“My worst audition”

8 May

In the second of our series of posts about nightmare auditions, actress Rachel Wilcock has written a guestpost about the time it all went wrong for her, and what she learnt from it.

Rachel Wilcock

“It’s a great feeling when your agent calls and says that you, yes you, have been selected to meet with someone regarding a job.

Like buses I went for a few weeks without one casting and then a string of mentally unstable characters in theatre and TV came along. I’ve had to surrender the possibility of ever playing pretty. Recently I waltzed up to an audition beaming as I was called for the pretty flirty wee thing…on arrival I was quickly corrected. ‘Today you’ll be auditioning for Ellen – older, plainer, bitter.’

It was with such delight and urgency that I received a call about five years ago for a musical going to the Edinburgh Fringe. A musical about mental illness. I had it in the bag. A director once told me he was sure I’d been a schizophrenic in a previous life so convincing was my portrayal on stage.

Even now I have to fight the demons of insecurity when you hear the person before you doing their thing

But could this musical really be serious? I hadn’t seen a script so had visions of choruses of “I’m mad, you’re mad, we’re all mad together” running through my head.

The audition – prepare one piece two minutes long and a song of your choice. Simple. I was quite inexperienced in the art of auditioning at the time. But even now I have to fight the demons of insecurity when you hear the person before you doing their thing.

I entered a room and was greeted by a young couple behind a table in front of the brightest light. Almost hidden from sight was a pianist. As a trio they were not terrifying ogres, in fact they were quite pleasant. But that didn’t stop the following 15 minutes going down in history as my worst ever audition.

Now perhaps I shouldn’t be so bold as to profess this yet. I am not yet dead, who knows what lies ahead but I pray I have learnt a lot from this experience.

I started my monologue, one I’d performed a fair few times before, and approximately 30 seconds in I completely forgot what I was doing, where I was, who I was

I started my monologue, one I’d performed a fair few times before, and approximately 30 seconds in I completely forgot what I was doing, where I was, who I was. Now this performance might have been perfect for a musical like this but no – the idea is to cast an actor who can portray mental illness, not someone suffering from a condition. I stuttered and staggered my way through the piece, my brain trying to grab any semblance of control. The audience looked shocked – and not with pleasant surprise.

Next, the song. Surely something could be regained. Except my brain had started to engage with what had just happened.

Singing my Irish ditty I started to focus on trying not to blush, which we all know works so well, and continued to get redder and redder and redder. By this stage the casting agents have signed me over to be committed. Song ended. Brief chat. And I ran out of that room. Back to my house and burst into uncontrollable tears. After finishing four years of training, performing professionally and countless times as a kid, I couldn’t even stand in front of three nice people.

But I could, I can, I will. Sometimes it’s just not your day.”

Have you had a similar experience to Rachel? Tell us about it below.

Equity: why you should join now

8 May

So you’ve heard of Equity but aren’t really sure what being a member means? No problem, we chatted to Kristin Mie Hamada from Equity’s membership relations department about the benefits of signing up. 

Why should actors join Equity?

It is vital that young actors join Equity because they are safeguarding the future of the performing arts.  As a trade union not only do we negotiate many of the contracts that actors work on, we also set rates of pay as a part of that negotiation process. By being a young member you are ensuring that now and in the future actors will have good conditions to work in, but also that they will receive adequate pay for the work they do!

Are there particular benefits for young members?

Equity provides a good safety net for young performers who might be less familiar with the industry.  For example if you work on a show and do not receive payment for the work you’ve done, you can give us a call and we can help you to sort that out.  Sometimes younger performers (and older ones as well) are unsure how long they should wait for their payment, and what their rights are, and if the payment doesn’t come they are not quite sure how to go about receiving it.  In addition if it comes down to a legal issue, then Equity provides legal representation as a standard benefit of membership, so if we have to go to court to get you a payment then your membership covers the legal costs.  We can provide that support and information to our young members to try to prevent something like this from happening again.

Do you encourage actors to get involved in campaigns?

We give young members the opportunity to be an activist for the arts.  Activism is a great thing, and performers feel very strongly about their industry.  As an Equity member, young actors can get involved and try to create positive change for themselves and other artists.  Our Young Members’ Committee actually got the ball rolling with all the low and no pay work, and really helped to move this campaign forward.  Now our Low/No Pay campaign is central to the work that we are doing as an organisation, and that was made possible by our young, active, members.

Are there any other benefits?

There are loads of benefits. Others would include creating a network with other artists who are members, saving your Equity name, access to tax and welfare advice, access to all our agreements and rates so you know what you should be earning, public liability insurance, accident and backstage insurance, the use of our website so you can create a profile for yourself so you are able to promote yourself, there are many discounts which you can take advantage of which are only available to members.

What do you have to do to join?

You have to fill in an application form and provide evidence of your paid work experience as a performer, theatre creative, or a stage manager in theatre.  Applying online is the quickest way to join.  Our requirements for how much evidence to provide varies.

What does having an Equity card mean?

An Equity card means professionalism.  It states, ‘I am a professional!’ because it demonstrates that the cardholder understands the range of support that Equity can provide to an individual and to the industry.

What kind of events and meetings take place?

You can find a list of specific events on our calendar which gives details about upcoming events.

Are there any specific opportunities for networking/meeting other people in the performing arts that come with joining Equity?

Members are encouraged to participate in their local branch meetings, which is a good place to meet other performers. Branch meetings are a time/place for discussing union-specific issues, activist opportunities and organising activism, and also expanding creative opportunities.

If anyone has additional questions they can email Kristin directly at khamada@equity.org.uk

Image used with permission from Equity.

Acting in LA: An insider’s guide

7 May

“Everybody comes to Hollywood” – or at least it seems like every actor does. For years wannabe performers have flocked to LA, the home of movie stars, studios and thousands of young hopefuls. Each year British actors make the move across the pond in search of fame and fortune but is it really worth it? 

Steve West is a British actor who studied drama and musical theatre at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s school before starting his career in shows such as Mamma Mia and Oklahoma!. He has since worked in TV and film and has done over fifty TV commercials. He moved to LA three years ago. 

You studied in the UK – what made you move to the US?

For me it was a two fold decision. As I had lived most of my life in London I wanted a change of lifestyle – sunshine, more space and the ability to be outdoorsy, and I wanted to expand my work in the direction of film and TV.

How does the LA industry differ to the UK’s?

LA is all about media – TV, film and nowadays the web. This is still the place where the majority of that work happens. There is a theatre scene but it is small scale and very low paid. The UK  didn’t have a fraction of the TV and film work as they do in LA, although the theatre scene in the UK is way more vibrant.

Have you found that the opportunities are better over there?

I’ve found that doors open in different and unexpected directions. I started recording audiobooks a couple of years ago and that came from someone hearing my voice on a demo – I’ve since done over 20 books. Commercials also pay residuals, so if you land a national one you can earn a very nice sum of money. And of course there are a lot of TV shows which cast supporting and guest spots, however, as is always the case with this business, getting seen by these people isn’t always as easy – you really have to have a good agent. But I do think there’s a lot more opportunity here to get your foot in the door as long as you can find the right people to help you get there and when you do make it onto something big, the rewards are high.

Steve West

Would you encourage young actors to move to LA?

I would if they really want to work in TV and film. It is not a place for the faint hearted though. You may come here with great training and a great look but you are coming to the place where everyone comes to act, so you need some real fortitude and a strong sense of self –  Hollywood will tell you a million and one things – it is you who has to keep your head on straight in this crazy town.

What would be your advice for an actor considering moving to the US for their career?

You have to be able to network here, as the saying goes, ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’. I also think the British aren’t necessarily used to standing up and proclaiming that we are good at something but in LA being too humble or modest doesn’t get you very far. You have to be able to sell yourself and own your achievements, you have to be positive and confident and ready to impress people. You are up against a huge amount of competition – but that doesn’t mean it is impossible.

What are the practicalities involved?

You will need to sort out a work visa or green card which is not easy. If you are lucky enough to be coming over here with a big agency who will send you to auditions for main roles and regular parts on TV, then they will get you a visa but for the working actor that is not an option – you’ll need that in place beforehand.

Any final tips?

My last piece of advice is to take things with a pinch of salt. LA is a town where lots of things get said but don’t necessarily happen and that can be strange and difficult to deal with. Projects are on and off, people seem very keen to see you for something and then you never hear from them again, you do a great audition and the job is practically yours but then the writer knows someone who has been on a big TV show and so the part goes to them. There is a lot to contend with but if you’ve got the determination and strength of spirit this is where the really big opportunities are.

Are you planning a move to LA? Let us know below.

Hollywood image by Tony Hoffarth from Flickr via a CC Licence.

Hashtags killed the TV star? @Westendproducer and the birth of a new kind of talent contest

7 May

It’s official: we live in the era of the TV talent contest. But one shadowy impresario has set the musical theatre world abuzz with a new talent search bringing together Twitter, YouTube and a live final in the West End.

@Westendproducer announced his ‘Search for a Twitter Star’ competition to his 15,000+ followers in April, inviting actors to upload video of themselves performing a musical theatre song and tweet it to him. The anonymous tweeter has won a devoted online following, largely for his catty and hilarious insights into the life of a theatrical bigwig. But he deserves credit for pioneering a new mashup of TV, theatre and social media.

More than 600 videos were submitted, and @westendproducer is set to announce a shortlist of 40 entrants (20 men, 20 women) imminently. The quarter-finalists will then have until 13 May to record another song from a specific musical theatre genre before voting is thrown open to the public.

The competition will culminate in a live performance at London’s Lyric Theatre on 9 July, accompanied by a live orchestra and judged by a panel of industry experts including leading lady Louise Dearman, casting director Anne Vosser, agent Gemma Lowy-Hamilton and musical director Mike Dixon. Unusually for a West End show, the audience will be actively encouraged to keep their phones on and tweet throughout the performance.

We spoke to Mike Dixon (below) to find out what to expect from the final. Mike has more than 30 years’ experience as an MD, arranger and music supervisor, and is currently rehearsing Street of Dreams, the Corrie extravaganza musical opening at Manchester Arena on Wednesday night, which he says has been “quite a giggle”. He is also no stranger to TV talent contests, having worked on shows from Pop Idol to Miss World. But he won’t be going for the Simon Cowell approach: “My take on it is that you don’t diss people – I try to give them some positive feedback”.

Mike said he would probably not watch the contestants’ videos before the final. “I kind of prefer to be there and see instantaneously what’s being presented rather than being over-prepped,” he says.

Can a YouTube video give an accurate idea of someone’s talent? “Actually, I think it’s probably quite difficult because people can do things to their voices on a YouTube video,” Mike says. “They can treat their voices a little bit – I don’t know whether they have – but when people are going to be with a live orchestra without any gizmos apart from a microphone in front of them, that’s going to expose them. We’ll see whether people really can do it.”

One of the entrants hoping to make the final 40 is Alexandra Da Silva (right), a third-year actingstudent at the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts. She says today’s performers would be “crazy” not to use Twitter for the opportunities it offers – she found out about the competition through friends’ tweets.

Alexandra submitted a performance of Jonathan Reid Gealt’s song ‘Quiet’, taken from a gig last year. “I’d completely forgotten it had been filmed,” she says, “and then I thought, oh, I’ve got that kicking about, I’m going to give it a try… It’s kind of a win-win situation, because even if you don’t get chosen for the quarter-finals or the semi-finals or whatever, you’ve got your video out there.”

@Westendproducer has been giving feedback to most entrants, and described Alexandra’s video as “a passionate, moving performance”.

Alexandra says she would be reluctant to enter a TV talent search along the lines of I’d Do Anything or ITV’s forthcoming Superstar (which will cast Jesus and Judas for an arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar): “I guess a few years ago I might have done, but I think now they’ve become a lot more about selling a sob story rather than selling the talent.” She says #searchforatwitterstar is “more about the person, because you get to choose what you upload –for the quarterfinals and semifinals as well.”

Does she worry about getting flak from the YouTube haters? “That’s the risk you’ve got to take,” she says. “You’re not going to please everybody in anything you do, and I think putting something on YouTube is just the same as going on stage. It might be on a larger scale because more people see it, but you’re always going to get criticism as a performer.”

The search is on. But will @westendproducer be unmasked in the process? Mike says he is still stumped: “None of us know who he is. I thought we might get to meet him but I don’t think we will, he’s seeming to manage to keep his identity secret. It really is extraordinary.

“At the beginning of the year I went to the opening night of Pippin at the Menier Chocolate Factory, and tweeted something about it, and then 10 minutes later he tweeted me back saying he’d been standing right next to me.”

Actor? Student? Get involved in your university drama society

7 May

ADC Theatre – home of the Cambridge Footlights

Ah, your student days – a time to party hard, make great friends and eat too many baked beans. But also an ideal place to pursue an interest in acting and to experiment without the pressure of failing. Remember, you don’t have to be a drama student to join a drama society or appear in a play.

Harry Michell, an English student at Cambridge University, and president of Cambridge Footlights – a comedy and theatre society run by students – chats to us about why university is the perfect time to get involved. 

How did you get involved with drama and the drama societies at university?

I wanted to get involved in drama/comedy before I arrived at uni and have known for a while that it’s something I’d like to pursue in the future. There are so many ways to get involved here. I started by auditioning for lots of plays and directing the Freshers Show; my previous experience at school and at the Edinburgh Fringe meant I had a slight advantage to some freshers who were just trying out drama for the first time. However, there are so many opportunities here that the advantage was minimal.

Do you mainly act or direct?

I like to make sure I act, direct and write at least once at term, as well as writing and performing comedy every couple of weeks. I think there is no point closing potential doors when I enjoy doing all three, and each role informs how I approach the others.

Is getting involved in theatre at university a good way to break into the industry?

It can be a fantastic way. Obviously it’s a very difficult field to get into, and luck plays such a huge factor, but you learn an incredible amount in such a short space of time. You also come to understand exactly how a theatre works which is something you don’t necessarily get the chance to if you go straight to drama school. Having said that, I think it also depends on which element of theatre you’re planning on going into; most actors generally leave here and go to drama school, whereas comedians generally get signed up immediately.

What would you say to people who say they are too busy to join a society but still want to pursue an acting career?

Well, you do hear stories every now and then about people who didn’t do much when they were younger but then discover acting in their twenties/thirties, but acting/directing/writing is a craft, and generally without practise and development and enthusiasm from a younger age, how can you expect a career to come of it? Also, university is a time when you can experiment and make mistakes, if you do this in the ‘real world’ it could potentially jeopardise your career, so why not take advantage of the artistic freedom uni can give you?

Are there other benefits in getting involved?

Yes definitely; it keeps you going, gives you stuff to do other than work. You join a community with people who are like minded and share similar interests – it stops you from merely staying within your college/halls.

How would you recommend someone go about getting involved? 

Just be proactive. Audition for everything, apply for anything, write things. Every time you get turned down turn it into a positive. If you don’t get cast in anything, put on your own show. If you can’t get a theatre space, put on a show somewhere strange. Be creative, you’ll constantly be knocked back, and the successful ones are those who get back up immediately and try another route.

What would you say to people who are nervous/shy about approaching a society or club?

Just go for it. In all likelihood everybody else is as nervous as you are, and you’re probably just as talented. If you don’t try you’ll spend the rest of your days (slightly hyperbolic but still…) wishing that you did.

Have any of you had similar experiences to Harry? Are any of you hoping to get involved with a drama society? Get in touch below.

Image by James Bowe from Flickr via a CC Licence.

Actors’ Guild Bursary – one week to go

7 May

If you were planning to apply for Actors’ Guild annual bursary scheme, there’s a week left until the deadline. And if you hadn’t heard anything about it: you’ve got time.

The bursary doesn’t entail any actual cash – which, on the plus side, removes the temptation to spend it on trifles (or trifle). Instead, it includes free Spotlight and Casting Call Pro membership, a subscription to The Stage, free headshots and showreel, a year’s web hosting… in other words, the boring, practical expenses that eat away at any actor’s earnings.

To apply, you must be 18 or over, and have a Spotlight account (you’ll be asked for your Spotlight PIN when you register on the Actors’ Guild site). There’s no audition involved: you can do it all on the website.

Meet, greet and tweet: reporting from the UK Actors Tweetup (VIDEO)

6 May

by Elli Donajgrodzki and Edward Randell

On Wednesday we made our way to the UK Actors Tweetup to hear – and livetweet – a panel discussion on the Cannes Film Festival. Producer Christine Hartland, director Paul Hills and Variety’s Alberto Lopez tackled burning issues including whether Cannes is the Bournemouth of France, what shoes to wear and the most effective schmoozing techniques. The general consensus among the panel was that Cannes was less useful for actors than for producers and directors, but that it could still throw up unexpected opportunities: or as Hills put it, “The beauty of Cannes is the chance meeting”.

We spoke to Hills, as well as UK Actors Tweetup founder Angela Peters and actress Moyo Akandé, about sharing tips with other thespian tweeps, and the benefits of mixing work with pleasure.