Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Firsts - Auditions and Shows

This article first appeared in auditionoracle.com

Did you enjoy the French-themed accordion burlesque show you saw last week?

What do you mean you’ve never seen a French-themed accordion burlesque show?

Well, it is enitrely possible that there was a French-th(etc.) show somewhere in this most eclectic and all-embracing city of diverse entertainment, last week. And that you might have been there. Even if you had, it’s probable that it would have been your first time at such a show.

First times are worth remembering. In this rather camp (and point-makingly extreme) example, you are the audience and may be seeing something new, individually or corporately. Perhaps you expected it. It probably made an impression. It’s also possible that you might have attended a general audition for a list for future casting and this is your first, rather leftfield project. Like singing Rosina to a company panel and ending up in a chorus for Moses und Aaron.

Turn that around: perhaps you knew the job would be somewhat exotic but were not told to expect anything unusual at the audition. What did such an audition consist of? Did you have to demonstrate a willingness to involve yourself in the ‘triple threat’ – i.e. to be able to sing, dance and act – as increasingly the demand of lyric theatre? Was there an indication that the work, as yet unspecified, might be new to you? Perhaps you were only asked to sing but the audition circumstances were new to you. Warm up rooms are notorious for queuing more than one candidate at once. You might have been asked to perform in a small group. Or use a prop, or a chair. Perhaps you came to the audition with sheet music and the panel asked you to try it from memory. All of us have had the accompanist who plays at a wildly different speed to every possible interpretation of the music at hand!

It’s very difficult to hang on to your sense of perspective in an audition situation. I’m sure many of us have the experience of going to auditions where the panel have made a small request which takes on the appearance of asking you to remove all your clothing (‘would you like to take off your jacket?’) or sing through a straw (‘could you try that top B flat pianissimo instead of forte?’). Auditions should be a place for a panel to hear what you are capable of, not to test your psychology. If a panel request is unusual it’s not to catch you out but to examine what you are already doing in a different light. Many stories of odd audition occurences involve one of the panel getting up and walking away. How many of such stories, I wonder, took place inside a building with changeable acoustics? For that matter, how many audition panels have been sitting down for four hours and simply want to get up and stretch? You are due the courtesy of being heard with full attention but being looked at and being heard are not mutually inclusive. Try not to worry.

I started this piece by talking about the audience. Why? Well, you may be singing a role debut that you have heard many times from the audience. Equally, whether you are singing Suzanna or Mimi or Maria for the fortieth time, it is almost certain that there will be one or two people in the audience who have never heard the music before, even on a recording. Perhaps you’ve done dozens and it’s press night – but everyone is keen to see what a particular music director has done to give the familiar some shine. Perhaps the director has made his Barber of Seville that French accordion player working in a burlesque club (*seriously, don’t Google this!).

The point is this. Remember that first experience of a new show. The awkward cocktail of being in the same row of seats but taking in something alien is central to the appeal of theatre. Live theatre is always a unique event, a never-to-be-repeated first time. It also reflects our experience of auditions, in which a small group of people must hear multiple performances of the same thing from individuals who have done their party piece on many occasions. The novelty – the frisson – of the exchange is crucial. It’s what makes the connection. The re-creation of a that first time is an event to be sought out and welcomed, not a hazard to fear.

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