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  • London Role Play Actor Chris Hollis talks about musical auditions, Mamma Mia, and beating, ‘the fear’

    December 4, 2015

    London Role Play Actor Chris Hollis says there are times in all our lives when we need a little nudge out of our comfort zones……

    There are times in all our lives when we need a little nudge out of our comfort zones. Mine happened after I’d seen MAMMA MIA! in the West End a few years ago, and even though I’d never been in a musical before, a small Yosser Hughes voice inside my head said “I can do that!” Fine from a distance, but having cajoled and bullied the casting directors to audition me, I suddenly found myself faced with the prospect of learning a pop song and singing it to complete strangers. (Think early rounds of “The X Factor”. With a smaller budget: in a church hall).

    The deal in musical theatre auditions, I know now, is that you jump through lots of hoops, again and again, singing and acting in front of more and more people until you reach – hopefully – the “finals” which take place in a more expensive version of the church hall: a huge rehearsal room, with mirrors, a piano, a bored looking pianist and even more people: the “creatives” – all sitting behind tables in a huge row surrounded by paper coffee cups. Some of these you recognise from previous rounds, but new faces seem to take control and you find your neck and smile muscles wincing under the strain of knowing who to address or sing to.

    By now you are also sharing the “waiting room” with all your competitors, so there’s an awkward banter and camaraderie as you exit to sing and run scenes together. In my case, three of us became the lucky “Dads” in the show and so became the happiest two years of my working life and – as a bonus – some enduring friendships. This could be luck or good planning from those caffeine-fuelled creatives, but given the amount of time three blokes have to sit around in a dressing room between scenes (we became known as “the Dads in Pants”), I like to think the latter.

    In a “take over” where the show is already up and running, 5 weeks rehearsal is about average, starting with various meet & greets, through dance calls and scene rehearsals. The scariest points are a full sing-through with ridiculously talented cast members, and the whole cast doing a tightly-choreographed Greek dance going round in a circle: on a “raked” stage, which apparently wants to propel you into the front row of the audience. Some are staying on from the previous cast, others – like me – are new. But they have youth and co-ordination on their side. “Get me back in a Shakespeare play!” my brain and limbs are screaming.

    Fast forward to a Monday afternoon in June, and the final part of the process, the “Sitzprobe” – literally “seated rehearsal” where the actors get to hear the band blast out one or two or their numbers. We meet on stage for the first and nearly last time the players who most of the time, live like musical troglodytes, under the stage. The drummer even has his own padded cell – literally – so as not to drown out the others. The impact on hearing these classic, well-known ABBA numbers played live is electrifying. And sobering. But not as much as doing the whole show in front of a live invited audience on the Monday afternoon before the “first night” proper. Of course, the only people available are actors and other pros, past cast members, friends and family – in short, the least objective and scariest bunch apart from Simon Cowell you could ever perform to.

    By the time we perform various numbers in front of an audience of 30,000 in Hyde Park in an ABBA themed, ‘Proms in the Park’ later that summer, I’m getting used to the adrenaline level. I’ll probably always be afraid of heights, but I guess fear will never hold quite as much, well… “fear” again!

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