Saturday, 27 February 2016

Chris Thomson on auditioning and anxiety

Chris Thomson recently joined Grassroots to play Captain, as well as double with Priest and Officer. Before he was cast, we knew that we were looking for a talented, strong actor who could create powerful and individual characterisations for the different roles, be able to play comedy and drama and know when the difference was called for, while also being a great ensemble member. We were slightly worried. Was it too tall an order? Could we find this person? Where could they be..? 

Then we met Chris who gave one of our most memorable recalls and won us over totally. It was very insightful to read his side of the process and we asked him if we could share it with you. 

Here it is!

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Pending...


Chatty McWorkmate: So, what you doing this weekend?

Me: Got an audition Sunday.

Chatty: Cool. What for?

Me: Ah you know, this Shakespeare thing. It's a good job actually, potentially really exciting.

McWork: Is it?

Me: Very, yeah.

Chatty Mac: Well, tell your face.



…………………………………………………………………………………………

Wife: Hello?

Me: It’s me. (I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet.)

(I’m hunched in a doorway, using it as a wind breaker and momentary protection from the piss storm lashing down on Shoreditch. No one pays me any mind. I am not a local, but with my face plumage and tartan shirt they have accepted me as one of their own. I am waiting for the worst of the torrent to pass and watching an old lady who looks a lot like Ronnie Corbett wrestle with a disobedient umbrella – she’s just gone arse over tit on the pavement as a swift gust has turned said umbrella inside out. The wind has tugged that thing back like a reluctant plastic foreskin, it has.)

Wife: Oh hi babe, how was it?

Me: Ugh, fucking awful. Completely fucked it.

Wife: Oh shit, really?

Me: Yeah really bad.

Wife: What happened?

Me: Nah, being a dick. Went brilliantly actually.

Wife: Hey, you’re a twat. I was really nervous for you, I know how much you want it.

Me: Were you?

Wife: Of course I was. You’re a twat.

Me: Yeah, sorry. I am. But no, it went really well. In fact I can’t remember an audition ever that has been that positive and that comfortable. They were lovely, as far as I can tell I did good acting. A few laughs, was in the room longer than I should have been… all good signs. Did my job well today I think.

Wife: Well that’s great.

Me: Yep. Anyway, on my way home now.

Wife: Cool. Bring me food.

Me: Yes darling. Love you.

Wife: You too, bye.

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Lunchtime. Yes… got me some bloody leftovers in that Tupperware - in that tasty tup-tup. Chilli is always better the next day… bang that in the microwave there. 3 minutes to make a brew and have a quick Facebook scroll…

Oof, this coffee is nothing but functional, Kenco instant is the cheapest of choices! Now, let’s have a look at the old media feeds… Oh shit. They have announced some new cast. That’s me out of the picture then. Said they’d be letting people know soon (‘soon’… thanks, how specific and useful), but if they are announcing new cast I guess that means they made their offers yesterday. Two days of gut wrenching anxiety were totally worth it. Aaaah, that is WANK.

I’m so sure I did a great job though, there was hugging on the way out. Perhaps the e-mail got lost in your junk? Give that a check right away… Nope. Of course it’s not there. There is no e-mail.
I mean look at the guys they have cast, they’ve all done ‘stuff’: TV, West End, been nominated for awards and shit. They are all awesome. What was I thinking… thinking I had a chance… I don’t know…

Oh stop it. Just stop that shit. It’s just a job, walk away from it. You know you didn’t embarrass yourself, you just weren’t the right choice this time… Every. Damn. Time.

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Friday night ends a long and disappointing week. I had received an e-mail a few days previously saying that decisions were still being made and people still being seen. Although this update was appreciated and preferential to being entirely in the dark, it still meant that I had spent the last three days in a purgatory of disquiet; suspended somewhere between an ill-advised sense of hope and preparation for impending rejection.

I’m sitting in a wine bar sharing a carafe of Rioja with an old friend (Chris? Has anyone told you that your life sometimes reads like that of a middle class banker-wanker?) when a new e-mail announces its arrival. “Sorry mate. I just need to take a look at this e-mail”.

Recall.

Great. But not entirely what I was hoping for. Gahd! Can they not just pack it in and give me the job? I mean, of course they can’t, they want the best guy for the job. And hey, it means you weren’t shit. You are still in contention. But a recall means stepping up your game. I decide I’m having this job, even if for no other reason than the fact that I have already invested too much panic and preparation to loose out now.

We get drunk and listen to Peter Gabriel on vinyl.

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*Door creeps open* (Interrupting the nice 'pacing up and down the corridor and irregular respiration' session I had been indulging in.)

“Hi Chris, we are ready for you, if you'd like to come in.”

In I go. Hugs, smiles, an associate director in a luxurious burgundy cable-knit (I think I have a knit-wear fetish. Or maybe I'm 58. One of the two); welcoming. What's not to like? “So let me tell you where I'm at”, my opening statement, “I've dressed up nice,” (double denim, what a player) “and I managed to get through a whole day of work without messing them up... until about half an hour ago, when I managed to piss coffee all over my shirt.” Laughter. (OMG this guy is so honest and witty.) “Just thought I'd bring it up rather than you all sitting there for the next twenty minutes thinking 'has he come to see us wearing shit-dirty clothes? Disgusting bastard.’ So, there it is.” I felt it best to tackle 'stain-gate' head on, as the week before, when I was helping to run auditions (yeah, the ones from Table) I zoned out of one guys speech because he was wearing odd socks. I take a seat. “So, who would you like me to pretend to be first?”

Small talk commences. I think I'm being charming, I've left my verbal activities momentarily on auto pilot. My brain is doing its own thing: Flashback. I'd been trudging around a park for the 40 minutes immediately previous to this meeting, playing with line delivery and contemplating the embarrassment of a bum audition. The 'embarrassment and failure contemplation' is a subject of thought to which I am no stranger. However, today it is particularly potent as not only is it the first recall (as far as I can remember) that I have ever had, so the stakes are higher, I am also taking what I consider to be a risk. I have been called in to read for three parts (as opposed to the original 'one'), one of which is a sea captain. I have done a lot of work on the language and have opted to use what can be best described as a full on pirate voice (Flashback within a flashback...

Wife: It's really good, but what accent is that exactly?

Me: Think of it less as an accent and more like 'a voice'.) Will they think it a ridiculous choice, that I am an amateur and not taking it seriously? Or will it bring the house down? Well, risk is the way to go with this business. The fact is, I think it is a funny and clever choice, and fundamentally I believe in it. My main objective is to have conviction in the work I have done.

I come to the Captain scene. The face of the actress I am reading with registers surprise and confusion when she discovers that she is standing opposite a cheap Captain Barbosa tribute. It is not until half way through the first speech that the panel relinquish the ability to uphold their professional exteriors and to deny the rising laughter brawling in their chests. They open the latch and full on piss themselves. Being a terrible corpse, I loose it as well, and we all cackle through the rest of my ludicrous interpretation. Was this reaction a welcoming of new possibilities perpetuated by my off-kilter choice? Or was it so oblivious a performance that I had come off as ridiculously as Jedward might do if they were trying out for Miss Saigon, or if Donald Trump were running for President (a mad-cap hypothetical situation, I think you'll agree)? At the time, it felt like a good thing.

…………………………………………………………………………………………

The common theme here is anxiety. I rode that fluctuating wave of nervousness for about 10 days. I have convinced myself over the years that nervousness and anxiety in relation to a job are non-useful emotions, and thusly have taught myself to suppress such feelings in order to a) make for a more comfortable audition, and b) combat against the inevitable blow when I don’t get the job. I am starting to realise that although this may make the audition less uncomfortable, it may also make it a boring audition, and a forgettable one as further consequence. I should know this already, I am still pretty sure that my successful drama school audition only happened because I’d just split up with my first proper girlfriend. I wasn’t pretending to be broken and vulnerable in my chosen speech, I was genuinely the stuttering, shaking wreck of a heartbroken adolescent. How method.

Remember that conversation with Chatty McWorkmate? When she said I should tell my face to be excited? A great example of me ‘managing expectation.’ Although I can’t help that I have resting bitch-face, which is often misread, on this occasion the expression probably fitted the emotion. But something changed with this job, and I allowed the weight of the opportunity to affect me at its will.
Every job I have ever managed to get has one thing in common. I have gone into that room of opportunity and decided, ‘I’m having this job.’ The very decision I made in the wine bar that evening. For that to happen you have no choice but to invest yourself entirely, and to make yourself emotionally available. If you are having trouble caring, then you probably shouldn’t be there; cut your losses and be an accountant. Those emotions and those stakes give you what is required to produce your best work.

I found myself questioning if this was really worth the amount of anxiety I was carrying. It so happens that, on this occasion, it was. And I did get the job. And I am ecstatic about it. Apparently I smashed it. Now I’m not saying that to brag (not entirely), but it highlights the point that it is always worth taking the risk and reading a part like grizzly fisherman. Whether it is the right direction or not, it won’t be forgotten.

Apply yourself; this is the word. It will be worth the anxiety. Eventually.

Pending ...

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'Twelfth Night' runs from 5th April - 14th May 2016 @ The Leicester Square Theatre, London:


Chris's original blog: http://cgthomson.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/pending.html




CHRIS THOMSON

Chris is an actor, musician and writer.

Since graduating from the Manchester School of Theatre (2010) his career has been varied; from musical (The Last Five Years) to educational theatre (Wasted, Walking Forward), from comedy (All Our Friends Are Dead, Norris and Parker) to children’s theatre (Stig of the Dump, Image).

Last year he made his directorial and compositional debut on Peter Brook’s ‘The Man Who’ (CLF Art CafĂ©/Bussey Building), and is currently composing original music for comedy duo ‘Norris and Parker’.











Twelfth Night marks Chris’ debut with Grassroots and on the West End, a situation about which he is very happy indeed. 

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