From Hamlet To Damnlet! A Losers Guide!
I have two weeks before I leave the United Kingdom for good and re-start or kick start my life again in the United States. And so I am busily trying to close up my life here in England while learning fifty pages of text for a one-man stage play that I will shortly be doing at the Hollywood Fringe Festival.
Mornings are the best time to learn lines as once I have taken my triple espresso hit for the day my mind is suitably alert to be able to absorb lines and text. Though this morning has been particularly frustrating as various people and journalists have been calling and texting me in order to get my opinion regarding Dame Judi Dench’s recent moan via The Guardian Newspaper about young actors who simply refuse to acknowledge or who are indifferent to the legacy of such stage greats as Olivier and Gielgud.
To be honest I also share (to a certain extent) her frustration as more and more so-called drama school graduates pour into the acting profession without any measure of respect for the individuals who helped shape the post-war era of British Theatre. Never the less at present there appears to be a certain amount of ill will in the acting world between those of us who made huge sacrifices (mainly acquiring debt) to become actors and those who instead were fortunate enough to attend Eton or Cambridge and then be fast-tracked into the business.
Pre the post-war world, certain actors were only able to build successful careers in the theatre and film arts simply because they came from backgrounds of financial means. Years later and post-war came the actors who, while they didn’t have money, they none the less had bags of talent. The post-war era was an amazing era that gave us the legendary talents of Richard Burton, Terence Stamp and Peter O’toole. Note also the fact that, thanks to the very first post-war labour Government, many young people from poor or working class backgrounds were given the opportunity for the first time to attend either drama school or university thanks mainly to either scholarships or government funding.
Indeed the fifties and sixties saw the birth of the so-called ‘Angry Young Man’ era where actors of privilege no longer ruled the day. Never the less fast forward to the present day and we see that the profession is back to where it was before the second world war where mainly actors of financial means can only get ahead. Years ago if one was not able to attend a university or a drama school (Guildhall or the Royal Academy) then the last call for any aspiring young actor would be the repertory theatres of Britain. Sadly today Britain can only speak of about 40 or 50 repertory theatre’s and it is only a handful of those which can currently offer a regular and yearly programme of plays. Myself I was fortunate to be able to be awarded a full grant from my local education authority while also claiming housing benefit (oh those were the days!) Having been born in 1969 (Summer of love I am told) and christened ‘Generation X’ (whatever that means)
I was able to enjoy the full fruits of government subsidy before certain British politicians who had also enjoyed a free education pulled the ladder up behind themselves and denied today’s young aspiring actors and students the very fruits that they had enjoyed themselves.
Today if anyone wants to train at a drama school and be lectured and taught by cynical and bitter failed actors then they have to take out a lifetime of debt. And having done that and then successfully graduate they are then left to either perform in pub theatre’s for no money or join the ensemble or chorus of a play that stars a former Oxford, Cambridge or Eton Graduate. That aside, as I was earlier alluding to Ms Dench, was on the front page of Britain’s The Guardian newspaper flanked by playwright David Hare and Actor Michael Pennington.
Hare is probably the finest British playwright of his generation having created some excellent work with the former National Theatre artistic director Richard Eyre. Their collaboration that produced such outstanding British plays as Absence of War, Racing Demon and Murmuring Judges showed us why it is indeed crucial for a country to have such a thing as a National Theatre. That said, Hare’s recent film Denial was an appallingly thin and predictable travesty. Pennington is, without a doubt, an outstanding actor and director, that said, he has developed over time a small sideline and pet hate of mine called the Actor’s memoir.
While various books by David Mamet and also An Actor Prepares by Konstantin Stanislavski are a good and absorbing read, Pennington’s book’s detailing how he came to perform the roles of either Hamlet or Lear are nothing more than an indulgent and predictable hymn of praise to a tired old actor’s ego. I have yet to find anything at all helpful or practical in any actor’s so-called acting memoir. Indeed you normally find that the only people who waste their time reading these stupid books are either drama students or amateur/community actors.
You will normally find half a dozen so-called ‘true believers’ strutting around the canteens of any drama school at any one time behaving like the local drama school acting Taliban with any one of these so called Actors Handbooks under their arms.
That said, Dench is absolutely right to voice her frustration. I can remember watching an individual who was my understudy struggle to both act and be heard.
Despite having a radio mike attached to his cheek no one could hear him as he had failed to realise that despite the fact that he was fully miked, he still needed to project and of course no one at any college, university or drama school had taught him how to do that.
It does seem that year after year the acting profession is flooded with thousands of drama school graduates who while they have been taught how to discover for themselves the very details of (and I quote) Life of Human Soul they have at the same time not been taught the basics – ‘Keep still, mind the furniture and project!’ Indeed more can be learned by simply watching a great actor than reading about him. Which in fact brings me to another idea, only a few years ago I watched the outstanding Patrick Stewart play Claudius in Hamlet at the Noel Coward (formerly Strand Theatre) Theatre in London.
I was sitting in the front row and observed that by doing very little, this genius actor managed to act everyone else off the stage.
Fast forward a few years later and guess who has just been auditioning for the role of Claudius in Hamlet? Yes, you’ve got it, me!!! And just before I stepped out under the footlights to give my all in front of the director and casting director I remembered a piece of advice that I picked up from an acting masterclass that I saw Michael Caine conduct years ago. That day when I had the good luck and good fortune to be in the same room as one of Britain’s leading film actor’s I will never forget what he told me when he pulled me aside and whispered in my ear. ‘Dear boy, always remember what great actors have done for centuries – STEAL!!!’… ‘And if you do steal, make sure that you only steal from the best!’
Also by Lincoln Hudson:
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