Archives for posts with tag: 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!

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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

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

 

I’ve been listening to Joe Stilgoe’s album ‘New Songs for Old Souls’ on repeat* this week but there’s one lyric in particular that keeps on jumping out at me and it got me thinking – with a theatrical spin of course. In his track ‘Roll’ he says that “youth is wasted on the young” and even at my tender age I often wish I could go back and squeeze more out of my youth. I know, I know, some of you may be mentally (quite vigorously) shaking me right now saying “YOU ARE STILL YOUNG, WOMAN!” but I’m talking childhood/teenage years here. Youth is definitely something we all take for granted. It’s the ultimate never-knowing-how-good-you-had-it-until-it-was-gone scenario. Childhood was the best wasn’t it!?

*I seriously mean on repeat. I listened to it all the way home from work and I’m still listening to it. I just danced to my kettle, danced whilst making a cuppa and danced back to my laptop. I defy you to resist the jazzy goodness of that album. Please note: I’m not being paid to advertise it. It’s just that good.Trust me, you need it in your life.

Childhood is something we grow envious of with age. We get nostalgic for those carefree times and ultimately start resenting the present with all of it’s real-life, real-time problems. Having recently fallen back into the joys of actors funemloyment it would have been so easy for me to feel that way. However, I consider myself very lucky to have just spent the last 5 months working alongside endlessly energetic, lovely, talented kids. They’ve put a spring in my step that I can’t seem to shake. Seeing kids do the same job as you (or doing much more that you in the case of the Von Trapps vs. Nuns) but miraculously never tiring and loving every second is infectious. They were a burst of inspiration daily – both before the show and during. Granted, my track in the show had very little cross-over with the Von Trapp gang but as a consequence one of my favourite parts of the show was the party. Whilst Maria and the Captain were Landler-ing their way into eachothers hearts we’d all be out on the terrace and the kids would lift spirits and always make me crack a smile (perhaps because they named me and my hubby the very appropriate names of Colin & Shaniqua…). They never suffered on matinee days, they don’t want it to be Saturday because that means they won’t get to do it the day after and they live for every second. That’s how, when as kids we decided we wanted to become actors, we always thought we would feel and it’s exactly how we should be. I feel very lucky to have had that drilled into me by three teams of exceptional youngsters leaving me with enough mojo to keep me going until 2017 at the very least.

However, I understand that orchestrating being cast in a show with kids perhaps isn’t the easiest way to give your spirits a lift. Luckily, I’ve found something that is equal – if not better – soup for the stage-driven soul.*

*side note: if you haven’t read any of the ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ books you really should. They’re just that.

Instead of working alongside them, you just need to go and watch talented youngsters absolutely smashing a professional production out of the park. It will either inspire you or give you a good kick up the bum (“they can do THAT and they’re HOW OLD!?”) but either way you’ll feel better for it and you’ll want to get up and get at it.

You could go and see Matilda or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (unfortunately you’ve just missed The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole and the hauntingly good performances from the girls in The Nether) but there’s one show in particular that, in my opinion, is guaranteed to revive your childhood spirit. You need to go and see Bugsy Malone at the Lyric Hammersmith.

I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about kids pretending to be mobsters that just tickles my funny bone beyond belief. I’m pretty sure that I grinned from ear to ear from start to finish. Firstly, it is ridiculously heart warming (sure there’s gang warfare but it’s ANGEL DELIGHT) and they resolve to all get along and give out love on the understanding that it will all come back around. Yes, yes and more yes to that you mini mobsters you. Add to that the most talented group of kids (nay, I could even say cast – you won’t believe the calibre until you see it) I have ever seen and you’ve got a surefire, life-affirming, energy-inducing hit. You’ll be propelled from your seat (initially for a standing ovation, then) with your new found enthusiasm for life and the industry.

I know that’s high praise and a lot of hype from Ridout over here, but I really don’t think it’s out of place. Those kids (and kidults in the cast) will astound you and they’ll make you believe, all over again, that you can be anything that you want to be.

“Think about it, says cast member Isaac Gryn, 16: “We all stand there singing to the adults in the audience: ‘You don’t have to sit around complaining ’bout the way your life has wound up.’” It’s a call to arms – just as long as they only shoot Angel Delight” – from Matt Trueman’s article, The Guardian

Remember, the creative adult is the child who survived.

Happy recapturing your youth and, if you know what’s good for you, watching Bugsy Malone!

Baby Rids thinking she could be anything that she wanted to be.

Baby Rids thinking she could be anything that she wanted to be.

“I won’t take no for an answer, I was born to be a dancer”

– 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

A few days ago I drafted a blog about the joy and sorrow that the fringe has brought us this year in terms of theatrical delights and actor’s livelihoods driven woe. It read a little something like this:


This year I have spent a lot of time visiting and loving fringe theatre. Indeed, this year was my first (can you believe it?) trip up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and it’s safe to say I fell head over heels in love with the whole thing. Fringe theatre offers unparalleled opportunities in creativity to actors and creatives alike – taking risks that mainstream theatre entrepreneurs wouldn’t dream of – resulting in exciting and innovative productions that have the industry raving and flocking in attendance. The questionable conditions that its creators work in inevitably become part of the charm – especially when up in Scotland, on the Mile, in the rain, still going strong – but they are equally the reason that the fringe ends up under the firing squad. Whilst watching the show it’s hard to forget that the actors are being paid a pittance (if anything) and have probably come from an 8 hour shift just so they can pay their rent and buy the occasional value sandwich. Consequently, it’s also hard to escape the accusations of acting increasingly becoming a career solely for the middle/upper classes because it’s boiling down to those who can afford to a) train and b) sustain a life on predominantly no income!

I’ll be honest and say that I feel like I’m on a see-saw of opinions – never settling on what I think is the right option. On one hand, I am an actor and of course I should be paid to do what I do. It’s not a hobby, it’s a profession and all that jazz. But then I consider the flip side suggesting that the fringe simply wouldn’t exist if everyone was paid (the investment could never be matched and therefore wouldn’t go ahead in the first place). The latter has been brought to light recently with the director of a “profit-share” fringe show winning an appeal against his actors demanding minimum wage for the work they had done. The result was applauded with “sense” prevailing and producing for the fringe remaining financially viable.

Read the full article in The Stage HERE.

Whilst I believe that actors should be (or should I say are) entitled to at least minimum wage such an ask would likely prevent producers from producing and then we would be robbed of the exemplary work that we do have on offer on the fringe scene. It’s of a high standard, it’s highly regarded and some of theatre’s biggest and brightest talents come to use it as a creative outlet – who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? And I know I am not alone when I say that my favourite works of 2014 were to be found on the fringe. In The Heights and Dogfight at the Southwark Playhouse created storms of inspired audiences, Carousel at the Arcola had broadsheet critics bowing down, Drunk at the Bridewell brought together dance and theatre audiences and left them craving Happy Hour, Sweeney Todd (both in Twickenham and currently Tooting Arts Club) had us blood-thirsty for more, the Howard Goodall season at the Union (which is still running with ‘Girlfriends’) had us swooning at the scores….I could go on and on (you know I could). If an enforced minimum wage had prevented the producers from bringing us these pieces just think how deprived we would have been.

The same can be said of Edinburgh – “don’t go to Edinburgh if you want to make money”. However, that doesn’t stop thousands of people (this year 3,193 shows ran) being mad, making art, sharing it and having a bloody good time in the process. And it’s no wonder – the whole experience is intoxicating. (If you haven’t been, it’s truly impossible to try and imagine what kind of effect being surrounded by all that creativity will have on you. There’s nothing like it. You simply must go. But anyway, back on topic.) In Edinburgh, I was working with an American and he said that with their union standards, nothing of the sort could ever happen in the USA. Isn’t that such a sad thought? With all that talent that country harbours they don’t and can’t have the same creative playground. I then started noticing the numerous American companies present at the festival. People had come to our little island in order to put on a show and revel in the unique collaboration of actor and audience that we have on the fringe (you know, when you could be the only person in the audience but the company still give you their life and soul at 11 in the morning). So here I am torn again between having the strength of a union (that I am sure many of us crave) or having the chance to frolick around Scotland for a month and be a deliriously happy thesp. I’m pretty sure I favour the latter.

2014’s fringe offerings have truly been a theatrical treat, providing solace from the increasingly treacherous West End. I did three shows on the fringe this year – two in London and one in Edinburgh – and I’d do them again in a heartbeat. That’s the problem with us actors, we do it because we love it. Therefore we agree to things no normal (sane?) person would and accept a nomadic lifestyle (as my physio put it so nicely) all for the love of the craft. I truly feel caught between a rock and a hard place – where the rock is the right to earn a living in this profession and the hard place is the life rich with inspiring art. After all, the earth without art is just ‘eh’.


So that was the draft (NB: DRAFT).

If it wasn’t for my impending move to the Midlands yesterday I would have posted this on the fence piece without knowledge of how the fringe could move forward to exclusively spreading joy (no equity woe). Then, as if by some miracle, the heavens above answered me in the form of Paul Taylor-Mills & the Morphic Graffiti team Stewart Charlesworth and Luke Fredericks.  On Friday it was announced that the team will be bringing us a revival of ‘Bat Boy’ to the aforementioned gem of a fringe venue, The Southwark Playhouse in January 2015. Great news right!? But the ever greater news is that they have agreed with equity to ensure that everyone on the production will receive at least the National Minimum Wage. WOOOHOOO. 

Emmanuel de Lange of Equity said: Equity members want to see a fairer fringe and I am commited to tackling the endemic culture of low pay and no pay in theatre, but we often hear management claim it’s just not possible to pay. This agreement shows that we can work together so professional performers are treated ethically, even when they’re starting out their careers.

Paul Taylor-Mills said: We’re committed to doing everything we can to prove better rates of pay for our actors and at such our break even point for Bat Boy is terrifyingly high. This is a risk we are prepared to take if it means we are moving in the right directions to try and make the fringe a model that can work for everyone. It isn’t a battle; this is a dialogue and requires openness, humility and a greater understanding from both actors and producers.

I don’t think show announcements come much better than that. But you’ve heard the man, the break even is high so make sure you book (…ASAP….CLICK HERE) to show prospective producers that it can be done and that they should follow suit. Don’t be like the hundreds who flocked to see Dogfight in the final week and were turned away disappointed when they could have booked without trouble in the weeks prior. Guarantee yourself a seat to say “I was there when”!

We’re having art created for us AND people are being paid to do it. That’s a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year rolled into one and it’s only November. If I thought fringe was on top this year, I can’t wait for 2015.

Please let me know your thoughts on any of the above. Have you ever boycotted fringe on principal? Do you think we’ll be able to move forward in this way? Any other fringe joys you’d like to highlight? It’s truly something I could talk about all day so please join in the discussion.

In the meantime, happy fringe working/attending!

Final walk down the Mile on the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Final walk down the Mile of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

 

“If we prove that they’re wrong, they’ll come round before long and we’ll all sing a song full of comfort and joy!”

– 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

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

…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

 

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