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.