Letters from a Voluntary Exile #2: … and so it goes …

GUEST POST: Nick Backstrom is an actor and writer, formerly based in Brisbane and more recently in Melbourne. He also sings, teaches and directs, though rarely at the same time. Nick’s Melbourne relocation forms the basis of his occasional posts to Greenroom. He would be delighted to respond to any comments or queries made here.

‘Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down’ as the old spiritual goes.  How do we describe these spirituals nowadays?  Negro was the adjective of my childhood, but that’s at least three PC language generations ago. Slave, I suppose, would be the most accurate.  The adjective is important.  But I digress…

My last letter discussed how much more I was enjoying the audition process. This is a new step for me. Tom McSweeney told me as part of a class many years ago – my final year of uni in fact – that my job was now auditioning, and that I should see auditions as a chance to act, and not as a nerve-jangling job interview.  It’s taken me that long for that simple idea to penetrate my admittedly thick skull.  It is, in modern parlance, an empowering idea.

I did a workshop in auditioning last week with Ann Fay of Maura Fay and Gary Davy of Gary Davy Casting (UK). While there were no startling revelations or ideas, it was good to hear the casting experience from the other side and to watch them work with actors and take note of the advice they had to offer.  This was a free event organised by Equity – join the Union, people!

Fired by confidence and renewed focus, I went to my audition the next day for a very minor role in a very large production.  I had three scenes (only one of which was the character in question, the other two for roles I would understudy) and of course, I had learned all my lines, watched the film of the show so I knew the context – better to read the script of course, but not possible in this case – had thought about three possible approaches to each scene, vocally warm, physically warm and raring to go.  The auditions were running about 15 minutes late, not bad in the overall scheme of things.  I went in at about 2pm; I was out on the street at five past.

I was only introduced to two of the three auditioners.  I didn’t even get to do the whole of the first scene.

I had heard the two women at the sign-in table, looking forward to  Hairspray auditions, that would be, and I quote “real auditions.”  The warning signs were all there.

So it goes.

As it was a very minor role, I am certain that they were looking for a visual, and as long as I could do an American accent and remember lines, all the rest was how I would fit into the cast as a physical presence.  So they had indeed seen all they needed to see in those three lines (out of four) that I was able to say.

Still… I felt pretty low afterwards.  The rehearsal notice had said to be prepared to hang around for a couple of hours afterwards just in case. Turned out this was a standard clause for dance auditions.  I didn’t know that and, having hoped I would be asked to hang for a couple of hours, walking along Chapel St with an empty afternoon ahead of me was not my happiest moment.

I have discussed this with my agent and other actors and discover this is a fairy regular experience for a musical audition. Well, I guess it just goes to show that we live in an industry that at times cannot show simple respect for its members, and we accept that as normal.

We live in an industry that at times cannot show simple respect for its members, and we accept that as normal

Also, another city is not a magic remedy for the dispiriting experiences that actors go through.

Love and mercy to you and your friends tonight.

Letters from a voluntary exile: Melbourne

GUEST POST: Nick Backstrom is an actor and writer, formerly based in Brisbane and more recently in Melbourne.  He also sings, teaches and directs, though rarely at the same time.  Nick’s Melbourne relocation will form the basis of his occasional posts to Greenroom.  He would be delighted to respond to any comments or queries made here.

Like many before me, and more to come, I have been lured away from Brisbane to Melbourne for – well, more work really. That and a summer that doesn’t last half a year, leaving you living in a slick of your own sweat.

I’ve been here a little over a month.  In a previous sojourn south, made for the purpose, I was fortunate to get the services of a very good agent.  Already I have had two auditions for a major TV series.  They were very different animals to the auditions I had in Brisbane.  Being in Melbourne, of course, means you’re nearer the source.  In practice this means reading for better parts, with better information and talking to the actual directors.  Casting agents do their best, but it is another level away from the person who will make the decision, another degree of separation.

Both my audition scripts were at least four pages of dialogue, involving two scenes.  The last audition I did in Brisbane was eight words.  This gave me a little more to work with.  It also meant I could give the character a journey, and the audition actually felt like acting.  Also I was able to go to the studio beforehand and read the entire episode to give the scenes context.  I felt so much better informed, and better armed going into the audition.

The audition itself was different as well.  It’s still you, a reader and a camera in a room but working with the director, giving you feedback and direction.  I was suddenly aware of a weight of expectation from the director that I have not felt before.  Many times we are told that the directors are hoping you are the person they are going to cast.   For the first time in a film/TV audition I had that sense.  I wasn’t there to fill a quota to satisfy requirements from the State Government for money, I was there because they thought I might be the one they want.

In short I felt in making the move to Melbourne I had taken a big step up in getting worthwhile, well-paid roles on TV.

In short, I felt in making the move to Melbourne I had taken a big step up in getting worthwhile, well-paid roles on TV. Kudos and more power to series such as Sea Patrol which genuinely audition and actually cast Queensland actors in good roles, but they still remain the exception.

I am slowly getting out and about and seeing theatre and meeting theatre makers.  I have an audition coming up for a role in a major production.  Of course, we miss more auditions than we get, but you’ve got to be in it to win.  I’ll let you know more, as more happens.

Love and mercy to you and your friends.