You can go so far without an agent. Beyond that are the shutters barring your way to the closed shop where agents try to interest casting directors in their fancy goods. And it's very much a buyer's market. For what it's worth I treat having an agent like having a lover I'm not sure of: I never wait for them to ring.
Make sure you potentially earn money every day.
'Get to the work,' says Maggie Hambling, painter. 'Improve your technique, sell the work, be nice; but do try not to de-pip yourself as you go along!'
Click for Maggie Hambling's website
Before you've had a thought get out of bed and to the work. Hold the wall for your ballet exercises, get on the floor (check the mousetrap under the dresser for dead Mickey) and do your breathing, then stand and fix your eyes on the horizon for spoken and then sung voice. See some reminders here:
More about Voice Work
Learn repertoire as you go; be it stand up: I'll be Home for Christmas, But Only in Your Dreams, research before an interview with adult actor Isaac Jones, or the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" in the Liberace mix.
Check all the papers and magazines. Wherever possible check the actors' studios, the dance spaces and theatre green rooms. Check the sites you have on RSS feed that post information about open auditions. And around whatever it is you have to do to actually earn your living, audition for anything that fits your casting type.
Anything that fits, mark me. As the line goes in my Madame Galina skit:
'Desperate is never attractive!'
Don't go up for something just to be seen by whoever it might be taking the audition. He wants to see only people that can be put in the frock, the slap and the role. Yes, he may also, as you found out, direct straight theatre, but don't put yourself in front of him and hope he sees from what you do your potential to play reined in Chekhov when he's looking for you to belt out "Change from a New Brain".
About those 'no money involved, but muchly exposure!' posts. Can you get what you might by doing this and by no other means? Then, okay. But a note of caution: number 3 here...
Read: An Update for Those Lies
Arrive at the audition with plenty of time to spare but don't cause a jam. A bit of catching up, some networking - but, as ever, Desperate is never attractive.
In a cattle market dance audition, yes make sure you get seen - but not as that Miss Elbows.
Play down any over-eggy abilities you might have. I know someone who could unfailingly recall a dance routine from having seen it once. His standing and staring and not marking anything made fellow auditionees and choreographers nervous. A West End choreographer waved the pianist to silence one day and snapped,
'Let's get the boy who says nothing, beats nothing, but clearly knows everything to see what he's got, shall we?'
Whereupon my mate danced step for step exactly what he had just that minute seen demonstrated.
Who knows, he might have got the part if he'd said a couple of chassee pas de bourrees, epauled a bit or twirled a finger in the air to indicate he had spins, but just not right now, okay?
Help the panel see you in a role by dressing and making yourself up accordingly.
If the panel asks for your own choice of song in whichever order, get on with it. Don't simper that you don't mind and ask them to choose. Their brains will be cocotted by now and the only thing they want to have to choose is the shot for their mochaccino.
Present music that will stay on the music rest, with pages that can be easily turned where necessary.
Have worked out exactly how to tell your accompanist what you need him to play and how fast. Don't say:
'You'll be fine, I can play this myself!'
'I need it as fast as Barbara Streisand.'
And certainly not:
'I've been channeling the spirit of Mary Martin, who created this role, since we found the Ouija Board in our student flat in Oakley Court.'
Sing a bar or so for speed - and do not, not click your fingers.
If someone on the panel holds up a hand and asks you to stop, do so immediately, smile, thank your accompanist and the panel, then leave. Don't say,
'I wish you'd heard me yesterday. I was better yesterday. They told me there and then I got the part. And it was a much bigger audition than this one.'
Do be nice at all times when you're out and about in this industry. It's in your power to be. I still go cold at the memory of the best of the mezzos at Guildhall: gorgeous, intelligent, witty and with a fabulous instrument, getting a totally undeserved reputation while still at college for being 'difficult', and being passed over for work outside. All she had done was to ask me - and I was fag to her hag even though I was three years below her at college - for a favour.
'Please, please, Iestyn, you know it's your free day tomorrow - I'm in opera rehearsals - please could you go to the passport office and hand in some papers on my behalf? Otherwise I'll miss a hugely well paid recital in Dubai.'
Yes, it involved some hours of sitting there, but I was quite happy with The Forsyte Saga. And was certainly happy with the bottle of fizz I got afterward.
Then it went round - what a diva to send that poor first year on her errands, like Melba sending her maid to rehearsals. And he had to sleep there overnight. And she said, in that voice she has, that he was only missing German song class while he was there and who cares as he always sings like a cow in that anyway?
Totally deserved was the reputation that actor Tom Hudson got himself, on the other hand. He was a treat to work with before he got into Oxford; and would admit to having the speech impediment I was trying to correct. Then, post-Oxford, where he 'could sense himself burgeoning into what people hadn't realised I ever was' he preened and denied that he had the speech impediment. Or would say that it was never to be mentioned. Or that It was his USP. He had outstripped any relevance I might have in his straight acting world, anyway, had to be said.
I was still on his CV, however, and one of my colleagues at Guildford rang me to say that she had been on the panel for an audition that Tom had just done. The speech impediment was, actually, the least of Tom's worries, she thought.
'The director wrote in a note that was passed down the table: "This one's a total cunt!!!'".'
So, my advice is to be light, ask five questions in two minutes, and listen to the answers.
Oh, and don't recite your CV!
Finally, with the reference to de-pipping oneself, Maggie Hambling is referencing actor Amanda Barrie, who thinks the best performers are those who are like a fruit with pips. Iron out your technical deficiencies but not your idiosyncrasies.
Unless doing so will make me laugh.
Simone, who I taught at Guildford, had so many pips she was always going to play vamps. With her smoky alto notes, borderline goth look and soapily operatic private life she always seemed in morning song class, leaning against the piano, to be missing a high stool, a cigarette and a drink.
Which was fine if that suited the repertoire - and I'll never forget her singing "The Man that Got Away". It stopped being a song class in a higher education college. Her eyes starkly staring, her hands in claws, her voice seeming to pitch into an abyss. And, of course, this being Simone, everyone sitting there that morning knew who her man that got away was, who he'd got away with and how publically he had got. Still, she was unforgettable.
Then we had the end of term project on Rodgers and Hammerstein, and the director of the Musical Theatre course again saying that she needed to hear some semblance of a soprano range from Simone.
'Sick of them going on,' Simone said. 'I can sing high. How high do we go in exercises?'
'E flat above Top C.'
'Is that the black note? Well, perhaps if they didn't have the stupid song class first thing I'd be more warmed up and could sing them the black note and shut them up.'
'Or you could get up earlier, get your whistle wetted with as much steam as possible in the bathroom while you take your shower - remember, run it cold a few seconds, then hot, then at the temperature you want. Give the running commentary on what you're doing as you do it to get your voice to a later, more worked in stage in its little day.'
'Running commentary on how I fucking hate those songs. All the sopranos will be in their element with this project.' She thrust her shoulders back. 'Right. I've got this one.'
She had indeed got it. She came to the Rodgers and Hammerstein class in a gingham yellow dress over her usual DM's, with her hair not down her back that morning but in two side plaits.
'Right,' she gritted to the class. 'I've been up since five. '"Many a New Day", Oklahoma.'
She clasped her hands to her bosom, simpered and sang, showing her full soprano range. The top C she added was as spectacular and irrelevant as the comment she made when the applause had died down.
'Now can you all shut up about wanting to hear me sing high? If I wanted to be a soprano and have no pips, then I'd eat kumquats and stop smoking rollies, drinking whisky and giving head, all right?'
See? Be a Simone if you can, a fruit with so many pips it's a pomegranate.