by Jez Bond

A question that has been asked of me many times is have I or would I like to act on the stage. The answer has always been a confident ‘no’. There are a number of reasons to this.

Firstly the very reason I am a director is that I have always been fascinated in a mercurial coordination of people and things into a live performance. My role has been the facilitator, the conductor, the puppet master, the overseer, the all seeing eye. To take away my ability to stand back and examine a performance or production from the outside would make me uncomfortable and not at my best.

The second reason, that has particularly come to light today, is not that I couldn’t act but that I would not like to walk daily in the shoes of one who does. It all started this morning when I went for my first ever professional audition…

As a singer I am no stranger to performing. I have sung in choirs, in barbershop quartets, in jazz bands, in soul bands, as a classical soloist, in churches, in cathedrals, in clubs, in bars. Although my career and first love is theatre, music has always remained my passion. Despite being rather hectic at the moment a friend asked me to consider auditioning for a three singer group. An album would be recorded over a few weeks in the Spring and a tour would follow. It would not be a full time commitment and would end altogether in a year, when another three men would take over. As such, and perhaps with a curiosity to audition, I decided to give it a go. I began my journey:

The bus took ages to come, the district line was delayed and the victoria line was backed up so badly that I could hardly enter the platform. I thought I had left plenty of time and, determined to stay calm and focussed, I looked over the lyrics for the song we were going to be working on. I had already spent a couple of hours learning the song (which I had never heard of, and didn’t particularly like) and then studied the lyrics, which I thought I should probably memorise. Although I usually have notes in front of me when I sing, this style of performance would involve definite memorisation.

Arriving a few minutes late I apologised whilst staying positive and not “bringing it in with me” – a mistake I have seen many actors do at auditions. We proceeded to the piano for a sing with the musical director and another auditionee. The idea is that they wanted to see how we would work together (the third person in our time slot had to cancel).

I was given the high part – up to an A flat, which I did say would sound terrible as my voice was F sharp at best and currently F. They liked the power and didn’t mind me changing gear for the falsetto, although I felt uncomfortable. The audition lasted about half and hour. We sung with the piano, we sung with the backing track, we sung unison, harmonies, solo sections. We even looked at some small moves – though nothing overly choreographed. 

All in all, how did I feel? Awkward. I reckon I was harder to work with than the other guy. Not that I tried to be difficult, just that I am so unused to playing the role of the one who is being directed. I thought the other guy had a better look, a more interesting voice for this type of song and am fairly sure he could move better. With my director’s hat on, were it simply between the two of us I would have chosen the other guy. Surely to be actor I would have to want the role so much as to believe I was perfect for it. Even if that’s not a truism, consider this: in the case where I believed myself not to be right for the part and were cast in it, how could I have any respect for the judgement of that particular director?

The third reason is perhaps the simplest and, I imagine, the one that can be most easily comprehended by others. I have known actors spend hours rehearsing and memorising speeches, take an hour and a half to choose and apply their clothes and make up, and travel a further two hours return trip for an audition that’s lasted just two minutes – or, worse still, that has been cancelled at the last minute. I have known actors cry themselves to sleep at night after getting down to the final two for a big job and then not getting the part. I worked for three hours on an audition that lasted twenty minutes, that I thought might be fun – that’s nothing in comparison. I did it once. Many actors do it on a daily basis. I had a good experience at my audition but I have heard plenty of horror stories about how actors have been treated in auditions. All in all being an actor can be a daily demoralising and humiliating experience ripe with constant rejection.

As a director I have always been conscious of treating actors with respect. Simple things I would insist on, like informing actors that they didn’t get the job after an audition, have been looked upon with near outrage by some theatres (“we never call or email the actors who didn’t get it, not even after a recall” I was told by one major theatre – yet it takes a matter of minutes and can mean so much). Apart from now being even more aware of how it feels on the other side of the table, what can I do as a director? Sadly, I don’t think very much. I hate saying no and turning actors down but it’s simply par for the course. Certainly it’s made me glad I’m not an actor – and it’s given me a deeper and tremendous respect for those that are.

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