One fish
Two fish
Red fish
Blue fish.

Redfish Bluefish Creative Cafe is the perfect venue for our site specific play that we will be developing in the next coming months – with a little help from our friends.  The cafe is in the heart of the Annex, only a few blocks away from Fringe Headquarters.  Redfish Bluefish is less than a year old and has already made its mark.  It serves delicious organic coffee and tea, munchies and has a wonderful atmosphere of an oasis for the local community.


The cafe has been selected as a nominee in The Best Of Toronto.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they won?  We need your help.

Take a moment to link to and vote for Redfish Bluefish in the catagory of new cafes.  

While you’re at, take a look at our new website:  It will tell you what is happening with our project and how you can get involved.  Right now we’re looking for volunteers to workshop with us in order to mine material for the script.  We’re looking for Moms of all kinds to play with us and help develop the text.  The workshops will be theatre based with lots of games, exercises and activities.

We’re looking at a series of six Tuesday evening workshops beginning January 7th at the cafe.  You can come to one evening or all six or whatever is convenient for you.  We’re asking people to bring wine and or snacks to share with the other Moms.

It will be a blast.

Say Yes!

say-yesAfter years and years of saying “No, I’m sorry, I can’t.  I’m too busy,”  I swore that whenever possible I would now say ‘Yes!”.   Yes opens doors. Yes takes you on adventures.  Yes introduces you to a whole world of new.

When I was asked if I would direct a “devised play” on the theme of motherhood for the Fringe next summer, my automatic response would normally have been. “Um, let me think about it…. No!”  You see, I’ve never had children of my own, nor have I been a disciple of collective creations

Jodi, however whose brainchild this is, is bubbling with creative energy, ideas and roll-up-your-sleeves-know-how.  As a mom of two toddlers, she has her Masters in Writing for Performance from the UK and an extensive background in devised theatre.  Both of us have a penchant for edgy, immersive and experimental and neither can stomach work that is benign or cute.. Jodi also has found us the perfect venue – a cafe on Harbord Street for our site specific piece.

Soooo…… last week I said yes to Jodi.

Yesterday, our spot with the Toronto Fringe was confirmed. We’re in!!!


So, now we’re looking for Moms to workshop with us one evening a week downtown Toronto beginning in January.  We’re looking for new moms, old moms, young moms, teen moms, single moms, adoptive moms, ethnic moms, lesbian moms, pregnant moms, modern moms, old-fashioned moms, working moms, moms with disabilities or kids with disabilities, artist moms, actor moms, musician moms, dancer moms, great moms, bad moms. truck driving moms…. and moms of all stripes and colours.

If you’re interested in being part of this or learning more, please contact me at


Let’s Keep Dancing

There is something hopeful, noble and even magnificent about new theatre companies.   They have the courage and audacity to believe they have something new and worthy to share in a community that is already besot with too many starving artists.

Last evening I had the privilege of seeing the debut production Always on Alert by the spanking new and madly ambitious Iconoclasm Theatre Company also to be known as ITC. .  According to their website, the founding members Sandra Dagovic, David Lichty, Regine Tiu, and Waleed Ansari have made it their goal not only to entertain but also to “challenge audiences to examine culture, religion, and their symbols”.


Co-founder, philosophy student, director and playwright David Lichty was first baptized into the Toronto theatre scene with his 2012 SummerWorks play I Believe in Atheists.  This new script appears to be a continuation of the first with similar themes and questions.  What is the meaning of life?  What is our greater purpose? Does God exist?  What happens to us when we die?

In a nutshell, the play centers round Donald (played by Rob Wierzbicki) a conflicted nihilist living in a isolated government outpost in Alert, Nunavut with three other scientists. Their sole duty is to push the apocalyptic “nuclear button” should politics warrant the need to end the world.  Donald’s moral melancholy has led him to believe that all existence is “inconvenient”, especially those of his fellow scientists.   Throughout the play he spouts his nihilist rhetoric, challenging the other characters to negate his views with their own Christian or existentialist values.  They don’t have a chance against his skepticism and sociopathic righteousness.

There is something anachronistic about this play. It’s vaguely reminiscent of paranoia surrounding the Cold War when the possibility of annihilation was so much more present in our collective psyche.

Lichty’s direction controlled the frenetic energy of Wierzbicki who carried the play as if it is a one-man show.  This young actor has great presence and potential. He mastered huge chunks of diatribe, and gave them shape, substance and believability.  Not an easy task with a character deliberately written to be an unlikeable anti-hero.  At times, Wierzbicki may have indicated too much and consequently threw away some great moments of what could have been both fun and macabre.  For example, there are nuggets of absurdity that lost some of their power because we knew they were coming.  In particular the physical interactions between Donald and his fellow scientists felt somewhat underplayed and rushed.  Otherwise, the pace flowed well and the company played the irony found in the text.

Kudos go out to actors Greg Wilmont, Hayden Finkelshtstain and especially Marc Blanchard for their wonderfully present and controlled performances.  Without giving away too much of the plot, these characters were more than the recipients of Donald’s philosophical ranting. In their states of non-existence, they hugely contradict Lichty’s argument that existence has no meaning.  These three fine actors also reaffirm the adage “There are no small roles.”

The venue is the studio space at the historic Alumnae Theatre on Berkeley Street.  Ironically the oppressive heat in that space last night added to the oppressive isolation of the outpost even though it’s set in Nunavut. The tech team performed miracles in what is a challenging space.   Subtle lighting design and a cluttered and cost-effective re-purposed set design by Waleed Ansari added to that sense of growing madness, alienation and our inherent need to connect to the world and each other regardless of our religious and more beliefs.  Sound, costumes and makeup were also flawless.

There’s something melancholic about Existentialist Nihilism.  I suppose it’s the coming-of-age disappointment in the realization that we’re actually not the center of the universe.  Questioning the meaning of our existence seems to be a universal rite of passage for those on the cusp of adulthood.

Last night, I was reminded of Peggy’s Lee’s song “Is That All There Is?”  There’s no doubt this play and this company deals with questions relevant to all young people.  Always On Alert is both thought-provoking and meets  ITC’s mandate to challenge their audiences.  I left the theatre inspired by the company’s vision and their integrity of purpose. I look forward to watching them evolve over the months and years ahead.

Doodling, Fuck and Other Four Letter Words

Under certain and very specific conditions, of which my students were all fully advised and aware, swearing in scripts and scene work in my classes was condoned.

Blind censorship does not help anyone to think critically on their own.  Learning how to discern between what is gratuitous or simply added for shock value and what is critical to the character or the situation is a valuable learning skill for artists and audiences.There was one dirty four letter word one word however, that students were never, ever, ever, ever allowed to use in my studio:


I became the  horrified drama queen if a student referred to their work as a skit.  I’d gasp. or moan, or sometimes, shriek.


What’s so wrong with the word, they’d ask.

“Boy Scouts do skits!  Camp kids do skits!  MATH teachers do skits!. Drama students DO NOT DO or even say that four letter word that begins with an “s” and ends with a “t” – and it’s not “SHIT”!

It was as much fun as the times I’d send them outside the studio to spit, spin and swear for that other taboo word.  Honestly though, like most drama teachers, the hair still stands on the back of my neck when I hear the word “skit”.

After years, I finally came up with an explanation that made sense:


So, on this lazy Sunday morning, I stumbled across a great little website that made me think of doodles and skits and inspired today’s blog.

Perhaps one can find artistic merit in doodles and skits, after all.


When I first arrived as Mowat, as Head of Drama in September 1989, I informed our principal (who we shall call Mr. A.) that our first production of the season would be One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  It had been a few years since the drama department had mounted a play at that school; he simply nodded his head, made a note of the November dates in his calendar and he gave the quick go-ahead.

Two days before opening night Mr. A. apparently in a panic called one of the senior cast members, Jeff Jones, to his office.  He seemed very anxious and asked him how rehearsal were going.  Jeff said they were going great.  After hemming and hawing, Mr. A. finally asked Jeff if the play was “like the movie” which he had finally rented the night before. Jeff assured him that the stage play was considerably different and many of the scenes in Nicholson film aren’t in the play.  Mr. A. seemed relieved.

There were many brilliant moments in the play and that cast – with Alex Pearson, Jeff Jones, Chris Scholey, Jeff Logue and many others – may have been one of the best companies I’ve ever worked with.  The one actor I cast as one of the “incurables” Ruckley was a hulk of guy – well over 6 feet tall and 200 pounds. His costume was nothing more than an adult diaper. For most of the play, Ruckley stood upstage with his arms outstretched as if crucified. But at critical moments he stepped out of his catatonia and boomed in a deep baritone voice: “F-F-F FUCK ‘EM ALL!”   It was one of my all time favorite stage moments. The effect was both hilarious and unsettling for the audience.

Opening night sold out and the 700 seat auditorium was filled with students, parents and community members.   We placed Mr. A. in the VIP section of the house and strategically I sat a few seats behind him.  The lights went down and the play begin.   When Ruckley spoke his first line there was a considerable shift in the energy of the audience.  Before the laughter erupted it seemed as if every single person in the audience took their eyes off the stage and turned their heads to see Mr. A’s reaction.  He slumped a couple of inches lower in his seat every time the f-bomb was dropped.  By the end of the show, he could barely be seen from behind. I can’t remember if he stood at the end (which got a full standing ovation every night) but I do know it wasn’t until much later, Mr. A. finally commented about the play and that night.

256_42964335388_3951_nWhen I wished Mr. A. a happy retirement years afterwards, he smiled and asked me if I knew how upset he was with Cuckoo’s Nest. He said that he went home that night and didn’t know what he would do with me, once the dozens of complaints and grievances would pour in.  But much to his surprise,  he didn’t get a single complaint. Not one.

Mr. A. looked me in the eye and said, “I still don’t understand why not.  Can you tell me why nobody complained?”

I do know Mr. A. but if you couldn’t figure it out, I  don’t think you’ll ever understand.




You Deserve a Break Today (or not) at #McTheatre


macdonalds I just closed a production in a theatre festival of what was supposed to be about new ideas.  Actually it was a homogenized collection of mainstream scripts.  The play I chose to direct was one of the exceptions. The playwright Gina Femia played with conventions of character, time and setting, as did I in my direction.  Not surprisingly, this was the most challenging piece to grasp and appreciate for the fundamentally conservative audiences.

While we were still in rehearsal, a cohort and friend who (several years ago) was one of my students made the front page of a major paper for distributing allegedly inappropriate material to his students for a stand-up comedy unit.  The story was picked up by other media outlets across the country and Jeff was subsequently and rather hastily and unceremoniously dismissed from his 12 year position as a teacher with the Toronto District School Board. It didn’t matter that students, colleagues, parents and alumni all rallied to support this teacher and to explain that although  Mr. Jones may be conceived as unconventional, it is because he is genuine, honest and authentic that he is so effective as a teacher.  Jeff made a difference in his students’ lives.

 Political correctness.  Cookie cutter education.  Moral sanctimony.  political-correctness_puppet

I belong to a very small minority of people who don’t really enjoy musicals and other forms of big box entertainment.  I can’t count the number of times I went to see a show that got rave reviews from audiences, but I walked out feeling “meh”.  Students and many of my friends are shocked when I announce I wasn’t particularly wowed by Rent, seduced by Chicago or touched by My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding.   I understand the appeal of such shows, but the outcome is not much different than the way I feel after I eat a Big Mac.  The two beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions – all on a sesame seed bun may satisfy billions of cravings, but for me the greasy, salty burger with chemical laden sauce makes me feel a little sick and a lot guilty.  The Big Mac will never, ever have the tender, rich succulent satisfaction of a prime, grass-fed filet mignon.

I do not go to the theatre to have my appetite for entertainment satiated. I need and expect theatre (and literature, film, music, art and dance) to feed my imagination and nourish my spirit.  I expect to be confronted with new ideas, perspectives and questions and I hope my equilibrium will somehow be shaken, and my boundaries be pushed.  Give me theatre that makes me think hard,  feel deeply and it’s okay to make me feel uncomfortable.  I’d so rather attend and pay good money for an unsuccessful production with noble intentions than sit through a glittering, shiny multimillion dollar production that has next to no substance.

I felt the same way about teaching.  It wasn’t about teaching my students to become entertainers – tap-dancing musical theatre performers or God help us, reality television celebs.  It wasn’t about encouraging kids to get an agent so they could audition for McDonalds’ commercials and make lots of money so they could pretend they were actors or artists.


 What I did try to teach was critical thinking skills.  I wanted my students to create, not imitate, to use the arts as a form of communication for ideas, values and issues that were universally important, and to connect in meaningful ways in order to better understand our shared humanity beyond social class, ethnicity, religion or geographical and political divides.  I wanted my students to listen to others, to empathize with those who may be different, to keep their minds open, to be accepting and to to think outside of the proverbial box.  I tried to show them that creating something worthwhile was always difficult and requires serious work ethic, tenacity, determination, sacrifice and passion.  I tried to create a safe space to explore, where they could be honest and open and real and where it was okay to fail.

So, here we are in 2013 and in many ways the world I live in has stepped backwards.  My friends still teaching in the trenches are now second-guessing themselves and their curriculum because conservative nay-sayers, book-burners, paranoid administrators and witch-hunters are on the loose and empowered by their sense righteousness. Literally, there is a climate of fear.  Based on what has happened to Jeff, I believe we are now entering an age of McSchools and McDrama classes. The best teachers: the daring ones, the non-conventional, the brave and the creative – they do have reason to be frightened.  Theatre too, is becoming increasingly safe and insipid.  Artistic directors have become afraid of punitive funding cuts by conservative governments. While razzle dazzle shows like Wizard of Oz and Cats are still attracting crowds to Toronto theatres, the really brilliant work by  talented Canadian playwrights, directors and actors is only seen and appreciated by a few.

It really is a Catch 22.




Love, Worship and All that Lies in the Human Heart


What an enormous magnifier is tradition!  How a thing grows in the human memory and in the human imagination, when love, worship, and all that lies in the human heart, is there to encourage it.

~Thomas Carlyle

Recently, I was brought to tears by a NY Times article written by John Lithgow about his discovery of a wonderful tradition at the National Theatre (see link bottom of the page.)  I was amused and surprised how easily my tears came.  Then I realized it’s the very traditions and superstitions of theatre that I love so madly and deeply.

At least once or twice or three times a school year, one of my younger drama students would speak the name of the Scottish play during rehearsal or class.  My reaction was always well-measured melodrama. I’d gasp loudly and my eyes would widen to horrified orbs. I’d look around the space with such terror – as if the Gods would strike us all down immediately. Then promptly and fiercely I’d shove the poor kid out the door while explaining to the rest that he/she must spin thrice, spit, swear and knock on the door, begging for forgiveness and our permission to be let back in.


“You really want us to swear?”

“You must!” was my response.

“And spit?”

“With all your might!”

This was one of my favorite teaching tricks.  Every student was mesmerized; even the most disinterested came to life as I explained how this superstition came to be.  No matter what  the rehearsal or lesson plan had been that day, for the next half hour we talked about Shakespeare, superstitions and and the importance of traditions in our everyday lives.

The students wanted to know if I was superstitious.  A few had the gall to even test me.  That was the cowboy of the group, the yahoo, the little sheister who’d call out the “M” name over and over again – proving to the rest of the ensemble that he or she was no coward, and didn’t believe in such nonsense. So there, Ms. Kish!

Jonathan M.  called out the name of the Scottish king repeatedly at a tech session one evening prior to production.  We were using scaffolding for the hang rather than a ladder.  I recall Jon was playing the part of George in The Actor’s Nightmare  and he was quite smug when nothing terrible happened that evening.  It was quite late when we called it quits and decided to finish the hang early the following morning.  Cast and crew showed up and the half-asleep SM asked for the 10 foot high scaffolding to be wheeled to another area.  She had forgotten that there were six fresnels on top of it, out of sight, and so we were all shocked as three of the lamps were knocked off and came crashing down one by one toward the heads below.  Fortunately the screams were loud enough and the crew jumped out of the way – just in time.  Nonetheless, all three, very new  and expensive fresnels were smashed beyond repair.  All of us angrily reminded Jonathan of his blasphemy the day before but he defiantly refused blame for this accident.

The Gods were not happy.  They got revenge.

During Jon’s first performance, he completely and quite ironically forgot George’s lines and had to improvise one entire scene.  The day of his second performance, Jon badly sprained his ankle and had to painfully walk with a crutch.  And in the middle of his third and final performance, there was a power failure.  The audience sat in total darkness for ten excruciatingly long minutes before the lights came back on.

Finally, Jon, who is now 30 and an alumnae of the Sheridan Musical Theatre program, became a believer!  No-one now is more wary of the curse than he.

Six years after she died, I still hear my mother’s voice in my head before every performance. Before each show, she, a transplanted Berliner, would wish  me “Hals und beinbruch.”  The translation of this is break your neck and your leg (compared to our simple break a leg).  Oh, those funny, funny morbid Germans!

The French say “merde” and the Spanish say  “mucha mierda” meaning much shit.  Opera singers are known to say “toi, toi, toi” before a performance to ward off any spells or hexes, and Australians reportedly call out “chookas” before a performance. The common denominator is it’s believed to be bad luck to wish good luck; therefore, it must be good luck to wish bad luck.

And so it goes…..  Never turn of the ghost light when the theatre is empty. Never whistle on or off stage.  whistling Never bring a peacock feather onstage or wear costumes of blue and silver or the colour green. Always leave the dressing room left foot first.  Do not knit in the wings. Do not burn three candles at the same time during rehearsal or performance. And never, ever, ever say the last line of the play before opening night.

But do I believe all this?

I believe that we create energy – good or bad, and it’s better to create than to destroy.  I believe Theatre is a colossal and noble tradition that is greater than you and I, and as such, it is something worthy of our collective honour.   Yes, I believe in the traditions – whether they are the superstitions practiced for hundreds of years, or the personal traditions every actor and director creates for himself.

I always wear black on opening night.  I have one other personal tradition – a ritual I’ve shared with each and every one of my companies over the years.  Before every show, the cast and crew, sit in a large circle holding hands.  Together, in unison, we recite:

The Theatre is Magic

The Magic is Theatre

May the Blessed Magic Begin.

Tradition.  What a magnificent magnifier, indeed!

To read John Lithgow’s article:

Auditions, Monologues, Music & Me

ideasmain-2013It’s been a quite a while since I last posted an entry.  Toward the end of last year, I was totally consumed with completing the onerous Teacher Resource document for our textbook Rattling the Stage.  Both the book and TR are now available and can be purchased online at,+spoken+word,+and+short+plays/  One of our iLit series was made into an iBook with Apple, and plans are underway to do the same with the rest of the series.

I’m currently directing a new play for the New Ideas Festival:  Pieces of Penelope, was written by Gina Femia from New York and selected by the festival jury.  I am incredibly fortunate to have been matched with my first choice of plays (there are twelve productions and three readings over a three week period in March.)  After I made my submission, I realized that I had chosen what may be the most complex and challenging of all the plays.  Nonetheless, it was the lyricism and theatricality that attracted me.  Gina’s writing is somewhat reminiscent of Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice; it is a mixture of “feminist and fabulist”.   Auditions and callbacks were intense.  There was so much talent, Robin Munro my AD and I were able to fully focus on finding precisely the right actor for each role.  Casting will be announced in the next few days and rehearsals begin February 1st.  I’m also so thrilled that classical composer Alan Torok will be creating an original score for the piece.

Yesterday I received two completely different calls about the same topic.  The first call was from an actor we called back for Pieces of Penelope. She asked for constructive criticism regarding her audition.   She’s already an experienced and trained actor but is sincerely interested in getting feedback to help her further develop her auditioning skills. Too few actors have the resolve and courage to ask for criticism.  The second was a call initiated from an email from a total stranger.  She was a parent who’d googled information about auditioning for the Claude Watson Arts Program and found my website.  I was so excited to hear that people are finding the site (it doesn’t take much to excite me) that I happily answered all her questions about the program and the auditions. The most important thing I could tell both parties was to ENJOY.  If you as an actor can find joy in your audition – even when delivering a dark monologue – you’ll be so much more interesting, alive and vibrant.

Last week I submitted my first “pitch” to direct a play that goes up in the summer.  I don’t want jinx myself but I fell in love with the writing which (ironically) happens to be the very antithesis of Pieces of Penelope.  This is a play with men, about men, for men.  It is dark, violent and at times, savagely funny.  I would LOVE to work on it for that very reason and I hope the pitch will convince the producer and playwright that adding my feminine insights and instincts to such a testosterone-driven work is exactly what is needed.  My creative juices are flowing and my fingers and toes are all crossed.

Finally I had the pleasure meeting with the founders of Eclat Arts This is a private summer school studio offering enriched credit courses for impassioned drama students.  Unlike many other summer school programs and camps, Michael Laidlaw and Mary Barnes Amoroso have created a conservatory program with high standards and high expectations and also a substantial number of scholarships and bursaries available.  For those interested, courses include playwriting, improvisation and acting, Director’s Craft, and a Production course.  Their creative board, teaching and guest artist roster contains some of the finest theatre artists in the city including Fiona Boyd, Cameron Porteus and Andrew Lamb.  I’m very proud to join up with Eclat ensemble and very much look forward to working with them and their students in the summer.

Before I  retired I was afraid I’d no longer have the opportunities to exercise my artistic chops.  As the saying goes, use it or lose it. I couldn’t have been more wrong.  bigfishsmallpondThere’s nothing like jumping out of one’s little pond and diving head first into another one that’s bigger and deeper.  I’m so looking forward to working on these projects and many others throughout the year.  I wish you the same.

Happy new year!

How to Act: Don’t be a twat!

My friend and colleague John Lalor just shared with me a brilliant article from The Guardian that I wish to share with you.  Below is a paste of the article.

Following that is also a great little YouTube video about what do when you get lost with your lines in an audition.

How to act: stage stars share their acting tips

What makes a great stage actor? As a competition to find Britain’s best am-dram society gets under way, old hands Roger Allam, Miriam Margolyes and others offer a few words of advice

Miriam Margolyes in Dickens' Women

‘I don’t see any difference between amateurs and professionals’ … Miriam Margolyes in Dickens’ Women. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

Roger Allam

1. Learn your lines so well that you never have to worry about them.

2. Keep a notebook about the play, the character, the period, your moves. It’ll help you remember what you have done so far – especially if you’re having to rehearse in your spare time rather than all day, every day.

3. Never go dead for a second on stage. Even if you are doing nothing, do it actively. Listen.

4. If something goes wrong – say someone drops something – don’t ignore it. Try to deal with it in character.

5. Warm up your voice and body. Get used to the size of the auditorium; if you don’t know it already, go to the worst seats in the house and have conversations with people on the stage so you get to know what kind of energy is needed to be heard.

6. Be ambitious. The great actor, director and playwright Ann Jellicoe commissioned writers like Howard Barker and David Edgar, and put on magnificent, large-scale plays in Dorset that involved the whole community.

7. On the other hand, probably avoid Aeschylus’s Oresteia or anything by the German dramatist Heinrich von Kleist.

8. Try not to worry about embarrassing yourself. That’s a lifetime’s task.

9. The Victorian actor Henry Irving said: “Speak clearly and be human” – but if you listen to his recordings, the boundaries of that are pretty vast. James Cagney said: “Never relax, and mean what you say.” I think that’s pretty good.

10. You are released from the miserable aspects of having to earn your living in this marvellous business called show, so have fun: be as serious as you like, but enjoy yourself.

Roger Allam has worked with the RSC, the National, Shakespeare’s Globe and in the West End. TV and film includes The Thick of It, Tamara Drewe and Parade’s End.

Niamh Cusack

I wish I followed these rules all the time when I act. The truth is, you really learn these things by doing it: “acting” means putting it all into action.

1. Trust your playwright. If he or she is a great one, most of the work will have been done for you.

2. Read the play at least three times out loud before standing it on its feet. A lot of the blocking (the positioning of the actors on stage) will come out of understanding what your characters want, and from whom.

3. Listen to the person who’s talking – unless your character isn’t listening to them.

4. Don’t be afraid to make an eejit of yourself.

5. Change the look in the other person’s eye.

6. If it’s in verse, paraphrase it first.

7. Keep it simple.

8. Remember that most characters use words to affect, connect with or change the other person.

9. As [the actor] Ralph Richardson said, before you leave the dressing room, look in the mirror and ask yourself: “Is it human?”

10. It’s only a play!

Niamh Cusack has worked at the RSC, the National and the Old Vic. TV and film include Heartbeat and Hereafter.

Paterson Joseph

1. Find the right level for the group. Being underambitious (thinking you can’t tackle big plays) or overambitious (thinking you can tackle King Lear on your first time out) is a recipe for disaster.

2. Choose a play you feel confident you understand: liking a play isn’t the same as understanding it.

3. Cast to the performers’ strengths. I’ve seen amateur directors pander to the ego of the cast member with the strongest personality. Bottom the Weaver in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is Shakespeare’s warning from history: he says he can play lions and lovers and everything in between, but he can’t.

4. Sit around a table and read the play for much longer than you want to. It might seem boring, but it saves loads of time later: you’ll find that rehearsals fly along because everybody understands what they’re doing.

5. Leave more time for technical rehearsals than you think you need. You’ll be amazed at how much you still have to do once you get into the theatre: working out the distances between everything on stage, what the lights are like, where your props are.

6. Try to perform your play for more than five nights. Amateur groups often do a few scattered rehearsals across a few months, and then perform it once or twice. But if you perform it more often, you’ll see acting more as a job than as a one-off, razzle-dazzle thing.

Paterson Joseph has worked extensively with the National and the RSC. He also stars as Alan Johnson in Peep Show.

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Miriam Margolyes

I don’t see any difference between amateurs and professionals – so I would give my tips, such as they are, to anybody. The aim of any actor is the same: to tell the truth in such a way that people will be entertained, uplifted and surprised.

1. Listen before anything else.

2. Read the text over and over again, and make sure you know the lines.

3. Go and see other performances, and be critical about them: work out whether you’d have smiled in that place, or turned your head at that moment.

4. Never show off. You can sometimes come to a particular point in a show and think, “I’m really good in this bit.” Never, ever think that.

5. Never read reviews. I haven’t read mine since I was in rep.

6. Never know more than your character knows. I’m not talking about research; I mean that when you are performing, you must stay inside the truth of your character. Don’t signpost to an audience what they should be thinking.

7. The most important thing is to breathe. If you stop breathing properly, you get a sore throat. And if you stop breathing, you die.

Miriam Margolyes has worked at the RSC and in the West End; she has been touring her one-woman show about Charles Dickens and his female characters since 1989. Films include The Age of Innocence and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Julie Graham

1. Read as many plays as possible, especially by classical writers such as Ibsen, Chekhov and Shakespeare.

2. Watch performances on YouTube. There are so many amazing theatrical snippets on there now. It’s just as useful to watch bad performances as it is to watch good ones. You need to be able to differentiate.

3. Go to the theatre as often as you can.

4. Turn up on time. If you’re going to commit to something, you should see it through with good grace.

5. Don’t be a twat. There’s always one: make sure it’s not you.

6. Always have a huge supply of cakes and sweets – both for your sugar levels and to butter everyone else up.

7. People-watch: it’s the best way to develop a character. When you’re walking down the street, or sitting on a bus, in a cafe or doctor’s surgery – don’t close yourself off.

8. If you’re cast as a historical character, think of a modern-day equivalent. In rehearsals for Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, for instance, I encouraged an actor playing the mayor to channel Boris Johnson.

Julie Graham has appeared in Doc Martin, Bonekickers, Survivors, At Home With the Braithwaites and The Sarah Jane Adventures.

….and now for the video about what to do when you’ve messed up your lines from Casting Director Marci Liroff’s “Audition Tips: Can I Start Over?!”:  Audition Tips

So Where Did November Go?












Here I am at the end of November saying, “Huh?!? Where did all the time go?”

Last week I taught a workshop on  How to Write a 10 Minute Play.  As an experiment, every activity in the workshop lasted exactly ten minutes (and yes, I used my timer on my iPhone 5 to ensure exactly ten minutes).  The students did a 10 minute warm-up, I gave a 10 minute intro,the 24 of them pitched their play ideas 10 times to 10 directors (60 seconds each), followed by a 10 minute writing session of their opening scene, 10 minutes to rehearse, 10 minutes of performances, and finally 10 minutes of debriefing after each activity.  The point was to feel how short and how long 10 minutes can be.  As expected some of these 10 minute segments were far too short, and others were painfully long.

It’s been almost 10 months since I retired.  Since then I trekked through jungles and cloud forests, rappelled down waterfalls, and drank beer while sitting in hot springs in Costa Rica.  I dog-sat three chihuahuas in San Francisco, made friends with tattooed ex-cons at the Delancy Street Project, and did a Thelma and Louise road trip around the rest of the state of California.  Our textbook entitled Rattling the Stage, was published.  I attended four days of intense workshops at Directors Lab North.  I joined a company of transmedia story-tellers via The Mission Business and performed with them in an extended five month theatrical adventure including at the Toronto Fringe, Nuit Blanche and the Evergreen Brickworks.  I was a caretaker-turned-chief-of-a-militia in an end-of-the world-apocalyptic-pandemic-with-interactive-audience-and-online-followers scenario.  That was fun.   I wrote a play.  I met at a speed-dating match up with new playwrights in order to direct a show for the New Ideas Festival next March.  I got my website ( set up.  I started this blog.  I designed and now have my very own business cards and I guess my own freelance business as an independent artist.  I am writing a curriculum support document for our book that will be finished by the next few week (hallelujah for that!)  I got my NEXUS card and drove to Buffalo just to have lunch.  I adjudicated a Canadian play festival and have agreed to adjudicate for Sears Drama Festival in early 2013.  I started teaching master class workshops. I joined Eclat-Arts to be a guest artist next July.   I began privately coaching young actors who plan to audition for post-secondary theatre schools.  I’ve reconnected with many former students who are all grown up, long lost friends and relatives who I hadn’t seen in years. I’m taking pottery classes and went to a firing range with real live zombie hunters to learn how to shoot guns. Huzzah! I’ve applied for multiple opportunities to participate in theatre festivals and labs across North America and have begun to receive my “Thank you, but no thank you letters.” I went to a wedding of the daughter of a good friend of I’ve known since she was a baby and watched proudly as her mother and her father walked her down the aisle.  Last week, I attended a memorial of another friend who died unexpectedly and far too young.

I’m alive. I’m living.  Time is precious.