Over 1,000 actors in less than two weeks? Our performing arts editor Nell Frizzell had to go down to the Leicester Square Theatre to witness the madness for herself...
The last time I auditioned for a play I was about a foot shorter, a stone heavier and in love with a boy called Matthew Dwyer because he wore awesome combat trousers. It was also, I hasten to add, 1996 and I was 12.
And yet, the quiet, clammy-handed fear that hung over the Leicester Square Theatre during yesterday’s auditions for The 24 Hour Plays: Old Vic New Voices took me straight back, like the smell of Impulse vanilla or the taste of a Push Pop. I was terrified, and I didn’t even have to get up on the stage.
By 4pm yesterday Old Vic New Voices’ Steve Winter and his colleague, director Charlie Westenra, had seen over 500 actors in less than a week. That is more young performers per week than I’ve had hot dinners. By about 487 hot dinners.
After a quick five-minute warm up that involved much body-shaking, dropping at the waist and loosening of muscles, the 25 actors were asked to deliver the first line from their one-minute monologue, en masse, at top volume. “Smash it into the back wall,” said Steve and I braced myself for the full force of professional projection. If only everyone had managed such volume during their individual auditions – when you’re on The Old Vic stage you’ve got to make yourself heard to nearly 1,100 people. This is no time for whispering.
Once everyone was nice and warm, the actors were told to sit in the front two rows and wait to be called up on to the stage to deliver their one-minute monologue.
Now, I don’t know what kind of advice you’re given at drama school about choosing monologues, but it certainly isn’t numerical. Several of the “one-minute” monologues were pushing four and even five minutes. There was also an unlikely sprinkling of American accents, quite a lot of chair action and more swearing than stag do down the docks. Not to mention monologues containing suicide, homophobia and football.
After everyone in the group had been seen Steve and Charlie then went through their notes, sorting each performer in to three piles: yes, no and maybe. Never has a box file contained so many anxious hopes and fears.
In the end, I was left feeling humbled by so many young, talented people auditioning for an as-yet-unwritten play. To embrace such an awe-inspiring challenge is brave indeed.
Also, in the hour that I spent there, not a single person wet themselves, burped, burst into tears, fell over, played the spoons or did the running man, which I consider a triumph if not a miracle.
Congratulations and good luck everyone.
The 24 Hour Plays: Old Vic New Voices will take place on 23 October 2011 at The Old Vic.