I’m really hoping that you haven’t clicked on this article expecting to find the ultimate answer on how to become a performer. The truth is I can’t really tell anyone how to be ‘successful’ as I’m still working it out myself. What I can do is tell you my story, so you can see the emotional rollercoaster of trying to become a performer and hopefully see the benefits of persevering.
Before I can really go on, I need to properly introduce myself.
My name is Catherine. I’m currently 20 years of age and an aspiring performer in Melbourne, for some reason completing a Commerce degree. My performance history is nowhere near conventional. I finished school in 2008, during which time I had sung with several school choirs and developed a passion for performing. It wasn’t until late 2009, however, that I got my act together, got my first singing teacher, and started auditioning for amateur and some professional theatre. Since then I’ve unashamedly become a massive musical theatre nerd.
Prior to February 2011, however, I had not been cast in a single show, nor even got a callback. I’d regularly read Theatre People casting announcements and often see the same names, wondering what they had that I didn’t. It got to the point where I was so doubtful of my abilities and afraid of rejection that I couldn’t find the courage to even call and book auditions.
As a performer, I’ve been gifted with versatility. I can sing Soprano to almost a full octave above Top C, yet can still belt out "Defying Gravity" (on a good day!) You’d think that would make trying to break into this industry so much easier, but it really doesn’t.
The following is a selection of diary entries written after significant events in my career to date. These entries were for personal use only, but I realised other people might find them helpful/interesting.
Catherine (third from the right) in La Bohème.
Friday the 4th of March, 2011
What a day! Today has possibly been the most incredible day of my life.
It started early this morning, when I found myself sitting staring at my phone, hoping and desperately wishing it would ring. Hours passed. I sat through my Musical Theatre class wishing, for the only time in my life, that I didn’t have to sit there listening to Bernadette Peters sing Sondheim.
I had given up hope.
Then it happened. A phone call from an unknown Sydney number. To paraphrase, "Congratulations Catherine, we’re casting you in the brand new Gale Edwards La Bohème! Go to a costume measurement tonight and we’ll see you in Sydney on Wednesday."
I had to take a minute and just sit in silence, to process what had just happened. To be performing in my first real show, a professional opera with Opera Australia, directed by Gale Edwards? Nothing could top that feeling. I’m finally getting somewhere. The realisation that all my hard work was starting to pay off was enough to render me speechless and actually shed a tear. After two solid years of pushing myself, of never getting anywhere, it finally all paid off in a gloriously self-affirming kind of way.
Friday the 13th of May, 2011
This evening, I stepped off the stage of Melbourne's State Theatre for the last time. There really are no words to describe the adrenalin rush of standing centre stage, with 2,000 audience members staring up at you. As I reflect back on the past two months, I realise just how lucky I’ve been. To have been a part of bringing Gale Edwards’ monumental vision of life, to be performing alongside internationally renowned singers is ridiculously special. I’ve had a dressing room, a dresser, a security clearance pass, made incredible new friends and sat in the green room with some of my stage idols like Robyn Nevin, Gale Edwards, the Next to Normal cast, Matthew Frank, and Dean Bryant.
A moment of perfect clarity hits me: THIS is what I want to do for the rest of my life.
Thursday the 19th of May 2011
I’ve spent the entire night crying into a pillow and used up an entire box of tissues. The other day I had the most perfect audition I’ve ever done. The show is one I badly want to do and really suit, so I desperately hoped and even foolishly expected to get a callback. I just found out I’m going no further. I’ve been cut.
I’ve never been this emotionally drained and completely uninspired in my life. I literally struggled to pull myself out of bed at all today.
This industry is just so frustrating. It is IMPOSSIBLE to know what’s going to happen. There are so many things completely out of our control.
Auditions show people at their most vulnerable and expose people for who they truly are. You spend hours travelling to and from them, filling in forms, preparing CVs, printing headshots and most importantly preparing material and training yourself. I have two hours of vocal lessons a week – that is a ridiculous amount of money invested. You work your butt off and put absolutely 100% into doing your best .
We attend auditions and pour our heart and soul into making a room full of complete strangers like you enough to give you another go. You receive absolutely no explanation, feedback or criticism, absolutely no way of knowing what they really think, why they decide the way they do and even if they genuinely think you have talent. In an industry where you can be perfect to someone and completely wrong to someone else, that sense of the unknown is horrifying. To be rejected again and again and again because you’re never quite what someone is looking for? It takes a lot of resilience to be able to keep coming back from that. We can’t help but wonder: what chances have I got of making it professionally when I can’t even land a callback for an amateur production?
Since that disastrous episode things are looking up for me. I pulled myself together and auditioned for the same show with a different company. Not only did I get a callback, but I landed the role. A perfect example of how different people are looking for different things. But if I had let rejection win, I never would have discovered that. This time last year, I would have never in my wildest dreams have imagined myself having worked with Opera Australia and be rehearsing/performing three other shows simultaneously. I could quite easily have thrown in the towel at the end of last year and just missed out on all the opportunities that have opened up to me.
Basically if you have any aspirations of becoming a performer, go for it! Find a teacher that knows what they’re doing and will support you no matter what. Build a support network, have people to lift you back up again when things do get tough. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there! Set yourself goals and find ways to mentally get around setbacks. As clichéd as it seems, believe in yourself. If you don’t, no one else will.
But most of all remember that we put ourselves through all the heartache because we couldn’t imagine our lives without the glorious highs that performance brings.