Tips For Actors | Fergus Craig shares his wisdom

Tips For Actors

Fergus Craig shares his wisdom

In what the publisher themselves describes as 'the most important theatrical book of this or any other decade' Fergus Craig – the comedian behind the Twitter feed @Tips4Actors gives aspiring thespians priceless advice on making it in the cutthroat profession. Here is an exclusive extract...

Superstitions

Many actors have superstitions. For some it’s just a little thing they do before they perform. Some cross themselves and say a little prayer, some touch a lucky mascot. one of my own superstitions is to snort a line of cocaine before every scene. Don’t ask me why. It’s just become something I do for luck and I’d be lost without it. It’s got to the stage where I’ll even do it when I’m not performing. Before I do the washing up or answer the door. Anything really. We’re funny little creatures of habit, us actors.

Probably the most well-known theatrical superstition is to always refer to Macbeth as ‘The Scottish play’. The last time anyone did actually say ‘Macbeth’ out loud in a theatre, 79 audience members, and tragically 2 actors died. The reasons behind this are not really understood. During the Cold War the American military tried to weaponise the word. Undercover agents would infiltrate Russian theatre companies and when the moment was right, say ‘Macbeth’. For whatever reason, it just didn’t work. my theory is that the Soviet government had found some kind of ‘Macbeth’ vaccine.

Another popular superstition is to never wish an actor ‘good luck’. This stems from the fact that all performers secretly want their peers to fail. The phrase ‘good luck’ is traditionally replaced with ‘break a leg’ but I feel that this isn’t quite strong enough. These days my choice of phrase is ‘contract a deadly disease’.

Anyone who’s ever worked in a theatre will know that the vast majority of them are haunted by the ghosts of actors. Bored in the afterlife, these pesky spirits get their kicks from disrupting the performances of the living. I have been plagued by a particularly mischievous ghost for the past fifteen years. every one of my shows features a mistake of some sort, which I am certain is caused by this bastard. whether I’m in the theatre, filming TV or even in an audition I will at some point trip over a prop or forget a line and I have no doubt that it’s this fucking ghost that’s to blame.

Now, in every one of my programme entries is a note which explains that I’m acting under a handicap. After my credits it will simply say ‘Fergus is haunted by a prankster ghost.’ That way the audience can understand that I’m not operating on a level playing field.

Here are some other superstitions I highly recommend adhering to...

1. Always steal something from the pockets of every actor you work with.

2. Never work with children or animals – unless they have a basic understanding of the Stanislavski process.

3. Ward off evil spirits by urinating in all four corners of the stage, your dressing room and your cast mates’ dressing rooms.

4. Always do your third scene with your back to the audience.

5. If you mess up a line – spin round three times and spit in the face of an audience member/cameraman.

6. Always enter stage left and exit stage right... no matter what the director says.

7. It’s bad luck to masturbate during a performance.

8. Don’t talk to anyone for three hours before every performance.

9. Do every seventh scene while standing on one leg.

10. It’s bad luck not to be centre of the bow.

Comedy

It’s good to laugh and for me personally, one of the things I find funniest is (I hope I’m not alone in this) comedy. And who is it who makes comedy funny? actors.

There are countless comedy actors who make me howl with laughter – the guy who played Joey in Friends, the woman who played Rachel in Friends, the guy who played chandler in Friends, the woman who played Phoebe in Friends – the list is endless. Without actors comedy would just be words on a page. There is no way that anyone could ever just laugh at words on a page. No one ever laughed at a book!

Comedic acting isn’t easy, it takes practice. But you won’t get comic roles unless you can do comic acting. It’s a catch-22. How can you get the practice if you can’t get the roles? You’re going to have to find somewhere else to hone your comedic skills. Start trying to make your dramatic roles funny. Playing a mother who’s just been told that her son has been in a car crash? See if you can get a laugh by crying in a funny voice. Playing a man who’s just been convicted of a crime he did not commit? try out a pratfall as your character enters the courtroom.

Now you’ve got the practice, you’re starting to get cast in comic roles but it isn’t necessarily plain sailing from here on in. You will find there’s moments when you’re struggling to get laughs in places that you feel you should do. Here, you have to remember that old adage – comedy is all about timing. A simple pause can make all the difference. It is a scientific fact that the longer the pause between a set-up and a punchline – the bigger the laugh will be. Be brave! If it takes a 45-minute pause to get the chuckle you’re after then so be it. If you’re still not getting the laughs you’re after, there are a number of tricks you can try...

• Physically tickle the audience.
• Laugh after every joke, so the audience know what they’re supposed to do.
• If a joke doesn’t get a laugh, it might be that they don’t understand it. Turn and explain it to the audience. ‘You see, that was funny because...’
• If in doubt, fall over.
I• Ask a technician to throw in lots of funny sound effects.
• Do a fart.
• Maybe there’s something wrong with the script. Just tell a joke you saw on something else.
• Wear a novelty T-shirt that says something hilarious like ‘My idea of a balanced diet is a beer in each hand’. I’m laughing just typing it.
• Or pull out a funny novelty dildo.

f all else fails just pretend that the show isn’t actually funny and is supposed to be a very serious piece.

• Tips For Actors by Fergus Craig has just been published by Oberon Books, priced £8.99. Click here to buy from Amazon for £8.08.

Published: 30 Sep 2014

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