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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.”


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.

Exclusive graphic: Arts Council’s London-centric vision for England

6 May

It’s no secret that where arts funding is concerned there’s a gulf between London and the rest of England. But our exclusive infographic, mapping Arts Council England’s grants for 2010-11, still makes for sobering viewing.

The graphic shows how London dominates in the allocation of grants, receiving more than all the other regions combined.

Arts Council England’s regional grants 2010/11. Infographic by Edward Randell

Arts Council England (ACE) supports work across the arts, encompassing music, literature and visual arts as well as performance. Its funding is crucial to many of the UK’s most prestigious theatre institutions and companies, including the Royal Shakespeare Company, Opera North, Southbank Centre and Punchdrunk. Although London’s West End is renowned as the heart of commercial theatre in the UK, it is also home to a huge amount of subsidised theatre – a fact reflected in the ACE figures.

Details of the grants, and how they were divided between ACE’s regional offices, were released as part of the funding body’s annual review for 2011, published on 26 April. More than £427m of public money was awarded overall, including £58.7m on national projects (not shown in the graphic). This represents a 2% increase on 2009/10, although ACE’s overall spending decreased by 6% (from £625m to £588m)

For 2011/12, the majority of regular ACE beneficiaries face an 8.7% spending cut, with government arts funding set to continue falling over the next three years.

How are ACE’s cuts affecting you? And do you think too much is spent on London?

Yes we Cannes! Going live from the UK Actors tweetup

2 May

This evening, two of the In The Wings team will be heading down to the UK Actors tweetup at Jewel Bar in Piccadilly Circus. This month’s tweetup promises an escape from rain-drenched London to the south of France, with a Q&A on how to get ahead at the Cannes Film Festival. The speakers include producer Christine Hartland, director Paul Hills and Variety’s international director of sales and development Alberto Lopez.

We’ll be livetweeting the event as @blogforactors, so keep an eye on Twitter to hear their top tips, and look out for some video interviews from the tweetup over the next few days.

Photo of Cannes by Guy Lebègue, via Wikimedia Commons on a Creative Commons licence.

Acting events in February

1 Feb

As we have FINALLY got through what feels like the longest month of the year, here’s a round-up of some useful acting-based events that you can go to in Feb.

Please let us know if we’ve missed anything or know of any other events that other actors would find useful.

Exclusive: more on those NYT auditions…

27 Jan

Following on from yesterday’s post, we talked to the National Youth Theatre‘s public affairs director Joe Duggan for a sneak peek into their 2012 auditions, which are now underway.

In The Wings: How many people are auditioning this year?

Joe Duggan: It’s likely to be around 4,500, which will be the most ever. It continues to grow and grow. But you know, we’re the National Youth Theatre, not the London Youth Theatre or anything like that, and the audition programme is one of the ways that we really have a national presence. We’ve got people flying up to Glasgow, and heading down to Plymouth – I’m off to Cardiff.

ITW: How many of those 4,500 will get in?

JD: Last year we accepted 500 people, and I think it’s likely to be something similar this year. I think it’s really about the level of talent that’s out there and whether we can find it. We pride ourselves on excellence. The National Youth Theatre’s been around for 56 years now, and it’s got all these illustrious alumni: Daniel Craig, Helen Mirren and so on. And I think we feel a real duty to maintain that high standard. It wouldn’t mean the same if we just let anyone in.

We think young people do enjoy competition, as well. You see the people that are successful, and how much it means to them – that they have competed in this big field and they’ve been selected because there’s something unique, interesting and individual about them.

ITW: What form do the auditions take?

JD: It’s a workshop in the morning and an individual audition in the afternoon. Our feedback is that it’s a really good experience, whether you’re successful or not, if you want a bit of a taster of what the industry feels like. The more auditions you go to, the more prepared you’ll be, the more normal it’ll feel to do it, and hopefully you’ll be able to feel relaxed and showcase yourself in the best possible light.

ITW: What would be your main pointers to people who have auditions coming up?

JD: I think should use their auditions to honestly show who they are, as a performer and as a person. We look for people who are unique, people who are curious and ask questions, and enter into a dialogue with us. Not necessarily the person who’s been cast as the lead in all the school plays, or a typically drama-ey type – but someone who will really add something to our community of members. So for a young person I’d always advise them to find a speech that they really enjoy performing, that shows off who they are.

The National Youth Theatre of Great Britain has been supporting young acting talent since 1956. Their 2012 audition programme is currently underway, and successful applicants will take up a place on one of their acting courses – which this summer will be evenly split for the first time between London’s Rose Bruford College and MediaCity, Salford.

Photo by garryknight, via Flickr, on a Creative Commons licence.

Who wants to showcase their talent on In The Wings?

26 Jan

Calling all actors!

We are already preparing for Shakespeare season. We need 16 actors to take part in our Shakespeare video for April, so if you want some exposure and are willing to film yourself doing a bit of Shakey in an interesting setting, contact us!

All the world’s a stage, dear actors. Now let’s find you an audience.

Photo by: Calamity Jane on Flickr via a CC Licence.

Planning on auditioning for the NYT this month?

26 Jan

The friendly people at the National Youth Theatre have made this useful video with tips for the audition process.

Not got a place yet? The online booking system has now closed but you can call this number to see if there are any free spaces: 020 7281 3863, via the NYT.

For more info on the audition process click here.

Break a leg!

Surviving Actors – a convention for actors

16 Jan

Surviving Actors, you may be surprised to learn, is not a programme to help people cope with having actors as friends.

Surviving Actors is a free convention on Saturday 21 January, (address below) that helps actors stay in the sometimes gruelling game.

“There are too many talented actors, so burdened with the panic of finding the money for rent, food and travel that a 9-5 job often takes over and before they know it, acting has taken a back seat.” Surviving Actors helps actors find well-paid inbetween jobs, and provides guidance and networking opportunities on the winding path to success.

Look at that helpful face.

Business development manager of Surviving Actors, Lianne Robertson, told In the Wings “We’ve almost got 2000 actors registered online for the event, so there will be a lot of opportunity to network with other actors on the day, spark ideas off each other, maybe give each other pointers on things like how to get an audition.”

“Actors at the convention will also meet agents as well. A big part of it is networking. One of our workshops is called ‘Meet the agent’, so you can get up close and personal with agents, ask questions, and get a feel for what it’s like meeting an agent before doing it professionally.”

There will also be several companies ready to offer flexible part time work to you resting thesps, to ensure not only that you get to eat and pay the rent, but that such non-artistic (though annoyingly essential) pursuits don’t pull you away from your real goal.

So basically, if you’re not there, you’re madder than King George.

Saturday 21 January

9am – 5pm

Savoy Place

Nearest station: Temple or Embankment

Who should be the next BAFTA Orange Rising Star?

11 Jan

As you know, we’re big fans of young acting talent here at In the Wings so are pleased to see that Orange is continuing to give recognition to talented young actors.

Today, the final five nominees (all males we’re surprised to see) were revealed but we want to know who you think should be awarded the coveted prize.

To vote for the award click here.

Picture by Laura Mary from Flickr via a CC Licence.