Claire E Rivers in her own words:
“I’m a dedicated theatre book writer and lyricist. I spend all my bloody time AT the theatre or lurking around a piano trying to put words to music.
Currently working on a few different projects and thoroughly enjoying the process.”
It is often said of the world of theatre that it’s a tough game and requires a thick skin.
Scores of dedicated actors and actresses periodically queue up like the world’s least enthusiastic conga line, desperate for the chance to audition for an ensemble role that may or may not still be available by 10am (they’ve been there since 5am). They may make it inside the building, or they may be turned away en masse. Others may be picked out by the lady with the clipboard, patrolling the ranks.
“You – step forward. Any West End credits?”
“Ok, come with me.”
Once inside, they may be lined up with several dozen other hopefuls and taught a dance routine, or else sent in one by one like lambs to the slaughter to perform up to 32 bars of their “money song” or even – sometimes, towards the end of the day – just their money note: the highest they can go. IF they nail the dancing, the singing, the sometimes-interview bit and any other maddening request the audition panel might make of them, they may get through to the next round the following day. Unless they’re too blonde, too dark, too skinny, too flat-chested, too white-bread, too Asian, too frowny, too blue-eyed, too young, too smiley, too old, too plain, too much like the leading man/woman, too…well, you get the picture. The odds are stacked against it.
One of the most frequent errors made by recent drama school graduates – or simply deluded old-timers – is miscasting themselves in their own minds.
However, the so-called cruelty of theatrical casting should not simply be disregarded by normal 9 to 5ers. There’s an awful lot of truth-telling in a casting session that could be well-employed in other life situations.
One of the most frequent errors made by recent drama school graduates – or simply deluded old-timers – is miscasting themselves in their own minds. This equally unhealthy alternative to body dysmorphic disorder is what sends a lumpy 45-year-old brunette out onto the stage at an open casting, belting out What You Want from Legally Blonde*. It’s unsettling, it’s disconcerting, and it’s about as appropriate as a 4-foot freckly redhead warbling “…though the night is black as my skin….”
*This disorder is also what encourages said lumpy brunette into a pair of “short-shorts” come summer, believing that everyone sees the image she sees when she looks in the mirror, breathing in, grinning and striking a pose. Note: the mirror will undoubtedly have light bulbs all around the edge and a signed photo of herself with Idina Menzel tucked into the frame.
We will call this disorder LIFE CASTING FAIL
It’s not always this extreme, and it’s not always in theatre. Sometimes people get ideas that undersell themselves, like my friend Hannah, who always sings a character song, depriving the audience of her lovely crystal soprano. Or Adam, who believes with absolute confidence that he is too middle-weight for most leading roles, despite having been cast as just that in two of my shows and capturing the hearts of every audience…and many of the cast members. These little foibles are understandable in performers – you’re all so constantly told one thing then another that I don’t know how you manage to remember who you are or what you’re doing most of the time. Just as long as you don’t let it control your behaviour, or spill over into Real Life.
You’re all so constantly told one thing then another that I don’t know how you manage to remember who you are or what you’re doing most of the time.
Open or cattle call casting sessions teach performers to be thick skinned, sometimes robustly unemotional (until they’re on stage) and that the industry can be an absolute bastard when you’re trying to claw your way into it. However, these secretly delicate flowers learn things through auditions that Real-Lifers don’t: to never stop trying, be the best they can be, and accept the hand they are dealt. A seasoned performer will know whether they are Fiyero or Elder Cunningham, Nellie Forbush or Sister Mary Clarence, and they never stop striving to be the best version of themselves that they can be. Once they know who and what they are, they can begin to find work as performers.
Perhaps it’s unfair that performers have to learn this and never stop working at it, while the rest of us are permitted to hide behind desks or counters, lying about diets and our natural hair colour, wearing whatever we like – despite daily agonising – and being able to squirrel away secrets or turmoil, without being placed under a spotlight or in a freezing community centre and interrogated at our most vulnerable while trying to become somebody else.
The worst LIFE CASTING FAILS occur in the Real World, where people believe things about themselves based on nothing but their own fear and apprehension. Why? Because they are not tested. Because no one is THAT honest, no one is THAT BRUTAL as to tell them the truth the way a casting director would. People wear the wrong clothes, say the wrong things, fall for the wrong people, go to the wrong places and listen to the wrong advice because they DON’T KNOW ANY BETTER.
The aging woman who believes an affair with a younger man will keep her young, or the skinny guy who convinces himself that in the RIGHT combination Jack Wills sweater and gillet he will finally have the physique of a rugby captain: LIFE CASTING FAILS.
A performer who’s been through the wringer enough times would be able to take one look at both of them and conclude that the woman should stick with someone who actually appreciates her for who she is (as should the young affair-ee) and that the skinny guy should find a way to make himself look and feel right for who he IS – not who he wants to be.
There are a few morals to my ramblings here. One is the Serenity Prayer, which has never failed to help me make sense of things:
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Secondly, listen to the people in your Real Life that you can trust. If a friend thinks you’ve managed to get yourself into a situation you shouldn’t be in, listen to them and listen to everyone who has an opinion. You don’t have to take everybody’s advice, but listening is an important way to learn. Eventually, you can work out an average and roll with that.
Most importantly, if someone who loves you tells you you’re beautiful, listen to them – not the mirror. Because they see you better than you can see you.
Finally – and this is probably more of a theatre thing than a Real Life thing – LISTEN TO PERFORMERS.
They are strong, learned, and know how to be themselves just as well as they know how to be other characters. They can teach Real Lifers so much about survival, self-respect and the importance of knowing who they are inside and out.
Treasure these people in your life. Apart from anything else, they’re brilliant fun at parties!