Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Group Therapy

“How do you fancy spending the morning with a whole load of other desperate actors as you battle it out for a couple of precious roles? I mean, we could’ve organised individual auditions but it’s a lot easier just throwing improvisation games and scripts at a group of braying thespians and then watching them to see just how much they’ll upstage each other to get the part.”

This is basically what’s being said when you’re invited to a group audition. As soon as there’s mention of ‘workshop’, ‘group’ or even the phrase ‘we’ll just spend a few hours getting to know you all’ my heart shrivels and the urge to break everything in sight becomes almost impossible to ignore. I always have the feeling that I should relish the idea of group auditions. The chance to spend a few hours flexing my thespian muscles (they’re the ones that allow you to do jazz hands) should be an exciting prospect. I should love the idea of throwing myself headfirst into a game of Zip Zap Boing and I should get thoroughly excited when asked to play Party Quirks. But I don’t. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.

As I’ve already said, the problem with group auditions is that you’ve got a group of actors, all ludicrously desperate for a job, all fighting it out for a newborn baby’s handful of roles. All the actors will pretend they’re being fabulously supportive of each other by laughing raucously at someone else’s attempts to be funny in an improvised scene. They’ll clap to the point of their hands falling off and will grin inanely at the director to ensure that their encouraging ways have been noted. But as soon as they’re up in front of everyone and it becomes a different matter entirely. I was in a group audition a few weeks ago and was part of an improvised scene with a few other actors. What could’ve been an interesting and amusing piece turned into a group of performers literally pushing each other out of the way so they could be seen. We had a whole studio at our disposal but oddly, the second I made the first move, the other actors were all stood on top of me trying to make sure they got their precious share of the limelight. What could’ve been an inventive little skit turned into what looked like an outtake of an audition for It’s A Knockout. 

I’ve never excelled at group auditions. I go in with the best intentions where I plan to push my way forward and do whatever it takes to make sure I get noticed. But I just can’t be one of those actors. I can’t be the actor that insisted on singing every single line that he said. I can’t be the actor who entered the room telling everyone about just how awesome they are at playing the cello. And I will never be the actor who, when asked to say something interesting about themselves, launches into an overly long and dubious story about how they went horse riding with Princess Diana. These actors make the room stink of desperation and instead of wanting to inhale and add my own vapours to the mix, I just want to sit in the corner and vomit continuously until we’re all finally put out of our misery.

And then there are the scripted scenes. Being put into little teams and asked to painfully act our way through someone’s poorly written words. What usually happens is that you’re put with an actor who will try and subtly look through the script first and check which character has the most lines. Then, when discussing who should play who, they’ll try and casually drop that they can only play characters whose name begins with the letter B and, oh, would you look at that! Bertha just so happens to have the most lines. You then end up playing Passerby Number 2 and have to milk your solitary line of ‘”Yes. I think so too” so much that you’re in danger of killing off the numerous lactose intolerant actors that will inevitably be in the room.  You then run through the scene countless times and one actor will insist on appointing themselves the role director. This actor will never be someone with a genuine feel for how a scene should be played but instead will be the actor who thinks it will be more interesting if you throw in a piece of interpretive dance in the midst of two lawyers talking about a murder trial. They’re also the ones that think creating a soundscape is a good idea. 

But it’s not enough that you’ve just spent the last 20 minutes rehearsing a ten line scene. After tirelessly saying “Shall we run that through again?” you then have to watch everyone else’s efforts. While watching countless versions of the same scene, numerous things will happen. Firstly, you’ll probably steal someone else’s delivery of the same line. You’ll also get mightily jealous of other groups that appear to have better actors in. You’ll convince yourself of who will undoubtedly get the roles instead of you. Oh, and you’ll get massively bored. But yes, instead of enjoying what other people have been doing, you’ll spend most of the time comparing yourself to others and finding that, more often than not, you’re not as good as you think you are.

Sadly if doesn’t look as if group auditions are going anywhere. So excuse me while I practice the art of actor-elbowing and get some white-water rafting with a bear stories under my belt because you know what they say: If you can’t beat them… actually no, I think I’ll just stick to beating them. With a large stick. Repeatedly.

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