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Encore Mgazine


August 2013

Recently we held understudy auditions for the forthcoming Christmas season of THE TIGER WHO CAME TO TEA, which I will be directing at the Arts Depot in Finchley.  The actor booked to play the title role is 6’6” tall, so, when we put the understudy job specification on the excellent on-line Spotlight casting service, we said the minimum height requirement was 6’3”.  About seventy-five applications were logged, some from agents, some from the actors themselves.  But nearly half didn’t meet the 6’3” qualification.  Several were well under 6’.  However talented they were, or however desperate for a job, they cannot have been surprised when we didn’t invite them to strut their stuff for us.  On the day, however, we saw some talented performers and found three or four possibles, of whom two stood out as extremely possible – and extremely tall -, and one of whom was offered and subsequently accepted the job.  He is 6’6”.  Mission accomplished!

For actors, of course, auditions can be a nightmare.  I remember, way back when, auditioning to be in the cast of the musical LOVE ON THE DOLE.  The singing went OK.  The reading seemed to go well.  But, when Gillian Lynne suddenly joined me on stage to assess my dancing skills, I was embarrassingly exposed as a two-left-feet fraud.  My total lack of training shone through as clearly as did the wonderful Miss Lynne’s patience and politeness at my incompetence and discomfort.

These days, I’m surprised how many drama school graduates, whose cvs proclaim their singing as a skill, come to an audition remarkably unprepared.  Often they haven’t rehearsed their song, except maybe in the shower, only to publicly discover it’s in the wrong key.  They offer the pianist half a dozen separate photocopied sheets of music, which inevitably flutter disastrously off the piano mid-song.  They look over the pianist’s shoulder to see the words.  They ramble through three verses and choruses when one would be ample.  My advice is to learn thoroughly two simple songs – an up-tempo and a ballad – songs you know well enough to confidently sing through an earthquake – songs that don’t present problems for the accompanist – two songs you can use at auditions throughout your entire career.

When we audition actors for a children’s show, it involves looking for more than all-round acting ability and musical theatre skills.  We look for people with a genuine enthusiasm for working for children, and enough bottle to do it.  We look for people who lack cynicism, who relish the chance of playing an animal or a fantasy character rather than seeing it as demeaning.  Once, when we were casting SPOT’S BIRTHDAY PARTY, a highly talented, well-established performer came up for the role of Helen.  Her agent for some reason hadn’t told her that Helen was a hippopotamus ….  Exit at speed affronted highly talented well-established actress mid-audition. 

Some auditionees mistakenly think we’re looking for children’s party entertainers.  They sing rather twee versions of NELLIE THE ELEPHANT or HOW MUCH IS THAT DOGGIE IN THE WINDOW?  One came dressed as a teddy bear and somewhat patronisingly invited us to sing along to THE TEDDY BEARS’ PICNIC.

But my most memorable auditionee announced she would sing MEIN HERR from the musical CABARET.  Peeping alluringly from behind her luxuriant locks, she cavorted sexily and invitingly, singing, ‘Auf Wiedersehen MEIN HERR, Es war sehr gut, MEIN HERR etc.’  Making direct eye contact, she raunchily gyrated towards me, in a display that wasn’t quite what I was looking for in the character of Noddy’s friend, Tessie Bear.  At the climax of the song, with a dramatic flourish, she removed her wig and threw it in my face, yelling ‘Auf Wiedersehen MEIN …HAIR!’  She didn’t get the job, but I’ve never forgotten her.


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