Making the arts accessible

I recently read this article on the BBC about the fact that the arts is becoming elitist, and that something needs to be done about it. I totally agree with this, however at the same time, I see another point of view.

I run a theatre school in Portsmouth (OmniArts Performing School). I set this up with my own money that I made by teaching singing while working an almost full time job. I am lucky enough to have been able to leave that job, and now work full time self employed, doing what I love, but my private teaching and another industry I work in still help support OmniArts sometimes – especially in the lead up to a show with licencing costs!

What we do

We have 2 trained professionals teaching at all our classes (singing and acting) and a third who comes in to teach dance at some sessions. We charge a very reasonable £9.50 for 3 hours (or £5 for our 1.5 hour class) every week, however we are struggling to get more members in to allow us to be able to offer more opportunities to our members, and do bigger shows.

We have offered private tuition ‘for free’ to members in the lead up to a show (as part of their weekly fee – we welcome donations for our time, but understand if someone can’t, and would rather they had the extra time with us and were confident on stage, than not come for a private lesson because they feel they can’t pay for it). We also offer family discounts, and look at each persons situation, to see if we can help them with payment in anyway possible.

We even set up our Professional Development Bursary Award, to try to help members out with extra tuition – either via a private course, or help with finding the funding for less well off members to go to Uni/drama school, as well as running one off specific workshops for not just our members, but others as well. The members that we have appreciate what we offer, and because of this we are currently also setting up a skills only group to run alongside the main groups, where people will just learn acting techniques to help them better perform, rather than working on shows.

The Problem

Although I have managed to get OmniArts to a point that it can be sustained – to be able to keep offering everything mentioned above, we need more members! This brings me to my main problem: the cost of advertising to get people in. We get flyers printed, which costs, and then we have to take them out everywhere to be put up – which costs time, which is something most of us don’t have due to working so hard to make sure we have enough money to live.

As for advertising in a magazine or newspaper – let alone a performance paper like the stage – it is costly, and to get an article in the news these days it seems you have to write it yourself and chase someone for days or weeks to get in published in the smallest, furthest back part of the paper – again, spending a lot of time and energy which most small theatre companies don’t have (the time that is – not the energy!)

It’s not just me!

Since I have been running OmniArts, I have seen a number of similar groups forced to close due to low member numbers. There was also an amateur theatre within Portsmouth which had a fly system (one of only 8 amateur theatre’s in the UK with one) which has closed because the church it was attached to chose to move, and blocked all attempts to get a trust to take over the building.

We want to help teach the next generation of actors, and give them skills to help them go forward in performance – be that on stage, in film, for private functions, and even the ‘backstage’ things like makeup and crew work, however it is often a struggle for the small, accessible groups to be able to get the word out to the people that would be interested in joining them!

I am sure that it isn’t just my group that faces these issues, and there are so so many groups up and down the country like mine, which are accessible in their costs and what they offer, but because of this, don’t have the money to advertise to people who might be interested.

Thank you for reading this – I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter too, so please comment below. 🙂

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Why Testimonials are so Important

Since I have been acting in films, and singing at events, I have become more and more aware of the importance of people’s opinions.

What people think and say about you matters – are you professional at what you do, do you go above and beyond the call of duty, are you easy to work with – once someone has seen that you can do what they are looking for, these will be the things that are the deciding factor as to if they hire you or not.

As an actress on a film set for a student film maker, I started to recognise what made a good director, camera person, sound team etc. I started writing down the things that I felt made these people great to work with, and after a while, I wrote these things up into proper testimonials for certain people I had worked with whom I felt were really fantastic.

By writing these testimonials for them, I felt that I was giving them that extra something to add to their portfolio – recognition from an actress who had worked with them, that what they do is good. I really hope that those testimonials I gave them, have helped when they have applied for other jobs.

From the other side of the fence, receiving testimonials is truly amazing too. I feel so proud when I get a lovely comment from someone who’s wedding or event I sung at, or who’s movie I acted in. It reminds me to keep striving to be better than I am already, and those comments will also help other people see the other side to me.

My website is full of information about what I do, and what I have achieved – you can find pretty much all the facts and figures you want about me online, but what really counts, especially in the entertainment business, is other people’s opinions.

So next time you find a great supplier for something you do – whatever that may be – and you think, yes, I would recommend this person/company to my friends, consider sending the supplier a quick email with a couple of lines to say thank you, and explain why you feel they did such a great job. You will feel great, they will feel great, and so will the next person who is looking for someone who does what they do.

A Top Tip for Actors with Tattoos

I recently came across this great tutorial to covering up tattoos. I don’t have any tattoos myself, but I find it really frustrating when you see a tattoo that either doesn’t fit the character, or even worse the time period in a show – whether that be on TV, film, stage or any other kind of performance.

I know quite often if it is a student film, or low budget, these sorts of things will just be ignored, but in my opinion, it’s the little things that make a good film / show amazing – attention to detail, so here is one more thing that there will no longer be an excuse for not doing!

Covering Up Tattoos

Instructions:

  1. use a red lipstick covering the outlines
  2. pat on a light concealer, using a setting powder
  3. pat on your skin tone concealer, and clean up any mistakes using baby wipes to remove excess concealer
  4. use a fluffy brush and smooth it out with foundation powder.

There’s also a video tutorial here to help you out.

Source

Rubberneckers when filming

As you probably know, I have been involved in a fair few student films recently, and a little while ago I was filming for Moving In the Web Series when I noticed something.

We were filming along a river in a park in London – and there were quite a few boats going past. We had to stop filming and start again more times for that scene than any others. Why you may ask? Because of rubberneckers on the boats! Now, I can understand that when you see a camera, boom pole and a number of actors, your first instinct is to stare, and look back as you go past, however, next time – bear this in mind:

  1. If everyone in the background is staring, that footage can’t be used – for obvious reasons.
  2. Whatever they are filming could be the next big thing (you never know!) and if you DON’T stare, they may use the footage with you in the background, and you’ll get your….2 seconds of fame.
  3. If they have to keep re doing a scene, it will very probably put out their time schedule for the rest of the scenes they need to do that day, and could mean they don’t get all the scenes in that they want – due to when cast and crew are available.

I hope this has given you a little insight into filming – even if it’s just enough to stop you staring next time you see a camera!

Invest Time in your Character

Too many times I have got on set with a suitcase full of clothes and accessories for my character, only to be told “what you’re wearing now will be fine”.

Now I understand that time is money, and on a set you’re almost always behind time…but more often than not I haven’t even had a brief of my character before hand – just the script – so the things I’ve brought are based on what I think my character is like – which could be totally wrong! Deciding on the appearance of my character, and also her back story, will help me act much better than if I’m just given a script.

What makes a film / show? The storyline, and the characters. Knowing your characters inside out can change how the behave, how they speak, what they wear, and also, what they do. For example, is your character shy or outgoing? Straight away, this will change how they talk to another character.

Other things to consider:

  • Is there anything in their past which has effected them?
  • Do they have any tattoos / piercings?
  • What is their family – only child, twin, siblings, older, younger? If you want to really go into detail, what about cousins – are they close, or not?
  • What music / tv shows / books are they in to? Are they fanatical about these things (go to every show, buy all the merchandise etc), or do they “just like them”?

Now, for appearance. Especially for a female, this can be VERY telling. Also, these things are needed in advance – I need to know if I’m going to have to straighten or curl my hair, take my extensions or pin my hair up to make it look shorter.

Hair:

  • Up or Down?
  • Curly or Straight?
  • Long or Short?
  • Accessories?

Makeup

  • Natural?
  • Bold?
  • Smouldering?
  • Colour?

Jewellery

  • Big / Little / None?
  • Funky / Stylish / Simple / Elegant?

Clothes and Shoes

  • Dress /Skirt or Jeans / Trousers?
  • Low Cut or High Cut?
  • Short or Long?
  • Motif or Plain?
  • Heels or Flats?
  • Boots or Shoes?

Bag

  • Backpack / Shoulder / Purse / Satchel?
  • Big or Small?
  • Everyday or Going Out?
  • Bright Colours or Plain?
  • Also consider what is in your characters bag – as this can be very telling of their personality.

Of course, this doesn’t hold true for every film. Films with no dialogue, and films that are purely cinamagraphic will probably not need all, or any of the above considerations, but I feel that it is something good for directors, writers, film makers and such to think about.

This is by no means a full list of things to consider, so feel free to post your thoughts on things that need to be considered below.

I hope this post is helpful when you come to creating your next film!