Archives for posts with tag: Musical Theatre

“…Applause! Applause!”

Three years ago (*gulps*) I was performing in my graduating show ‘Applause’ at LSMT. At the time I adored the title song (well, I still do) and I thought that the lyrics perfectly reflected what working as an actor would be like. It talks about how through all of the hardship (“your bank account’s bare”, “you’re thinking you’re through”, “you’re losing your hair”) that the sound of applause will be all you need to keep yourself going. That the validation of applause is all we actors need to live a happy existence. No, Ridout. That’s obviously not the case. I’d like to think I’ve always known that it takes more than people meeting their hands together in appreciation of some work you’ve done to find happiness. I’d also like to think that I’m very good at keeping content in times of funemployment. However, it’s become apparent that I’m not very good at sorting out my priorities – I didn’t foresee that being in work (and having people clap at me) would play a big part in my unhappiness. The past two months have taught me that. This industry can take so much from us and, like Denise Gough in her Honest Actors podcast (found here), I’m not going to give it more of my life than is necessary anymore.

“Work is not my life. My life is my life. Work is part of my life” – Denise Gough

Let me explain…

This industry ingrains in everyone a pre-historic message that, come rain or shine, come hell or high water, that the show must go on. Pressures to make this happen come from producers and audience members alike. This leaves us, the performers, caught between a rock and a hard place. Consequently, it’s so easy to not make a move at all – to stay silently still – and pay the price personally later. It’s something that’s been heavily featured in the industry (and also reached general) news recently and I’ve now found myself in a situation where I have an experience to add to the discussion. In case you missed the news (I’d be surprised as so many papers joined in to add fuel to the fire), there was uproar when Sheridan Smith announced that she would be missing a performance of ‘Funny Girl’ at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Instantly, thanks to the immediacy of Twitter, there were disgruntled ticket holders* demanding refunds not only for their tickets but also for their travel costs because they wanted to see her – evidently not the wonderful piece of musical theatre that ‘Funny Girl’ is.

*Now, I won’t get into the rights and wrongs of people wanting refunds/exchanges for shows because of their “star” billing in this blog. That would open a Sunset Boulevard can of worms that I don’t quite have the energy to take on. It’s just important to acknowledge that the audience applied a lot of pressure for the purpose of this post.

The producers worried about the implications of Sheridans absence on the finances of the show – after all, the Menier is a small theatre! In a tweet that was later deleted, Sheridan named the producers and stated how they were “desperately” trying to get her back for the next show, putting pressure on her and not giving a f*ck about her situation.This was all despite the fact that Sheridan had an understudy.

Understudy: to study or know a role as to be able to replace the regular performer in case of need.

In a “normal” job, your rights state that you are entitled to time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependent (your father falling ill, for example). Sheridan wanted, and understandably needed, time off following the news of her Dad’s cancer diagnosis. That’s a cause for need of an understudy if you ask me. The ‘Funny Girl’ producers later released a statement in support of Sheridan’s decision to take time off the show but it seems that paying audience members still didn’t share the same understanding and acceptance – despite it being her right, putting human compassion aside.

Thankfully, Sheridan has a brilliant understudy in Natasha Barnes (who has previously contributed to this blog – if you can guess her entry) who could step in, in Sheridan’s time of need. I was ecstatic to see the responses she was receiving from the public for her performance as Fanny Brice. Isn’t it amazing that actors can take time off and someone else can keep the show running to critical acclaim!? Huzzah for understudies!

Sometimes though, even if one of the pressures to go on is removed (eg. the producers don’t mind because you have an understudy), as actors we put a pressure on ourselves to soldier through regardless. Actors have an instinct – a unique dread – that they could be letting their loving public down or doing their professional reputation a disservice if they don’t just grin and bear it. It’s a complaint among older actors that the younger generation don’t have the same do or die attitude that they had. (Tangent: I’d be interested to know statistically if – in thirty years – more actors from our generation keep going until later in life because they’ve taken better care of themselves. See ya in 30 years for that follow up blog.) Left to our own devices (or with an inadvertent fear that your understudy may do a better job than you) actors so easily get their priorities all wrong and choose the limelight over their life.

In his book, ‘The Rules of Acting’, Michael Simkins shares his story of how he learnt this lesson the hard way. Michael would happily, and often, boast that he’d barely missed a performance in his 25 years as a jobbing actor. It was then during a run of ‘The Old Masters’, in which he played a cameo role, that his mother went into permanent care. Then, one Friday afternoon, he was told she’d fallen unwell. Despite worsening bulletins all of Friday evening and Saturday, he clung to the notion of completing his two shows. “For reasons that still haunt me, I resolved to stay on and do my one small scene in the evening”. In his journeying to visit his mother after the show she died just minutes before his arrival. He’s now vowed to never let a performance get in the way whenever real life needs prioritizing.

I had read this story years ago (clearly some things don’t stick until you experience them yourself – take heed!) but was reminded of it by my colleague whilst working on ‘Princess Caraboo’ at the Finborough. Her husband was the “perfectly capable understudy” Michael spoke of in his book and what isn’t included in the anecdote is that Simkins went onto miss numerous performances because his experience had left him so distraught. We can suffer more in the long run (and miss more performances) by failing to face up to circumstances and bring brave enough to say “I need this break”. Sarah was telling me this story because during our run, my Gramps was hospitalized. In Michael or Sheridan’s situation I’d have been home like a shot but I was stuck through my circumstances. ‘Princess Caraboo’ was a no-contract, profit-share agreement and we had the bare minimum in cast numbers – meaning no understudies. With other small casts I’ve worked with we’d joke about what would happen should one of us fall ill. “Well, if you’re still in control of your bodily functions and can run into the wings to be sick rather than centre stage then you’re good to go on”. Indeed, when I was in Sound of Music, because cast changeovers mid-contract, we were left with no spare male understudies and so my colleague had to go on whilst suffering with a painful (and noticeable) abscess in his mouth. He had to sing…with an abscess. Crazy, I know. I’ve also known of performers who have been seriously injured performing in a show, undergone surgery, and then still had pressures from the powers that be to get back on stage quicker than the usual recovery time (understudies cost more – lest we forget #coverfee). It’s only when someone physically cannot make it onto stage that a show with no understudies has to be cancelled. Naively (or stupidly), I didn’t feel like emotional trauma fit the “I deserve a break” bill and so I let Doctor Theatre* cure me whilst my family came together, counties away, to support eachother. .

*Doctor Theatre/Doctor Footlights: name given to the magical healing that happens to an actor when they are struck down by illness or infirmity and still have a show to get through. Endorphins (and the validation of applause) take over and numb out he pain and/or stress.

One of the (many) difficulties with Fringe work is that because you’re not being paid, part of you thinks “well, I’m not being paid for this so screw it, I’m going home!” whilst the other part of you shares such a strong camaraderie with your fellow performers that you don’t want to deny them a show and deny them the opportunity to earn more profit. Plus, I was struggling so much financially that I couldn’t realistically afford a day off work, let alone a train fare home. I was caught between a very hard rock and a very hard place, in the middle of London.

Then, in the penultimate week of the show, sadly my Gramps passed away. (Apologies, I know this is very heavy for a whenindoubt blog but writing about it has been incredibly helpful for me and it may help someone else). I hadn’t made it down to see him in his final days but that wasn’t what made it hard (some family members even envied my position because my lasting memory of him was a relatively healthy and happy one). It was the fact that I couldn’t get home to be with my family to deal with it all that made it so difficult. I was a mess. People can attest to that fact. I can’t count the number of times I would be crying backstage and pull myself together just in time to step into the lights. People would tell me “your Gramps would want you to be performing, doing what you love”. Indeed, Sheridan also said that her Dad had wanted her to get back on – it’s her escapism. I think that’s essentially what makes the idea of Dr Footlights stick. It’s that acting is escapism for us. You’re not being yourself for two and a half hours. You don’t have your problems (or your cold, or your pulled hamstring). Then you hear applause and you think “that was worth it”…until you’re home and alone with the repercussions. Burying your problems like that repeatedly takes its toll eventually. Trust me.

To add a cherry on top of this sundae of a situation, I was also auditioning for a West End show at the time and had a final two days (and four shows) after my Gramps’ passing. This was another example of how I gave perhaps a bit too much to the industry in a time that I really needed to be looking after myself (and my family). I know “what if”s would have haunted me should I have pulled out of the process at that stage but I’m not sure soldiering on was the best decision either. I was looking at the world through a dark, murky cloud (and puffy eyes). I couldn’t focus on any tasks properly – even making a cup of coffee involved copious mental distractions. How I expected to do myself justice and perform to my best ability I have no idea.  It’s hardly surprising to note that I didn’t do my best and I didn’t get the job. What I had done though was genuinely pause my mourning and I came crashing back into reality so much harder as a consequence.

I don’t really know what the answer in this situation is – any opinions would be welcome! Do we cancel potentially career changing auditions? Do we hire swings for every show? Do we allow ourselves/our colleagues to cancel shows – no matter what the result could be for others involved? I’m pretty sure that there is no black and white answer. What is clear to me though is that we need to prioritize ourselves over our work some of the time (I’m not saying always. You can be the judge of when it’s necessary). We shouldn’t be slaves to what we do or allow anyone else to let us think that we can’t make that decision for ourselves. These were examples where we need to exercise our right to avoid additional sadness. However, there are plenty of examples of how, as performers, we also miss out on things that would just add joy to our lives. I – and many others – have missed weddings (one was whilst I working in Edinburgh and we played to an audience of approximately 6 people that night. Hindsight tells me we could have cancelled the show). I’ve also recently missed drastic changes in the development of my baby brothers. Waiting eight weeks to see babies when you know they’re smiling, laughing and growing ridiculously fast is tough. Plus, baby cuddles are very useful in a time of mourning – circle of life and all that jazz. I feel very lucky (I always find a silver lining) that I’ve had this heartache and moment of realisation only three years into my career – rather than Simkins twenty-five. I can now remain aware of my priorities and will hopefully not have to endure what I’ve experienced these past two months again. All I can advise is: if you have an understudy, just go. Also, it might seem overly precautious but if you know someone close to you who is ill, think seriously before taking a fringe job – ensure that you wont get stuck between a rock and a hard place if you do. Make sure you’re putting your life and your well-being first. I know for a lot of us, we derive the majority of our happiness from performing. Applause does, indeed, make our hearts happy. Just know when to step back. Sometimes a night out of the lime light will make you much happier in the long run.

Happy doing-a-Hermione* and sorting out your priorities!

*In case you aren’t a die-hard Harry Potter fan (who are you!?) then this is referencing an exchange in Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone:

Hermione: Now if you two don’t mind, I’m going to bed before either of you come up with another clever idea to get us killed – or worse, expelled.

Ron: She needs to sort out her priorities!

CarabooFbro-SRylander-1500-038

Whilst doing this, I was missing…

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…this. That’s happiness. Right there.

“Why kick up your legs, when draining the dregs of sorrow’s bitter cup? Because you have read some idiot has said “the curtain must stay up”!

– Rebecca Ridout

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Today is “Blue Monday”. For those of you who may not know, “Blue Monday” was a claim made years ago (by a travel company, no less) stating that the third Monday in January is the most depressing day of the year. Scientists have poo-pooed it as a pretty nonsensical idea, but it still grips our negative attention as soon as we are reminded of it. Your mind instantly turns to analysing aspects of your life that could be giving you cause for distress and then that negativity festers. Consequently, and unsurprisingly, it then easily becomes the most depressing day of the year. The ridiculous con/claim to get people to book a holiday has started to carry some weight. I, unknowingly, picked up a mug at work today which had a very apt quote:

“The mind is everything. What you think, you become.” – Buddha

Quite right, Buddha. Quite right. So I thought this would be the opportune moment to talk about some musings on the mind – and our focus on negativity – that I’ve had recently.

We all have inner demons to varying degrees of severity and whilst some are fed by exterior influences, most are self-induced. They can crop up occasionally (y’know, in an audition when your leg starts to shake and they jump into the room to make sure you’re focusing on this phenomenon rather than the task to hand) or they can follow you around daily and chip away at your optimism (y’know, when you’re speaking to hundreds of people about the conservation of birds as a temp job and become increasingly sure you’ll never work again). They are ever present and, despite having the occasional bonus of being the foot up your backside, they generally need to be told to pipe down.

I’m just starting to find the balance between listening to the demons and quashing their efforts when I need to. It’s so easy to become your own worst enemy when you’re looking for work. A wavering confidence in your ability/skills set could easily be your downfall. In these periods of unemployment, it’s all too common for people to spend their time seeking confidence boosts from outside sources. We forget that, actually, we are in the position of power. We can find it for ourselves – we need to be our own cheerleaders*.

*In our minds, mind. I wouldn’t advise going into a full Elle Woods-esque “What You Want” routine every time you’re presented with an opportunity to seize. As much as the thought of us all doing that fills me with joy, it might be better kept in our imaginations.

It’s certainly something that I’ve struggled with. I could really do with a pair of metaphorical pom-poms. I was once told by a choreographer that if it wasn’t for us having worked together previously, I would have talked myself out of being featured in a dance break. It’s that dreaded ol’ “how is your [insert dance/tap/soprano/belt range etc etc etc here]?” question that gets asked in auditions and in the rehearsal room. We’re so terrified of sounding arrogant about our own abilities that we inevitably play them down and are quite likely to lose out as a result. In this example, I made a lucky escape. It’s an easy mistake to make.

Recently, I spotted something in the press called “Just Not Sorry”, a plug-in that alerts people to their use of apologetic language in emails. It’s a trait perceived to hold people back in their careers – especially females. Consequently, there’s been a lot of feminist backlash against the app (“Where’s the Just Not Arrogant and Over-entitled plug-in for men?” – Barbara Ellen, writer for the Observer). However, I think in our industry it’s a trait shared by all – in emails and in person. We’re a (stereo-typically English) apologetic bunch of numptys. We have this weird ingrained thought that self-deprecation will win people over. Sure, being humble and pliant will make you more likable over an egotistical counterpart but will it make a panel think you’re up to the job? It’s all about finding the right balance. We need a Just Not Sorry and Just Not Arrogant mash-up for our minds to counter the efforts of our inner demons telling us to people-please to the point of inadvertent self-harm.

I overcame the biggest hurdle presented by my self-sabotaging  demons right at the end of 2015. A production, with a director I really wanted to work with, sent out an initial breakdown that deemed me wholly inappropriate (high-level actor-musician, preferably string) and I quickly put the idea to bed. However, many weeks later I learned that they were still looking to fill the role and so I threw my demons, my inhibitions and a bit of my shame out of the window and put myself forward – despite playing a woodwind instrument to (what my demons told me was) a questionable ability. I tried my utmost to quash the Negative Nancy in my head and put myself on the line by saying (not in these words, but you get the idea): “This is what I can do. Who knows, it might be what you’re looking for. Ps. sorry sorry thanks for your time sorry”. (Apologetic language in emails is something I’m still working on. I might get the plug-in.) Much to my surprise, they did think that what I had to offer was of use and I got the job.  Huzzah. Ridout 1 – 0 Demons.

Then, in rehearsals, the buggers came back with a vengeance. I really struggled with the idea that I was good enough – despite being there and doing the job. The occasional squeaks from clarinet corner, whilst entertaining for my colleagues, were like a stab in the gut of my self-esteem. I felt like a con artist for quite a while. However, despite it being quite the emotional drain some days, these inner demons were the kick up the bustle I needed and it made me come out of the contract in a much better place. I worked hard to conquer my clarinet fears and, as you’d expect, I got stronger every day. I caught the actor-musician bug so much so that I am currently having flute lessons as well. Thanks, inner demons! It’s important to be able to identify when the negativity is springing you into, what is ultimately, positive actions or whether it’s tripping you up at important hurdles.

It’s not about ignoring negative thoughts. Sometimes they are needed as a devils advocate to help you fully assess a situation or, indeed, light a fire in your belly. So this year I am suggesting listening to your inner demons and trying to recognize when you’re paying them too much attention and standing in your own way as a result. Try to notice what language you use to respond to questions in auditions (eg. the classic trying-to-be-humble “on a good day” when you know you can, every day), make a note of what you say and try to think of alternatives for the next time you’re posed with the same question. Be your own “Just Not Sorry/Arrogant” plug-in and put this positively filtered version of yourself out there for the taking. You never know when what you have to offer might be exactly what they’re looking for. Wouldn’t it be awful if the only person stopping you was you!? We’ve got enough going against us in this industry already. Forget about everyone else. Don’t rain on your own parade. Don’t throw away your shot.

Happy tackling your inner demons!

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Imagining if I hadn’t been able to wear this costume because of denying my clarinets existence. 

I shall forever be imagining everyone sat in audition rooms giving themselves a personal pep talk to the tune of: “What you want, it’s clear. What you want, right here. What you want is right in front of you, front of you!”

– Rebecca Ridout

 

It’s true. The internet is really, really great for so many things. However, the more time I’ve spent on it recently, the more I’ve come to realize that it’s also really, really awful. The positives and the negatives are seemingly present in equal measure. For every genuine, positive, social interaction through Twitter there’s also a troll. For every pep-filled post on Facebook, there’s sure to be someone taking the piss. It’s because of this that we’ve become people obsessed with the public perception of ourselves. We’re so conscious of attracting unwanted, negative attention that we – quite literally, thanks to Instagram – filter our lives for the sake of others. Or, in some cases, create a whole new avatar/profile in order to express some opinions that you wouldn’t dare share as yourself (I’m looking at you Audition Pianist, Winter Strallen etc…#kisses).

Especially within our industry, we are constantly aware of how others may perceive us. Even though ‘public image’ is a term I would associate with celebrities, it’s becoming something that’s applicable to most with the rise of social media. Ninety percent of the people that I follow on Twitter don’t have private accounts which means that their profiles are open to viewing by anyone and everyone. It’s a public image. It doesn’t matter how active you are on social media (I’m a self-confessed addict), it’s still a public portrayal of yourself. Recently, I’ve become hyper aware of this and censor myself – although that might be hard to believe if you follow me on Twitter! I’ve been incredibly hesitant to post blogs if I’m not 100% happy with them. You should see my drafts folder. I know I don’t make enormous waves but I’ve become incredibly anxious of the reactions that they may receive. Obviously, blogs often open up debate and people have differing opinions. It’s not that kind of reaction I have an opposition to, but rather the negative personal reaction that could come in tow of that. After all, who is this Rebecca Ridout person writing all this stuff about the industry? WHO IS SHE!? It seems to me that negativity makes a much louder noise on the internet than positivity. Therefore, I panic at the thought of making even the smallest of ripples.

Case in point: I tweeted a small (sassy) rant about the result of the general election and made the biggest Twitter impression I will probably ever make. I’m one of the 46,420,413 people that voted in the GE2015 yet my tiny voice still made a bloody ripple.

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“WHAT IF SOMEONE I WANT TO WORK FOR IS TORY AND NOW HATES ME!?”*

*Probably the stupidest fear ever considering you work in the Arts, Rebecca. But it’s still a thought that ran through my head, a lot.

It’s no wonder we’ve all become our own Public Relations representatives and are only allowing our best bits into the limelight. Such edited excerpts aren’t an accurate portrayal of ourselves, yet we are all increasingly guilty of comparing ourselves to our internet-crazed peers. This industry, undeniably, fuels that comparison fire. We all know people who are regularly thrilled to announce a job (seeeeeriously though guys, what other industry does that!?! I want to know you have a job but I don’t want you to “announce” it to me – that’s reserved for babies/engagements #sorrynotsorry), people who publicize their audition diary so you know when they’ve been seen for that show and that show, and people that tweet, pre-audition, that they’ve already been to the gym (2001 Cathy from the Last Five Years would have been LIVID). But, who am I kidding, we’re never going to convince all those people to change their ways so instead you have to find ways to embrace these traits and keep strong in that favourite Ridout mantra of running your own race.

I recently read the book ‘Happiness by Design’ by Paul Dolan which points out that happiness and misery are contagious. You should do all you can to catch the former and avoid the latter. Basic, but sound, advice. However, choosing the right reference group of people is central to this. Social media has given us flexibility in choosing our peer group (hence all the confused, lefty, Arts folk who were bemused that we didn’t win the election, without realizing that we tend to follow like minded people). Dolan recommends that you prioritize a group of people whose behaviour you want to copy. SO HOLD ON! Don’t do that massive cull of people who commit the above sins just yet – they could be a positive influence on you. You just have to be realistic. You don’t want to look to and hope to copy people’s behaviours if it’s an unobtainable upward comparison – that might make you a whole lot less happy. After all, we can’t all be Cynthia Erivo! It would be silly to compare your career to hers, but she’s pretty damn inspirational so her filling up your news feed with joy is no bad thing. It’s about recognizing the difference between someone who is a tad annoying – because they’re ultimately advertising that they’re in a position you want to be in – and someone who is actually doing you harm with their social media behaviour. Ask yourself “Is this somebody whose voice I need to hear?”*. If you’re leaning towards a ‘no’ then you know what to do. That’s a glorious bit of advice I got from Marie Kondo – the author or ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. I love a positive mind book, I do. Can you tell?

*Cue Ridout descending into sheer panic at the thought that people might read that and think “well I bloody well don’t need to hear yours, love”. Please like me, Internet!

My personal advice on this subject would be to just take everything you see online with a big-ass pinch of salt. People are, naturally, hiding their demons offline so it’s not worth even beginning to compare yourself to their selected showings. Try to soak up the positivity they put out into the realms of the internet and reflect the bits that you can. Plus, don’t forget that your Facebook-savvy Gran is looking to your updates for a glimpse into your well-being. Your posts – even if only your selected ‘best bits’ – make the people who love you smile. So keep at it and when you’re brave, maybe post something a bit more vulnerable and truthful. Don’t be scared to show both sides of yourself. This is my first step towards stopping the social media censor. After months of hesitating, I finally wrote another blog that will be out there for the internet to judge. Take that, comfort zone! I’ll leave you with my favourite quote ever. Heed this advice:

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind” – Dr. Seuss

Thanks, Dr. Seuss! You’re so right.

Happy social media lovin’!

Note: The photo below has been posted on my Facebook page. I was having a lavely old time with my friends on a Sunday for my birthday. The following day I was back at work in a call centre. Unless I was to #LiveTweet my life, I think it’s okay to be a bit selective.

I'm gonna use #blessed - but it's totally ironic.

I’m gonna use #blessed – but it’s totally ironic.

“Tweet tweet tweet tweet tweet tweet tweet tweet….HOORAY!”

– Rebecca Ridout

I’ve recently been a major culprit of using every excuse in the book to justify why I didn’t get a job/didn’t hear back from an audition. I’ve also sat and listened to many people doing just the same. We’re awful for it. I think it must be how actors flex their creative imaginations whilst ‘resting’. The things we come up with, I tell ya. It’s laughable. Well, at least, I laugh at myself whilst verbalising these stupid, unnecessary, reasons. So, I’m going to quote a film that I think might have some relevant references…

“Why do we say this stuff to eachother? Is it possible it’s because we’re scared and it’s too hard to say the one obvious truth that’s staring everyone in the face…

“[insert generic creative/casting director’s name here]’s just not that into you!”

It was whilst driving through Cairo (I know, casual. Ridout’s pensive time has gone international) that the famous “he/she hasn’t called me yet but…” scenario came up in conversation. So, being the dramatic person that I am, I declared: “THERE NEEDS TO BE A STAGEY VERSION OF HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU!” because I seemingly can’t keep on topic in a conversation – it has to relate back to theatre.

So…here we are. Ridout’s going to try and equate relationship advice to the theatre industry.

The first scenario (as addressed in the film too) is when you leave an audition/date and instantly get on the phone to your friend to tell them how well it went. You’ll inevitably pump yourself up with enthusiasm and, hopefully, get some validation from your friend meanwhile the casting director/date is calling in the next person/calling someone he’d rather see. Ooosh.

From this scenario you just have to take that it’s not necessarily how you performed (in the audition/on the date) but rather that you might not be quite what they’re looking for and they happen to have someone else in mind that is. It might feel personal, but it really isn’t. You have to remind yourself of that and take each audition/date with a pinch of salt.

What follows is the horrendous wait for a call. Whilst waiting to hear from jobs/prospective dates we become slaves to our phones. I’ve got the T-shirt for putting my life at risk, bolting it out of the shower to answer my phone, for a false alarm (it was Joshua Tonks…we spoke about Ru Pauls Drag Race). We’re constantly checking them and when we find nothing there we start coming up with excuses for a delay.”I think Vodafone is having problems with its signal today”, “My voicemail is full and I don’t think missed calls are showing. Bloody iPhones”, “They’re running off to see the Oklahoma tour in Dublin actually so I don’t think I’ll hear until late tomorrow…” We even find out we haven’t got the job/recall through the stagey grapevine or, worst of all, on Twitter.

Gigi: “You have to just go around checking all these different portals to get rejected by 7 different technologies. It’s exhausting!”

Ain’t that the truth! It’s a lesson I’m only just getting to grips with (the above shower incident was only a month ago). I’m regularly checking my phone as if, by some miracle, in the past 10 seconds someone’s called me and I missed it (despite my phone always being on loud). STOP. Put the phone down. Have a cup of tea. Sing a showtune. Just move away from the phone and if it rings, great. Just don’t sit around driving yourself crazy over it.

It’s admittedly a bastard, what with all this “I don’t know how long I’m supposed to wait before giving up” malarkey. At least with dating you have the option of taking the dive of humility and calling them yourself. But in our industry, this is when you start listening to other peoples “wait time” situations and assuming it’ll be the same for you.

I, for instance, waited 6 weeks to find out whether or not I had a recall for The Sound of Music. SIX. Then on the day of my recall they called me 2 hours later with my offer. TWO. That throws a confusing “wait time” spanner in the works. Plus, it just so happens that this example ended in a positive outcome. More recently, I was on hold for a job for over 4 weeks. I was constantly using the above as a justification and a benchmark for how long I’d be kept waiting. “I waited 6 weeks to hear from Sound of Music and then I got it!” so when these 4 weeks resulted in a no it was a right old smack in the face. A smack in the face I’d set myself up for.

He’s Just Not That Into You Example:

Janine: “Let me tell you, after I went out with Ben for the first time he didn’t call me for 11 days and now he’s like the worlds best husband”

SPOILER ALERT: Ben cheats on Janine with Scarlett Johansson’s character.

Just because something happened once doesn’t mean it will happen again and it certainly won’t always end the way you want it to.

We have to stop listening to stories of “I knew someone whose partner was cheating on them but now they live happily ever after” or “I know someone who was rejected for a show but 6 months later got the part because…”, “I mean, it could happen right?” NO. STOP THIS. If you’re always looking for comparisons to draw on in order to fool yourself then you’re only increasing the height from which you may eventually fall. Save yourself the added distance and don’t listen to hearsay (unverified knowledge, feel free to listen to the band). Take each new experience as just that…new! Don’t let anyone cloud you with opinions on what it “could be like” because you’ll unquestionably be in entirely different circumstances to anything that might have happened to them – or that friend of a friend of a friend.

I’ll refer you now to, perhaps, the most famous part of the film (or book I should say, it was a book first people):

Gigi: “But maybe he did call and I didn’t get the message or maybe he lost my number or is out of town or got hit by a cab or his Grandma died…

Alex: “Maybe he didn’t call because he has no interest in seeing you again…”

Gigi: “But what if I’m the exception?

Alex: “No you’re not, you’re not at all. In fact, you’re the rule”

In this over-saturated, competitive industry of ours it should be obvious that we are the rule. However, there’s something intrinsic in all of us that makes us want to believe otherwise. In dating and theatre alike we thrive on the drama of it all.

Alex: “You take things and twist them into something else and it’s INSANE!”

It is insane. But I’m with Gigi on this one…

Gigi: I may dissect each little thing and put myself out there too much but at least that means I still care”

…and to that I say hell yeah! (Yes that rhymed, what of it?)

It’s true, we do it because we care. We do it because we want it. Badly. If we didn’t then what would be the point of it all?

My favourite scene in the film is when Janine flips out about her lying, cheating, douchebag of a husband and smashes a mirror on the floor. She then instantly leaves the room and promptly returns with a dustpan to start cleaning up. I think that’s the perfect metaphor for how to get by in this industry/the dating game/life in general. If you get hurt by someone or through not getting a job then allow yourself a freakout (although I’d advise a mope and some Ben & Jerrys rather than smashing a mirror) but then quickly start to pick up the pieces and begin moving forward.

It’s important to stay passionate about what we do but I think it’s equally important to be able to stay at a safe distance from the end result so that the clean up remains achievable. If we get in too deep it’ll be harder to bounce back and if you wallow for too long you might be letting an opportunity pass you by.

Don’t let auditions cloud your mind after you’ve left the room, don’t let the possibility of the phone ringing dictate your existence and don’t listen to hearsay. Trust your own journey and remember why you’re on it in the first place. MUSICAL THEATRE, I’M SO INTO YOU.

There are more lessons to be learnt from He’s Just Not That Into You – Jennifer Aniston and Ben Affleck have a rocky old road to marriage and Drew Barrymore realises that MySpace is not the way to find true love (*cough* Tinder *cough*). However, I think you’ve got the idea (and these ones seemed relevant to my theatrically inclined mind). So I’ll leave you now with the closing, poignant, voice-over of the film – just with a couple of stagey additions:

“Maybe it’s you, on your own, picking up the pieces and starting over – freeing yourself up for something better in the future. Maybe the happy ending is just moving on. Or maybe the happy is ending it this…

Knowing that through all the demoralising dance calls, endless auditions, sirening in public, temping in a call centre and waiting weeks for the phone to ring…

…you never gave up hope.”

Happy auditioning/dating!

Plus,10 points if you know what musical lyric Lottie (my wonderful Gal-entine) used on my punny Valentines card:

Ignore the blinking and see if you recognise the stagey lyric in the Ridout pun...

“NO! I THINK I BLINKED”

“You just never know, in a moment he might walk through that door. And he’d stop my heart from sinking and my head from over-thinking. That’s what we do it for. That’s why we do it, why we put our poor selves through it. That’s what we do it for!”

– Rebecca Ridout

//

I think the title of this blog is the most obvious and cheesy lyric choice yet but, let’s face it, Larson is always poignant when you start thinking about the passing of time. I’m sticking to that.

A year ago, to the day, I graduated from drama school. In wishing all of the new graduates luck and quoting the school’s anthem “It’s Just The Beginning” I’ve become very nostalgic and have spent some time reflecting on these past 365 days. It is tradition at the London School of Musical Theatre to pass on some wisdom to a new student arriving in September to help them out (or terrify them) for their year ahead. So, I’d quite like to write a little post as an updated version of advice for all those beautifully talented people about to take their first steps in the industry.

 Graduates of 2014, this one’s for you.

Now I have the gift that is hindsight, I can say that your first year in the industry will be an unexpected roller-coaster ride. I say unexpected because as far as careers go there are very few that you plan and dream the details of quite as much as a career in the performing arts industry. Of course, there are a very lucky number of people whose journeys will play out like a dream and it’s amazing to bask in their happiness (I’ve spent a lot of evenings crying with pride at professional debuts this past year). However, 9 times out of 10 your journey won’t play out quite as you had envisioned from aged 7, doing one-woman shows in your living room. It seems silly to say so, but remember that! You’ll have been told it plenty of times but it’s so easy to lose sight of that and cry tears of the green-eyed monster watching a friend’s debut rather than the aforementioned tears of joy. It should be all about the joy grads. So here are some tips to help keep it that way:

#TipOne: Pinch yourself occasionally…

…and remind yourself you’re one of a lucky minority (yes, it will seem like a large old industry at times but we’re still a minority) following their dream career. Even if you’ve finished a 13 hour shift carrying plates up and down 5 flights of stairs (yes, that’s what I do) remember that it’s all a means to an end.

#TipTwo: Pat yourself on the back for the small things too.

For your sanity’s sake I think it’s important to think of any achievement as a big one in your first, intrepid, year out of training. Things might seem like baby steps but they are all significant. From a good audition to (god forbid) actually getting a job don’t forget to take stock and note your achievement. It will help your esteem in the long run.

#TipThree: Keep your friends close.

You’re all in it together. You’ll need a network of people that you love and trust that you can call on when you’re struggling for audition material, need picking up off the floor when you don’t get a job or to chat to in an effort to calm your dance-call-first nerves. It’s also necessary to have a group of nearest and dearest who you can celebrate good news (and fight over press night plus ones) with too of course!

#TipFour: It’s a small industry.

That’s more of a statement than a tip. I guess it’s more of a reminder! We’ve all heard it a thousand times before but it still shocks me, almost every day, how everyone is connected. Naturally, there will always be some people in this industry that you’ll want to keep at arms length because of their negativity (amongst other things I am sure) but as long as you kill with kindness you’ll be fine. Plus, I’ve also learnt that playing ‘how many mutual friends do we have’ at auditions is a great way to pass the time. I dare you to try playing ‘do you know Ridout?’ and please report back any findings.

#TipFive: Enjoy every second.

This year will really be about finding your feet and learning how to get the career you’ve envisioned out of your head and made into something tangible (well, as tangible as an acting career can be). It’s not an easy process. I’m a year out and I still don’t have all the wheels in motion – it’s a Reliant Robin at best – but try to enjoy it as much as you can. Allow yourself to cry when you need a cry but start patting yourself on the back again as soon as possible. Get out of the house, find a show you only need £10 to see and get re-inspired. Sing in the rain, dance in the street and use all the world as a stage.*

*Was that sentence too much? Am I too much? Or is the rest of the world not enough? Answers on a postcard please.

#TipSix: Run your own race.

I won’t repeat myself on this one so if this is the first blog of mine that you’ve read then please reference this post on what I mean by that. I will, however, add one more ridiculous running analogy just for my graduation anniversary (mainly because I’ve been using MapMyRun far too much recently): For every 10 minutes of a marathon you may achieve varying distances for each but, ultimately you’re aiming for an end goal and to finish at your personal best. Which roughly translates as: Each year you may achieve different levels of accomplishment in terms of building your dream CV but you know your personal end-sight and you can only ever do your best. Just because one year you achieve less on paper than the last doesn’t mean you’re not going to end up where you want to be. I hope that makes as much sense to you as it does to me.

THAT’S IT!

Like with the tradition at LSMT, I could write a book of advice for what to expect for your year ahead. I hope that these select few nuggets of advice were of interest and that they will serve you in the incredible year you have ahead of you. 365 days later and I’m perfectly contented with where I am right now in terms of my career and I am a very happy individual. I can only hope that you feel the same in another 365 days time. 

Here’s the graduation anthem from LSMT’s own Charles Miller to set you on your way. Just give those lyrics a listen and you’ll be alright. 

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Final day of LSMT. Class of 2013.

“Down the road, around the next bend, who knows what’s ahead? But we’ll keep on and still keep in mind what so many said…”it’s just the beginning”…”

– Rebecca Ridout

 

 

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

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