A couple of weeks ago I attended an Actors’ Guild workshop run by Gareth Machin, the guv’nor of Salisbury Playhouse. The topic was casting, and he was asked, during the Q&A section, whether he thought people given material to do at an audition should learn it. No, he said; for film or TV something different might well apply, but for a theatre audition he didn’t see the point, and certainly he doesn’t encourage it for his own auditions. Make people learn the text, he said, and it simply becomes a memory exercise – and chances are that, however well you learn it, you’re going to stumble once you get in the room.
Flash-forward a week or so, and I’m asked to audition for a show at the Brighton Festival. It’s an official Festival show, with real money attached, so I can’t say “Swivel!” when they ask me to learn the audition speech. Instead I waste two days trying to get to grips with it, then dry, precisely one line in, when I try to do it in front of the three-strong audition panel. Whereupon the director very kindly said, “Why don’t you have this...” and handed me the script. Which begs the question: if he was happy for me to have the script, why did I need to learn it in the first place?
Fortunately the audition involved other things as well – a piece of my own choice, and some character improvisation – but I didn’t get the job, and I’ll never get back the time I spent needlessly learning their script extract. And it was needless, wasn’t it? Shouldn’t it be taken as read (no pun intended) that professional actors with a body of theatre work behind them are capable of learning lines – if not for the audition, then at least by opening night?
Robert Cohen – a man in showbiz so stepp’d in that, should he wade no more, to go back were as tedious as go o’er. These are among his musings.