Last week I went to the opening night of Miss Saigon at the Prince Edward Theatre. CLANG. Sitting in the front row, I was overwhelmed – and helicopter-windswept – by what I had seen. As I dabbed the tears from my eyes (no, I was not the woman mentioned in Michael Billington’s review) I reached the conclusion that it was one of the (if not the) greatest shows I’d ever seen. I left that theatre elated. In fact, the fireworks over the Thames at the after-party were an accurate visual representation of how happy I was feeling. (NB: I wasn’t at the after-party. I was on a bus driving past. Not so CLANG.) Then, being of the social media obsessed generation that I am, I began scrolling through my feed on the aforementioned bus home to see what everyone else had to say. I anticipated a lot of re-tweets – surely everyone would have been as thrilled as I was!? However, I was saddened when this wasn’t the case. Everyone seemed to be of the opinion that I was born in the wrong decade and should have seen the Drury Lane production. WHAT!? 

I understand, of course, that many people would have seen the 1989 production and had the response that I had on Wednesday night all those years ago. I also understand that it’s impossible not to make comparisons when forming an opinion on a piece of theatre. But what confounded me is how those comparisons went on to be the overriding thought in a number of reviews released that night. Who do those comparisons help? What’s the point of telling someone that something they can no longer see is better? It felt like the polish had been unfairly stripped from my first Saigon experience. So, because I’m dramatic (and I still had “This is the hour…” underscoring my thoughts in my head) I declared to my friend “I’m going to write about this” and went to bed.

The following day, social media had gone a bit ‘comparison’ crazy and the Public Reviews twitter posted this as their topic of discussion for the day:

Public Review

Great minds think alike, Internet?

 

And Mark Shenton wrote a brilliant blog for The Stage on the subject:

“I realise that, as I discovered on Twitter last night, some of my readers* would not even have been born when the show first opened 25 years ago. So they will be taking it in for the first time, and comparisons, for them at least, are pointless. They have to take the production, as it now stands, purely on its own terms.” 

*RIDOUT!

Now, I’ve had nearly a week to think on this, after my heated (awful pun intended) Saigon reaction, and these are my thoughts:

I think reviews should be written about the piece in hand and should provide current, potential audience members with an educated response to the piece that they are able to watch. So until time travel exists, I don’t care for multiple references to ’89’s superiority.

However, the Public Reviews topic mentioned that perhaps people should hang up their critical hat if they can’t avoid comparing new productions to the past. This I do not agree with, and mostly because their use of the term ‘critical hat’ threw me. To criticize is to express a judgement and when we form judgments, we compare. Everybody does it. It’s really a question of who those criticisms and consequent comparisons serve. Perhaps the creative and production teams will welcome the comparisons to the original production in looking for ways to improve but potential audience members gain nothing other than resentment for this kind of ‘review’. This is where, I believe, the confusion lies. Is there a difference between ‘theatre critics’ and ‘theatre reviewers’ and should there be? In terms of content, there’s a huge difference between the academic and specialized pieces that ‘critics’ write and the audience focused works of ‘reviewers’ – increasingly found online. That’s why we see so many online review sites and bloggers being used in the promotion of pieces at the moment whilst broadsheets tend to stay on the stands and online criticism remains unshared. Critics are still part of the discussion of a show (eg. “I’ve read great/awful things…”) but the opinion of the audience and their subsequent tweets seem to be of a far higher value. The Les Mis Effect, if you will.

Personally, I avoid reading reviews until I have seen a show myself because I want to be able to form my own opinion without the influence of another’s thoughts. But I always read reviews by other bloggers/online publications afterwards and always read the pieces by theatre ‘critics’ too. I like to see how my thoughts matched, or differed, from those of the critics and I love the debates that ensue. I have adored the discussions I’ve had over this past week about what people think about all these Saigon comparisons and widely ranging reviews. Surely that’s what it’s all about – getting people talking about theatre and thinking about it critically.

But some criticism – whilst being valuable in its provocation of debate – is not, in my opinion, reflective of the piece. Case in point – a 2* review of Miss Saigon in The Observer:

http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2014/may/25/miss-saigon-review-celebration-masquerading-tragedy

Now, love ’89 or not, a 2* review of the production currently gracing the stage at the Prince Edward is not called for. I wouldn’t wish a 2* on the worst shows I’ve ever seen (and I have some in mind). This could have been someone’s first impression of Miss Saigon and it’s pieces like this that make me reach for the phone and tell my Dad (the only person I still know who actually judges whether to buy a ticket based on reviews he reads in the paper) to ignore what critics say. It doesn’t make me feel good – telling people to ignore theatre criticism – but it’s a painful necessity if it means that people will go and see something that is thrilling packed houses but wasn’t necessarily a critic’s cup of tea.

Perhaps the future holds the need (or just a want, in my case) for a clearer line to be drawn between ‘reviews’ and ‘criticisms’ in publication. I’d still read both and both need to exist but it could be hugely beneficial for prospective theatre goers to only see the opinion of people who’ve attended the theatre for enjoyment (rather than with a critical eye) before they’ve seen the piece themselves. I know, I’m not being very realistic in thinking that we can keep people from reading critical comment before buying theatre tickets but hey, this is Dreamland (second awful pun intended)! You never know, it could be the support that new writing needs before it gets snubbed by critics at the first hurdle – but that’s a whole other debate for another day

Until then, I think reviewers need to take a leaf out of my Dad’s book. His ‘Miss Saigon’ review read: 

I can’t fully remember the original (it was 1989!!) 
Take note people, it was 1989! Move on. 
cont…
It was every bit as good. All of the leads were excellent, particularly The Engineer and Kim. The audience were so enthusiastic. You’ll definitely love it (and you’ll blub – no question!).
Nailed it, Dad. When in Doubt, ask a Ridout. 
Happy seeing Miss Saigon!
(Day seat queue for £20 front row tickets. Arrive before 7am – it’ll be worth it. I promise.)
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Pre-show.

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Post-show.

 

“But I know, I have a heart like the sea. A million dreams are in me…”
“Good Jesus, John, who is she? “
Eva Noblezada, THAT’S WHO.
– Rebecca Ridout

Last year I posted a blog (‘No more questions, please…’) about the fear of being asked “what’s next?” as an actor. At the time it didn’t even occur to me that I was in the best possible position to be answering that question. I was a recent graduate (who am I kidding? I still am) and didn’t have the added pressure from previous successes begging the question of how long it would be before the next. It’s become increasingly clear to me – through working with some incredible people –  that after each successful stint you have as an actor many people expect that something else will automatically follow. The questions people ask you change from a vague “what are you up to at the moment?” to “what have you got coming up next?” (sometimes with an added time frame) and I  have started to put a huge amount of pressure on each step I take in the industry as a consequence. For instance, it has taken me weeks to write this post and writing isn’t even my profession! I found that the ‘pressure to please’ following the success (more readers than I could have imagined) of my last post ground me to a halt on what was to follow. If “what’s next?” had me shying away from writing, can you imagine the amount of ‘pressure to please’ I feel when the “what’s next?” is to do with my career? I’m sure many of you can.

To add to that pressure of instant success, there are many other pressures that I know people can relate to. At the moment I’m struggling with the fact that, in an industry as small as this one (there’s only one degree of separation instead of the usual six,) it’s impossible to not be connected in some way to the people up for the same job as you. When you’ve already built yourself up for having to succeed at that next audition, a la the opening of A Chorus Line, you then add to the pressure pot by directly comparing yourself to people you know in the room. “They know so-and-so…”, “They’ve got ____ on their CV already…”, “They’ve done a West End show. Kill me now” when really this might not be the right show for them at the right time but you’ve stuffed up your chances by psyching yourself out before you’ve even started. It’s a vicious circle of ‘not worked, wont work’ that I know many of my graduate friends are in. But there are also people who’ve been there, done it, got the cast sweatshirt and are out there looking for the next job (which people are expecting them to automatically get) who are just as in need as you are. That’s why you have to remind yourself that (*CHEESY METAPHOR KLAXON*) we’re all running the same race just at different paces and with different goals in sight.

In case you’re one of the people that read the last post and are thinking “hold up, Ridout, you’ve used that one before” it’s because I had previously aimed that cheesy metaphor (I do love a good metaphor) at people wanting to audition for drama schools but I believe that the same thinking can, and should, be applied to life on the other side of training.  If anything, training is only the starting line and you’ve got a whole marathon ahead of you to pace yourself for. In addition, like in any race, it is hard to take your eyes off the people running past you and focus solely on what you have to do. It’s easy to want to give up or to expect someone else (eg. your agent) to push you along but you have to do it for yourself – cheering crowds or no cheering crowds. I’ve certainly needed reminding of that in recent weeks and I hope that it strikes a chord with people in a similar situation.

Now that the cheesy metaphor and soppy bit is out of the way, I want to be able to share with you some stories of people at different stages in the race (okay, the metaphor isn’t over, I lied) so that hopefully you’ll feel comforted that you aren’t alone. To put some of these stories in perspective, I asked some friends of mine to tell me a bit about their experience in the industry so far and if they had any advice they’d like to give. In amongst the answers there are people who waited years for a West End debut, people who walked straight into professional work, an Olivier award winner, a National Theatre original cast member and people who are still running towards these measures of success that people (or, indeed, they themselves) put on them. They’re all doing what they love though. I say they’re successful before you even begin to read what else they have to say.

On running your own race…

No. 1 (guess who)

I graduated, signed with an agent and went away with the National Youth Music Theatre to work on their production of ‘West Side Story’ over summer. Somehow, I thought that was me set (clearly because I was playing the ever hopeful ‘Somewhere Girl’). I then didn’t work until Christmas. I did a revue show at the Jermyn Street Theatre and have since been very lucky to be swing in Molly Wobbly. No, I didn’t get seen this year for the show that I  had always intended to jump straight into but, do you know what?, that’s showbiz…kid. And by that I mean that everything happens for a reason. I’ve worked with some amazing people and I’ve kept my passion, that’s the most important thing. I’m in it for the long haul. 

No.2

I don’t know why we do this. We just don’t know whats round the corner do we? Even when we are lucky enough to be rewarded with a West End contract it can quite easily be ripped out from under us.  I mean, look at We Will Rock You and The Full Monty. It’s happened to me, I was making my West End debut and we were given our notice 5 months before our contract was due to end. At the time I was devastated. I’d have stayed in that show until they kicked me out. But looking back, it paved the way for the rest of my career. If I’d have stayed in that show I wouldn’t have got my next West End show. This was certainly a high point in my career, an original cast of a high profile show. I stayed in that company for 2 years and had a truly wonderful time. I was then out of work for 8 months. This was the lowest part of my career by far. Sometimes not getting recalls, sometimes not even getting seen for stuff. I recall auditioning and getting to the finals for the tour of Guys and Dolls, I’d convinced myself I’d got it. I’d looked up the tour venues, I’d practically spent my first few weeks pay checks. I can also unfortunately remember word for word the telephone conversation when my agent called to say “It wasn’t going to work out”…. I was stunned. I actually cried, TO MY AGENT. But yet again fate led a hand and within a few weeks I got my next West End job which has led on to other jobs since. I believe that things happen for a reason.

No.3

I remember being offered a Christmas show at the Tabard Theatre one year. I spoke to my agent who told me about the money, which wasn’t bad for a fringe venue. I could probably pay my rent but not much else so after careful consideration, I called my agent back to say I couldn’t afford to do it. I said I could earn more doing my reception job than the play, to which he replied, “But you’re not a receptionist, you’re an actor”. That was a lightbulb moment for me.

Of course the thing I wanted most was to work in the West End. I wanted to experience the community and live in London for more than a few months without going off on tour. But the longer I waited the more I started to give up on it. The prestige of it seemed unachievable. I felt like I was the boy who would always tour and do regional theatre, not quite good enough to do West End. At my lowest point out of work, a period of about 2 years, I was blaming everything and everyone. Then I thought to myself, ‘Oh fuck, it’s me’. I literally changed my whole demeanour. I was active. I changed agent, I quit my job that was taking over my life just so I could pay my bills and took a more part time position. I made more time to go to theatre, I started hanging out with theatre people I hadn’t seen in a while. But mainly I said YES to everything. It took me 7 years to finally land a job ‘in town’. I didn’t strive for it by then, it didn’t covet it as much as when I came out of drama school. But the sense of achievement was great. You know, the way your parents can say, “Oh, my son is an actor in the West End”. If I’m honest, I much prefer regional theatre than any other kind but I had to experience West End. I’m very lucky to have done so.

 No. 4

However much people wish to acknowledge it, pressure to rate yourself amongst the success of your graduating class is intense! This industry is competitive and solitary, fuelled by news and gossip. I’ve spent too many hours trying to analyse the success of others and apply myself to their given set of circumstances. ‘Who got what agent’, ‘oh… they got to that final’, ‘I never thought they’d get that’, ‘they were always gonna do well’. This way of thinking primarily comes from fear. Fear of not getting what this dream offered you when you first signed up. You can’t control the success of others, nor what those people on the panel are going to think about you, so why bother to think about it. The only controllable factor in all of this, is you. You look, sing, dance, act the way YOU do. I’m a big believer of acknowledging what I have to offer and staying true to that.

I’ve had a decent run since college. I got my first job before graduating. I’ve gone from literally thinking the sun shines out of my back side, to trawling through items to possibly sell on eBay. Which brings me to another key point. This is a money making business and every job will have its last performance. And I cherish the times in which I’ve been metaphorically burnt by this business as highly as I do the times in which it’s brought me acclaim. Why? – the lessons.

No. 5

When I graduated I did the fringe circuit – profit shares and unpaid work – and I learnt very quickly that it’s a difficult world and it provides no living! However, one of the greatest step ups was when a production I was in, unpaid, had a paid transfer and it was the right show for me to showcase myself – casting directors knew me for it for a while. I have since slipped out the loop mind and most work has been through recommendation and I’ve had some amazing opportunities and diverse characters to play. I used to want to jump into the National or the Donmar, but the more I’ve worked the more I have appreciated actually getting the opportunity to play. That is exactly what I’m doing and making a living from it. I’ve got my whole life to work at the National, whats the rush? All I want now is to be creative, learn, make  a living and meet amazing people.

No. 6

Having graduated from Drama School last year I was in the lucky position of moving straight into acting work. Rehearsing and performing in my first professional show was fantastic and I loved every minute, although in retrospect, and using the wonderful power that is hindsight, I can see I probably didn’t appreciate quite how lucky I was at the time!  After performing and touring for 5 months, the first job finished and I began the process of moving my life into London. My first experience of moving, was the sudden realisation of how poor I was going to be. And it is completely true what they say – that we do this job for the love of it, not for the money. And certainly not for the terrible jobs actors find themselves doing between jobs. Since graduating I have answered telephones, made cold calls, poured drinks and served food all over London and that is only a few months! I can’t say I have much experience living this life yet but I can say that doing all these terrible jobs will be worth it for when you nail that one audition and get the acting job you want. I read an article recently In the stage about acting being the “long game” and I firmly believe this is true, even if it doesn’t feel like it at first!

No. 7

After drama school I had 18 months agent-less & miserable. I did do 2 small jobs – a musical in Pontefract & then an unpaid musical at The Union (from which I signed with an agent). I took a full time job with Halifax on their phones, but then landed the BIG ONE – the West End contract that was the game changer. I had massive success, and then afterwards… For about 12 months, not much at all. Things have been steady since and I’ve ticked some things off my list. But everyone told me I’d be a superstar by now… But I’m not. Depends on so many things! (And depends on what you class as ‘superstardom’) I do believe a little bit in what will be will be and that we all have a path to tread, but that you also have to go out and make it happen. My 30th birthday is getting closer and I can say now, that life is about so much more than just booking the next job. I am a very happy lady (and Mama); still performing, and loving it.


When I first told people that I wanted to work in Musical Theatre I was told by my choirmaster (yes, my choirmaster) that a girl who attended the choir before me went into the industry and spent 5 years waiting for her big break. She may have waited 5 years but she did it, she got there, and is now doing famously well – and I mean famously (I’ve kept everyone else anonymous so I’ll keep this one anonymous too, even though it might be killing you). Since knowing that I’ve been determined to wait as long as it takes to do what I love but, sometimes, I need to remind myself of that when my self-belief starts to slip. Knowing that my friends have, and are, going through the same thing as me makes the rejections, the auditions and the waitressing in between jobs so much easier to handle. But not everyone likes to admit they are struggling (understandably) so I hope that in putting this out into the world some people gain some of that comfort they are otherwise scared to seek.

One last addition to the metaphor (I know, I’m sorry): ‘The Wall’. In a Marathon, runners attest to the existence of an invisible obstacle which makes you body and your mind want to give up near the end of the race. Many people experience it but it doesn’t have to be there at all. Research has shown that if you train and race intelligently you may cross the finish line without ever having to “hit the wall”. You need to find your pace and your target and stick to it. Apply that to your career and I think you’re onto a winner. Happy running your own race!

“My friends you have to run run-a, run-a, run freedom, run away!”

– Rebecca Ridout

Three days ago I was sat in a coffee shop comforting my friend following his unsuccessful drama school audition. He was keen to hear any advice that I had to offer him and my obvious response was “everything happens for a reason”. I did have to laugh at myself though as three years ago, when it was me in his place, I wanted to scream every time I heard someone say “everything happens for a reason”. It’s the last thing you want to hear when you feel like your reason for living* is being thrown back in your overly-enthusiastic full-out-performance face. But it’s now a phrase I find myself using daily and it’s probably the most important lesson I’ve learnt in my three years of drama school training – and I learnt it the hard way.

*cheesy phrases like this appeared in my personal statements c. 2010-11 – isn’t hindsight the best?

I am probably the most confusing drama school graduate you are likely to meet. The usual audition small talk of “where did you train?” is instantly regretted by the questioner when (where normally a 3-5 word answer would suffice) I answer with a short monologue. In brief: I trained part-time for a year at Arts Educational, full-time for a year at the Guildford School of Acting and finished with the most intensive one year imaginable at the London School of Musical Theatre. If you’d told me three years ago that that was what was in store for me I probably would have responded: “don’t be ridiculous, I’m not even going to get into one school” or “THREE SCHOOLS!?” and fainted shortly after. It certainly wasn’t what I had intended to do. I envisioned getting a BA at a CDS (Conference of Drama Schools) accredited institution and failing that I would have followed my ‘back-up’ plan and read Economics at university. The path I took, whilst rewarding in numerous ways, was also incredibly testing. I had three years of  ‘no’s (from schools that I was incredibly emotionally invested in) with the odd ‘yes’ thrown in to keep me biting. That’s what gave me my thick skin and my understanding of the phrase “everything happens for a reason” and now, sitting here as a graduate, I am proud of my pick ‘n’ mix path into the industry.

I was once told that training can be thought of like a necklace and you can only fit on so many pearls of wisdom – you have to pick which pearls work for you to make the perfect, individual necklace.

(I’ve also been told to think of training like a buffet but that is far less glamorous.)

Where am I going with all of this? Well, another advantage of my three years, three schools and numerous auditions is that I have met a lot of lovely people who’ve gone down alternative paths to get into the industry. So I’ve rallied the troops and have asked people from various training (or not training at all) backgrounds about their experiences and whether they were glad it happened for them the way that it did.

NB: This post is aimed at people auditioning (or wanting to audition) for drama school/professional work in the future but I do hope it is of interest even if you don’t fall into that bracket of reader. I won’t blame you if you don’t read the whole thing though. Feel free to skip ahead.

Path No. 1: ‘The one where they get into drama school first try…’

“I was lucky enough to get into my first choice of college straight from sixth-form. On reflection,  a gap year would have been nice to break up the courses and it would have given me different experiences prior to training. That said though, it’s an opportunity you can’t turn down. I was very much still in that educational mind set. My technique in acting, singing and dance had a solid base to work from and my fitness was at an optimum level to start training. I was grateful for getting in the first time because I knew other people who wanted it as much as I did, but were not as lucky in their first year auditioning. This spurred me on to work hard and value the opportunity I’d been given.”

Path. 2: ‘The one where they get into drama school first try but have to take a gap year…’

“It was actually a god send that I didn’t go to drama school when I was supposed to (I had to postpone due to funding) as it made me want it even more. I grew to love my passion all over again, when you have a knock back in your career you tend to have second thoughts, but working a normal 9 to 5 (I sang the opening to 9 to 5 the musical in my head when I wrote this) makes you realise that stacking shelves and selling TVS in Currys  is definitely not the life you want to lead. Although, the main reason I’m glad I had my year out is because I wouldn’t have met the people I now call my second family who I couldn’t live without. Fate is a strange thing. Everything happens for a reason.”

Path No. 3: ‘The one where they get put on the reserve list…’

“My situation wasn’t that easy at all. I was on reserve and was all set with my plans for a year out so when I got offered a place I was going to turn it down! So after the most confusing two days of my life I accepted. But because of all of the drama (and tears shed), I was hardly excited by the prospect of drama school, if anything in that first week I felt it had ruined my life…little did I know it would actually make my life! When I got my reserve letter, my singing teacher sang the line “some things are meant to be” from Little Women…this didn’t help, I was so upset. But he was right, ultimately everything happens for a reason.”

Path No. 4: ‘The one where they do a foundation course and then get in…’

“My foundation year enabled me to grow as a human being as well as a performer and afterwards, suddenly, somehow, I was grown up. I moved away from home, I trained in musical theatre all day every day and did that for the absolute love of the craft. Also, there’s a camaraderie you don’t get anywhere else and in such an intense environment, having friends do it with you is the best thing you can find. The year of training is also guilt-free – the pressure is auditioning and you get a heap of training in that department that you carry through the rest of your life – auditions are auditions, after all – and actually, subconsciously the displacement of pressure allows you to fly as a performer. You can do all you want to further your training without it being ‘the only training you’re going to get…’ On a foundation, it is yours. I would recommend a foundation year before drama school to anyone and everyone. I know my foundation year was the reason I got into drama school. That’s what worked for me.”

Path No. 5: ‘The one where they take a year out and try again…’

“When I got my rejection letters in the first year from auditioning I was distraught and it was only after I got my written feedback from some colleges that I realised just how much I had to alter about my preparation and presentation. I didn’t go on a course in my year out but I was lucky enough to have a great set of friends and teachers around me that offered honest guidance towards reaching perfect and solid performances. In hindsight, a year out was ideal. It meant that I could grow as a performer and save some money to help out with the fees! I was so grateful going into my course that bit older than most of my year as I knew that it was what I wanted to do and I felt really focused on the things I wanted to achieve!”

Path No. 6: ‘The one where they get in “third time lucky”…’

“I feel like my path to training has formed the performer I am even more than the actual training itself in some ways. If it weren’t for the 2 years of solid rejections then I would never have been so incredibly sure that this is the only thing I want to spend my life doing. It meant that I had the hardest times before my training even began, which made putting the pressure and intensity of drama school into perspective that bit easier. I sometimes feel like my appreciation of where I am it is on a different level compared to people coming straight from college. I also made some friends for life on our foundation course whom I would never have bonded with had I gone straight to my current drama school. If I could go back and do it all again I would do it the same, except I wouldn’t take myself so seriously and I would have had much more fun right from the start!”

Path No. 7: ‘The one where they go to a small performing arts school to get a performance degree…’

“I trained at a school which isn’t CDS accredited but you do get your BA (Hons) degree in Acting in 2 years. I could have gone to a well known school in order to get the recognition in the industry but  I could always do a masters somewhere later if I feel the need. I’ve learnt that you can build your CV and can have success no matter what school you go to.. Going to my school pushed me to work harder for myself as we were responsible for doing everything ourselves – writing to agents, sourcing costumes for shows, tech-ing shows, building sets etc… I’ve realised now that success and constant work doesn’t come from the name of the school, it comes from the amount of effort you put into the training. You only get out of it what you put in.”

Path No. 8: ‘The one where they go to university, get a degree and go to drama school for a post-grad…’

“I spent half of my time at University (whilst studying Geography) at dance classes, directing shows, acting in shows and singing such that when I got to my final year I was sure that there was nothing else that I wanted to do other than be an actor. That is when I decided to audition for drama school. As my course leader says it is possible to fit the training into one year as long as students are able to ‘burn the boat’ – you need to put the fact that you have a degree to ‘fall back on’ out of your mind. When you have something to fall back on you inevitably fall back – this often feels like the biggest hurdle of the process. Ultimately though being successful is about so much more than talent and I think as a postgraduate I can really use my experiences pre drama school to my advantage. Doing my degree is something completely different was still the right choice for me.”

Path No. 9: ‘The one where they didn’t train and went straight into the industry…”

“The first two years in this industry were the hardest for me. I had a plan to go to drama school and even got onto a musical theatre course but decided to take a job instead. I realise my successful start is rare and for a long time I felt a big hole where I felt my training should have been. I felt I couldn’t make any mistakes on a job because it would be recorded for all time by those who would decide future employment. That pressure wasn’t something I had thought about. However, as time went on I grew to appreciate the individuality I seemed to have developed that set me apart from others. Directors would ask where I had trained at auditions and would always be impressed by my perseverance and grounded attitude. If you don’t go to drama school you have to be prepared to put in the effort and access every resource you can and make up your own mind. I never let a month go by without a singing lesson or acting workshop. It’s part of the training you create for yourself. The pay offs to being your own boss and creator are incredible but there is much more chance of loss and heartache along the way. Whenever I am hit with a knock back that really makes me question my right to work in the industry I remind myself that we never stop learning. I don’t consider myself an untrained actor. I consider myself an actor that hasn’t undergone full time training…yet. I might still train full time one day. The moment you decide your dream is to work as a performer, you are one. Do what it takes to make yourself feel the part.”

Life’s a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t spend your time watching people run past you and letting that affect you – you could take them over again down the line. Just focus on your route and run your own race.

I hope that this is what all of these people’s experiences demonstrate – there is not one clear route into the industry and yours is what was/is meant for you. I had more replies and more people willing to share their stories with me and it’s such a shame I can’t include all of them because each one is individual and each one is inspiring. I wish these stories had been available to me, sat despondently in a cafe, three years ago. That is exactly why I wanted to share them now – for all those performers of the future who just need a little lift to get them through (as one of my friends brilliantly put) the bloodthirsty, incredibly pressurised and incredibly exciting arena of drama school auditions.

Throughout my training I kept log books and can now look back and read my (sometimes cringe-worthy) thoughts and track the changes in my mindset. Whilst flicking through them yesterday it surprised to see me that the biggest lesson I learnt (which I thought took me years to get my head round) appeared relatively early on in my musings. I titled an entry ‘Dooms Day’ (Dramatic? Me?) following a rejection that day and the very next entry was called “Contemplation”. In the middle of that page in big, fat, eagerly highlighted letters were the words “EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON”! I truly believe that now and I hope that if you were skeptical before you may have been won round by some of these people’s stories. I certainly wouldn’t change my story for anything or anyone (too many re-writes for a start) and if you’re doubtful about yours at the moment, know that in a few years you’ll be thankful for the hurdles you’ve had along the way. Just try to be happy running your own race.

If you are auditioning (or thinking of auditioning) soon please feel free to ask me any burning questions that this post may have prompted. I’ll try to help out as best I can. After all, “When in doubt, ask Ridout” was the original inspiration for this blog!

Happy auditioning!

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Last day with my Arts Ed flatmates.

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First day of GSA: goals for the end of the year.

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Last day at GSA.

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Last day at LSMT.

“Just because you find that life’s not fair it doesn’t mean that you just have to grin and bear it, if you always take it on the chin and wear it nothing will change. Even if you’re little you can do a lot, you musn’t let a little thing like ‘little’ stop you. If you sit around and let it get on top, you might as well be saying you think that it’s okay and that’s not right. And if it’s not right you have to put it right…”

– Rebecca Ridout  

When I think of the phrase ‘theatre dance’ it conjures images of Lycra-clad dance exams as a child. The syllabus was designed to “reflect the choreography seen in musical theatre” but it was nothing like the art form I’ve come to know and love (it consisted mostly of ‘parallel arm swings’ and the odd drag run). Somehow, I don’t think that was the ‘theatre dance’ that Drew McOnie had envisioned when he talked about how he wants to see “just how far musical theatre choreography can go” in his press release for The McOnie Company last year. But, it got me thinking (he’s a clever one for provoking excessive thought that McOnie). Why is that a phrase that I haven’t seen outside childhood dance exams? Those two words should be able to marry together – they both seemingly rely on the other for their shared success – but you never see them combined.

In fact, after Drew brought it to my attention, I realised that most theatres/arts venues direct you to search separate ‘theatre’ and ‘dance’ productions. No wonder there is a gap that needs to be bridged – before you even know what you want to see you’re encouraged to choose one or the other. If we exclude the wide variety of styles for a moment and just think about ‘musical theatre’ compared with ‘contemporary’, it’s apparent that there is a gap between the audiences and dancers alike. Intrigued by this, I did a bit of research on some perceptions of contemporary and musical theatre dance. This post’s title was inspired by the number of stereotypical responses I received regarding musical theatre – and is also fitting as Drew McOnie recently choreographed ‘Chicago’ at Leicester Curve.  I asked (I shall deem them) ‘normal’ people who don’t dance, and are potential audience members, as well as dancers from both disciplines. Here’s a selection of responses:

WARNING: If you’re a proud musical theatre/contemporary dancer and are easily offended don’t read the next bit.

On contemporary:

“Choreographed movement that explores contemporary behaviours and situations, often in great depth”

“Rolling on the floor, weird music and basically becoming a contortionist”

“Like pop music dancing? There’s a type of dancing I like that might be contemporary – it’s kinda arty, like tells a story”

“Where Musical Theatre is music led, contemporary dance is movement led…”

“A fine art”

“Rejection, inversion, collaboration, innovation, Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Pina Bausch”

“A bit like energetic mime”

On musical theatre: 

“Jazz hands, step ball changes and kicks”

“Musical Theatre dance has always appeared to me to be two dimensional and too happy, just not real. But having said that I roll around the floor for a living!”

“Jazz hands and kick lines”

“Musical theatre dance may differ drastically from one show and even number within it because it’s bound to the music it is set to”

“A bit jazz hands…but I don’t always think that’s a bad thing”

“Cheap and cheesy”

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Please don’t get offended by this either.

Both forms (of art – need I remind you?) took a pretty impressive bashing there. However, I also had some glorious responses which are exactly what I was hoping to hear: How the bridge is getting smaller, “styles are changing and more contemporary and commercial influences are coming in [to musical theatre]”, and how the difference is only due to “theatre economics [as] musical theatre is largely conservative”. One summarised my thoughts entirely though, saying that “[musical theatre] shouldn’t be a term, because it isn’t one genre…it should be any dance that tells the story”, because of course all theatre, at its core, exists to tell a story. Plays tell a story, musicals tell a story, ballets tell a story, operas tell a story and contemporary dances tell a story! There shouldn’t be a gap to be bridged as all these art forms share this common goal whilst trying to entertain (by showing off their jazz hands or technique of rolling on the floor). I don’t know about you, but I am comforted by these responses and some even warmed my heart. One in particular said: “I don’t think there is any difference in anything we all do. It’s just different interpretations, we are all entertainers and slaves to our dream”. As Elaine Stritch likes to say: I’ll drink to that!

Which brings me nicely back round to the work of The McOnie Company. Their latest production ‘Drunk’ is aiming to “sit directly in the middle between musical theatre and pure dance”¹ and bring together the two ends of the dance world and their respective audiences. You’ll have to go and see the piece for yourself to decide if the two can marry together. I most certainly think they can and if anyone is going make it happen, it’ll be Drew McOnie. So get down to the Bridewell Theatre between the 5th of February and the 1st of March to see what all the fuss is about. I look forward to checking back with my ‘normal’ people and dancers to see what they think of this new ‘theatre dance’ happy medium. And as The McOnie Company say: “get ready; it’s going to be “theatre dance under the influence”.

– Happy Drinking! (aka attending ‘Drunk’)

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“Give ’em an act with lots of flash in it and the reaction will be passionate”

– Rebecca Ridout

¹Taken from the Evening Standard article by Lyndsey Winship – Read HERE

“…let the good times roll!” Thanks for that Steve, I will indeed let the good times roll.

It’s been 2014 for a while now and I’m only just getting ‘back in business’ as it were, having told my unproductive backside that I am my own ‘business’ and the industry (or, rather, my conscience) demands an improved work ethic. With actors everywhere returning from panto or other seasonal theatrics in the past few weeks I’ve had my social feed full of people’s toasts to productivity and their ‘bring on 2014’ attitudes. I’ll be the first to admit that I love a good public declaration of productivity but I will also dutifully confess that it’s often to guilt trip myself into actually achieving something rather that procrastinating in the stagiest corners of Youtube (I am currently ‘OBSESSED’ with this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Or7mrEGAGXE and I spend a large amount of my time practicing it).

After the buzz of New Year died down, I felt I had to actually start some resolutions (“Well, I’ll properly start on Monday…”) so I did a few clichéd ‘New Year, New You’ things. I got myself a new little-black-book diary, bought the latest Rhonda Byrne book (which I then dropped in the bath –  I’m nailing life at the moment), stocked up on soup, cut my hair off, started learning the guitar and, best of all, I quit my job. Whilst it felt amazing to leave a job, dramatically reduce the amount of time spent on my hair care and be able to accompany myself in some rather soprano-ey pop song renditions, I realised that it’s really ‘New Year, Same You’  and there is nothing wrong with that.

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” Dr Seuss. There is always a Sondheim or Seuss quote to fit every situation. Fact.

Resolutions will, 9 times out of 10, leave you disappointed in the strength of your will-power, whether the ‘failure’ comes on day one, February 1st or even months down the line. I’m the kind of person that punishes themselves for days (or, in some cases, the rest of my days) for one slip up, so this year – even if it is a delayed reaction – I have resolved to do what makes me feel happy and not put unnecessary pressure on myself. To deny yourself a day on the sofa catching up on Sherlock, reading a book that (god forbid) isn’t about acting theory or even just catching up on some necessary beauty sleep is just no way to live! As addressed in a previous blog, you can’t always be leaping through the air on absolute form if you don’t have your down days to recoup.

However, last year I was given a piece of advice that has really helped me in feeling like I have made a step in my career (or at least not falling off the horse and staying there) on a daily basis. That advice was: Do three things a day that relate to the industry. Sounds simple doesn’t it? I’m pleased to tell you it genuinely is. Even if it’s the tiniest of tasks, you can tick off (mentally if you’re not a list person) your three things and feel better. It can be anything – googling the director of that TV show you loved last night, singing through some repertoire, updating a website, planning audition outfit combinations, looking up who wrote that song you loved and see what else they’ve written or even, my personal favourite, going to the theatre. The list is endless. The beauty of it is that you can be the judge of your productivity and soon it becomes second nature. I reach a stage in the day and think “better do my three things” and realise I already have surpassed that number and then I feel amazingly productive. You can always fit 3 little things around a gruelling work rota and you won’t feel yourself slipping away. This will soon be the case with me when I start my new job (yes, I have a new job, I’m not that exciting and impulsive after all) so I’m taking the next 9 days to cram in as many theatre visits as possible as my 3 things will have to reduce in size when I’m working a 40 hour week. And that’s okay!

As far as I’m concerned I’m back in business, merrily rolling along and I seem to have a pretty good thing going. (Can you tell I saw the transfer of Putting It Together yesterday? Nothing like a bit of Sondheim to put everything right in the world.) So I just wanted to put this out there to say Happy New Year to you all and if you’re falling into a mid-January slump, like me, that there’s no need to be hard on yourself. Roll with the punches and keep taking three little steps to get back on top. Happy seizing 2014.

My view on New Years Eve. Let the good times roll.

My view on New Years Eve. Let the good times roll.

“Now is the time to seize the day. Stare down the odds and seize the day. Minute by minute that’s how you win it, we will find a way. But let us seize the day”*

*With thanks to Sinead Wall for inspiring this lyric.

– Rebecca Ridout

…still I’m clean’.

I had to just finish off the lyric of that title because it could easily be confused as a regular statement. That wouldn’t be very me now would it? It’s actually a line from Duncan Sheik’s new musical ‘American Psycho’ and it has been repeating in my head since I saw the show on Saturday. It seemed, almost poetically, coincidental that the final musical I saw in 2013 contained a lyric that would lead me into my final post of the year so I just had to use it.

As the curtain came down on the final piece of theatre I saw this year I turned to my friend Adam – who was a regular 2013 theatre buddy of mine – and said: “Best thing I’ve seen this year”. Adam was quick to say that that was a huge statement coming from me considering the amount of things I’ve seen this year. It’s true, it was a huge sweeping statement, but it popped out of my decisive mouth and I don’t just think it was just because of the adrenaline rush Act II had given me. ‘Mojo’ had stolen the 2013 theatrical crown.

“But Ridout, what about ______, _______, and, not forgetting, _______!?”*

*I’d be interested to know what shows you’d fill those blanks with. Go to the bottom of the blog post to use a contact form to tell me!

I’ve since had a few days to reflect on everything else I’ve seen this year and I thought I’d let you know what my favourites were. I’ll admit that my pen hovered a lot as I tried to write down definitive favourites. In the end I had to break it down into more categories (including making a few up) and most have a shared top spot between two pieces. It would seem my decisive brain – declaring ‘Mojo’ the best – from Saturday couldn’t do the same thing whilst recalling the 80+ things I’ve seen this year.

So, here are Ridout’s 2013 favourites:

Shakespeare: ‘Othello’ at the National Theatre and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at the Globe

Plays: ‘Mojo’ at the Harold Pinter and ‘Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’ at the Apollo

Musical Revival: ‘Merrily We Roll Along’ at the Menier Chocolate Factory/Harold Pinter

Solo?: Liza Minnelli at the Royal Festival Hall and Patti LuPone & Seth Rudetsky at the Leicester Square Theatre

Regional: ‘Sweeney Todd’ at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and ‘Putting It Together’ at Glive

Musical: ‘The Color Purple’ at the Menier Chocolate Factory and ‘American Psycho’ at the Almedia

Performances: Cynthia Erivo for ‘The Color Purple’ and Rosalie Craig for ‘The Light Princess’

It took me a lot of strength to not create a mini Ridout award nominations list and put more pieces down. I’ve been ruthless. I’ve been lucky to see a lot of incredible theatre this year. Luckily for you too, you still have the chance to see a few of the pieces in my above list in the new year. Therefore, your theatrical to-do list for 2014 should be: Mojo, American Psycho, The Light Princess, Putting It Together (which is opening at the St James soon), Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (when the Apollo is back in good health) and Merrily We Roll Along is also available to watch on Digital Theatre.

As a bonus category, I can’t ignore the fact that a significant portion of my theatrical visits this year have been to different drama schools to see their graduating year’s productions. I think it’s so important to see what the upcoming year of talent is like and you also get to see West End worthy performances, sometimes of some rarely seen pieces, for a fraction of the price. What is not to love? I would highly recommend making a few trips to see some student productions in 2014 – they’ve got some exciting seasons coming up. My drama school categories would be:

Best Production: ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman’ at Arts Educational Schools London

Best Performance: (in case you missed her name in the theatrical news) Mollie Melia-Redgrave in ‘Evita’ at Arts Educational Schools London and Scott Paige in ‘The Producers’ at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. Two names well worth a look out for in the future.

Considering all of the above I think I can safely say that my statement declaring ‘Mojo’ the best thing I’ve seen this year was a huge sweeping statement and I’ll retract it – all the above are equal in my eyes! It is also safe to say that 2013 was a pretty impressive year for theatre. There were record breaking revivals, box office smashing shows, we celebrated 50 years of the National Theatre (see previous post) and there was plenty of inspiring new writing (again, see previous post). I don’t know about you but I can’t wait to see what 2014 has in store.

Thank you for reading what I’ve had to say in 2013. I hope you return for more in 2014.

Happy New Year!

A few 2013 theatre photos:

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Giving our best ‘Bottom’s at the Globe.

A faulty sign at the Palace altering this MGM classic.

A faulty sign at the Palace altering this MGM classic.

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Adam in the standard day seat queue attire.

My 'patronus' moment. West Side Story with NYMT.

My ‘patronus’ moment. West Side Story with NYMT.

“How do you measure a year in the life?”

– Rebecca Ridout

 

I couldn’t avoid a Christmas related post, I just couldn’t. I love Christmas. But, it’s only a little one as I know that everyone is so busy at this time of year. It feels like an appropriate theme though, as my second reason for neglecting my blog over the past month was seasonal goings-on. However, it wasn’t because I am an overly organised shopper (I’ve only bought three presents so far) and, no, I didn’t get trapped in Liberty. I was, as a lot of people already know, in a Christmas cabaret at the Jermyn Street Theatre. Now, I adore Christmas music. I used to insist that ‘The Best Christmas Album in the World….Ever! (New Edition)’ played in our house throughout December. It’s an absolute cracker. Sorry, that’s not punny, I know. This year though, because I was in rehearsals singing Christmas songs and then also going to work where Christmas music is playing constantly for 6 hours (including Train – ‘Shake Up Christmas’ which is officially the worst Christmas song…ever!) I’ve not been playing anything whilst at home. Tragic, I know. So I thought, now the show is over I need something to stop any post-show blues that may occur (we all know I suffer pretty easily, as seen in my first post). So I’ve made a playlist of some musical theatre Christmas songs as a little festive offering and to say thank you for still reading my musings four months down the line. It may provide a change from the music you’ve been having drilled into you in shopping centres, at work or if you have a family member like me who puts the same album on repeat. I hope that there is at least one new song that you enjoy and can add to your festive repetoire. 

I also hope that you’re all embracing the seasonal theatre that is on offer at the moment (Oh yes we are!” I hope you cry). As for me, I’m off to the Landor this evening to see ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’. Then I can’t wait to catch a panto later in the week before feeling fully festive at the NYMT Christmas Concert on Saturday. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and happy listening!

PLAYLIST: A VERY MUSICAL THEATRE CHRISTMAS

“Hang a shining star upon the highest bough and have yourself a merry little Christmas now”

– Rebecca Ridout

Right, sorry about all that, Ridout is back. I’ve been hoarding all-things-theatrical in my head for the past month now and I have finally found the time for it all to spill out onto a page. I bought a new notebook (I thought a new notebook would help) and sat down and just wrote. It was pages of absolute ramblings and will inevitably still read as ramblings despite my best efforts to hone it all in. So here is one of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last few weeks: (just three little words…) new musical theatre. Ah, I almost had you there didn’t I? It’s not a post about those three little words or inspired by a topless man playing guitar. Sorry. I’ve been surrounded by new musical theatre writing recently and I don’t know if it’s partly down to the Christmas spirit, but I’m feeling ever so hopeful for the future of musical theatre. I strongly believe I was born in the wrong decade and wish I was in America during the ‘Golden Age’ but I’m similarly passionate about what lies ahead for our ever progressing industry. I have been comforted by what I’ve been lucky enough to be privvy to recently and so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts with you so we can leave our longing for the twenty-teen’s answer to ‘Showboat’ behind us.

I’ll start first by saying that back in May I was thrown into panic mode when a visiting director at school told us that musical theatre, as an artform, was dead. It wasn’t a point that was open for discussion, it was a statement of fact. I had nothing to retort, I just sat with arguments swimming round my head that never found the courage to leave my mouth. Everyone that did jump on modern musical theatre’s defence was shot down by the ‘Golden Age’ trump card. Yes, perhaps we’ve moved away from sweeping Rogers & Hammerstein overtures to pop megamixes but it’s not dead. My beloved art form is not dead. The direction of our industry has been out of our, albeit jazzy, hands for a long time now. It has to answer to what the general public – the bums on the seats – want and unfortunately that isn’t what it used to be but why does that have to be negative? I know that my taste (I adore a good revival) isn’t the same as everyone else’s. There has to be room and, most importantly, support for the new – someone has to pave the way for the future of musical theatre. In every other walk of life, letting go of the past is advocated so why do we need to strive for a dated style of writing in our industry? My belief is that all the creative talent required for a new golden age is out there, it just isn’t receiving the support it so deserves – people just don’t know it’s there.

This was drawn to my attention recently when I sang at a fundraising gig for Pitgems Creative Theatre Company in November. The founder, Emma Trow, is a composer/director/tutor/wonderwoman who made the company in order to create a platform for new work – admirable, I know. The fundraising gig was taking place so that all the profits from a forthcoming production can be donated to the National Aids Awareness Trust – even more admirable. Naturally, a lot of people wanted to help this cause and a huge amount of talent rocked the boat, quite literally*, in Vauxhall that evening. It turned out to be an evening of education for me due to the amount of new material that was performed – including original pieces from Emma Trow and the fabulous Tamar Broadbent, amongst many others. I laughed (hard) at some, nearly cried at others and still find myself humming various tunes from those talented composer’s creations. As Sondheim rightly says through his lyrics in ‘Merrily We Roll Along’: “You need a tune you can bum-bum-bum-di-dum..” and there are an abundance of hummable musical theatre composers that just aren’t getting heard.

*it was on the Battersea Barge. If you’ve never been, do go – it’s a great venue.

I’m so lucky that my next involvement with new writing for the month was as a ‘public assessor’ for the Pefect Pitch awards. It sounds very official but it was just an excuse for me to sit down for hours and sift through lyrics, read book extracts and listen to some fantastic work by sixteen of the 318 applications that Perfect Pitch received. I was getting to know some incredible new work, like I had on the Battersea Barge, with the added joy that at the end of this process some new emerging talent would be given the opportunity to show their work professionally to a much wider audience through Perfect Pitch*. As an assessor I had to pick my favourite 3 submissions in each area (book, music & lyrics) and send them back for my choices to be matched up against others. The shortlist of 44 writers has now been chosen and I was thrilled to see writers I loved the work of and some friendly faces on the list. I am already eagerly awaiting the event on March 14th at the St James Theatre to see what the teams (selected from the shortlist) will pitch. Hurrah, some new writing is being given a foothold in the industry so more people can hear those hummable tunes! Obviously, Perfect Pitch aren’t the only people helping new writers (I could, or someone with more time than me could, write a book about the possibilities of exposure for new writers and the companies that are dedicated to helping them but I won’t be doing that. I’m sure you don’t mind.) but I was so pleased to be involved, even in the smallest capacity, so it had to be mentioned!

*more information on the Perfect Pitch award can be found HERE.

One of the people in the shortlist for the award is the fabulous Dougal Irvine who is responsible for the last bit of exposure to new writing I’ve had in the last month. We will be singing his song ‘We need Love’ from the (granted, not new) musical ‘In Touch’ at the National Youth Music Theatre Christmas Concert on the 21st*. In summer, when we were busy doing West Side Story, another third of the 2013 company were putting on ‘The Other School’ at the St James Theatre – a brand new show by Dougal and Dominic Marsh which was commissioned by NYMT. It was a storming success and is a show that you haven’t seen the end of yet. It’s had its youth theatre springboard and now it is going to fly (I don’t know how I feel about that metaphor but I’m rolling with it). Youth companies provide one way in which writers can get their (PG rated) shows on their feet** and this method proved very successful for Dougal. As I sat learning this new version of ‘We Need Love’ I was all too aware of his incredible writing talent and in that moment I concluded that the future of musical theatre writing is going to be just fine. Don’t worry Dougal, I’m not putting all that pressure on just your shoulders but that’s when the ol’ epiphany happened.

*Dougal is singing the solo and he’s rather good…just in case you wanted to come…click here.

**As alumni, I must tell you that NYMT has a new commission for the 2014 season to commemorate the outbreak of WW1. If you’re 13-23 you can audition for the three productions next year and the new commission ‘Brass’  will provide the opportunity to be part of an original cast. How bloomin exciting. Apply for an audition here.

So after the month I’ve just had, I know the writers are out there and I hope after reading about my month of blog absence you might go looking for them too. They can be found in small fringe theatres, cabaret venues, my recent research hotspot soundcloud and on good old Youtube. I won’t tell you where they all are though, as half the fun is finding them but start by searching the names mentioned above! Step into new territory and see if you like what you hear/see and please report back on any gems that you find.

To try and conclude my ramblings I’ll finish on this:

I mentioned earlier that I wished I was present during the ‘golden age’ of musical theatre but who says we aren’t? About two years ago now I read ‘Musical Theatre: A History’ by John Kenrick and I’ll always remember the introduction (I took notes on the entire book, don’t judge) in which he talks about how the ‘golden age’ is constantly being extended. It used to be thought to have ended in the 50’s, then the next generation of writers pushed it to the mid 60’s, and the next to the 70’s etc etc. It will always get pushed further so that the current generation speak as if the really good stuff happened about 30 years ago. I think I’d agree with that. After all, the 80’s gave us: Dreamgirls, Nine, Cats, Blood Brothers, Sunday in the Park with George, La Cage Aux Folles, Starlight Express, Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera and Into the Woods to name but a few. It was Sondheim vs Webber. It was glorious. I believe, and history proves, art always gets appreciated later down the line. In musical theatre, flops get a fanbase and revivals break records – as we saw this year with Merrily We Roll Along. It’s not dead, we just aren’t able to appreciate what is in front of us yet.

Happy appreciating the now and embracing the new!

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On the Battersea Barge with Emma Trow (left) and a brownie (right).

Dear new musical theatre writers:

“Just keep moving on. Anything you do, let it come from you, then it will be new. Give us more to see…”

– Rebecca Ridout

Well, she thinks she does anyway.
This is just a quick little post to say that I haven’t fallen off the face of the theatrical earth and that I apologise for my lack of writing. Trust me, I have had intentions to post and have lots of exciting things that I want to write about. It would seem, however, that actually doing these exciting things has taken up all of my time. In fact, I’ve only been to the theatre once* in the last fortnight (cue THIS) so I hope that you can support me during this difficult time.

*to see West Side Story on tour. The conclusion? I’m still not over it. MAMBO.

In all seriousness though, I do hope you all come back to start reading again when I get back on the horse* hopefully next week.

*which is obviously a life sized puppet with 4 actors at the helm in Ridout’s dream world.

I hope you’ve been seeing more theatre than I have, watching YouTube clips of the greats, listening to podcasts, watching ‘The Sound of Musicals’ and obsessing over this new SONDHEIM TV SHOW in my absence. Please continue to do so and let me know how you’ve been getting your fix – coffee (even Red cups) just isn’t cutting it as an addictive theatre replacement anymore.

So, I’ll see you next week then and, until then, I wish you happy ‘When in doubt, Ridout’ replacing!

BONUS: To celebrate the word ‘selfie’ being added to the dictionary, here’s a rare example of me participating in the craze. I think it captures the “What on earth has happened to all the blog posts, Ridout?” sentiment perfectly. I’m making a fool out of myself (and Sinead) to repay you for failing to post blogs on time. You’re welcome.

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“You’ll hear this whispered tune…so long, fare thee well, Pip! Pip! Cheerio! We’ll be back soon”

– Rebecca Ridout

…and, by almighty Olivier, if the National Theatre is anything to go by then it’s in a damn good state. Twelve hours after ‘Live at the National Theatre‘ aired on BBC2, the hashtag #nt50 was still a worldwide trending topic on twitter. For theatre to be having that much of a reaction is pretty impressive and something we, as a nation, can be incredibly proud of. Something you’d want to shout from the roof of…oh, lets say…the National Theatre. The world was talking (tweeting) about the legacy of our National Theatre and still is – I know I can’t stop. So it would seem you’d have to be living under a rock to have missed the 50th birthday celebrations. I’ll admit, despite not being trapped under a rock, I wasn’t sat on a sofa when it aired. I felt very left out and have had to (oh the burden) watch it a few times since to make up for my lack of dedication to our beautiful National Theatre. 

It may surprise you to learn that I only had my first trip to the National last year. At the end of ‘Live at the National Theatre’ in an extract from ‘Habit of Art’ they spoke about “the fear of this building” and I think I had always viewed the ominous Southbank block as a place I didn’t belong. I laugh at myself now when I spend a whole day there reading and treating it like I second home but at the time it felt inaccessible. The National Theatre looked like a concrete fortress (the Prince of Wales once described it as a nuclear power station) that didn’t hold anything for me. How wrong I was! If any of you currently feel this way about the National and are yet to go, I urge you to get an Entry Pass or Travelex ticket and join me in my never ending love affair with the place. 

My first experience* of the National Theatre was to see the 2012 revival of ‘London Road’ after hearing so much acclaim for a new musical. The reviews had described the piece as “groundbreaking” and the ground may as well have broken, swallowed me up, and I would have died happy. I don’t recall having ever seen musical theatre that had pushed so many boundaries of expectation and absolutely nailed it. Complex, clever and faultlessly performed. I think I could use that sentence to describe every National Theatre production I’ve seen since and over a year later I can’t keep away from the place. 

* I’ve lied. Technically I saw ‘War Horse’ at the New London Theatre years before. It’s a National Theatre work of course, but has escaped the Southbank concrete for some smaller concrete just beyond Covent Garden. I don’t count that though, I feel like your first proper Nash experience has to be in the beauteous building on the river. 

I’ve only experienced the National Theatre for one year of it’s incredible life and have seen some truly inspirational work. Multiply that by 50 and you have an incomprehensible legacy of talent, on stage and off, that deserves to be celebrated. Thankfully, they have been celebrating in style and, aside from lighting up the Thames with fireworks, they created ‘Live at the National Theatre’. If you are yet to have watched this glorious show, then watch it HERE

Here are some of my highlights (although it’s hard to choose highlights when the entire programme was perfection):

  • Dame Maggie Smith referring to Laurence Olivier as ‘Larry’ – a nickname I cheekily use when I’m meeting someone on the river and say “I’ll see you at Larry” aka the status of Olivier outside the Nash. 
  • Joan Plowright at the Old Vic. 
  • Dame Maggie in ‘Hay Fever’ in all her comic glory. 
  • Teenagers everywhere realising that by saying ‘YOLO’ all the time, they are in fact quoting Alan Ayckbourn’s ‘Bedroom Farce’.
  • Clive Rowe in ‘Guys and Dolls’ – did he want to belt and higher and more consistently? Blimey. 
  • Angels in America broke me. It needs to be revived, with Scott and Cooper, soon please. 
  • The news that Christopher Eccleston was an usher at the National. 
  • The moment I realised that someone had the job of looking through the archives to choose extracts to show.

Dear National Theatre, I shotgun for the role of ‘Archive Searcher’ for the 2063 ‘100 years of the National Theatre’ celebrations. Thanks very much in advance. Rebecca Ridout

  • Send in the Clowns. Always. 
  • Jerry Springer: making it okay to swear if it’s sung ridiculously high since 2003.
  • History Boys, naturally. 
  • Adrian Lester reaching the same overwhelming emotional point performing an extract of ‘Othello’ as when he performed the whole play (as I had seen earlier this year). 
  • London Road. Seeing that stage filled with hanging baskets reminded me of how overwhelmed I was at that image just last year.

Finally, a main highlight for me was when Trevor Nunn spoke of how musical theatre is regarded as a form where “you can check in your brain at the cloakroom” and how that is not the case. He feels that the National Theatre has been very well served by covering the whole spectrum. Hear hear! In my one year experience I have seen the whole range of theatre that the National has to offer and I feel very well rounded because of it – there is something for everyone. It truly is a theatre for our nation and will continue to inspire from one generation to the next. Be sure to let me know what your highlights were and/or your first experience of the NT (on here or @beccaridout). Let’s keep talking about it and keep celebrating 50 fantastic years. Here’s to the next 50. Happy National-Theatre-going!

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Banging on the windows of the National at the half to mark the first night.

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What a tradition.

“but plays persistent. Plays, plays, plays…” – not lyrics this week. A quote from Alan Bennett’s ‘Habit of Art’ felt more appropriate – and it had me crying at the end of the stunning tribute to our National Theatre. 

– Rebecca Ridout