Say hello to Stage Review’s guest writer and rising star, actor Cai Brigden.
Cai is currently appearing in the public school drama Another Country, at the Trafalgar Studios in London’s West End.
London-born Cai grew up near Milton Keynes, Bucks, but now lives in London. He follows in the family footsteps as both his mother and father were actors.
He grew up realising that an academic life wasn’t for him. “My talent for maths was second only to my knack for getting laughs.
“I preferred entertainment to education and so I decided to put all my efforts into the that, as I would advise any one with a passion to do”.
Cai went from local am-dram to becoming a member of the National Youth Theatre. He went on to study at The Guildhall School of Music & Drama for three years.
“Aged 21 and bushy-tailed, I was told that I was now a professional actor…and I’m still figuring out exactly what that entails”.
Read his first column below.
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AN ACTOR’S PLAYBOOK
It’s a funny thing being an actor. I doubt I’ll ever shake that feeling.
Jodie Foster once described acting as the ability “to move others by being moved” although, I personally believe, that there is just as much credit due – if not more – to those who can move others while merely seeming to be moved, but while actually thinking about chicken or perhaps their bathroom tiles.
But what do I know? I’ve only been an actor for three years and while I’ve done relatively well in my industry in that time, even the definition of acting it’s self remains an abstract mystery.
So what do I actually do?
Well, my average Friday night at the moment might go something like this:- After being applauded by 300 people I retire to my dressing room where I slip out of my waistcoat and tails, ruffle away my perfectly combed parting, and relax back into a chair with an ice cold flute of champagne.
Of course this is the truth I would give someone if I were trying to impress them, but seeing I’m here to share, I should also give you the rest of the picture.
As an actor, I probably spend about 1% of my time actually acting.
I’d consider myself in the higher bracket of success, as I seem to bag at least one well-paid, relatively impressive job a year.
Currently, I’m in a West End play, Another Country, but even now – doing some quick maths – it’s very clear to see why acting can be a fruitless profession.
During each performance I am on stage for about 45 minutes. For this production we do one six-day week of 9-5 rehearsals before embarking on a fifteen week run of performances.
Let’s break that down.
8hrs x 6days = 48hrs (45 minutes x 8 shows a week) for 15 weeks = 5400mins = 90hrs. 48 + 90 = 138hrs.
138 hours?? The average working week in the UK is 42.7 hours per week!
This means I’m actually only acting for 3.23 weeks a year, leaving me more than 48 weeks to slowly die of boredom if left unmanaged.
There are 8,765 hours in a year and I’m doing what I love for 1.58% of the time. Someone pour me another glass of champagne!
It’s not just the job perks though, like the champagne, the members clubs, the swanky hotels, parties, and buckets of social proof that come with calling myself an actor.
These come incredibly few and far between, and by no means reflect the day to day lifestyle.
It’s the rest of the time that I enjoy most: the scramble; the adventure; the uncertainty and the stakes.
Allow me to elaborate: I went to drama school where I learnt a lot about acting and the profession, but I realised that for every actor who trained there is one who didn’t.
Some actors do an hour of intense warm up before each show, others walk straight on from a nap; some actors learn their lines inside out and back to front, others have them written on the insides of their fingers and deliver a wildly impressive performance; some people break every rule they come across and have flourishing success, and some go their whole lives without putting a foot wrong and yet can’t seem land a role.
There is absolutely no clear correlation between approach to the profession and success.
This is immensely exciting. I see my career as an everyday adventure, and the stakes have never been higher.
There is no one to show me what works and what doesn’t as nobody really knows, and so I am at liberty to discover it all myself.
I have a tremendous freedom to explore potential ways to succeed, and I have been known to experiment with a few rather unusual tactics.
Here’s one that might shock you or inspire you:
Last year, during a period of what is ironically referred to as “resting”, I grew incredibly restless in my desperation for acting work.
I soon began to explore more proactive ways of getting auditions, rather sitting and waiting for my agent to ring.
The traditional tactic is to write a flattering letter to a casting director you’ve met in the hope that you jog their memory and they call you in for an audition.
However, I have never been a fan of tradition. Instead, I woke up early each morning, and enjoyed a coffee and a paper in Leicester Square.
I made sure that I enjoyed said-beverage-literature-combo on the corner across from Spotlight Studios, which is home to some 10-15 different production castings each day.
Throughout the morning, if I saw someone coming out of the building who looked anything like me, I would approach them and pretend I recognised them or ask if they knew where Spotlight was.
Once it was established that they were an actor, I would feign enamour and ask if they had auditioned for anything exciting and wish them luck with it.
If I’d created a strong rapport and the subject was willing to divulge, I would be left with information about the production, who the casting director was, and – more often than not – the name of the character I might warrant an audition for.
I would then call my agent and ask them to put me forward for the role. On occasion I slipped into the building and delivered the odd letter to a casting director directly.
The result was that after spending 3-4 days using this approach, I spent the following weeks auditioning practically every other day.
Bold moves stand out, and that’s always a positive thing as an actor.
Will Smith did something quite similar before he was famous. He used to wait outside Saturday Night Live as all the comedians and writers came out, and would speak to them.
It was through this that he eventually met the creator of Fresh Prince Of Bel Air and was offered the lead role.
So where as Jodie Foster influenced people by being moved on camera, Will Smith influenced people by making moves off camera.
Perhaps that’s what it takes to keep the champagne flowing all year round.