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Tanya Vital's Blog

Monday, 31 October 2011

Top Sket


Sket: "Short for Sketel. Caribbean term for Super Ho" (Whore)

Sketel: "Caribbean Creole word for a class-less, tasteless, loose girl, who characteristically displays slutty, animalistic or beast like qualities."

With the new Film Sket due to come out in cinemas and Top Boy about to launch this evening I think it’s time I wrote this piece.

There’s been a lot of hype on Twitter and other Social Networking sites and it’s clear the audience are in 1 of 2 camps. You’re either in the camp of “Yes we love it, can’t wait to watch them both, how excellent”. Or you’re in the camp of “Why oh why do the media and Film Industry keep churning out these negative misrepresentations of our youth, with no counterbalancing alternatives”.
As an Actor my ‘World’ is very small. I know people that have worked in and on both productions. I know one of the leads in Sket and I know someone who worked on the Production of Top Boy. The problem is this. I know that both of these people are hard workers. They take their job seriously, they have both worked in this industry a long time and they are both excellent at their job. So when anticipating what’s to come from both productions I know that they will have been made to the highest quality and will both have the best Acting. But how constructive is it?

As an Actor there is a difficult decision to be made when taking parts. This is not Hollywood and most of us are not yet in a position to pick and choose our roles. We have to take what we are given and if the Tax Man is on your ass or the rents due, you better take whatever you can, be it the role of a prostitute or a gang member and you better smile and like it. That old saying “fake it till you make it” is definitely an unspoken understanding in the Acting world. For career progression, Actors (including me),  most definitely take what they can and act to their best ability, to eventually make a name for themselves so that they can then pick and choose roles more carefully.  But how constructive is it?

I think there was a need for ‘urban’ (hate that word) cinema. There was a need for gritty, ‘street’ drama. There was a yearning, definitely from my neck of the woods, to see people like us on screen. To see places like ours and to see lives like people we knew and then the flood came. We were inundated with gang crime, ‘urban’ life, drugs, violence, sex, poverty, guns, slang, addiction, more sex, disease, rebellion, hate, anger, more sex and we eat it up fast like a Sunday roast.
We loved it, we yearned for it, it was fresh, it was funny, it was ‘in your face’, it was shocking, and it was - depending on your background – our everyday life!! So we fed and they fed us and we fed until we got fat and the film industry got rich. But how constructive was it?

As an Actor your damn right the best roles are the horrible, mean, nasty, gritty roles. Who wants to be the romantic lead? Boring! So even I am not sure I could have turned down a role in either production. A) My Bank Manager wouldn’t allow it and B) no gonna lie – it would have been fun! But how constructive would it have been?
To break the illusion of cinema for just a quick minute. MOST of the Actors are not from the background they’re portraying. They’ve never been in a gang, they are middle class and never lived on an estate. They talk fairly posh normally and have never sold drugs, their body or anything else. Again it’s ACTING – PLAY. And most of the time they play it very well! But nonetheless it’s playing a fictional life very removed from their own or anyone else’s for that matter. The writers – not always, but often – are also middle class. Never actually experienced this kind of lifestyle themselves, but do a great job in research and produce sometimes brilliant pieces of heightened reality – drama.  But to what end?

Usually there is a storyline where the protagonist is in a world of hell. They have to assert themselves in some way, end up losing everything and learning a lesson and moving on. Many young people can relate to that and a positive end message leaves the audience fulfilled. But how true to life is this positive ending?
These past few years young people, especially the lower classes, have been demonised, targeted and stricken off by the Government and the Media. I’m no sociologist but I would say that this has in turn lead to the old self fulfilling prophecy thing. I don’t know, was it the chicken or the egg? Did our kids become bad 1st or were they pushed? Either way this constant barrage of negative representations in the media can’t be helping. Do I contribute to this as an Actor by taking roles that are negative representations? Probably. Is my bank balance at a level where I can take the moral high ground and refuse roles? Absolutely not! We all have to work, were all just trying to get by.

As an Actor my life is complete when I act so whatever the role I guess I’m going to be happy as long as I play it authentically and I’m sure the Actors in Sket and Top Boy feel the same. Is there blame to be dealt? Yes I guess so, on ALL sides. Actors could choose better. Writers could write more positively. Production companies could commission other types of writing. Audiences could demand other things and educate children on the difference between real life and screen life. I think we all have a part to play.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Change Your Accent Part 2

(This post was imported from an old blog):

So a strange thing happened after Part 1 of ‘Change Your Accent’. There was a HUGE controversy over a new children’s programme called ‘Rastamouse’. for those not in the know, Rastamouse is a mouse who happens to be Rastafarian) and he and his pals solve mysteries using intelligence and intellect. The programme is an offshoot from the original books, written in fact by a real Rastafarian.

Now there was a huge debate over how, if in fact at all offensive this mouse was to black people (which got my goat a bit since it was in fact written by a black Rasta) and whether it was poking fun. But what also came from the controversy was the fact that popular Presenter Reggie Yates was the voice for this mouse.

It seems that Reggie is of African decent and the fact that he was changing his accent to play a Caribbean role infuriated some people. . . . At first I wasn’t sure where I stood on this issue and then I began to think about my 1st ‘Change Your Accent’.

As an Actor I know that it is imperative at times to indeed change your accent. We are Actors and within this definition we pretend to be someone else. I myself have played and spoken with Caribbean, RP, American and Scouse voices. Did this make me a fraud or a phoney because I am a native Yorkshire lass? I believe not! I’m an Actor and the part required me to PLAY, to PRETEND.

I then began to look at other Actors, Naomie Harris (Tia Dalma in Pirates of the Caribbean) is Native London, Aml Ameen is in the US playing an American in Murphy’s Law, Idris Elba, Eammon Walker, Miss Joselyn Comedienne (in fact all comedians), Sean Bean, Ewan McGreggor, the list is endless!! These people all change their accent depending on the roles and have NEVER had as much stick as poor Reggie.

It’s a strange phenomenon and I’m not sure if it is a universal ignorance or one restricted to just the black community? I completely understand a need for a culture to be represented authentically and there are possibly a million Caribbean Actors who could have given Rastamouse an authentic voice, but I think this controversy answered my initial questions in ‘Change Your Accent Part 1′.

When it comes to Art and Play, I think we have to be a little flexible. For an Actor/Performer it may sometimes be necessary to change our accent, but as long as we do it as truthfully and as representative as possible, does it really do any harm? Answers on a postcard . .

Quintessential Britain


The wonderful world of Twitter presented a slightly uncomfortable, yet relevant question that I had to get to the bottom of. I follow a shed load of people. When I say ‘follow’, (for those who don’t have Twitter) I mean I subscribe to their tweets. I’m not a slightly imbalanced fanatic hiding in bushes. I follow a lot of people for both work reasons and for variety and I seem to follow a lot of ‘Industry’ types in the US.

There was one particular guy I followed from the States, he was a writer – mostly for screen, but as I’m TRYING to become a Playwright I thought he might have some tips I could use. Anyway! This guy has worked both in American and England, apparently so I thought he’s be very knowledgeable. Turns out this guy had a huge chip on his shoulder about our Film industry. He seemed to have very odd views that we somehow copy the American way of film making (poorly in his opinion) or somehow aspire to BE the American Film making industry. He thought it would be best if we did our own thing . He also wanted to know why we don’t promote our modern Films in America and why we only showed England as it was in the 1800′s.

I neither have the time or the patience to name the endless list of amazing and modern Films we've created in this country and this is certainly not a lecture, but one question came to mind. Does Hollywood only entertain English Films if we are the ‘Quintessential Britain’ that they hear about in the story/history books?

If we look at Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, Young Victoria, blah blah blah all of these are set in a time faaaaar gone by, so to a certain extent if you only watch big Hollywood blockbusters, you would think we still ride in Carriages and wear corsets over here. But is this what Hollywood wants from us? Why don’t we/they fund modern Films to reach that big budget status? Is this our commodity that we sell to stay relevant or even involved in the Film making industry?

Talent Boost Blog - Story so far


The following blog was written when I was on the BBC/Actor Centre Talent Boost course:
Ok I’ve left it a bit late to start blogging about the Talent Boost course but, today is the end of our time with the lovely Sue Dunderdale and it seemed right to surmise the first half of the course.

To be honest I never expected to get onto the course, simply because I knew I had quite a bit of camera experience. However I was extremely happy I did. To a certain extent I felt guilty that I was taking a place from somebody else who had less experience. This is possibly still true but I had my own questions I needed answering and my own learning to be done.

I knew for example my technical experience may be more than some of my peers within the group but it was like I’d forgotten how to act. Working in a Soap is like no other Acting job you will ever do. As I mentioned somewhere before, the pace of a Soap is so fast its very easy to lose your way as an Actor.

I have now been able to take a step back, take a breather and allow myself to re-address both script and character work. I’ve re-learnt to not be scared of silence between characters. I had gained a tendency to speed through speeches, I learnt I was scared to slow down and allow the words to breathe.

We had the luxury of rehearsals and it was great to re-learn how to make those connections between characters that aren’t necessarily said in words. Having time to dissect a script was just brilliant. To discover every thought and meaning. Every journey and shift of authority. All these things are taken for granted.

Learning to SLOW DOWN was essential for me. It’s allowed me to relax again and actually enjoy myself when I’m acting.

Another extremely important thing I’ve taken from the first few days is a severe reality check! This Talent Boost course was created to enable minorities to gain experience for camera work – as they may not have the same opportunities an ‘non’ minorities. Right?

Now I’m a clever girl and its VERY obvious in the TV and Film industries that minority actors are NOT represented enough at all. I’ve been carrying the burden of being a short, northern, black/mixed-race actress. There are politics even within that description – the politics being – am I ‘black’? Am I ‘mixed-race’ – whatever? I am at a disadvantage for work because of how the leaders of the industry view those points. I’ve ground my axe, I’ve bore my cross, I’ve made use of every ‘minority’ opportunity I could. HOWEVER – I still get work. Be it sparse, crap, bitty, un-respected parts that just tick the ‘Equal Opportunities’ box - whatever – I still have bits of work.


On this course I have had the wonderful opportunity to work with people who NEVER get cast. I have heard their stories and this area of the industry is the darkest! One of my peers described the discrimination of disabled people as being akin to the discrimination against black people before the civil war – This I have come to agree on and here’s why:

There are still to this day, buildings that not all people can access. They may have made ’adjustments’ for SOME disabilities – but possibly not ALL disabilities. Now just imagine – if there was a building today that didn’t allow black people to enter . . . .

Thought about it? There would be uproar and it would be changed instantaneously! But disabled people STILL to this day face these base level issues and IT IS ACCEPTED!

Yeah – just think on that for a while . . .

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

BBC/Actors Centre Talent Boost, London Intensive with Acting Coach Mel Churcher

Last year, as part of the BBC/Actors Centre Talent Boost scheme we had an intensive weekend workshop at the Actor’s Centre with Acting and Voice Coach Mel Churcher and all I can say is . . . . Oh My God! This is what I’m talking about! The meekly, mild (suffering with a winter bug) Mel Churcher blew me away with her wealth of knowledge. In the space of a weekend, she taught me all the technical ‘stuff’ I wanted - no NEEDED to learn. All of the little things I never got to learn, because I never went to Drama School and didn’t study the Alexander Technique. All of the breathing stuff, the posture stuff, the opening of the voice/throat stuff.

Mel gave us a piece of information that above all I will never EVER forget! I would have gladly given the woman £350 or more, just to have had this golden – no platinum piece of information at the start of my career! The piece of information that I guarantee from now on will improve my chances in any audition for the rest of my career. . . A piece of information that I am NOT sharing on this blog (what am I stupid?! I got a business to run!) But I will advise that you buy her book 'Acting For Film', all the secrets can be found in there and this woman knows her shish! Not only does she teach at RADA, but she freelances on many Blockbuster movies and has worked with a number of (without name dropping) A list Hollywood Actors.
I applied for Talent Boost for a number of reasons, but mainly to learn those skills that enhance natural talent and luckily I learnt more than I ever anticipated.



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