Goosegate

Sometimes I come out of a sort of haze of living in the moment, step out of my body and think: “What the hell has happened here?”. I did just that this morning as I was doing my routine, which now involves having coffee on the roof of the dutch barge and talking to the swans. There’s a pair of them on the opposite side of the river and I’ve named them Captain Stickleback  and Baroness Katerina…. Look I live on my own on a boat and I’m embracing the solitude, this includes the craziness. Anyway this morning a couple of Canada Geese joined the stale bread party and were pretty aggressive and loud about the whole thing, like when your party gets crashed by friends of friends that still take M-cat and think Dapper Laughs is funny. So in the midst of this early morning Dr Doolittle interaction I exclaimed to the hissing barely evolved dinosaurs “Get over yourselves and shut up you fucking morons”. A cold feeling washed over me as I suddenly saw what I’d become – a man pushing thirty still in his pyjamas being wound up by geese to the point were he lost his temper. I shuffled back inside shaking my head saying to myself “I really need help, I think I really really need help”. Still you must remember even though this incident is potentially worrying, it IS definitely still funny. The same as when I watch the short clip from a Werner Herzog documentary about scientists in the South Pole I cathartically laugh and cry with tears of joy and sadness. The clip involves Werner in his dry Bavarian tone narrating his quest to find “insanity amongst penguins”, he finally finds his quarry in a penguin who seemingly cannot take the monotony of penguin life and runs off to the mountains to its certain death.

The choral music and the severity of Werner’s tone I have always found hilarious but suddenly yesterday something happened and I saw myself and my struggle with my colony embodied in that penguin. Tears of laughter turned to sadness and I croaked “That penguin is me”… Which made me start laughing again turning me into a confused Frankenstein’s monster of emotion. And that IS funny. My emotions are all at the front these days after hitting depression hard, I don’t have the energy to keep them in and frankly I don’t care too much.

I understand why some people I know and have talked to find it uncomfortable when I jovially retell stories of me having a breakdown in front of a statue of Buddha because I was jealous of how peaceful it looked….. Or when I went on a date wearing gloves and she freaked out a bit when she went to hold the end of one of my fingers and it wasn’t there….. I get how people may think that this is sad or upsetting for me but please please please don’t ignore how funny it is too. Otherwise you won’t find the show I’m doing at Edinburgh this year at all enjoyable.

Yes! I was talking about doing a one man show as a natural evolution from this blog and I actually took the plunge and applied to the Edinburgh Fringe. Two days later I was offered a slot at Just The Tonic for the full run. It is happening and it’s all down to me, which is what I have wanted for a long time. So I need to write a one man show about my life and experiences with my non-conformist left hand and so far I have a title – Wretched. A title gifted to me by Karen Hobbs which is a play on my own name (Richard-Wretched) which also means: A thing of poor Quality. So thats going on the poster…

My life has changed dramatically in the space of less than twelve months. The whole landscape of my future has transformed, stepping out of myself during goosegate this morning made me really look at this. I’m by no means in a green rosy place but for the first time in a long time I can see a direction.

Much Love Richard

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Climbing back to my four toed feet

It’s been a tough year for a lot of people, the nihilist in me would find it fitting for the super volcano at Yellowstone to go off on new years eve. That would put the button on it and since the satellite reception would be ruined by the ash cloud, there might be a bit more work for actors. I am by no mean one of the lucky ones who had a good year, all the best people had shit years, Bowie, Rickman, Prince and others that make up that extraordinary list deaths, Brexit happened and Trump will be the leader of the free world…… if you look back on 2016 with anything so much as a non pulsed ambiguity you’re just filthy reactionary scum….. I don’t care if you got married it was a shit year, the kind of year that Enoch Powell would be happy to receive for Christmas.

I started this blog to talk about my experiences as a jobbing actor with a non conformist left hand but recently it’s my head that’s been giving me problems. Everyone that knows me fairly well knows that 2016 has been the year that the black dog has finally started humping my leg, I’ve been through the mincer but the good news is I’ve got it under control. It has been eye opening how much it has affected my acting work, basically rendering it impossible for a long period of the year as it sucks away your confidence and self belief. Now I have a dark sense of humour and I wouldn’t be me if I couldn’t objectively look back on some of the stuff I’ve done and find it hilarious. So lets have a run down of the top five hilarious things Richard did this year while he was in the grip of an existential crisis:

5 – Walk onto Beverley Westwood (Imagine the moors with cows on it) at 1am so I could sing  things like The Impossible Dream as loud as I could at the sky

4 – Completely imagine receiving an email that told me I had an acting job in Peterborough (as if its a vivid memory) live with that knowledge for two days and nearly book a train. Only realising that the job never existed when searching for the email to see what the call time was.

3 – Singing the Richard Cheese version of Creep in an audition….. I found it hilarious, they didn’t.

2 – Wanting to escape so much that I literally tried to jump through the living room wall to transcend reality. Looking back on it this was  just the mirror scene from The Matrix but I was legitimately disappointed when it didn’t happen.

1 – Burning a full Hamlet script in my back garden while laughing cathartically. I have videos, I sound like a serial killer…. it IS funny.

So now I have a lid on the worst of it I can look back laugh and be glad of the experience. I know more about myself, my friends and whole family. I feel like I’ve had a huge learning experience and wouldn’t change it if I had the chance. This is life, this is reality, embrace the bad and the good it’s all you’ve got. Actor voice goes “this will be great for your emotional intelligence!”.

Now my mental health and the old Poland syndrome aren’t directly linked but the acting industry has been the junction between them.  Opening up a free flow of self consciousness between the two. Remember that I was never phased about my condition until I entered this industry, it makes you analyse every aspect of your appearance. People spend thousands improving it and why shouldn’t they? We aren’t going to honestly sit around and pretend that looks mean nothing in this industry are we? They can be the difference between getting a job and if you don’t like it I’m afraid you can’t get mad at casting directors, directors or producers. If you’re mad look no further than the public, yourself included. Now I could sort my teeth out a bit, get down the gym and get a bit fitter in the quest of getting more work but what’s the point…… No matter how presentable the rest of me is, my hand still looks like it’s been drawn by seven year old with attention deficit disorder. So what’s the point?

I’ve come out of this with a view that the “jobbing” actor of commercial theatre may not be for me. When stuck in the isolation of Cambridge these last two years that was the only way to go at it however I am back now. I’m in London again surrounded by people who can help me make things happen and I’ve got so much more to offer than to play Algernon in a tour of provincial theatres. Who says I’d even get that…. There’s always someone nearly as good with two aesthetically pleasing hands. Even if it wasn’t an issue do I want to go my whole career playing typecast…. do I fuck! I don’t even really have a typecast, not particularly anything is how I’d describe myself. I can’t really have a career just playing Richard the III for the rest of my life either. I need to focus into the realms of ensemble and devised work if I’m going to have the chance to exercise my craft to is full potential. It’s a lesson delivered by a great teacher three years ago but has only just clicked now.

The only way forward is to create, not pin your hopes on someone else’s decision. I have a play to finish, I have three more projects ready to get written down and they will be completed. There are companies and collectives to join, there are things to do again. One thing that has dogged me this year after the depression hit was my complete lack of focus, drive and bizarre decision making. I can see clearly now though, I’m standing back up and feeling more like the person I was when I graduated drama school. It’s incredible what a small amount of time in the right place can do.

I was knocked for six this year but I said to my peers “You will see me again”, well here I am.

Richard Stott

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Get Angry

Acting is a profession which requires you to be a human as humanly possible while paradoxically  demanding you to forgo the most human of qualities. On stage and screen we must be raw, engaged in real emotion, showing the human in the most monstrous of characters. Just watch Bruno Ganz play Hitler in downfall and you shall see it for yourself.

We are asked to access and become attuned to intricate emotion and body language while at the same time asked to reject our own emotion constantly. “Don’t let rejection get you down, don’t become jealous of your peers, leave baggage outside the rehearsal room”. All necessary to succeed make no mistake about it…. no body said this was easy.

We are in the business truth, investigating it, finding it and then the leap we make is trying to portray it.

It can get into your blood and the line between investigative acting research:

Why am I saying this, what am I trying to achieve when I use those word to that particular person?

Can become blurred and we can all to often bring this mentality into the real world: Why did they use those word? Are they bringing that up to deflect from something? What is this person in front of me, in the Chandos Pub Trafalgar Square trying to achieve?!

Don’t get me wrong it can be helpful in certain situations but my god when that voice won’t shut up it’s nothing short of paranoia. I’m particularly starting to suffer from this as I have been “resting” for…. too long now. That artistic muscle wants to work, I’m itching to exercise my training and its dangerously spilling into real life. Always keep an eye on yourself guys.

I am I admit speaking to you from a bad place. I have devoted my life to acting since sixteen years old…. so many of us do. In that time it’s clear to me I’ve become dependent on it’s approval….. It’s built me up and knocked me down so many times that I am completely dependent on the industry’s approval. It doesn’t take much, simply getting cast is enough, you are accepted and that’s all most of us want. Of course we love our work but I think this mentality contributes a lot to peoples seeming addiction to this punishing environment.

When you can’t get a break, when you can’t get a part or even an audition you don’t feel like one of those stereotypical “lurvies” who charmingly drinks himself to death in The Captains Table…. we do that…. but personally I feel utterly abandoned. In bitter moments you feel as if you were conned, people telling you that you had it in you so you’d cough up money and pay for training, headshots, showreels, spotlight, equity and coming soon EU Work VISAs.

At some point for a lot of us something gives and you feel you must walk away but almost always something pulls you back in. As if whether you like it or not an unseen force guides you back to where you were like a recurring dream.

Now this is the true hardship that almost every actor faces (apart from  Brian Blessed after reading his autobiography), that seemingly never ending desert where all you can do is channel your inner camel and endure.

But there is an upside to all this. When you do finally get your shot, and believe it or not I still believe it’s out there, not a second will be wasted and nothing taken for granted. Be hungry not needy and you will hit the stage like a racehorse. Embrace you scars and your bruises, get angry and use that energy.

R

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Is being a very good actor enough anymore?

God I don’t know what to write. What is there to write? I haven’t done anything. It’s been a long barren summer watching a lot of my peers do very well at the Ed Fringe etc. Don’t get me wrong I’m happy for you but I’ve got to be honest I’m also seething with bitter jealousy. In fact at the moment I can’t even watch theatre as I just sit at the back twitching and getting …… sad frankly. So to all those great people I know who have been in plays recently, I’m sorry I didn’t come, its nothing personal.

Now I’m about to pose a question and I’ve touched on this subject before but I’d like this blog to trigger a bit more of a discussion about it.

Is being a very good actor enough anymore?

To me the answer is simple, no. Even with the best attitude new actors trying to carve a career are being asked all too frequently to be equally skilled musicians, puppeteers even gymnasts in some cases. I completely understand why as with funding cuts companies have to get extra creative and this breeds a lot of really great ensemble theatre.

The problem I now face is that I don’t have the ability to learn these skills. I physically can’t do them. In a recent audition I was told my hand poses no problem for theatre and I shouldn’t have to consider myself disabled, the same company then went on to cast a play of only actor musos…… Sometimes I’m ruled out of things in such subtle ways…. at least others have the physical ability to try and widen their skills.

So far being realistic I’ve ruled out commercials and I can live with that but to see theatre slipping away from me is quite distressing. “Well just do film and TV” some would say… Yes I admire the optimism that you can just choose to do that but it is even harder to break into and being honest I just don’t enjoy it as much.

For me there is nothing like theatre. Nothing in the whole world. It is my environment I am a performer. Anyone who knows me or has seen me shall tell you I come alive on stage. It’s not about attention in fact my favourite parts of a project are those delicate moments break through in the rehearsal room. I have shared intimate, emotionally charged moments in rooms with over 200 people where you can hear a pin drop. Everybody is with you at your finger tips breathing at the same rate you are breathing ready for you to deliver a line or a gesture which makes them gasp or laugh.

I love it guys. I absolutely cannot get enough of theatre and I’m really fighting to stay with it. Do I really believe that I would be working non stop if I had two good working hands? No but at least I would have that extra chance.

Richard out. x

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Unexpected Turns

It’s hard to write about acting when… you’re not doing it. Which is why lately I feel I have run out of content. However “resting” as it’s called is all too often the default position of the modern day actor.

Those who know me know that I have been in a bad way recently but I shan’t dwell on this, rest assured I’m still here, still the same guy.

I had a bit of life breathed into me this month when I was informed that the RSC wanted to see me for a general casting. The thoughts that go through your head when one of your life goals presents itself are complex. There is an elation and excitement initially but if you are a thinker like me there are all sorts of cautious thoughts that creep in – “Are they just ticking boxes?”, “If I get this wrong do I ever get another chance?”. Your head begins a vicious circle so the best way if often to just try and forget about the consequences of any event, find the right speech and practice it. Though its almost impossible to resist the day dreams that manifest in your excited mind about what life would be like if you finally get what you want.

A few years ago just having the chance to audition would have felt like a victory and anything else a bonus but things have changed. When you’ve been throwing everything you have got at an ambition, including your mental health and asking an monumental amount of patience and sacrifice from the people closest to you … a chance isn’t enough anymore. I need to actually succeed. I have been telling myself and my loved ones that “something will happen” since 2009 …. it is of course wearing delicately thin. That silent, imposing pressure only gets worse as years go on and now as I enter a stage of my lifespan in which I am supposed to have some sort of foundation I have non. Your head is never still as this is the moment where people who feel they are in the rising balloon scenario realise that this is the last chance to let go. Meanwhile you probably feel underprepared because you have rent to pay so haven’t been able to find much time between shifts to practice and certainly haven’t been keeping your tools sharp by having the privilege to perform in profit share productions (cant afford the time off). You have all this rampaging around your brain and now you have to walk into a casting room and hide every scruple of desperation in your quest for this job because “Nobody employs a desperate actor darling!”.

…..Yes it’s harder than just learning lines and avoiding furniture this lark.

Now the casting itself was a positive experience as well as the head of casting for the RSC there were prominent members of local theatre companies. We had a good chat about the industry and of course my experience within it as an actor with a non conformist left hand. To my delight all of them assured me that in theatre it shouldn’t be an issue which was warming to hear. Though I chose not to bring up the increased need for actors to be puppeteers or play instruments decreasing my prospects yet further. I hope I came off well… I think I came off as a rounded professional with a good theatre brain.

Then there was my speech….. I did it twice, once redirected which was received well. However I left the room feeling like I’d fallen flat. Physically awkward, thinking about technical things during the speech instead of being in the moment and not making big enough choices. It’s hard to gage how you did, and self analysis is a dangerous game but if I was to guess I think I underwhelmed. Perhaps if it was anyone else watching I would have been happy with it but of course I felt I needed to be on the very top of my game… and I wasn’t.

I tried to forget about the whole thing by eating as many fish tacos as I could afford. Reminded that I am out of practice and out of sorts…. I haven’t acted in over half a year… what can I expect ….. and don’t make me laugh by telling me I should keep in practice by going to £30 a pop workshops … I feel guilty when I buy a cake with my coffee.

A new dawn this morning though. Out of nowhere I was contacted over Facebook by a lady who had just had a baby la week. A healthy baby boy apart from that he had been diagnosed with Poland Syndrome. While she was looking through the internet about it she came across the article about me. We had a brief chat where I assured her that having Poland syndrome has not stopped my happiness in life, it has not stopped me making friends, being confident or stopped me having relationships. She was audibly relieved to hear this. She then told me that discovering the article about me and seeing that despite my condition, which I share with her son, I was confident enough to go into acting had done more to calm her fears then all the support groups she’d been going to. (in no way belittling the way of support groups that do fantastic work, this is just what she said)

This is why I do what I do….. it’s bigger than my personal ambition, this is about bringing hope, breaking barriers. That conversation this morning could keep me going another year….

 

Richard

 

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The Title Of this Evades Me

It has been a long time since I have blogged but not because I haven’t been busy, on the contrary. I had a string of big auditions to attend including one for Hamlet and I began writing a play I’ve had in mind about the last days of Thomas Percy. Now though abruptly it has all halted.

Despite excellent feedback in each audition and after recalls I was met with the news that “It wasn’t this time”. I’m usually excellent at taking rejection but disappointment after disappointment and one blood boilingly frustrating reason in particular took it’s toll and I ended up burning one of the scripts in the garden….. It was cathartic and sort of objectively hilarious.

Now I wasn’t to fear I had twenty minutes of my play down and a theatre had agreed to take it for a run. I was busy researching, setting up meetings with designers, getting ready to organise a recording, applying for funding and of course writing the play. Then the rug got pulled. I will not go into what happened but the upsight is I now have no venue to put my play on so the motivation has been sucked out of me……and still no credit for 2016.

So acting. It demands demands demands. It demands more money than makes sense, your lifestyle, your mental health, your relationships, your future and for all that it might just kick you in the teeth. It is one of the few industries where you can have the a wealth of talent and work as hard as you can and still get nowhere, in fact I believe that could be true for the majority (Notice I’m slightly appealing to anyone thinking of deciding to enter this profession). Actors today are told quite rightly that they can’t be just actors to succeed anymore and it’s true. Budgets are low in the theatre industry so people need to double up their skills, the big ones are musical instruments and puppetry. Two skills I find myself physically unable to do.

Music is my absolute passion aside from acting there is not an genre I can’t find joy from or an instrument I tire of hearing. It is a quiet frustration of mine that because of my Poland Syndrome music is truly out of reach for me to be involved with, I may write more about this in another post as my personal longing to play and be involved in music while being physically unable is something I could muse on for pages and frankly it makes me distressed to write about even now.

Now onstage puppetry I have tried, on the spot in two auditions. Stage puppets are often easy to use if you have two good hands but pretty ineffective if you only have one so I’m afraid I’m probably going to cross that one off too.

Doom and gloom I know, I’m sorry but I must get this out.

It’s times like this where I really do weigh up my chances of moving forward in this industry. I can’t afford to work for free or profit share and we know how much of an advantage that can be, I can’t turn myself into an actor muso or puppeteer, commercials… we’ve already discussed why I haven’t got a chance. So what you are left with is an actor who can act and work hard. Is that enough anymore?

On top of that when I’m down on my luck and I can’t seem to get parts for no good reason the question starts to play on my mind – “Is is because of my hand” Surely not of course I wouldn’t think so…. but it could be. Mountain on top of mountains.

I think this is why the chance to have my own work on this year dissipating has knocked me for six. I was in control of it, I was carving my own future for once it was green lights the whole way ahead until they turned red for no good reason. I’m afraid the motivation to get up and start again has gone and  I can barely think about theatre without grimacing.

So now what? I don’t know. I have left my representation because I don’t know if I can afford to continue, financially, emotionally, mentally. I would have preferred it if I had just been given a solid chance at this and then told I wasn’t good enough, but the torment of still feeling like you are talented enough to take on anything and been given nothing is truly one of life’s cruelest ironies.

Now of course I feel like this has been an extremely whiny post….. it has. Where I am at at the moment is I do not know if I am going to continue, I’m 28 and there comes a point in life where you just have to say enough is enough. I love the profession and the people but for the vast majority of the time I’m not involved. I am taking stock, reassessing, refocusing. I would love to accomplish my goal and be part of a new generation of actors who break down the barriers of diversity. It’s all very confusing right now but perhaps the time has come after nearly 10 years of pushing to look at new career paths.

Richard

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Trusting Our Public

Hello all!

If you are reading for the first time welcome! If you are returning welcome back! You are all free to follow my journey into the jungle of acting. As we venture into the heart of darkness together feel free to let me know if I’m turning into Kurtz before it gets out of hand…

So at the very start of this year I ended up getting arguably the biggest audition of my career so far. An 18 month TV contract, thanks to new diversity commitments they were looking for an individual who was “unconventional” which is great for me as I believe I fill the bracket. The audition went well and it seems like I nearly got it as they took 3 weeks to tell me no but encouraged me to try again. A really positive experience on the whole but it got me thinking….. Would I have been slightly dishonest to take the role? Now bare with me because I’m just starting to realise how complicated the area I occupy is.

When I share this blog on Twitter I have in the past titled it with the phrase “Disabled actor”…. why? The reason is I want people to look at this blog and if I title it “Actor with Poland syndrome” people wont know really what that means. For the record I’m going to make a commitment to not do that again. I believe that labelling myself disabled would be very dishonest of me and potentially insulting to people who struggle incalculably more than I do with physical impairments. I’m not disabled am I. I’m disfigured (Though I stress some people with Poland Syndrome would certainly consider themselves disabled as they have had more complications then I have)….but I’m not fond of that word, maybe we can make a new word or maybe I can accept the phrase and get on with it.

This is the case in my everyday life but the question I pose to you reader is up for discussion and has no right answer:

When it comes to acting,  are actors with a visible impairment at a disadvantage that can be considered disabled in this industry?

Lets let that settle. When you think about it this is very complicated and probably the reason why it took the production company the best part of a month to come up with an outcome to my audition. It must have been a tough process.

My stance on this is: Yes is definitely does in some areas but this must change. There needs to be a meeting in the middle of the two opposite ends of the supply and demand. The biggest thing to happen, and which seems to be happening more and more after Paralympics is the production companies are beginning trust that their audiences will accepting of more diversity. In my mind we are on the right path but we have a long way to go.

I now see that as an actor I have arrived at a time where I can be part of a generation actors who break the barrier down and that is infinitely exciting to me as an artist. I saw this week in the press that the public have an interest in my story as a human but will I and others be accepted on stage and screen? I am adamant that they will. All we need now is the industry to take a leap of faith with their customers.

So going back to my original worry: would I be dishonest to accept the role from a casting breakdown that requires “an actor with a disability”…. No I don’t believe I would be, you can take me to task on that one if you feel the need. I would be honoured to have the chance to pave the way of acceptance and body diversity on screen, ultimately opening the door for people with much more complicated problems than myself. Even if it’s not me, I’m glad it seems to be happening.

Thanks for reading. Richard

Ps – I don’t seem to be able to post a link here but Search Richard Stott Actor in Huffington Post and there I am!

 

 

 

 

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