Has anyone read John Barrowman's autobiography by any chance? Course you have, he's brilliant. I remember something he said in his autobiography and it was along the lines of 'If you don't pay your dues, you don't get what you want'. He called it the Dues and Don'ts syndrome and in my world, that makes more sense than 1+1=2. That's mostly because I hate maths but it really does work - a sort of Karma for actors and I suppose it can be applied to any profession where you have to start off low to get to the top.
Every actor has started off somewhere and chances are, unless they're Dakota Fanning, they've begun by playing 'Woman No.2' or 'Smug Man at Party.' I know, I too have experienced the embarrassment of such character titles but what one has to acknowledge is the beauty of such simplicity and learn from it. These days our world is plagued with the absurdities of life so much so that we haven't the chance to stand and observe, to listen and understand because we are too wound up in a vacuumed bubble gasping for air. That's pretty deep but it's pretty true and it does have a point, I promise.
What I am trying to say is that it is all experience and at the end of the day, a child that hasn't learned to read can't write a novel and similarly an actor who hasn't trained can't get into drama school.My gallant drama teacher strives to put on a professional shows whether it be a musical or Shakespeare. Like a real thesp, I audition for these shows and when it got to my GCSE year I was adamant on pursuing a career in the arts and it was agreed the school would be showcasing a production of Twelfth Night. Consequently, I was determined to impress everyone with my skills by getting the lead role of Viola. I was a little sceptical about how I was going to go about this when I discovered I was going to be playing Maid No.1 - I was disappointed to say the least and like any angry young thing, I sulked.
What I didn't take into account, however, was what I might learn from my minor role. Despite the inevitable truth that, yes indeed, it was a school production, it felt as inspiringly professional as any show I had previously been in. I learned how scenes were blocked, how rehearsals were put together, how stage management worked, how costumes were fitted... the list is endless in terms of production. I don't know if you know the play Twelfth Night but the maids dont really possess a great deal of character or require much acting effort, in fact I'm not entirely sure if maids are mentioned in the play itself at all. Much of my time at rehearsals for that show was spent doing nothing. I perfected the art of standing still with my hands held couteously in those long hours but I also perfected patience and patience is one of the key lessons learned as an actor. Nothing happens instantaneously and that's important because practice makes perfect. What's more, it gave me all the time in the world to pay attention to what was being said and done by everyone around me: my drama teacher, the older students and the younger ones alike.
That year, I paid my dues. And so a year or two later, when Hamlet was the next show to be performed, I bagged the role of Queen Gertrude and as there are only two female roles in the whole of Hamlet, I was pretty pleased with that. I was able to apply the knowledge I had gained from previous years to this particular piece as well as the acting skill I had obtained through practice in that time also. It paid off and the show was a great success. So much so, we even performed some scenes at the Egg theatre in Bath. There is absolutey no point in complaining about the status of a role you've been rewarded with after an audition if you haven't put the effort into the journey to get there in the first place because you will immediately be at a disadvantage to the person stood next to you who played the Waiter in an AmDram production of Great Expectations - they've got the experience, they've got the edge, they've paid their dues.
It's these big roles that help you get into bigger shows but then the process begins again. And it's not just the roles you have to watch either, it's the shows themselves. Everyone wants to be in the best shows in the best theatres but you can't expect to trot out of school straight into the RSC. Nuh uh. Chances are, your local club or pub has a nifty little perfromance space stored somewhere that any amateur theatre company can stage a show on. Sure, they might not be professional but it is twice as valuable to find your feet at the shallow end before diving into the deep. Simply by working with people who share similar interests as you is experience enough as it teaches how to socialise and work with strangers, how to develop contacts, how to pick up new techniques, how to hear about new projects. All of these little assets count in the bigger picture.
It may seem disheartening at the time but no one gets anywhere by being constantly served life on a silver plate with little crab cakes on the side. Audition for AmDram shows and revel in your insignificance because next time, your dues may reward you with what you want and when that time comes it's going to be sheer hard work. There's a reason we have two ears and two eyes and only one mouth - use the formers, control the latter and enjoy the after-parties becasue we amateurs sure know how to do that!
P.S Listen to Johnny B.
(Images from zap2it.com(John Barrowman) and thewestonmercury.com(masks) via Google)