Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The Right Stuff

“You will be cast in front of the writter & directors so perform at your best.”

Wonderful advice there. Because we all need reminding that we need to perform our best in an audition. Most of us just wander in, mumble a few words, make half-hearted attempts at acting and then slouch out, happy with the terrible job we’ve done. So thank you, poorly written casting call, for your dazzling words of wisdom. If only you’d come along a few years earlier and that BAFTA might finally be mine…

But it did get me thinking about how we behave in audition. Yes, I’m using ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ in the hope that I can drag you all down with my terrible, auditioning ways. I’m sure none of you have fallen over in a casting, come out with an accent that’s so borderline racist that the casting director suspects you have the BNP on speed-dial or have managed to send yourself spinning towards very expensive editing equipment on an office chair. But let’s pretend, for the purposes of this blog and my own sense of pride that you have. Thanks.

The problem is that when you get into an audition, you just want to do well. We were constantly taught at drama school that you need to be brave and not worry about making mistakes. Now, that theory is wonderful when you’ve managed to convince someone to give you the part, it’s a lot harder putting it into practice when you’re so desperate for a job, you find yourself wondering if it is in fact possible to survive off Bovril and cheap noodles (it’s not – after two days I was muttering Lady Macbeth speeches on the District Line and entertaining thoughts of venturing into musical theatre.) When you’re faced with a panel who hold the key to you paying your phone bill for another month, the desire to please takes over every other human instinct and doing something ‘right’ becomes as important as breathing.  The battle between taking risks and doing something correct is a harshly fought one and usually it’s me that’s the only victim.

An incredible example of this is during an audition for a children’s show I went up for a few years ago. It was for a new devised piece that, although a little bit too much like TIE for my liking, would be playing in theatres instead. It was nicely paid and the character’s name was the same as mine which, to me, meant that the part was mine by law. Now, I should prefix this story with the fact that it was the second time I’d applied for the job. The first time round, they’d rejected me at the application stage. So, when I saw the job come up again, my pride and my bank balance had to have a long chat about whether I could really put myself up for it again. As always, my bank balance won and my pride was forced to go and sulk outside for a good few days.

So, second time around, clearly noticing just how desperate I was, they asked me in for an audition. They’d asked me to prepare a monologue from a children’s play and after days of desperately searching for a speech that was appropriate but also didn’t make me sound like a patronising lump of jelly, I finally cobbled one together. Off I went in my most colourful dress in an attempt to look remotely kid-friendly and when I arrived, I was greeted by an incredibly glum looking man. The audition was being held in what can only be described as a store room which housed a noisier fan than any member of the Barmy Army. He miserably explained that the fan had to be kept on at all times otherwise the world would implode (or something along those lines) so I’d just need to work alongside it. I’d worked alongside incredibly poor actors so I imagined this wouldn’t be any worse.
After a little shouted chat over the rattly din of the fan, I was asked to perform my speech. It was received with the same amount of enthusiasm as someone trying to tell you the real meaning of Easter while you stuff yourself silly with your thirty third Creme Egg. He said it needed more action so he asked if I’d gather up a few items and pile them up for the first half of the speech and then spend the second half of the speech putting the items back. A simple task, you’d think. Well, it would’ve been if half of what he’d been saying hadn’t been drowned out by the sound of the entire world’s air being rotated around the room. So, instead of asking him to repeat himself, I decided to throw myself head first into the task that I thought he’d given me which was collecting every single item in the room, creating a tower out of them and then dismantling it all by the end of the speech. 

Confident that he’d be incredibly impressed with my confident reaction to his direction, I set about the task of collecting every single item I could get my hands on. This included a sofa, cushions, two kettles, an alarming amount of books and a good twenty or so other items. Basically, I gathered up everything apart from the director and the desk he was sitting at. However, getting all these to balance in this precarious tower I was creating was taking a long time, and hit by the desperation of wanting to get this right, I started to slow my speech down so that I could create my cushiony-bookish tower and take it back down again. It was getting to the point where I was speaking a syllable every five seconds when he finally put me out of my misery. I then had to stand there with a kettle in one hand and a scarf in the other while he explained to me how I’d got it completely wrong. The audition was then brought to an end and the humiliation, I thought, was over. But of course it wasn’t. With the audition over, I then had to fish my bag and coat out of my homemade tower while the director patiently waited, in silence, for me to leave. Despite my instincts to make small-talk, I think, for once, I made the right decision to leave the audition on a wonderfully silent low-note.

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