Dear reader, welcome to the second installment of the Official Theatre People Mentor Program. If you haven’t already, I would suggest that you read part one first, as it introduces the performers being interviewed and gives you insight into the early stages of their journeys. Part one can be found here:

Theatre People: What was your most surprising or unexpected experience of performing in a professional capacity / was there a negative aspect to the experience you didn’t expect? (Was it always ‘rosy’?)

Adrian Li Donni: Well, my professional experience has been as I expected, so nothing has really surprised me thus far. I recently performed at the press launch for The Production Company’s 2010 season and I’m standing in the green room before the show thinking, “Wow, here I am in a small room with Todd McKenney and Amanda Harrison, Robyn Arthur and Silvie Paladino are over there, and now I’m chatting to John Foreman!” And then I thought, “Well this is kinda normal isn’t it?”

Claire George: I’ve just had my first gig as a swing, and, though I loved it, it was not exactly rosy! In fact, I’ve never worked so hard in my life! It’s certainly not glamorous, and the fact that you’re not necessarily performing means you don’t always get the gratification that [is] a big part of performance.
I suppose a surprising, wonderful experience in my career so far was turning up to a first day of rehearsal, and finding myself amongst a Broadway Musical Director, a Tony Award®-winning choreographer, and two brilliant Broadway writer/performers. It was a little surreal!

Danielle Matthews: Well I would say I have had surprising experiences both positive negative. Negative being when I got into my first long contract and did the show over and over I got to a point where my brain would switch off and I would get to a line and realize I was paying no attention, think ‘[Oh my God], what am I doing?!’ as my lips would just automatically say the words. The power of muscle memory when your body gets to know a show so well is both amazing and terrifying. It’s like you don’t even have any control anymore! I love the speed with which professional shows work. You generally have no longer than six week to learn an entire show but it’s so exciting and stimulating and challenging! I think it’s a great thing because the show is so fresh and spontaneous when it opens.

Jessie Yates: Ha ha, not always rosy, but a fantastic experience nonetheless. Not going to elaborate but [I have] had ups and downs that have helped me grow and work out who I am as a performer, and more so who I don’t want to be.

Nicholas Kong: There are no real negatives! It’s my dream job. The process is very grueling. You rehearse six days a week and on top of that you sometimes don’t get a day off because you have to do press stuff. The pay is great! The people you meet are great. Who else can say they have hugged and had a conversation with Cate Blanchett (who was wearing an Armani suit) whilst only standing in their sweaty show underwear?! It is a learning curve. You really have to start thinking about diet and times to wake up so you’re not still half asleep on stage. I used to think people were a bit wanky when they would pull out a humidifier or start guzzling olive leaf extract, but they become you best friends. I was in Sydney so being away from friends and family was really hard. However this is something I always wanted. Everything about the whole experience was perfect. I would not change a thing.

Sam Ludeman: I have no horror stories; the surprising thing to me was that it is a very supportive fun loving industry. Most of us get along great and are good friends, it’s easy to know or at least know of nearly everyone who you work with and around. Another surprise to me was how fun it is to get a show up and running. I always thought the rehearsal process would be very strict and tedious, its actually one of the best parts of the work I do, playing with character choices, learning songs and harmonies, but mainly becoming part of a new family. Every show I’ve done has felt like a new family, of course with highs and lows but that’s to be expected.

TP: What is the most important piece of advice you could give an aspiring professional performer?

AL: Keep working on your craft. Someone once asked Philip Seymour Hoffman what advice he would give to a young actor starting out, and he said something like, ‘don’t be picky, act everywhere and act the best you can. Even in an audition. Someone has paid for that room and you have a free chance to act, to work on your craft. If you do your best, ultimately something will transpire.’

CG: Be aware of, and exposed to, what’s going on in the industry, and keep training to be ready for it! Be patient and prepared for knock-backs, but keep positive!

DM: Well I think the easy and most common answer is the standard "follow your dream" and "never give up" answer, which is great but fairly nebulous!
So what I would really say is there are a few really important things to do.

1. When you’re auditioning, always pick material that you love [and] that will reflect your personality, not material that someone else likes that you don’t! When you perform something you love it shows and it’s a joy to watch, we see who you are!
2. When auditioning for anything make sure you research the show, the style, and time period, and choose songs/monologues that fit the category. Build a repertoire of at least two songs from each time period i.e. 60s, 70s, 80s, etc. Suitable repertoire is gold!
3. Keep taking classes.
4. Don’t let rejection get you down! We all get rejected in the industry constantly!
5. Make sure that your heart is truly committed to what you do. It’s an awesome life but not easy and you need to really love it!

JY: Listen to yourself, not to others, take the good and allow it to make you feel good! But also take the bad… with a grain of salt and remember deep down, what they say doesn’t matter… because you aren’t going to quit just because a couple of tossers get you down!

NK: You have to want it bad. It’s not a hobby. Most likely there will be more rejections than there are jobs. And most of all keep trying if at first you get nothing. One director might not want you but to another you might be gold. You can’t suit every single show that is out there but give it a shot any way – everything helps you learn.

SL: Never give up! If this is what you want to do go for it. Have a ‘normal’ job in between, have five! It’s not easy but I believe you can get there! Be honest with yourself and your abilities, step outside yourself every now and then and look at why or why not you are/aren’t being cast! Use your strengths while you work on your weaknesses to become a well-rounded performer, the more skills you have the more employable you are. Don’t be scared to say no to a job that isn’t right for you and won’t help you develop as person and a performer! Most of all trust your gut instinct and believe in yourself one hundred percent! Be fearless.

TP: Where to next – and how do you plan to get there?

AL: I’m just going to keep doing what I love, which is (for the moment) acting and singing. I’m back at dance classes at The Space, because it’s my weakness at the moment. I’m having fun doing that. I’m also preparing my voice for the concert tour of Festival Of Broadway: An Evening With Stephen Schwartz, which starts in June and requires me to sing like [John] Farnham, and then [I go] straight into my second The King And I for The Production Company in July, where I have to sound legit and “baritoney”. My body and voice have to be healthy for the jump.

I must take this chance to thank my family and friends, without whom I would have never realized my potential.

CG: There is so much in this industry that is uncertain, so I’m concentrating on the things that I can control – I can keep training to keep my skills up, I can be prepared for auditions, I keep myself aware of what’s happening in the industry.

I’ve loved working overseas, but I’m ready to take on the Australian Music Theatre scene!

DM: Well I just returned from the [New York] stint of the Rob Guest Endowment and have a million new skills to try out! It’s wonderful! I now have the next lot of performances and training sessions to attack for the Australian part of the endowment! With all these amazing skills I’m continuing to discover, learn and hone, [and] I’m looking forward to the upcoming auditions for the year! Bring it on! There is also a one-woman show in development, which I hope will be ready for stage later this year!

JY: Hoping to get into a drama school. I did get [into] VCA drama but took the job [on Wicked] in Japan for some life lessons… I got them all right! So I may apply [to the VCA] again but who knows, it’s down and depressed unemployed time for me now but I guess that’s the industry. (Note from the Editor: Jessie has just been accepted into the prestigious London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art {LAMDA} to complete a Bachelor of Dramatic Arts.)

NK: Have I made a career out of performing professionally? No. I have had a job and I loved it. It is very hard to sustain a professional career in the performing arts, unless you [are] a big name like [Anthony] Warlow or Marina Prior. I want to become that kind of a name! Sure it’s a big ask, but one can dream!

SL: Next year, or the year after, I hope to secure a role on Australian TV. I am going to do some film and TV courses to improve my acting on screen, as it is a lot different than stage [acting]. I also plan to travel to the West End or [New York City] to watch all the shows and try different types of acting, dancing and singing courses that we don’t have in Australia. Long term I hope to star in a feature film and play the leading role in a professional musical.

From the author:

I hope you have enjoyed this series as much as I enjoyed working with these amazing performers. It was a pleasure to read their stories and responses, and their successes and achievements are nothing less than inspirational. I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank them all for their time and interest in the project – it wouldn’t have happened without them.