Protect Your Creative Dreams

For those who are not in the acting industry, it can be hard to understand why actors seem to struggle so much. “Why can’t you be in that TV series?” they say, as if you’ve made a choice to not do that TV job, when the truth is that even getting seen for it seems nigh-on impossible.

When you try to explain to people about agents or the way the industry actually works and how there are so many actors and so little paid work around, they’re usually sympathetic but I’m not sure they truly understand. It all seems to boil down to which camp you belong in – those who work-to-live or those who live-to-work.

Generally, I’ve found that actors belong to the group of people that prefer to live-to-work. For them, acting isn’t so much “work,” as a passion. It’s their chosen vocation, one they can’t imagine not doing and when they do get to do it, makes them extremely happy to the point where little else comes close. The thought of doing a 9-5 job that’s nothing to do with acting is both stifling and soul-destroying.

For those who are in the work-to-live camp, they would rather do a stable job that has a steady, regular income, so that they can then afford to do the things they love outside of work. For them, pursuing an artistic career when you don’t know when the next job will come in or working lots of low-paid jobs just to fit in around creative pursuits, may seem crazy and unrealistic.

There’s no right or wrong in belonging to either camp – it all depends on your individual outlook and what drives you in your life-choices. But people around you may have strong opinions as to your life-choices and quite often you will need to be very protective of your creative dreams.

I was reminded of this the last few days when an actress friend of mine turned down a full-time, (non-acting) job for a year. Despite a long (unintentional) break from acting and many years of unpaid acting work, she is still not willing to give up on her acting dreams and has given herself a time limit of a year to get back on track – signing up for classes and trying to get her confidence back. She turned down the offer because she didn’t want to take her focus away from acting but the reaction from those around her has been very negative. I must admit that, initially, even I questioned her decision. Being presented with a job that pays well is incredibly tempting to an actor that usually scrapes by, doing bits and pieces.

She made a choice that most people won’t understand and it seemed to make them angry. Perhaps at the root of that anger is resentment – when we give up on our dreams in order to be practical and realistic it can be a bitter pill to swallow and the anger we feel at ourselves can be projected on to those still holding on to their dreams, even if they’re holding onto them by a fingernail.

It’s hard enough battling the negative voices in our own minds without having to justify our career choices to those around us. Even our loved ones, without being aware, can gently erode the little faith we have in our goals with phrases like:

How long are you going to keep pursuing your art?

When are you going to be realistic and face up to the fact that if you haven’t made it by now, you’re never going to make it“.

There are thousands of talented people in your profession not working. What makes you think you’ll succeed when they haven’t“?

Artistic goals are all well and good. But they hardly pay the bills or put food on the table“.

Yes we do have to pay the bills and put food on the table and support our families but the hope is that we can pay for those things by doing what we love. Plenty of people get paid for doing their dream job. Why not us?

In continuing our artistic endeavours, we must learn to tune out the naysayers and the negative voices, both our own and from those around us. Even if it means keeping our distance at times from colleagues and loved ones in order to reinforce the focus on our dreams or nurture our fledgling creative ideas and projects. At those times, when your faith in yourself and in your work starts to ebb away, try to find a friend or someone who can be a cheerleader during those times, encouraging you on when the going gets tough.

Society, in general, isn’t particularly kind to artists. How many wonderfully creative ideas or projects could have come to fruition but barely get off the ground or are shot down by a thoughtless comment or because an artist fears ridicule from their peers. The more we can do and say to show support for each other in our creative communities, the better.

Doing It For Themselves

As an actor, you can often feel reliant on others in order to be able to act. Alone, in your bedroom, you can work on monologues and look through plays but the joy of acting is working with other people to tell a story. It’s about reacting to what is happening; batting text, actions, objectives and emotions back and forth, like in a game of tennis. To do that, you need other actors and other people to work off.

When the work isn’t coming in and you’re not able to go to class either through time or financial constraints (because let’s face it, doing workshops and classes on a regular basis can be very pricey), then you begin to feel like you’re not an actor at all. You begin to feel like a fraud. “How can I tell people I’m an actor when I’m not working as an actor?” So the thoughts spiral and whirl and can lead to a real lack of confidence which makes getting work even harder at times.

I should imagine that it’s the same for any artist that works as part of an ensemble but I hadn’t considered that writers might feel the same way. I’d always thought of their craft as a solitary one on the whole. However, I’m about to embark on a project with some recent graduates from Goldsmiths’s MA course in screen-writing and they’ve decided to get out there and showcase their writing and build up some working relationships with actors, writers, directors, producers and film-makers along the way.

The Original Screen Rebel

The Original Screen Rebel

Screen Rebels will be their first showcase event next Sunday 23rd Nov at The Proud Archivist (an interesting gallery space in Haggerston. See Below). Click here for more info or if you want to attend.

The Proud Archivist room The Proud Archivist

It’ll be a bit of an experiment and I’ve no idea what to expect except that I’ll be one of four actors reading aloud three new, short, film scripts. But what I admire is their attitude. Rather than waiting for the phone to ring or waiting for someone else to give them work, they’re taking action. They’ve formed a small group, have set each other writing challenges and deadlines and are collaborating with others to work on their scripts and screenplays and give them a public “airing”.

So if you’re feeling creatively stuck or feel that your career is out of your hands, get together with some like-minded people and set up a play-reading group or an actor’s workshop group. There are church halls, community rooms, pub theatres and other, tucked away places, where you could meet to practise. Or find someone with a large lounge room and get together to share contacts and useful tips, read scenes and generally flex some acting muscle.

Think of anything you could do that could be a first step to actually getting to practise your craft. Other people are out there feeling the same way. What is the ONE thing you can do RIGHT NOW to regain the reigns to your own creative career?

Auditions – Look Your Best on a Budget

My agent emailed me yesterday with details of a last minute casting for an advert that required me to go “dressed appropriately” for the part. I then read the brief – the part required a classical woman in her 40′s who’s a leading scientist and head of a scientific team. She had to be professional and superior to her colleagues so that her demeanour could be mistaken for being “cold” but she also had to reveal an air of vulnerability. She also had to be attractive but not aware of her looks and then the brief  suggested either a Meryl Streep or a Jodi Foster “type” of woman.

So. How to dress appropriately to look like an actress of Oscar-winning calibre (a la Foster and Streep), kitted out as a intelligent, leading scientist? My agent asked if I had a white lab coat (I think she was joking) but as always when I get a last minute audition, I berate myself for not having a sufficiently wide range of wardrobe options at my disposal.

Every time it’s the same shin-kicking conversation with myself. “Why didn’t I invest in that suit when I had the money? I really should have had a decent hair cut in recent months. I promise that the next time I get a bit extra in the bank, I’ll buy some expensive foundation that makes my skin look flawless instead of resorting to the tinted moisturiser which is way out of date and probably the wrong shade for my skin tone“.

After the shin-kicking conversation, my thoughts then turned to – “Should I wear a skirt with heels or trousers and sensible shoes? Should I wear my glasses to look more brainy? Which outfit would look more science-y“? In the end, I decided that the skirt option made me look like a librarian, despite the fact that the one pair of smart-ish trousers I possessed were getting a little tight around the waist (material shrinks with age, doesn’t it?!)

There are lessons to be learned here (not least that I need to cut down on the biscuits!) Mainly, that when a little bit of extra money comes in, it’s worth investing in some decent audition clothes, make-up and a haircut for when castings come in. Going to an audition looking and feeling your best helps to take the edge off the nerves somewhat but take into account the part you’re going up for. Obviously, it’s no good wearing your best glam dress if you’re being seen for a role as a struggling, single, working-class mum of two.

What do you do if money is tight and you need to go dressed in your finest attire, looking your absolute tip-top best? Here are my 5 top tips:

1) Get a good night’s sleep if you can. Make-up can only hide so much, so if you’ve got an important audition the following day prepare for it as best you can and then try and forget about it and get some rest. Avoid sad films/books as you don’t want to go in looking puffy. I read somewhere that a tiny bit of hemorrhoid cream around the eyes can tighten any bags but I can’t say I’ve tried it.

2) Pamper yourself – it doesn’t have to be expensive. Soak in a bubble bath, give yourself a bit of a manicure or pedicure. Don’t attempt to try any products you haven’t tried before e.g. a new hair conditioner, mud mask or facial scrub. Just in case it gives you an allergic reaction and the results make you look like you should be auditioning for a remake of The Elephant Man. (I once tried a lovely lavender face wash before an audition only to come up in red “welts” all over my face).

3) If you’ve plenty of time, you could let the experts do your make-up for free. Head to a make-up counter at a department store before your audition and express interest in their lovely, expensive products and, if they’re not busy, they’ll do your make-up for you there and then. Warning: be clear about what you want. Don’t be tempted to let them experiment on you with different “looks”. Or if they do what they did to me before my audition (which was to divide my face in “two” to try out two different product ranges), once they’ve finished, pick the side you prefer and make sure they re-do the other to match so that you don’t walk out looking like someone off the set of the Batman films.

Tommy_lee_jones_2_face

4) In extreme situations when you’re broke and really have nothing suitable to wear, head to a decent clothing store and purchase something suitable on your credit card. Keep the labels attached (better to pick a garment that has the labels on the inside) and only wear it for the duration of the audition (which is usually very brief) before taking it off and returning it to the store for a refund within the allotted time. This is NOT something I would advocate normally. Apart from being unfair to future purchasers of said garment (not to mention a little bit skanky), it’s always best to feel comfortable in your clothes and new clothes can feel, well, too new (especially with the labels scratching the back of your neck). And there are risks involved – you need to check the refund policy of the shop in question, keep the receipt and if you get anything on the garment – make-up, coffee, pen ink, deodorant, or worse, sweat stains, then you might not be able to take it back. In fact, I would say it then becomes your moral obligation to keep it. Have a back-up outfit as well. You don’t want to be shopping on the day of the audition and getting stressed because you can’t find anything to wear.

5) I’m a great believer in how you feel on the inside having a bearing on how you look on the outside, so to really look your best for auditions, do all you can to nurture your health and inner happiness. And on those days when you need to fake how you feel, dressing as if you’re a working actor, confident in his/her ability can also be a big help. When you get a bit of extra cash, treat yourself to something in your wardrobe that just makes you feel great.

Now go on out there and knock ‘em dead!

 

Things That Go Bump…

Halloween approaches and now that the clocks have gone back and it’s dark much earlier in the evening, there’s plenty to do in London if you want to celebrate all things spooky and supernatural.

Pumpkin-Carving-Ideas-for-Halloween

THEATRE

Woman in Black is a fantastic ghost story and the theatre version is, in my opinion, much better and much scarier than the film. I’ve seen it three times now and still let out a scream of fear even when I know what’s coming. Check out tickets here.

Ghost Stories at the Arts Theatre in Leicester Square has the tantalising description of mixing “the best of theatre with the buzz of a thrill-ride, delivering a truly terrifying theatrical experience”. I haven’t seen it yet but it’s back by popular demand and there are extra tickets available for Halloween with a top price ticket offer from Official London Theatre. Check it out here.

There’s also Phantom of the Opera,  Urinetown and Wicked if you like your musicals to have a darker “edge” to them.

FILM

Jeremy Dyson (part of the League of Gentleman team) is living up to his name as master of the macabre. Not only did he write and direct Ghost Stories (see above) but he is screening four of his fave horror flicks at the Curzon Soho. Rumours are, that along with the showing of the films and encouraging audience members to arrive in costume, he’s likely to be reading some horror stories from his new book as well as playing some voodoo-themed songs with his band.

Time Out has a round-up of where to go to catch the best in horror – old classics as well as modern releases. Click here for more details.

Similarly, View London has a list of Halloween events taking place in cinemas and other venues across London. Click here for more info.

Haunted London Ghostly London

GHOST WALKS AND OTHER HAUNTED TOURS

I’ve spotted some special offers on tickets for some ghostly meanderings…

Great British Tours are doing a London Ghost Walk that’s less than half the normal price. I found this deal through Amazon Local – click here if you want to check it out.

On the same site there is an offer for a Jack the Ripper Tour as well. Click on this link to view the offer.

Official London Theatre is also doing a special offer if you book their Haunted Theatreland tour, although according to their website, there doesn’t seem to be any tours available on Halloween. However, if you’re interested in theatre and in the history of the West End, there are plenty of theatres dating back a hundred years or more that are said to be haunted, with Drury Lane Theatre being perhaps the most famous with reported sightings of a grey, shadowy figure at the back of auditoriums and down quiet corridors (although that could just be Cameron Macintosh checking up on his productions!)

If you’d like to know more about paranormal activity or scary locations in the capital, then have a look at the sites below:

http://www.londonparanormal.com/theatres

http://www.haunted-london.com

http://www.timeout.com/london/things-to-do/haunted-places-in-london

Greenwich Tunnel Cemetery

Still not enough to satisfy you hard-core gore fans out there? Well, feast your eyeballs on some weird and wonderful exhibits at the Hunterian Museum and The Old Operating Theatre in the roof space of a baroque church near London Bridge. The old operating table still has the original saw marks made from operations in the pre-anaesthetic days. Ouch!

CEMETERIES

For a genuinely creepy experience, have a wander round the decaying Victorian tombs of Highgate Cemetary, especially as the light begins to fade….whooooaaa

Highgate Cemetery

SCARY ATTRACTIONS

There’s many a “resting” actor who’s worked at the London Dungeons and the London Bridge Experience, both of which are huge tourist attractions and very popular with visitors. There’s also immersive, interactive fun (if you can call it that) at the Clink Museum, built on the site of London’s oldest prison where visitors can handle olde worlde torture devices and learn all about prison life back then.

Clink Museum

If you prefer your Halloween scares to be a little more romantic, then there’s always the choice of a horse-drawn carriage ride through Richmond Park at night. Set against the clip-clopping of hooves and a backdrop of trees silhouetted by the moonlight you can hear tales of Highwaymen, ghosts and a Victorian murder whilst sipping Sloe Gin. That would be my top Halloween choice! Check ticket prices and availability here.

All Hail All Hallow’s Eve!

The Importance of Play

I missed my weekly posting last week because I was in Valencia for 4 days. It was lovely and not just because it was sunny and Valencia is a very pretty, walkable city, serving lots of lovely food and wine. (Ok, enough of trying to make you jealous).

It was mainly because we didn’t plan what we were going to do but just went with whatever we felt like on the day. If we wanted to sit on the beach all day, we did. And if we wanted to spend the entire day walking the city, stopping only for food and drink as the fancy took us, then we did that too. That was part of the joy of the holiday and why holidays, in general, are so appealing. Apart from the adventure of seeing new sights, a holiday takes us away from the grind of our day-to-day lives.

I recently listened to an interesting piece on the radio about the importance of unstructured time in our busy schedules with the emphasis being on the importance of play.

Leading scientific organisations have been stressing how important this is for children’s development and various studies have concluded that free and unstructured play leads to greater imagination,  creativity and problem-solving and is crucial for healthy social, emotional and cognitive development.

Most of us seem to lead busy lives juggling work, various tasks and responsibilities and I know I’m certainly guilty of scheduling lots of things into my day, making sure that every hour is maximised and trying to be productive.

While it makes sense that we allow children the freedom to engage in creative play for themselves without the structure of school, sports practise or music lessons filling their time, I think as adults and as creative beings, it is also essential that we give ourselves some unstructured play time.

The irony is, that for this to happen, I usually have to safeguard any free time by booking in an artist date or some time to myself which then feels like I’m structuring the time in some way. But I think that’s ok. As long as I don’t decide in advance what to do and just see what I feel like doing on the day.

Why is it so hard to do nothing? To just “be”??

So I urge you actors, artists and creative people to join me in finding a portion of time this week where you can indulge in some unstructured play. Be a kid again. Take a walk in the park and kick piles of leaves. Collect conkers. Just sit and look out the window and allow your imagination to roam.

It may just be the holiday that your creative soul needs…

Valencia

 

Market Research

A few Sundays ago, on a bright and sunny Autumn day, my partner and I took the DLR to Shadwell to have a mooch round Wapping Market.

Wapping Market - Stalls

Launched at the end of June this year (and the latest project of Toby Allen who is chief organiser of Brockley Market), I was enticed by descriptions of buttermilk fried chicken, gloriously sticky jams and tables of cured meat and cheese. But I admit that the biggest draw for me was the prospect of handmade doughnuts from the Crosstown Doughnut stand.

Decisions, decisions...

Decisions, decisions…

The market was smaller than I expected. I had envisaged a lot more stalls heaving with trendy Londoners armed with hessian tote bags and even though it’s open from 10am-2pm every Sunday, when we arrived at 10.40am there was only about two other people and their dog. And us.

You’d think that beating the crowds would be a bonus when it came to getting served but I stood for 10 mins (no exaggeration) waiting to order and pay for 2 bacon butties while the bearded young chaps frying the bacon chatted about their Saturday night. I would have given up after about 5 mins but the bacon smelt pretty darn good so I waited another 5 (they could SEE I was waiting!) before walking off in a bit of a strop to get coffee.

At the coffee stand I was second in the queue but somehow managed to get sidelined so that the two newly arrived people behind me got served before me (most irksome). This was not a good start. Spotting the slight flare to my nostrils (like a horse about to kick off) my partner quickly steered me towards the Crosstown Doughnut stand and oh joy of joys! One mouthful of their Creme Brulee doughnut (a sticky caramel outside with a fresh vanilla creme centre) and all was well with the world! Resentments towards any perceived slights were forgotten.

Happy again

Happy again

We walked around Shadwell Basin watching the various kayakers and canoists having a morning row (as in “paddle in the water”, not an argument) until a suitable time when it was justifiable to try a fried chicken burger with Korean hot sauce from Spit and Roast. That too, with a side of their coleslaw, was incredibly tasty.

Wapping - Shadwell Basin

securedownload-3

securedownload-4

If you fancy checking out this Sunday market, my suggestion would be to head there around 11.30ish for a coffee (and if you want a doughnut, buy it sooner rather than later as they quickly sell out), have a look at all the stalls selling fresh produce then have lunch (there are stalls catering for vegetarians as well).

This market is quite small so if the docklands area is a bit of a schlep for you, you could make a whole day of it and head over to Columbia Road Flower Market in the afternoon.

Columbia Road Flower Market  Wapping Market

TOP TIP #1: By going late afternoon to Columbia Road Market, flowers and plants start getting reduced so that market traders don’t have to lug all their plants and flowers back to base. You can pick up some real bargains by timing it right.

So, despite a disappointing start, I ended up enjoying a meander round Wapping Market. The experience made me want to test out a few more of the foodie markets happening in the capital. So here’s brief outline of what’s taking place and when.

  • Brockley Market – the more established, big sister market to Wapping. Held Saturdays 10am-2pm. Click here for details.
  • Partridges Food Market – every Saturday in the Duke of York Square in Chelsea from 10am -4pm. There are now around 70 stalls filled with fresh farm produce, artisan bread, cake vendors, international specialities and health foods. See here for details.
  • Broadway Market – stalls in this Hackney Market open from 9am-5pm and there are over 100 selling a range of food and baked produce with also some vintage clothes and accessories in the mix. Check it out here.
  • Walthamstow Market – there’s a daily market which stretches the length of Walthamstow High Street and also a farmer’s market every Sunday between 10am-2pm. Particular highlights of the farmer’s market includes stalls by SeaFayre fish from Kent, free-range pigs from Giggly Pig in Romford, Quarry Farm ethical veal, and Brambletye Farm biodynamic eggs and fruit.
  • Real Food Markets – there’s one every weekend at the Real Food Market behind the Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank and also one in Kings Cross. Check out dates, times and the kind of stalls there are, here.
  • Islington, Blackheath (near the station) and Peckham (near the library) are well served each weekend with a farmer’s market. Have a delicious coffee whilst you browse the stalls of cheese, bread, meat, cakes and jams. The Blackheath one often has a plant stall as well selling indoor and outdoor plants and flowers. Find your nearest London Farmer’s Market here.
  • Borough Market – this has undergone some renovation and expansion of late with a new roofed area – very handy on those rainy London days. This is probably the mother of all food markets and is very popular with tourists and locals alike. The stalls are pretty permanent throughout the week but weekends are especially packed. It can be quite pricey but you’ll get some great food and some unusual stalls can be found here – ones specialising in liquorice or Turkish delight for example.

TOP TIP #2: You might be stuck for a cash machine near some of these outdoor food markets so take cash. Bear in mind you’re likely to spend more than you think. Organic local produce, artisan breads and home-made jams will be much more expensive than your supermarket prices but you’ll know the food is of a good quality and is usually grown and reared to high, ethical standards. Without the impact of air miles, buying local British food is much kinder to the environment. Paying these farmers properly for high quality produce is definitely worth supporting if you can afford it and going to a market is a lovely thing to do of a weekend. Cut down on the plastic bags and pack a few of those hessian tote bags too.

Cakes Galore

I tried very hard not to watch the Great British Bake-Off this year. I’d watched all the previous seasons and had begun to think that people would soon tire of the same-old formula – Mel and Sue’s innuendo-laden jokes, Mary Berry’s kindly (but sometimes disapproving) stare, Paul Hollywood’s ice-blue eyes and exacting judgement. Besides, surely there’s only a limited amount of doughy-pastry-spongy things you can bake!

Well obviously, I was very wrong. This season’s move from BBC2 to BBC1 has brought in even more viewers and the GBBO season 5 is even more popular than before, so who was I kidding to even consider resisting such sweet temptation? Like millions of other viewers, I’ll be tuning in this Wednesday to see who will be crowned the Bake-Off champion of 2014 (although my money’s on Richard with Luis coming in a close second).

So in honour of this well-loved British baking programme coming to a close, I asked a few friends to nominate their favourite place in London to go for some gorgeous home-made cakes or delicious baked goodies.

These were the results (in no particular order).

1) You Don’t Bring Me Flowers – a cafe/florists by Hither Green Station which serves great bread, hot drinks and an array of lovely cakes, flapjacks and brownies. Highlights include ingredients you wouldn’t think would work together such as beetroot and chocolate cake or a courgette cake with cream cheese frosting. Let me assure you, they do.

 

shopfront of YDBMF YDBMF

Other highlights – fresh flowers near the entrance. The only downside? If you’re allergic to fresh flowers!

http://www.youdontbringmeflowers.co.uk/

2) Bea’s of Bloomsbury – I visited the Bloomsbury one with a friend recently but they have other branches as well (check out the website here). It’s popular, especially at the weekend, so worth booking a few weeks in advance, especially if you want afternoon tea. My friend and I hadn’t booked and only had 35 mins before the table was fully reserved but it was time enough to sample one of their scones with jam and cream. Delicious.

Beas of Bloomsbury

3) Maison Bertaux – still a firm favourite; one of the oldest and best patisseries in London. Put on some red lipstick and head to the tiny cafe upstairs for some French sophistication to go with your cafe-au-lait.

http://www.maisonbertaux.com/

 

Maison Bertaux

4) Lizzy’s on the Green – a recommendation from an actor-friend who lives near Newington Green where this little cafe is situated. The trip advisor reviews mention the great coffee but she’s an amazing baker as well. Check out her facebook page here. A great place to have a cuppa and a cake whilst watching the kids play in the park.

5) Bake-A-Boo – a little hideaway in West Hampstead serving a variety of hand-baked seasonal cakes, cupcakes and treats galore. What’s not to love?

http://www.bake-a-boo.com/

I tried to narrow it down to 5 (and also tried to avoid chains) although there are so many great cake places, cafes and bakeries in London. Some of my favourites include the Nordic Bakery (there are a few branches now dotted around London) where the cafes smell of cinnamon buns and other treats and the cafe at the Royal Academy did the most amazing peanut butter cookie which I shall have to seek out again at some point in the future.

What’s your favourite place for some baked goodies?

October Reminders

A short post this week to remind you cinephiles out there that London goes all film-tastic this month during the 12-day BFI London Film Festival.

From 8th Oct there will be various screenings, galas, competitions, debates and masterclasses, with an event-packed programme which you can check out here.

The festival ends on 19th Oct and that same day marks the last day (and your last chance) to see Dennis Hopper’s “Lost Album” photography exhibition at the Royal Academy.

I took an Artist Date this afternoon and went to see the exhibition, spending just under an hour pouring over the black and white shots of 60′s America. Hopper documented rallies, marches, hippy love-ins, bikers and their lifestyle, as well as American streets, graffiti’d walls and everyday details like washing hung out on a line.

He had a great eye for composition and some of his shots look like graphic artworks. It’s not a big exhibition but it reflects an important period in history with artists like Andy Warhol and a new breed of Hollywood stars like Brando and Paul Newman. There was Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, the lunar landings and the assassination of President Kennedy all of which Hopper recorded in his photos. Check out details of the exhibition here while there’s still time.

There’s also time to indulge in some leafy, Autumnal walks before the weather turns, although today felt more like a summer’s day and I regretted wearing lots of layers as I sweated my way to the Royal Academy. Enjoy the good weather while you can.

For more October highlights, Time Out have a calendar of events. See here for details.

Autumn leaves

 

 

Secrets and McFly’s

You’ve probably heard of Secret Cinema. Their recent immersive cinema event screening of Back to The Future was, despite a couple of false starts, a resounding success and managed to catapult BTTF back into the top 10 films at the Box Office.

Part of their success is their use of actors to play various roles – inmates and prison guards for Shawshank Redemption, prom kids, jocks and nerds and a Marty McFly impersonator for BTTF. These actors may perform key scenes from the film or are simply there to interact with the audience. If nothing else, these immersive, interactive events are at least providing more work for actors.

There has been quite a lot of press coverage about the Secret Cinema organisation so it’s nowhere near as secret as it used to be (if you’d like to find out more then click here). But what might still be fairly secret, is that there is also a Secret Theatre.

Founded by the Lyric Hammersmith last year, they’ve brought together an ensemble made up of actors, directors, writers and designers. This 20-strong group have worked together over the course of a year to come up with a season of performances and events taking place in October, including a short run of Woyzeck and A Streetcar Named Desire (not to be confused with the current production starring Gillian Anderson at the Young Vic). There’s also a new play by Mark Ravenhill with the intriguing title, Show 6.

What’s more, if you book a ticket to see any of their Secret Theatre shows, you can attend one of their master classes (on directing, writing, impro etc,) for free! I imagine places will be limited so get in there early if you want to attend. To go to the website, click here.

It got me thinking about all the other secrets that London is…erm…well, secretly harbouring. Quite a lot it would seem! There are underground restaurants, secret shops, walks, various events that are spread by word-of-mouth with an air of mystery surrounding them. There’s even secret storytelling events run through londondreamtime.com

Then, as I walked past my bookshelf earlier, I spotted, nestled amongst the paperbacks, a guidebook called Secret London – An Unusual Guide. So here are a few city secrets that I’m going to share with you…

  • Discover artwork and murals by legendary French film maker, artist and designer Jean Cocteau in a circular Catholic church at 5 Leicester Place called Notre Dame De France. Cocteau murals

 

  • Go underground to visit Henry VIII’s wine cellar which is accessible through the Ministry of Defence headquarters overlooking Whitehall. Viewing is free but by appointment only (tel: 0870 607 4455) and security is tight. As you’re led down murky corridors towards the centre of this subterranean cellar, you’ll see Tudor vaulting, brickwork and pillars exactly as they were 400 years ago.

Henry VIII cellar

 

  • Pay a visit to Dr Johnson’s house (17 Gough Square). It’s one of the few remaining Georgian houses left in London with its panelled rooms and collection of artwork and furniture from that period. During the Open House weekend it’s usually open for free but otherwise, entry tickets to the house are about £4.50, with concessions and cheaper family tickets available.

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  • Dr Johnson is famous for that quote about being tired of London being tired of life. Here it is in full:

“You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford”.

(He wasn’t even a Londoner – he was originally from the Midlands. For further info, click here).

  • Be wowed by the opulence of The Arab Hall at Leighton House. A visitor in 1899 said of this residence -

“The entrance hall is clad in brilliant peacock blue tiles, while a real stuffed peacock guards the grand staircase. The Arab Hall is decorated with rare Islamic tiles, inlaid mosaics and Arabic inscriptions with a black marble fountain at its centrepiece”.

Arab Hall

This “Aladdin’s Cave” still holds chamber music recitals organised by Kensington and Chelsea Music Society and there’s a small fee of about £3 for admission to have a good ol’ nosey round! Plan your visit here.

If you’re interested in finding more about Secret London – An Unusual Guide (by Rachel Howard and Bill Nash) it’s published by Jonglez and is available at most good bookshops or online.

So, fellow Londoners and vistors to the city, don’t just stick to the well-known tourist sights. Take an amble off the beaten track and go exploring. Delve into subterranean Tudor cellars and crypts, explore those tucked-away houses, hidden libraries and back-street monuments and statues. You never know what hidden gems and secrets you’ll uncover!

 

Open Yer Doors, London

Tomorrow hails the start of the Open House weekend in London.

Every year, the city opens its doors to iconic buildings, architectural gems and institutions within the financial and political sector. There are eco houses and schools, new designs with all the latest gadgets and beautiful modern extensions on Victorian buildings. In the long list of places to visit this weekend (for free), there’s Benjamin Franklin’s House, Hogarth’s House, cathedrals, museums, bath-houses and Grade II listed Quaker meeting houses. There’s even a windmill in Brixton!

Basically, Open House weekend gives Londoners and visitors alike a chance to satisfy their inner nosey-ness. I for one, look forward to having a good old look round buildings that are usually off-limits for one reason or another.

So if you’ve ever fancied a tour round City Hall, 10 Downing Street or wanted to take a peak at the Government Art Collection, Open House weekend allows you that opportunity.

In previous years, certain buildings have been chocca with people and with visitors queuing to get in. Some of the more popular premises will require you to pre-book or enter a ballot (if they’re oversubscribed), so if you’re too late this year, remember to plan your visit much earlier next year.

There’s a guidebook you can get through the Open House site. Click here for further details with advice on planning your trip around London through maps and apps. If you want the full list of buildings that are taking part in the Open House weekend (they’re in alphabetical order which makes it easier), then click here.

Of particular note to those in the acting fraternity, I’ve spotted that the Arcola Theatre is on that list (with their fab bar/cafe), as is The Bush, (with their newly designed contemporary theatre space – see below), The Charles Cryer Studio Theatre, The Chickenshed Theatre and Clean Break (an award-winning theatre company and charity working with women affected by the criminal justice system whose resident building is a former factory which has been redesigned to be as non-institutional as possible).

Bush Theatre

Bush Theatre

Also on the list – Hackney Empire, The Half Moon Theatre, the Institut Francais du Royaume-Uni (an Art Deco listed building containing a classic cinema, multimedia library and bistro – see below).

Institut Francais du Royaume-Uni

Institut Francais du Royaume-Uni

Continuing through the alphabet of buildings catering to those with an artistic bent, there’s the Jerwood Space, LAMDA drama school, Lewisham Arthouse/Deptford Library, the MTV studios, the National Centre for Circus Arts (housed in the former Shoreditch Electricity Generating Station), the wonderfully named Oily Cart Theatre Treehouse, Oto Project Space (an experimental music venue), the Park Theatre, the new Rambert head office, Richmond Theatre, RADA, Sands Film Studios & Rotherhithe Picture Research Library, the Siobhan Davies Studios, Sir Richard Burton’s Mausoleum, South London Theatre, Stratford Circus, Stratford Picturehouse, Sugarhouse Studios, The Broadway Theatre in Barking, Bromley Churchill Theatre, The Cinema Museum, The Floating Cinema, The Odeon Beckenham, The Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, Theatre Royal Stratford East, Unicorn Theatre, Wilton’s Music Hall, and The Writer’s Shed.

Phew!

So much to see. Only a weekend to do it in. Happy exploring!

The Writer's Shed

The Writer’s Shed