herald

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Have you got the tale nt to be a panto star? here's what the expe rts are looking for...

the herald is offering readers from the age of seven to eighteen a chance to star in aladdin alongside louis walsh's new pop group hometown. ahead of the open auditions, we set up a panel discussion with the judges to see what qualities they are looking for. Joanna Kiernan reports

Over the last decade showbusiness has been taken over by dramatic TV reality competitions, which all too often eclipse the hard work, perseverance and dogged determination it can take to make it as a performer.

However, pantomime is one of the toughest gigs in the game, if you cut your teeth here, you can go anywhere. It is also a clever way for budding young stars to get themselves noticed, without always having to come through the official stage schools and agent channels.

So when Ireland's largest pantomime holds its first open casting on October 26, you can bet there will be hundreds of young hopefuls showing up for their chance in the spotlight, but what will make them stand out from the crowd?

We sat down with the Olympia's audition panellists ­- Simon Delaney, who will direct and star in the production, legendary Irish panto star and Eurovision winner Linda Martin, and producer and Choreographer Stuart O'Connor - to find out exactly what they are looking for in Ireland's next big star.

What do you look for?

Stuart: "We are going to look for singers, dancers, but above all else a bit of personality. People, who come in and just bounce off the stage.

Simon: "Energy. We're looking for a display of confidence mainly and comfort with the material. The worst thing that can happen is you have someone coming in and singing for you with their hands shaking, because that comes from them either having no experience or having a bad teacher."

Linda: "You need energy and sparkle. David Essex had that sparkle, Colin Farrell has it, it comes across on the screen. There are thousands of good singers, dancers and reasonable looking people, but you need that little bit extra."

Stuart: "What happens outside counts as well, so when you are standing in the queue or coming in and you meet maybe a chaperone, all of that feeds back into us, everybody is watching you all the time; So if someone comes in and they have an attitude from the moment they come in the door, we will know about it. You have to be nice."

Simon: "It's very important that they can get on with people because you are going into a very close panto family for eight weeks. So we can't throw a grenade in!"

Linda: "There are only a few dressing rooms as well, so you are crammed in together. If you have someone difficult then you have got a problem!"

Stuart: "There is a fine line between confidence and cockiness, too. Quite often we've sat there and people have walked in and you nearly get an immediate dislike to them because they just come across as way too full on."

Why the open casting?

Stuart: "Sometimes I think young kids might have ability or talent, but quite often they don't get the agent because they don't have the experience to get the agent. So with the open casting this year we are giving people the chance to come to us who have no agents, have no schools, no background in it, but just think they might have talent."

Simon: "I was a salesman for ten years and there was a sign over the door, which said 'salesmen are born they're not made,' and I think it's the same for actors. You can either do it or you can't. I am not a trained actor. I came up through the amateur musical society ranks, but that said there are a few good courses around now."

Any tips for how Herald readers should prepare?

Simon: "It's amazing the amount of professional actors even, that will come into an audition room badly prepared. It's a joke. Particularly when it comes to pantos and musicals; they've got to sing a song and you'll say 'well what are you going to sing?' and they'll say 'what would you like me to sing?' You're supposed to have a song prepared."

Linda: "Sometimes that comes from the fact that when people hear the word 'pantomime' they think it is going to be a breeze! 'I could do this in my sleep; it's only panto!' But they soon realise how much it takes."

Stuart: "Panto is actually one of the hardest gigs out there. It is gruelling. It is two shows a day, which you very rarely get in theatres nowadays."

Simon: "It's also a musical, so you've got your three disciplines, you've got to be able to sing, act and dance. You have got to be that triple threat."

Linda: "There has to be a hunger there, you have to be very single minded."

Simon: "Driven."

Linda: "Yes, you can't be distracted or for the older ones, going out the night before an audition the next morning. It does happen and people think sure I'll breeze through it, but it shows."

Simon: "It gets back. It's a small parish!"

Stuart: "It's also the look of people. Some will come into an audition they'll look like they have only got out of the bed. They don't even make the effort to have their hair done or their make-up on. So straight away you think they are not taking it seriously."

With Louis involved will this be like an episode of X Factor?

Stuart: "People think with the X Factor that they walk into the room on the very first audition and Louis and Simon are sitting there, that's not the case you, have already gone through three or more rounds of auditions. So they say it is an overnight success and yes it is an overnight success in terms of a TV audience.

"It can give people the wrong view of the business and how much work it actually takes. It can seem like a short cut, but often if they don't put in the work it will only last a very short time."

Linda: "I think it's much harder these days. In my day we had the bands and a very healthy music circuit right around Ireland, so there were ballrooms, discos, cabarets all of these kinds of things and what it actually did was create work for young kids coming through, they got the experience, they saw what was happening, they saw the rejections and doors closing, they saw the arguments.

"They saw everything and then they moved up and fell into the right path, but these days because there's a scarcity of any venue for young people to gain that experience, so they have to go into the likes of X Factor and others and they haven't a bloody breeze! Rejection to them is like a world war happening on their shoulders, because they have never seen it before."

How can children learn to deal with rejection in showbiz?

Simon: "A lot of people in our business, mainly actors, really they don't treat it as a job and that is what you need to do. It's a job and when you go for an audition and don't get it, move on and do the next one. The problem is, as Linda says, is that there is a scarcity of auditions now, so therefore there is more pressure when you go into the room, but you have to learn to deal with being told no. I am told no three times a week. You could get very close to life-changing jobs and it is heartbreaking, but you have to wash it away and go and do the next one."

Linda: "It's not personal either, it's in one person's eyes you weren't right for that part."

Is there anything parents can learn to protect their children?

Stuart:"I have two boys of my own and they are into singing and dancing and we have stage schools, so we are teaching kids every day of the week. I think it's really important that parents encourage their kids, but at that young age, they should not to take it so seriously. It is a pastime to a certain extent. You see situations where people are pushing little children and trying to make them into young Shirley Temples.

We have already seen Shirley Temple, you want your child to be an individual and to have personality and to be pleasant. When they come into auditions parents tend to think that they need to talk to us or be pushy.

They don't, they just need to encourage the kids and if they don't get this role, the parents need to say 'listen that was a fantastic experience, you got to stand on stage in the Olympia!' and encourage them to learn from it as opposed to going 'Oh my god, I'm devastated!' It's not the end of the world. So one door closes, go and open the next two!"

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