The importance of ‘Brand Me’ in the Creative Arts

The importance of ‘Brand Me’ in the Creative Arts

“So tell us; what’ve you been up to recently?”

As an actor, if you’re lucky, this question might form part of an audition process. If you’re lucky, you might get this brief opportunity to prove that you are proactive, hardworking, adventurous, well-connected, thoughtful, optimistic, intuitive and any other irresistible traits that you can try to seamlessly squeeze into a 30 second response. You might be gifted this small chance to find common ground with the audition panel increase your chances of them giving you their undivided attention for the next five or ten minutes. If you’re lucky.

If lady luck is playing hard to get, though, the more likely scenario is that you tell them your name and then the curtain is up on your monologue or screen test or spontaneous interpretive dance in which you are to imagine yourself as a soup spoon in a whirlpool (advertising castings can get pretty freaky). This then means that you have a very small window of opportunity through which to peddle your product – yourself – to the discerning panel. It’s a terrifying notion; to be your own product and to offer yourself up, vulnerable and unshielded, to a group of strangers who are there to pass judgement on your very presence in the room.

For the unprepared, it can feel disheartening and perhaps even offensive. But for many others it’s a challenge to relish. When a mere five minutes in a room will make the difference between getting paid to do what you love and going back to your rent-paying job, you’ve got to bring your A-game to every last millisecond. You’ve got to do everything in your power to ensure that your five minutes are the same five minutes that they end up revisiting in their minds after a four-hundred-and-twenty-minute-long day of sitting on that panel. It’s a challenge I like the sound of, a lot.

At drama school, aspiring actors will often be given full classes on how to navigate the audition room and to maximise the potential of Brand Me (has a more diva-ish phrase ever been coined?) It’s a process that is broken down into its most basic elements; from the way you enter the room, to the way you close the door behind you, to how to smile and when to smile, to where exactly to stand, to where precisely to put your eyeline, and on and on. It’s a detailed science, studied with the intention of making you the master of self-promotion. Sure, there’s no amount of formula or practice than can ever really trump raw charisma, but if Pythagoras’ theorem can be taught and learnt, why not try the same with unabashed self-assurance?

A salesperson will be told to build a genuine confidence in their product for the sales pitch to be a breeze. The same applies to the audition process for the actor; a healthy dose of confidence takes the effort and awkwardness out of self-promotion so that the main focus can become the work itself. And really, that’s the goal – not to be selling yourself at all, but to be selling the material. But the harsh reality of the industry is that you won’t get a chance to do the latter without first achieving the former.

Aside from the time spent in the audition room, the task of pitching Brand Me can very easily become a full-time occupation. In a day and age where sharing platforms are so readily available, the pressure to network can become overwhelming because the opportunity to network is always at your fingertips. Twitter in particular seems to have become something of an actor’s hub. If you haven’t summed up your latest audition experience or theatre trip in 140 characters or less, did it ever really happen? It’s important to take a step back every now and then – to let your career play out without feeling the need to validate your every move via live updates to the twittersphere and to feel safe in the knowledge that a day spent offline does not equate to a day of missed opportunities.

One of the hardest things about being your own product is having to have absolute conviction of your niche and your selling points. An actor needs to know exactly what their casting bracket is and to be able to talk about it freely and confidently. It’s no secret that self-awareness isn’t exactly the human race’s forte, so to build this level of objectivity about oneself can feel like an uphill struggle and is, I believe, the main reasons why an actor must have thick skin. After all, a rejection based on what you’ve truly and objectively decided is the best, most accurate version of yourself is a rejection that is bound to sting. The best way to overcome this, as with most things, is learning not dwell. Whatever the context, you do everything in your power to prepare and perform accordingly in the moment, putting the best version of yourself on the table, and then you walk away and let the powers that be do their thing.

Really, it’s no wonder that actors can get a bad rep for being egotistical little so-and-sos when so much of their time must be spent thinking about… well… themselves. But with a healthy dose of humility, objectivity and humour, the notion of Brand Me can be achieved without the onset of Brand Diva.


The Millennial Question: finance trends through the generations

The Millennial Question: finance trends through the generations

I recently watched a video that suddenly made a lot of things about my life, and the lives of my generation – the Millennials – all make sense. It is a video that I believe everyone needs to watch. It was a fifteen-minute clip of Simon Sinek answering the “millennial question” on Inside Quest. If you feel that fifteen minutes is too long and a waste of your time, then you probably fall right into the category of people that he is talking about.

Sinek believes, and now so do I, that people born from the 80’s onwards have been “dealt a bad hand”. We are growing up in a rapidly changing world, and the combination of new parenting techniques, exponential technological advancement, and a consistently harsh and self-interested corporate world is proving to be detrimental to us.

One thing Sinek didn’t talk about, however – something that I feel to be equally problematic – is the Millennial’s relationship with money. We don’t really understand it.

75% of Millennials consider wealth to be an extremely important attribute – a much, much higher percentage than previous generations. And yet, nearly 9 out of 10 Millennials place an importance on work-life balance. Millennials have grown up being told that they are special and that they can have anything they want just by believing that they can have it and that they deserve it. Millennials all want a career that they are passionate about. 64% of them have said that they would take a 60% pay cut to do this. Combine this with the fact that with growing technology Millennials are becoming accustomed to instant gratification, and you have a frustrating outcome. Compared to previous generations, the work ethic of Millennials is poor. We all want to make a lot of money doing very little of something we love.

We can break this generation down further, as some have done, into the Millennials and Generation Z – the 90’s kids and younger. Generation Z grew up in a recession. They are proving to be much more cautious with money. In fact, they take much less risks in general. The number of teenagers who try alcohol before they are of age has dropped from 82% in 1991, to 66% in 2013. In that same time, the number of teenagers who don’t wear a seatbelt has dropped from 26% to 8%. Though this generation are more careful with their money, they have still fallen victim to the undesirable attributes earned from the use of technology and social media. In fact, this generation are even more comfortable in the virtual world than the Millennials. We are impatient, and we are an unusual mix of impersonal and yet dependent on staying connected with people. 30 billion Whatsapp messages are sent per day, and yet we are not as comfortable in face-to-face interactions.

On top off all of this, there seems to be an extremely limited understanding of banks. I spoke to a group of girls in their early twenties who said that they didn’t really have a clue what banks do. They just “keep my money safe”. One girl then said, “I just joined the bank that my parents were with.” The reality of banks, as outlined by a non-millennial, a fifty-year-old man, is that “their prime interest is no longer to keep peoples’ money safe. It is to make a profit for their shareholders. Banks are no longer trustworthy – they can go bankrupt just like any other corporation. Hence the government involvement to try and guarantee customers’ savings.” Cautious though they may be, Millennials and Generation Z don’t seem to be taking the time to understand who they are entrusting their money to.

I am not encouraging anyone to sit back and use the fact that millennials have been “dealt a bad hand” as an excuse. It is not too late to change our own attitudes towards adult life. Make your New Year’s resolution this year to be more patient. Take the time to educate yourself about your bank. Set up a separate savings account and put a portion of your income or your loan into it every month.

If you are a Millennial still searching for the perfect career, then this could give you some financial security. If you are Generation Z, then this could quell your embedded feelings of insecurity. When your patience improves you may find that your work ethic increases. As the saying goes, “Good things take time.” Millennials, help each other, but most importantly, help yourselves.


Watch Simon Sinek here


Reality or RealiTV?



Made in Chelsea; Real Housewives of Cheshire; The Only Way is Essex; Great British Bake Off; The Apprentice; Strictly Come Dancing; X Factor.

Throw in a few pizzas and bowls of pesto pasta and there you have a week in the life of a twenty-one year old.

We pile into our student lounge sporting various combinations of tracksuits, pyjamas and onesies and settle down for an hour of becoming a little too emotionally invested in the lives of others. We all cheered on Ollie Locke as he put JP in his place on the Henley river bank. We all giggled like school-girls when Selasi piped that icing. We all screamed in outrage when Sharon Osborne decimated the Over 25 category at Judge’s houses. Reality TV continues to be an ever growing phenomenon. But why?

It was not all that long ago that I was spending my weekends at the beach. I was staying out until highly unsociable hours of the morning. I was going to cool clubs with fancy cocktails and swimming pools in the back. I would sit in a room full of girls and spend hours gossiping about people we knew. Living our own dramas. It was not that long ago when a night in front of the TV would have been a welcomed blessing after the never ending birthdays, socials, special events and catch-ups. Now, almost every night of the week I stare enviously at a screen and watch people getting paid to do those things.

I wonder out loud who Nicole Scherzinger is dating, rather than focusing on my own, slightly lacklustre dating scene. I have reached that unfortunate stage in life when reality TV has become my personal reality.

We all know that in recent years there have been many questions raised about how healthy social media is. I know I can’t be the only one whose parents have banned phones at the dinner table. Kate Bush once requested that her fans refrain from filming her show because if people wanted to watch it through the screen of the person in front of them, then they would have stayed home to watch it on TV. We are rapidly breeding a culture of people who struggle to enjoy anything until they share it with the world.

When I was a child, popularity was determined by your Top Trump skills in the playground. Today, ‘likes’ are the new symbol of status. Smart devices and social media have opened up a whole new sphere of connectivity, and not everyone is happy about it. I would argue, however, that we cannot reasonably throw our arms up in exasperation at this and not reality TV. How is it fair to ask someone to look up from their phone and stop talking to their friends in order to spend some quality time with you watching the lives of complete strangers unfold? At least through social media we are, for the most part, keeping in touch with people we know. I once had a friend use my snapchat to check up on her ex. I have known relationships to start through an Instagram. FaceTime is a revolutionary concept that enables me to regularly see friends and family who live on the other side of the world – people that I would otherwise only see every few years. Whilst we may not quite be able to call living through a screen ‘reality’, in my opinion it is certainly more deserving of the title than say Joey Essex or Amy Childs.

My solution? TV dramas! More often than not they give us far greater role models: Aspire to be as witty as Chandler Bing, as successful as Dr Grey, find a love like Marshall and Lily’s. But most importantly, know that they are all fiction and that the best life to live is your own.

The Pizza Index


There are many simple pleasures in life: sleeping on fresh sheets, receiving post, finding money in your pocket, waking up in the night and realising you have more time to sleep, and of course, my personal favourite… pizza.

It is the ultimate comfort food. The go-to when there is nothing in the fridge. The cure for any illness *cough* hangover *cough*.

I am a girl who is lucky enough to say that she has once had the good fortune to enjoy an authentic margarita with good company, a crisp glass of white wine, and the Roman colosseum in the background, and all for the grand total of €10 (roughly £9). So imagine my horror when one lazy evening I decide to indulge in a few slices of Italy’s gift to the world, and find myself faced with a charge of £18 – without the wine!

Born in an Italian village, pizza is the superstar that took the world by storm. No matter who you are, the chances are pizza is a staple in your diet; ok, maybe not a staple, but it will certainly like to rear its head and remind you it’s there every once in a while. Gluten free? No matter. Cue the hipster cauliflower crust. Dairy free? We’ve got you covered too. Nutritional yeast: tastes like cheese. Why, oh why, then am I paying double to devour a greasier version of something that I once tucked into under a clear blue sky, in one of the world’s most popular tourist spots, with a cute Italian man in a waistcoat asking me how I like it, in bed with no makeup on and my hair scraped up out of the way?

In today’s wonderfully ever-expansive world, pizza can be found in all corners. I hear that as many as 350 slices of pizza are consumed every second. Many countries have adopted it and given it all the love and affection that it deserves, slowly raising it to reflect the traditions of its new home, without changing who it is at its core.

Australia has the bbq shrimp pizza. India has the curry pizza. Turkey has the pizza kebab. America did such a marvellous job that many truly believe that they are the grandfathers, not the Italians. I had to conclude that if the price could be so drastically different between Rome and North-East England, then so must it be between cities everywhere.

But why? Is it possible that the price of pizza is a reflection of the wealth of a country? Had I just invented the Pizza Index? I did some digging. Sadly not. A Pizza Hut pizza is more expensive in Brazil than it is in Japan; more expensive in France than it is in Canada; cheaper than all four in America. Perhaps I was way off-base and it was the fact that I ordered a renowned delivered Pizza brand over a local homemade pizza that inflated the cost. But that couldn’t be right either. The most expensive pizza in the world is $12,000 (£9,785…) and takes 72 hours to make. It is topped with buffalo mozzarella, three types of caviar, lobster from Norway and Cilento, and is lightly dusted with handpicked crystals of pink Australian sea-salt from the Murray River. It is also as homemade as it comes, with three Italian chefs taking over your kitchen for the full 72 hours to produce such a delicacy for you.

Ok, so that is a bit extreme. Maybe I’m paranoid. Or maybe it just all boils down to that fact that those clever people over at that popular takeaway pizza brand knows that in my desperate state at 10pm on a Sunday night I will pay just about anything for a taste of that cheesy goodness.

Cute or Scary?


I have often felt that Halloween is the holiday that is rather overlooked. Summer is well and truly over, Christmas is eight weeks away; Halloween can tend to slip through the cracks and pass us by with nothing more than a few extra sweeties or maybe the annual viewing of Hocus Pocus.

It was only last year, when I spent October 31st with a bunch of Canadians and Americans that I realised just how much we are missing out on.

Halloween is the chance to let your creative side run absolutely wild. Slather on that eye liner! Carve up that pumpkin! And if you are like me – your artistic abilities rival those of a chimp – then you have that old fall back, “It’s not meant to be pretty, it’s scary”.

Although the North Americans went all out on the party planning, I discovered that this concept of turning everything dark and bloody was entirely new to them. When I asked my friend what she wanted to be for Halloween, she told me, a ballerina, to which I replied, “Oooh, the Black Swan. Good one.” She said, “No, no, a normal ballerina. I want a little pink tutu and a cute little bun.” I proceeded to tell her that that wasn’t very scary which led to her staring at me with a completely blank expression before saying, “Well… no… it’s not meant to be.”

And so began my history lesson. Halloween is an ancient Pagan festival that began in the Celtic-speaking countries. It marks the end of summer and the harvest season, and the beginning of the darker winter. It was believed that at the time when nature was dying, the walls between this world and the world of the spirits were weaker. For one night only, the souls of the dead would return home and they needed to be welcomed. Bonfires were lit, offerings of food and drink were made, and prayers were said for the souls. The night of ritual became a night of song, dance and games. If the souls did not receive such hospitality then they would wreak havoc – livestock, and sometimes people, may not survive the winter. By the 16th century, some people were beginning to dress up as spirits of the departed and knock on doors to receive the offerings of food. If they were not accommodated then they would take it upon themselves to cause mischief. And so trick-or-treat was born. Contrary to what many may believe, Halloween is not an entirely unreligious event. Roots of the festivities can also be found in the Church’s three day celebration of the saints, beginning on All Hallows Eve.

Somewhere along the way – and my guess is fairly recently in the timeline of events – Halloween has entirely lost its meaning. It has become a night of fancy dress rather than terror. Regina George of Mean Girls fame had more of an impact than she knew when she said, “Halloween is the one night of the year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girl can say anything about it.” My friend was astounded to find out that she had been doing Halloween wrong her whole life. I told her tales of egging houses, covering the village hall in toilet paper (after explaining what on Earth a village hall is), and parties with apple bobbing, what’s-in-the-box, and everyone doing the Thriller dance moves. She couldn’t deny that it sounded like much more fun. I lost her, however, when I explained that for the first few years of my life I would dress up as a pumpkin – orange from head to toe – until the year I purchased a bright blue, furry Sully from Monsters Inc. outfit. Eventually I reached an age where it was no longer acceptable to go knocking on strangers’ doors and demanding sweets, and so Halloween became a non-event.

We eventually came to a compromise. We would bring back Halloween for me, and “scary” it up a little for her. We dressed up as dead baseball players in caps, oversized sports jerseys, knee high socks and fake blood everywhere. It ended up being a Halloween like neither of us had ever experienced before.

I love glitter and sparkles just as much as the next girl. I can’t get enough of my new highlighter. Anything rose gold and I’m obsessed. But I also love pumpkin spice anything, and scary movies in the dark. I say, save your inner fairy princess for Christmas. We get one night a year to let our inner faery loose. Bring back Halloween!

‘Act-thletes’: Fantasy and Reality in WWE


Why do people invest so much time and money into things that aren’t real? How do companies sustain themselves on products with little to no practical use? Here, journalist and lifelong WWE fan Rohan Banerjee explores the blurred lines between fantasy and reality when it comes to professional wrestling…

 Do you like wrestling?  That this question tends to evoke thoughts of soap opera-like storylines alongside spandex-clad men points to WWE’s pervasive presence in society.  That people would sooner understand wrestling to mean chair shots and cheesy catch-phrases rather than Olympic grappling is a sign of exactly how entrenched the company is in popular culture.

It’s one of those questions that doesn’t really draw an awful lot of non-committal answers.  Like Twilight or Marmite, it’s a love-hate stand-off and very rarely do you get someone who thinks: “It’s ok, I guess.”

The critics believe that WWE’s styling as “sports entertainment” is self-defeating because it concedes that match results are pre-determined and therefore can’t be admired for any athletic merit.  Furthermore, they are unenthused by the storylines because those are again scripted.

WWE’s detractors are so dumbfounded by the company’s ability to sustain a global audience and multi-million dollar franchise that they feel the need to remind people “It’s fake” at any opportunity.  I wonder if the same cynics are so vocal at the cinema?

See, it’s ok not to like something if it’s not to your personal taste and there are many rods with which to strike WWE’s back – try sexism or political incorrectness – but don’t let yourself down by resorting to dogmatism.

Understanding why WWE does have millions of fans shouldn’t be difficult.  As with any long-running television series, there are plenty of people of who do buy into the storylines and find them compelling.  Granted, some, like Undertaker’s resurrection, are stupid; but can the same not be said about a year-long wait to reveal that pre-pubescent Bobby Beale murdered his big sister in Eastenders?

The argument about a lack of athleticism doesn’t hold much water either, because pre-determined or not, wrestlers still have to be in peak physical condition to put on the spectacle of a match; and even if the context isn’t, the risks of their performances are real.  It is this fascination with and commitment to the show that drives a huge portion of WWE’s appeal.

Different people have different indulgences that they use to escape or enhance reality.  Wrestling fans are so inclined for those exact reasons.  The face-heel dynamic is as engaging as any good versus evil dichotomy in a film and the idea of admiring a particularly talented performer needn’t be considered alien.

From a marketing perspective, the urge to imitate art, and theoretically that’s what wrestling is, is one that WWE has capitalised on.  Fans will have their own reasons for choosing their favourite wrestler – be it his or her move-set, skills on the microphone or dress-sense.  In the same way that Jenifer Aniston’s haircut became a staple feature of the 1990s, so did a host of stock lines from WWE’s ‘Attitude Era.’  Just wondering what The Rock is cooking raises a smile.

Ultimately, WWE presents a platform for fantasy, just like Star Wars, Harry Potter, Pokémon Go or Lord of the Rings.  It retains imperfections, of course, as well as a plethora of plot-holes but against the pressures of modern life, who is anyone to dismiss what someone else finds fun in their free time?

Birmingham: Jazz at the Spotted Dog


Being England’s second city it shouldn’t come as a shock that Birmingham has a historic, vibrant and diverse Jazz scene. A subculture bolstered by the students of Birmingham Conservatoire’s top-class Jazz department – which itself regularly puts on live performances. The scene is probably best showcased by the Mostly Jazz, Funk & Soul Festival held in Moseley Park and the citywide Birmingham Jazz & Blues Festival. Both of which typically book a few big names and international artists alongside wide variety of local lesser-known artists.

But if you really want to get to know the scene, see the city’s musicians in their element and cutting loose, then my suggestion would be to hunt out one of Birmingham’s more informal and free-form nights. There are three such notable events that widely revolve around an ethos of improv and jamming: Fizzel, held weekly at the Lamp Tavern, Bain/Pulsgrove held every Monday at Yorks Bakery and the Tuesday Jazz nights at The Spotted Dog. The latter being the one I most recently frequented having assurance from a friend that the band playing – Zhenya Strigalev’s Never Group – were really quite good.

The Spotted Dog, perhaps unsurprisingly for a pub hosting a weekly experimental Jazz night, is located in what has become Birmingham’s most brazenly hipster district, official known as Digbeth. However, upon entry one is greeted with the décor and atmosphere of classic, if not antiquated, British pub. It is only by wandering out into smoking area that will realize that the pub conforms to Digbeth’s penchant for off-key trendiness. The drinking house’s outdoor decorations include: a gaggle of partially dressed and dilapidated manikins, two oversized lady’s dressers, a large smoking penguin and a bookshelf. On the night in question I got a chance to briefly peruse the shelf only to find it was mainly filled with old business studies textbooks, with one notable exception being a paperback entitled The Art of Zen & Sex, which I gave a quick flick through before I heard that the band was starting to play.

Once the band started performing in the corner of the room it became clear that my friend’s reassurance had not been misplaced. The Saxophonist who I assume was Zhenya took a peculiar stance; his instrument perched delicately between his lips as he stared up to the ceiling as if pleading to be possessed by some unholy jazz demon. The music aptly became wilder and more discordant as the set progressed, only held in by the Never Group’s unquestionable technical skill.

The night continued with me happily bopping along to some unexpectedly energetic and at times even ferocious Jazz. The pub began to fill up until there was quite a crowd and I noticed that many of clientele were carrying instruments of their own. It soon transpired that they were all planning to get involved in the night’s open jam session following the live performance. This was when the night really took off as a collective of shaggy yet jovial music-students bounced off and strained to excite one another, engendering an electrifying sense of anarchic fun. They certainly made me want in. I had once played the trumpet for a time, but last I checked my instrument was out-of-tune and I had been reliably informed that the tuning slider was irreparably rusted shut. Then again this was an experimental night; perhaps one of these Jazz aficionados could figure out something useful for me to do with my old, rusty, out-of-tune trumpet, though I doubted it.


Later that week I went to see a band called Weave play as part of the Town Hall Symphony Hall’s Jazzlines live performance and education programme. The crowd, who on average were at least a generation or two older than the one in The Spotted Dog, were sat stilly and attentively in an arc around the band as they produced a far more refined and summery version of Jazz than the one I’d heard a few nights before. If I’m completely honest I found it a tad innocuous and I wasn’t quite getting along with Weave’s double trumpet no sax setup. To the side there was a stall trying to recruit people to the Royal Marine’s Band Service, which I perhaps considered with some cynicism.

I realized the Jazz-scene in Birmingham is not homogenous, it caters to a variety of sorts, not all of it will suit everyone, but that in large part is what makes it worth exploring. For myself I definitely feel that, the poor book selection notwithstanding, I will be returning for another invigorating night at The Spotted Dog.

Guest blogger: Stewart Yarlett