What I've also wanted to do for quite a few years is work with the University of Adelaide Theatre Guild (henceforth known as 'the guild' for short), whose shows I've been seeing for almost as long as I've been living here, including Twelfth Night, The Underpants, A Streetcar Named Desire, Antony & Cleopatra, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Influence, Richard II, The Importance of Being Earnest and The Real Inspector Hound.
I'd actually auditioned – unsuccessfully – for the last two on that list; I've not had that much experience with not getting cast when I audition, so getting into a show with this company became a significant goal for me.
So in late 2010 when I heard a rumour that the guild were to be doing Macbeth, I got very excited.
1Actually, I don't know for sure that this is true; it's just something I assume. But I'd be surprised to find it wasn't true.
234 more to be precise; the number of those that you're likely to see performed, though, is probably half that.
A long(ish) wait
Sometimes finding things out well in advance isn't necessarily a good thing; since it was a couple of months between when I first heard and when the details of the auditions were released. In that time, though, I had some back-and-forth with the director, Michael Eustice.
Eventually, though, the date was announced and they were taking bookings. They also listed what they wanted from auditionees: not just the usual monologue (specifically, one from a Shakespeare tragedy) but also, and somewhat surprisingly, a 'shaggy dog story' style of joke – surprisingly because Macbeth is, of course, a tragedy. In fact, I suspect that it might be one of the least comic of the Shakespeares3, at least compared to, say, Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet or King Lear, which all have numerous comic moments.
Finding the right pieces
I took some time choosing a monologue; it's the sort of thing you want to do well, and it helps if it's a piece you feel some kind of connection with; my thoughts leaped immediately to Othello, since a) it's a tragedy, b) I knew I had a copy lying somewhere around the house, and c) it's the one with Iago, who's one of my favourite Shakespearean villains, and one I've always wanted to play, even if it's only for an audition.
I found a monologue, but wasn't sure; it seemed like it might be a bit short. So I found a website where all the Shakespeare monologues are listed and categorised into male and female and the three different genres (comedy, tragedy and history). But I couldn't find anything I liked any better than the one from Othello, so that's the one I went with.
Just for interest's sake, here it is:
Thus do I ever make my fool my purse:
For I mine own gain'd knowledge should profane,
If I would time expend with such a snipe.
But for my sport and profit. I hate the Moor:
And it is thought abroad, that 'twixt my sheets
He has done my office: I know not if't be true;
But I, for mere suspicion in that kind,
Will do as if for surety. He holds me well;
The better shall my purpose work on him.
Cassio's a proper man: let me see now:
To get his place and to plume up my will
In double knavery—How, how? Let's see:—
After some time, to abuse Othello's ear
That he is too familiar with his wife.
He hath a person and a smooth dispose
To be suspected, framed to make women false.
The Moor is of a free and open nature,
That thinks men honest that but seem to be so,
And will as tenderly be led by the nose as asses are.
I have't. It is engender'd. Hell and night
Must bring this monstrous birth to the world's light.
For a joke I turned once again to the internet, and after reading dozens of truly, truly awful 'shaggy dog stories', I found one that I didn't mind too much, and which I thought had a good structure and was based around a less odious (or obscure) pun than the others.
That one I'll spare you from.
3Given I've actually avoided reading the play in any great detail leading up to the audition, this is a perception rather than an informed opinion; I'm happy to be convinced otherwise.
The big day
I'd been allocated 4.30 on Saturday afternoon; since it was a nice day I decided I'd ride my bike into the city – the auditions were at the guild's regular venue, the Little Theatre, which is part of the city campus of the University of Adelaide. As usual, I got there early; however, this turned out to be a good thing, 'cause they'd had a few people not show up and I didn't have to wait around.
The joke was first, and it went pretty well. I've always been a good public speaker, and storytelling (oddly enough) comes fairly naturally as well. The panel – the director, assistant director and the two actors playing Macbeth and Lady Macbeth – actually laughed, and said it was the funniest one they'd heard all day.
Monologue time, and this didn't come quite as naturally, but the idea of this kind of audition is that the director gets you to try the piece in a number of different ways, to demonstrate that a) you're able to take direction4, and b) that you're capable of doing it whichever way it is they want you to do it.
So that's what we did; mostly they got me to go a lot slower, and then we did it as if it was to an actual person in room with Iago, rather than the soliloquy it's written as. Again, they seemed pleased with the result, and that I was able to understand what it is he (the director) was wanting me to do differently5.
And that was that.
4Not being able to take direction is one thing; not being willing to is another – I've seen people completely blow an audition by insisting there's no other way they can do that character. Arguing with the director is an acceptable practice – but only once you've been cast.
5This phrase – found mostly in workplace HR material as the 'nice' way of telling you you're doing something wrong – usually brings me out in hives, but on this occasion it's an accurate description of what took place.
The waiting game sucks – let's play Hungry Hungry Hippos!6
I was told I'd find out by the end of the week, so I didn't really start thinking about it until I got an email from a friend who'd been told (also via email) that they didn't get in.
Which of course started my brain off on its usual habit of attempting to calculate the likelihood that I'd get in. On the 'pro' side there was the fact that I felt I'd done okay in the audition, and that I've had plenty of experience doing Shakespeare7; on the 'con' side was the fact that, being the guild, there'd no doubt be a whole bunch of very talented people to compete with.
One person I'd acted with, Geoff Dawes (he played Antonio in The Tempest), was auditioning as well. Two others I knew who were trying out were (oddly enough) both people I knew from university as well as theatre, Andrew Dowling and Gary George. Andrew's done a few shows (mostly comedies) over the last few years, and Gary is an ex-professional actor with a lot of experience – and, apart from anything else, was nominated for his performance as Enobarbus in the guild's 2008 production of Antony & Cleopatra.
So, it was less about whether I was good enough to play the part – without being egotistical about it, I knew that I could play nearly any part and play it well – and more about if there were enough people better than me who'd tried out.
6That's a reference to The Simpsons, by the way; specifically, the Mr Plow episode.
7Or, as I like to call it, 'Shakesperience'...
My phone started ringing about three o'clock on Friday afternoon; I don't get that many calls, so I was pretty sure it was going to be Melanie from the guild to tell me whether I was in or out.
Turns out I was in.
They offered me the role of Ross, one of the noblemen; in my research I'd come across the name but hadn't studied the script to the extent of knowing how big a role it was. But I knew it was a speaking part and, since that's the only real criteria I set, I said yes.
It was only after I'd gotten home from work that I got online and found a website that showed the amount of dialogue (by line count) each character in a Shakespeare play has that I realised that Ross is (in that regard) the fifth biggest part in the play, below only Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Macduff and Banquo.
Downloading a copy gave me an even better idea of what I'd be doing – though, since I downloaded a version from Project Gutenberg that turned out to be quite elderly, I got slightly distracted by the spelling used ('murtherers' as opposed to 'murderers' being one that stood out) – and it's actually quite a lot; for the most part, Ross is one of those expositional characters who shows up and explains the significant events that aren't able to be shown on stage. But he also has some more dramatic moments, including one with his cousin, Lady Macduff.
So I've got quite a bit of line-learning to do and, given there are some intense emotional scenes, some acting to do as well.
Another round of the waiting game
Rehearsals don't start until June 4, so I've got a while before things kick off. Which is a bit of a bummer, given that I'm a somewhat impatient person, and I have quite a few questions – not the least of which is the all-important question of who else is in the cast; since one of the main reasons I do theatre is for the social aspects, it's a big part of the experience.
Turns out that Andrew Dowling, who I mentioned upthread, got in as well; he's playing several of the other characters. So that's a good thing because a) he's someone I know, and b) I won't be facing the possibility of being the only guild-noob there8.
All else aside, I'm very excited. Getting into Tempest was a happy accident; this, by virtue of being something I've been planning for since first hearing about the opportunity sometime late last year, is a much bigger thrill for me.
I'd like to be able to promise I'll provide regular updates, but I know what I'm like. But you never know...
8This is more important than you might think. It can sometimes be very daunting to be around a group of people a company like the guild tends to attract, i.e. talented and experienced; I actually get a bit nervous.