I’ve spent much of the last four weeks meeting lots of wonderful actors as I’ve been casting my first two shows as Artistic Director: Wonderland in February and Holes in April. It’s led me to reflect on auditions and the lives of performers generally. It’s estimated that around 96% of actors are unemployed at any one time, and yet the actors I’ve been meeting are optimistic, passionate and upbeat. You only pursue the performing arts as a career if you’re truly dedicated to it.
In an earlier blog I mentioned that we recently held four days of general auditions to meet local actors. These weren’t for a specific play or role, but to generally widen our knowledge of regional talent for consideration in future productions. We were staggered to receive 450 applications. We managed to meet 125 of these and were impressed by the high talent levels. I asked many of them to come back and audition for specific roles in Wonderland and Holes and I’m delighted this has led to several local actors being cast in these productions.
The audition process for Wonderland has been particularly complex because it’s an ensemble piece. We’re trying to assemble a group of miners of various ages, physicalities and personalities. Most of the actors had two, perhaps three recalls, as we narrowed down what we were looking for and the pieces of the jigsaw began to slot into place.
In Wonderland, you see the miners’ strikes through the eyes of two sixteen year olds, Jimmy and Malcolm. We meet them on their first day at the pit and follow them as they learn about life underground. In the final round of auditions for these two roles we did a chemistry test, which is quite common in film casting but rare in theatre, and involves pairing up the actors and auditioning them in the room together. It’s an incredibly useful way of seeing how the two performers compliment and contrast with each other.
During auditions, I’m always looking for a passion for both the play and the character. I like actors who have their own instincts, but I also test that they can respond to direction. My top tip for someone auditioning is preparation. It’s surprising how many actors come into the room who haven’t read the whole script or thoroughly worked on the scene they’re reading.
Nottingham’s a great place to be if you’re starting a career as an actor. Alongside all the opportunities we have at Nottingham Playhouse for young performers, there’s also TV Workshop which produces some outstanding talent, and the work that Confetti is doing at Broadway Cinema for those interested in television and film. I trained at Nottingham Youth Theatre and Bilborough College, which has an outstanding performing arts course, and there are plenty of other great educational courses within the city. There’s also a thriving amateur dramatic scene.
The pressure of a job interview can lead to odd behaviour in people, and actors are often to be found during tea breaks in rehearsals sharing their funniest audition stories. A friend with two left feet was auditioning for a big musical in the West End and her agent assured her she didn’t need to dance, just sing and act. When she walked in all the other actors were already there in dance clothes and tights, stretching and doing the splits. The choreographer taught an incredibly complicated routine very quickly and then asked them to perform in groups of four in front of everyone. My friend panicked, grabbed her bag and ran for the exit. When she closed the door she realised she’d run into a broom cupboard. She tried to climb out of the window but it was too small. Eventually she had to walk back through the audition room and everybody stopped and watched her. I do admire actors, it’s not a straightforward life.