Resilience in Failure
I have taught children and young people in some capacity or another for more than 20 years now. My area of expertise has been drawn from the boards of the heavily-lit spaces of the many theatres I have worked in across our country and indeed, all over the world. My training was from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the 11 years I spent as a professional actor taught me many things that I in turn, try to pass on to the students that I work with. I’ve been really lucky in the work that I’ve done, working at places like the RSC, The New Vic and touring to LA with ‘As You Like It’, but to solely rely on luck would have been sheer stupidity. Whatever path you take in life, I think you must be sure that you have some skill at that craft if you are to be successful on any level. You also seldom meet someone who has been consistently successful through their lives and it’s this that I am writing about in this blog.
My first audition out of drama school started with a phone call from my then agent, Bronwyn. She was Australian but had been in this country so long that she had developed a very RP accent that, coupled with the Aussie in her, made her sound like Lloyd Grossman. “I’ve got an audition for you, mate,” she said to me and I grabbed a pen and hurriedly wrote down the details. It was for (please supply the drum roll in your head) THOMAS THE TANK ENGINE THE MUSICAL. That’s right. After three years at one of the finest dramatic establishments in the world, honing and tuning my craft, I was hoping to be accepted into the Thomas cast as the engine driver of Gordon.
Like all self-respecting and hungry actors, I asked the important question of how much I would be paid and, surprisingly, it was quite a lot. With my interest piqued, I asked for more details. The auditions were to be held at Pineapple Studios… alarm bells should have rung but, I really didn’t know anything about Pineapple Studios back then. Especially not that it was a centre largely associated with ‘dancers’ and ‘dancing’. Both words that drive fear into the hearts of most classically-trained actors. We tend not to move well. Talking, yes. Moving, different beast altogether.
So off I popped a few days later, dressed in a warm and comfy jumper and jeans. I was going for a children’s presenter sort of look and hoped that this would help sway the panel. I arrived at Pineapple Studios and was immediately met with a wall of lycra-clad men and women who all talked enthusiastically to each other about the audition ahead. I, on the other hand, was beginning to worry slightly. Chrissy McMurrick, the casting agent, asked us all to come in and out bounced a blonde lady who was far too energised for the early hour and announced that she was the choreographer and director. A pairing that in my opinion could only spell doom for me and one other boy at the back of the room wearing a similar jumper and jeans who would, I could only imagine, also be making the call to sack his agent the moment this horror was all over.
We were all taught a little dance routine where we jumped about and used our arms in a locomotive fashion whilst the pianist twinkled through the few bars of music. My face was, by now, red and sweaty and the jumper was beginning to make me itch. It had not been the best idea after all but at least this couldn’t get any worse.
“Ok!” Shouted the blonde director/choreographer. “I’m going to put you in groups of three to perform for everyone.”
Turns out it could get worse after all. A lot worse. At this point I should have put my hand in the air, (I didn’t). Should have explained that I was clearly not at the right audition (I didn’t) and left with the scrap of dignity that I still clung to but of course, I didn’t. I stood up in front of everyone and sweatily bounced badly through that audition and, to make matters worse, the director/choreographer stopped my group midway to point out that I wasn’t quite getting it. I already knew that. And I explained to her that I wasn’t a dancer. She said that she needed to see that I could move. I told her that I could walk and this got a laugh from a few, but not the choreographer/director.
Now, this may come as a shock to you but I didn’t get that job. However, I’ve never forgotten it or stopped telling the story about it and that leads me to why. Why on earth would I tell anyone about this and why do I think about it so fondly? Well, it’s simple really. You will never and I mean NEVER be really good at something unless you are prepared to completely fail at it first. We spend so much time and effort in teaching, telling young people to ‘get it right’ and I honestly think it’s overrated. If you get it right, you’re only reproducing something that somebody else has already done again and again and again; I can’t think of anything more boring and predictable. While I understand that mathematical equations will always have the same outcome, it takes real failure and disappointment before you can truly feel the elation of a breakthrough in understanding black holes or string theory. Some of our greatest leaders and thinkers didn’t score A* across the board in all subjects and some of them even failed, but it was their ability to understand the power of resilience and their determination to succeed, get up and carry on that really set them out as being a cut above the rest. So, what did I take from my time as an actor? Dare to fail. Be brave in your choices and never stop letting it make you happy, because failing is just a stepping stone towards winning.
As a side note, I later found out that the successful candidates that would play the engine drivers in the show THOMAS THE TANK ENGINE actually drove mechanical trains onto the stage… gutted.