Monday, 24 June 2013

Learning Chinese in 90 days: days 8 and 9 - L is for (old) Lesbian part 2


The door latch released and I was buzzed into the building. I climbed the stairs, up all 4 floors (what is it with casting directors and their aversion to lifts?), collected myself on the landing and removed my glasses. (I may be shortsighted and contact lenses intolerant but my acting persona refuses to wear glasses.) I knocked and wandered in.

It was a big industrial loft space. I made out an empty receptionist desk ahead of me and some tall potted plants to my left and took a few steps forward. And a few more.

Suddenly Mr. D materialised at my elbow.

Mr D: Mwah mwah.
Me: Mwah mwah.
Mr D: Hello lovely, take a seat. (He gestured vaguely in the direction of the potted plants.) I'll be with you in a tick.
Me: Ok!

I made my way back to the entrance and the potted plants and found the waiting area. I took off my jacket and sat down in a corner of the wooden bench dotted with cushions. Very boho. Someone had left their purse and jacket on the bench opposite. The wall was covered in movie posters. Then I heard it. The distinct sound of the ocean lapping a sandy beach 'Woooosshhh, moooooosshhhh, booooosshh, poooooshh.... ' emanating from behind the potted plants. I peered into the leaves but failed to uncover the lagoon, instead I spotted one of those white noise machines.

Before I had a chance to reflect any further on the sound accoutrement, a door opened and a tall, I mean TALL and slinky girl dressed all in black with a few visible tattoos and an eyebrow piercing emerged from a meeting room. She shook hands with a friendly looking lady, sashayed across the hard wood floor, swept up her purse and jacket and floated out the front door.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Learning Chinese in 90 days - days 7 and 8: L is for Lesbian

I received a slightly apologetic call from my lovely agent yesterday afternoon.

"I know you're busy with work but Mr. D (casting director for feature films) called up and specifically requested you for a project. D'you think you could free yourself up to go to the audition?"


Is the Pope Catholic?

I dutifully freed up my diary for Monday lunchtime.


Right on cue an email arrived from my agent (lovely and efficient), confirming the audition time and place and providing me with some details about the project as supplied by the casting director.

It read: Indie feature film. Profit share. (ie no pay upfront but we'll feed you and if we make any money you'll get a piece of it). Lesbian subject matter.

I'd rather it paid something upfront but other than that, I look forward to meeting up with Mr D. for the first time in 4 years.

I'll now throw in some insight into the inner paranoid workings of an actor's mind - free of charge:

I met Mr D straight out of drama school. I wasn't auditioning for him you understand, it was more of a meet and greet kind of thing. He was very kind and complimented me on my coat. Then I didn't hear from him again and I assumed he'd:

a) decided I was a an appalling actor (they can tell you know, even without an audition to go by)
b) forgotten about me (there's always the proverbial exception to confirm the rule)
c) black listed me (for some obscure, unknown and unspecified reason. I guess just because, you know, he could)
d) all of the above

But no! All this time, he'd had me sitting in the giant doll house of his mind, where (I imagine) he keeps his collection of actors.

I felt a rush of warmth and gratitude towards Mr D and looked forward to our lunch meeting. He'll be well impressed when I mention in passing that I'm learning to speak Mandarin and aiming to be conversational by mid September. I mean, I'll be impressed! I might even get the lesbian part without having to audition.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm not conversational yet, seeing that I have just completed lessons 7 and 8 of Pimsleur Mandarin Chinese part 1. So how is it going?

I'm still getting the 'OMG! I can't remember a thing' feeling at the end of each lesson so I have been making sure to run each session twice, in some cases preceded by a third run of the previous day's lesson for good measure. Only now I break it up: one hour in the morning, half an hour in the afternoon. That way I'm keeping up to speed but my brain doesn't explode.

Something else I've noticed is that I catch myself uttering words and phrases out loud in Mandarin - and sometimes I don't even understand what I'm saying. Sometimes it happens at night.

Do you think that's slightly freaky?  I'm more inclined to think I'm mimicking young children's behaviour when they start talking: Ma! Mah! Mamamamamamamama! Papa! Papa! Chicken! Cow pat poo! Bird pat poo! (These last two shamelessly borrowed from Aardman's Creature Comforts.)

Or in my case: where is the Beijing Restaurant? I want to eat now. I don't want to eat later. I want to eat lunch. And my favourite: I don't want to eat at your place... but I'd like to do some shopping. (That will come in really handy in the Chinese Soap when I get cast as the Western gold digger.)

There's also the faint possibility - it's only a vague impression for now - that this language programme is actually an alien's experiment in human behavioural brainwashing. Here's an example:

I'm being taught to say 'I would like to drink some tea, or some beer.' The thing is I like to drink water not beer. But I'm not being taught how to say 'water', and if they don't teach me how to say it before the end of the course, I may very well feel compelled to switch to drinking beer. D'you follow?

Like I said it's just the faintest outline of a possibility, for now. But let's keep an eye on it.

Until tomorrow...

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Learning Chinese in 90 days - days 5&6: "Freak Out! Le Freak c'est Chic..."

Go on.

Humour me for a moment and close your eyes.

Imagine you're standing on a treadmill.

Visualise the dash board. For those who can't or wont trust a freestyle approach, there's a programme button to set the type of exercise you might want:  interval, gradual climb, high intensity, etc...

Are you still with me?

Right. Now, open your eyes.

What do all these programmes have in common? A warm up section before they get down to business.

So why did I think for a minute that my 90/90 Chinese Lesson Masterplan would be any different?

Because lessons 1-4  were a walk in the proverbial park, that's why.

I thought to myself: 'this learning Mandaring business is a piece of (moon) cake.'


That's one piece of cake I won't be eating any time soon.

Words, so many new words:  Long Peace Road. College Street. Over here, over there, everywhere. Go to. Want to. Don't want to. Now. When. Later. Not later. Not Now. Your place/my place (you never know when that could come in handy). When? Where?

Then I remembered the underlying philosophy of this intense language programme: listen, repeat, and relax!

So I did. Repeat that is. And repeat. And repeat...

Now I can say Long Peace Road and I can say Street but try as I may 'College' is just not going in. I'm just going to have make my (Long) peace with it and let it go.

I listened and repeated, and listened and repeated again. I played back lesson 5 twice, and stopped and started until I got it right. Today I even replayed lesson 5 a third time before moving on to lesson 6 which I then went over twice.

That's an hour and a half of Mandarin.

My brain is so addled right now it's probably shrunk to the size of a raisin. Please don't ask me anything. Especially not how to say 'College' in Mandarin because I may just squash you  like a bug as I fall over in a coma.

I won't know whether the overdrive (some would say commitment, but I think crazy's more like it) pays off until lesson 7 but I promise to keep you posted.

Until  tomorrow...

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Learning Chinese in 90 days - Day 4: Spending the day as a totally ordinary person

I'm the kind of person who gets to the airport at least 4 hours before scheduled departure so leaving myself 5 minutes to walk from Piccadilly Tube station to the Soho casting studio was really cutting it fine.

Then I had a senior moment. Where was Beak Street? I stood on Brewer Street, staring at the street sign across the street willing it to read Beak Street. But it wouldn't, it read Brewer Street.

I know Beak Street. My old hair dresser (before he got famous and moved to LA) was based in Beak Street. Beak Street used to be my home away from home. But there I stood on Brewer Street, outside Scoop, unable for the life of me to conjure up Beak Street in my mental map. Soho's not a good place for asking directions because these days most shops are manned by people who live out in the burbs and who have no intimate knowledge of the area.  Then I saw it, no not Beak Street but a locksmith's with two old types behind the counter who looked like they'd been in there since the days when Soho was all strippers, hookers and porn cinemas.

Me: "Hello. Excuse me may I ask (which incidentally I now know how to say in Mandarin) where is Beak Street?" (and as of today I can also say that in Mandarin)
Guy #1 behind the counter: Beak Street you say? Dunno. Pete, d'you know where Beak Street is?
Guy #2 behind the counter (a.k.a Pete): Beak Street? Isn't that off Rupert Street?

Me: Where the h*^% is Rupert Street? Do you have an A to Z or a map?
Guy #1: I don't have an A to Z...
Me: Really? No me neither, I  used to, back in the day when the dinosaurs roamed the earth but now I have an app on my smart phone. But it's on the blink for some reason so that's why I'm asking a human being for direction.
Guy #1: ... but I have a map!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Learning Chinese in 90 days - Day 3: In conversation with French Meerkats

The casting brief from my agent read: "French mum, 30-35, doesn't need to be too pretty..." Now, this is what separates the starry eyed wannabees from the hardened pros. First, bypass the Ego. Let me tell you something: ugly/old/stupid/nerdy/unsexy, they're all good. I'm not a swimsuit model, I'm a method actor. I can play 10 different types of pimple if required. You want ugly? I can do ugly! You want me to interact with an imaginary talking stoat/meerkat? You want me to deliver the lines in French even though the script is in English? Yes Yes Yes. Hey, I'll play the stoat if you want me to (it's a long running campaign so the puppet is probably getting paid more than the real people).
It's day 3 of Mandarin lessons so I'm not quite ready to do an advert in Mandarin but in 87 days, well, it may be a whole other story... What if I get cast in a long running soap on Chinese TV? Eastenders/BBC casting: eat your heart out!
So how are the lessons going? They're going well. The trick is to relax into it and not get hung up if you can't remember a word or expression. It's a bit like the Heathrow Express: if you miss one, you know there'll be one along in another 15 minutes. What new words have I learned?  "Here", "there", "where"... and most importantly: "I don't understand what it is you are saying." Betcha that's going to come in really handy (especially as I'll be hearing that being said to me quite a bit).
Until tomorrow...

Monday, 17 June 2013

Learning Chinese in 90 days - Day 2: Of Pimms and Plimsolls

Cannes Festival?
French Open?
Summertime in London?
Not last time I checked.

It's 27 C (that's about 84F) in Shanghai. I'm just putting that out there. Make of it what you will.

Where was I? Day 2 of the Mandarin Chinese lessons. Here's something weird: I'm remembering words today that I couldn't remember yesterday during the lesson. It's like my brain's been studying in its own time.

Worth every penny. (Now if only I could get my body to exercise in its own time, like when I'm sleeping. I'm just saying.)

So what's the secret?

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Learning Chinese in 90 days - Day 1: .As the Frog Said to the Beijing Duck...

I'm learning Mandarin.

You heard it here first (well, technically speaking my Facebook friends read it first on Facebook but you're getting the context).

It all started with lunch at the Albion Caff with a long lost Anglo-Scottish friend from the Lycee who's spent the last 20 years in China. What can I say? Blame it on the pork and apple sauce (him) orthe devilled kidneys (guess who), or on my drinking a shot of espresso for the first time in a couple of months, but I decided then and there that I was going to learn to speak Mandarin, like now, right away, tout de suite, immediatamente.