Monday, 11 August 2014

Talent Goes First

It's with reluctance and grump that I drag myself out of bed at the crack of dawn on Saturday. I'm not a morning person at the best of times, but normally, once I've lifted my head from the pillow and thrown back my cosy duvet, my senses awaken in the pursuit of coffee and the day ahead. This has not been the case lately, and despite nights of 10, 12 hours sleeping, I resent the shrill of my alarm clock as it tells me to get up.

But get up I do and a short while later, am out of the house, energy drink in hand and folder in the crook of my arm, destination: TV training.

It's the second week of my course with Park Studio and as a result of missing the Sunday of the first weekend due to a family matter, I'm one of the earliest birds to catch the class I missed before the regular schedule begins.

By the time I get to Donnybrook, my energy drinks feels like a distant memory so I stop in The Natural Bakery for a coffee. This place opened a few months ago and I remember taking a pleasant walk to it's D4 outlet on a beautiful Spring day, excitedly picking up more baked goods than one could possibly need. I bought something for everyone, including my line manager at RTE, who was pleasantly surprised that my time-sheet was handed in with a fresh scone.

                                                          Photo: The Natural Bakery


The rain stays away as I walk up Belmont Avenue towards Milltown Park, the HQ of my television education. My class is made up quickly and with the blink of an eye, my other peers have arrived and we're pressing on with the day ahead.

Another coffee in hand, we begin our morning lecture: Television Research.

While the course has many attractive qualities, it was the practical experience and promise of a showreel that sealed the deal of my enrollment. Being in the unusual situation of having worked in TV for a few years now, I knew that the lectures wouldn't be as beneficial to me as they might be to others. Generally, I was prepared to treat this element as a chance to refresh my foundation skills and mentally test myself.

But on this particular morning, with the weight of exhaustion sitting on me, by the time our coffee break rolled around, I felt irritated - and wondered what on earth I was doing here. It wasn't so much the material itself being taught -I listened, cruising for any piece of new information to add to my arsenal - it was the exercises which really did me in. While working in groups, suggestions I made were either met with blank stares, or open aggression from my classmates. I had been careful with how I worded my suggestions and contributions anyways, but such reactions prompted me firmly to get back in my box and simmer in silent frustration.

I ring the boyfriend during the morning break and he listens to me rant before giving me a pep talk. That man has a unique way of calming me down and soothing my frazzled nerves. I don't know how he does it, just by a telephone call, but he does. So after a quick chat, I return to my learning, determined to soak up everything I can.

The rest of the morning passes quickly enough and as we break for lunch, I'm glad that the afternoon will be practical focused. Specifically, filming our first 60 second PTC (piece-to-camera). A PTC is when a reporter is on a single mic, in front of a single camera, normally giving a live report or an intro to a package they've made. We had been emailed during the week and told to prepare a 60 second script, memorized, on a topic that interested us and one we felt knowledgeable about.

For some unknown reason, even to myself, I picked a story about Scrabble. Specifically, the addition of 5,000 new words to the Official Scrabble Player's Dictionary. While the addition of "Bromance", "Vlog", "Selfie" and "Hashtag" makes for a nice dinner party tidbit, it does not make for a terribly exciting minute of television.

But this realisation was yet to come. I'd written up a rough draft of my script the night before, but between work and picking up my poor injured cat from the vet, I hadn't given it more than a glance. So fortifying myself with a cup of tea, I spent my lunch break re-writing my piece and memorizing it.

We were all given a chance of a full rehearsal before Kevin & Co hit the big red button of record later on. I'm a bundle of nerves as I position myself in front of camera, underneath the hot lights. To be honest, it's the fact I have to perform this in front of a group of people that, quite frankly, I think find me quite tiresome, that gives me the shakiest legs.

Thank God it's just a rehearsal. I'm down to the second-last par of my script when I fluff my lines and mess the whole thing up. I feel stupid, but Kevin reassures me that, up to the point where I screwed up, I was doing exceptionally well. I think he's just being kind but I shake my shoulders, relax my face, and give it another go.

I deliver it word perfect this time but I know, before Kevin even tells me, it's lacking in energy. He encourages me to punch it up before my recording later. I sit there as my classmates get up to rehearse their pieces and as Kevin doles out advice, it occurs to me that I've broken a basic rule in the choosing of my topic - I did not pick something I'm really interested in.

Of course, there are times when as presenter, you're going to have to talk about things you're not interested in or items that aren't terribly lively. But when you do, you'll have the experience to be able to make the most boring couple of lines sing with life. But given that I was in the position of being able to write and record about anything at all, my judgment to pick a story that wouldn't "date", worked against me. On the break, I explain as much to Kevin. At first, he thinks I'm being too hard on myself, telling me that the Scrabble piece I delivered was one of the best out of the class. But I know I can do better. I have a half hour, at most, before I have to go back into studio, this time, to record.

"If you were about to go for an audition and you had the choice of sticking with the script you've already learned or make the choice to change it completely, write a new one, and memorize it in a short amount of time, what would you do?" he asks.

"I'd change it" I reply without hesitation.

"Then do that" he tells me with a smile.

I change my PTC to a political item; specifically, about Alan Shatter's recent decision to begin legal proceedings against Martin Guerin. The information in the script is more complicated, written with more than a few multi-syllable words and overall, is more difficult than my Scrabble one. I pace up and down the echoy corridors of Park Studio, reciting the story over and over, playing with the tone and cadence in my pursuit of perfection.

My heart is fluttering like a hummingbird as I once again, position myself in front of the camera. Kevin informs the onlookers (our Directors in the course) that although there was nothing wrong with my earlier script, I've chosen to go with a whole new one.

I take a deep breath, push back my shoulders, hold my mic in position - and launch into it with as much energy and confidence as I can muster. It goes perfectly. As I got to the end, even I knew I had pulled it off and could feel myself calming, assured that I had this.

There's a silence in the room in the moments after I finish and for a few seconds, I think I've gotten it horribly wrong and that I performed terribly. But it turns out the silence is for the opposite reason. The review of our PTC's won't take place until next week as we ran out of time, but both Kevin and the classmates who watched me, tell me it was scary good.

It's with a sense of achievement and pride that I gather my things a few minutes later as the day's work come's to a close. On the way out, I thank Kevin for his support in helping me. The assessment of my performance won't be given in detail until next week, but Kevin does tell me that I have a talent - in particular for learning scripts - that is going to unnerve the rest of them. While it's good news for my professional advancement, I know myself it's not going to win me any friends.

I get drenched in a down-pour on my way home. My exhaustion has reached new levels and it's in a haze that I stumble from bus to bus home. But as I do, I'm reminded of a quote pinned to my bedroom wall, and a particular favourite of the boyfriend's:

"Be so good they can't ignore you."
- Steve Martin

Mucho Love,

Vicky xoxo
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