the joys of discovering this gem.

The town itself has grown beside the UN World Heritage ruin site....once one of the great centres of Mayan’s not as large as some other ruins to be found in Latin America, but claims to have the best preserved art.

The ruins were indeed fascinating...I recommend hiring a tour guide to get the best of them. At the entrance you’ll probably be collared by Luis here who’s selling horse riding tours.

Take him up on it! I spent a glorious afternoon touring up and around the fertile river valley’s coffee plantations. He’s full of interesting local information and as an expert rider gave me the confidence to take a few full-pace gallops - which felt transcendental.

5) Mazunte Beach, Mexico

If you’re looking for that paradise beach experience then here it is. Sun, sand, sea and free spirits. Just don’t drink the water or forget your mosquito repellent.

One of many beach settlements along Mexico’s Pacific Coast, Mazunte had such a chill feel...unblemished by commercial tourism with a handful of basic cabanas and restaurants and such.     

The perfect getaway if that’s what you’re after!

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Episode 7: Confessions of an inexperienced traveller

These past two months (since landing from Jamaica) I’ve travelled up through Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and into Mexico.

I suppose this is where I share my list of must-sees and wax lyrical on the wander-lust magic I’ve experienced.

The uncomfortable-to-admit truth is that my time in these countries has been more hard work than fun...more endurance than inspiration. I feel like I’ve failed...been a ‘bad’ traveller not LOVE such places teeming with exotic culture and beauty.  

I’ve identified the following key reasons:
  1. Urban Overload
  2. Language Barrier
  3. Travellers Fatigue

Herein I’d like to explore how they arose and what I could have done differently. With three months of backpacking the West Coast USA ahead, hopefully I can apply any lessons learned!

Screenshot 2017-06-14 at 10.34.27 AM.png
Here’s a breakdown of my route - (* = top 3 must sees)
San Jose, Costa Rica (3 nights)
Granada, Nicaragua (5 nights)
*Ometepe Island, Nicaragua (10 nights) *Volcanic Island Magic
Leon, Nicaragua (3 nights)
Tegulcigalpa, Honduras (3 nights)
Coban Ruinas, Honduras (2 nights)
Antigua, Guatemala (1 night)
*Lake Atitlan, Guatemala (7 nights) *Hippy Lake Spirits
San Cristobal, Mexico (4 nights)
Oaxaca City, Mexico (4 nights)
Mesunte/Puerto Escondido, Mexico (8 nights)
*Mexico City (5 nights) *Megawondercity

1) Urban Setting Overload

The route I’ve taken is described by some as the ‘Gringo Trail’ a narrow path of locations well worn by Westerners...complete with lots of budget accommodation, prepared tours and transport links.  

It was easy with my jellyfish style of travel (see here for further explanation) to be swept along with the flow of fellow Gringos between one Colonial Hispanic town and the next.

I came to spend roughly half my time in such settings and (forgive me for being a philistine) if you’ve seen two Colonial Hispanic towns - you’ve seen em’ all! There’s the picturesque square...there’s the fifteen or so churches...there’s the hostel brimming over with drunken backpackers.  

Mexico City was a massive exception to this...being a fascinating Megawondertropolis that defies ennui with its vast size, vibrancy and cultural blend. As a Londoner born and raised - coming to such a place with its 24 hour buzz felt somehow like coming home.

2) Language Barrier

You might be thinking that I should have defied tedium by going off-trail...maybe hopped on a chicken bus into unknown rural climes. Well yes - perhaps I should have, but I’m fairly green to all this and crucially I have a very basic grasp of Spanish.

The language barrier has definitely limited the richness of my experience. It’s another reason why I’m still missing Jamaica - it was the last country in which I could communicate with locals freely. What a joy to be able to chat with the bus driver- learning about his city as he drove his route through Downtown Kingston!

I managed to self-teach Spanish to a decent basic level, but if I could turn back the clock I would have done an intensive week at the beginning of my the time it seemed expensive, but I now realise how it would have paid dividends as an investment.

3) Travellers Fatigue

Turns out this here life on the road is tough. Indeed the word Travelling roots from the Old French ‘Travailler’ meaning ‘To work strenuously/toil’. “There is a big difference between simply being a tourist and being a true world traveller.” -Michael Kasum

With the ongoing discipline of living on a tight budget, ever on the move with a bare minimum of possessions, little privacy, sometimes afraid, sometimes lonely, sometimes lost, sometimes sick, often hot and sticky, always braving the unknown.

Nevertheless I’m happy to have faced these difficulties and discomforts from which have sprung great insights, growth and strength.

I keep trying to explain this to my Nan who becomes crestfallen whenever I confess I’m not feeling great. I try to reassure her that life on the road simply reflects life back have your ups and downs just the same. The defining dualities that haunt our strange existence!

With hindsight I would have planned to stop after a few months and drop anchor somewhere. Recuperate my energies whilst doing some volunteer work in one spot for at least a few weeks.

As it was I drove myself on and on...and after around 4 months, at pretty much the exact midway point of this trip, I hit a wall. From then on (for the past month) I’ve generally felt like I’ve been battling.

Battling for energy and enthusiasm to explore, battling to be positive and social...battling to stay curious and open to the lessons of these places and people. Though now I’m pleased to report (I hope) that the battle is over!

Image result for glorious california

It’s taken me a long time to get my head around writing this's felt uneasy to address and admit to more negatives than positives. (I'll write about my Latin America highlights in another post I promise!)

But having finally articulated what I’ve been facing, I now feel as though I’m able to move into a new chapter - and regain my passion for this lifestyle.

Today I’ll begin the hunt for a volunteering/living opportunity somewhere here in California with the help of the excellent service:

The website allows for the advertising of various Hosting positions where volunteering travellers like myself can apply. 25 hours of work a week is usually the deal for free bed and board.

I’m confident that laying down roots for a few weeks will recharge my batteries (and budget) for this final exciting stretch of my journey...USA USA USA USA!!!!!

Wish me luck and thanks for reading!