In late march I saw an advertisement from a UCAS email calling for musicians around the UK to audition for Youth Music Theatre for their summer programs. After responding to the email I received an audition date and by early april I auditioned in Kings Cross, London. Famous for their alumni including Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran, I thought it would be a good opportunity and experience to audition in front of a professional panel. I also did it because the skills required to play in theatre were far from what I have been used to in my playing career and would mean learning new things and would also grant me the opportunity to play and learn with other musicians and Musical Directors. The requirements for the audition were to take a prepared piece and have technical ability over and above grade 8. I arrived with my most recent prepared piece entitled 'Queenz' by Anika Nilles and found time to get a practice session in a studio near Waterloo the day before. I played it through then was asked to improvise and then was questioned on various aspects of my playing and reading.
After getting accepted on to the program a week later I received an information pack on where I would be playing and other dates and times. I was playing in a production called 'The Dirty Stop Outs', a production based on real life experiences of our grandparents era in their younger adolescent years. The production was based in West Yorkshire and the shows were based in Halifax. As I was planning on travelling right up until the production I did not have much time to look over anything apart from the location and dates.
I arrived 6 weeks later in Halifax train station after a 12 hour flight and 5 hour train and took a taxi to Fulneck School in Pudsey. After a brief introduction to some members of staff I met the Assistant Musical Director (AMD) Naomi, bass guitarist Tom and guitarist Wiza to enter rehearsals for the rest of the evening. As this play was being made at the time of the production a lot of the songs were still being written. The first thing we learned was the introduction song of the musical 'Dirty Stop Outs' a crossover between theatre and rock genres. As the band was only there for one week before the shows the rehearsals lasted around 9 and a half hours a day. In rehearsals we would usually be given 3 songs a day to learn, rehearse and then play through for the cast in the evenings. It was a cast of 32 actors and actresses aged 15-21.
Mid week we rehearsed nightly with the cast and ran through all the numbers, then towards the end of the week we ran through two tech rehearsals in Fulneck School and sorted out any faults as we went through. On the thursday night we transported all of our equipment over to The Square Chapel in Halifax where we were to play 3 shows that weekend. We set up on the stage and ran through a few more technical rehearsals whilst the lights and stage manager sorted out the arrangements for lighting and other parts of the show.
On the friday we ran through the full show whilst the lighting was being arranged and sorted out dynamics for the band. As the production was 'in the round' meaning the audience surrounded the cast it meant that the projection of the actor/actress could not always be heard which proved difficult for us as we had to lower our volumens substantially in order to keep with the cast. The songs ranged from latin to soul to shuffle and swing, and that was one song in particular with all 4 genres in one. The others did not prove that difficult but it was a very new experience taking instruction from a conductor who also played with the band meaning we constantly had to be aware of tempo and dynamic changes. This proved an extremely valuable experience however.
The shows went (mostly) without a hitch and the ensemble and cast actually scored 98% on the Guildhall Trinity Grade 8 Theatre and Performance exam and we also covered by the BBC. The changes in songs took some getting used to as we had to use a script to follow and indicate when we were next playing, or where the next underscores were coming in. Learning under our professional Musical Director Alex, it allowed me to progress and develop as a musician in a few ways. It firstly gave me the valuable lesson of complete openness to immediate change in tempo, bar structure, dynamics and phrasing. A lot of the time we would be changing bars just before the next tech rehearsal or show so you would really have to pay attention to counting bars. It also gave me the experience to follow cues and to work closely with a conductor meaning I had to know the music well enough to not look at it for more than four bars a time. Lastly it improved my dynamic playing hugely. Having to play songs which went immediately from very loud 60's rock to very quiet cross stick required a lot of control which I found developing over the time spent working with Alex.
I found the cast of 32 extremely talented, very promising and really good fun to work with. They were also very welcoming to the new band as we arrived a week later then they did. After three excellent shows on the saturday and sunday I left Halifax with a very heavy heart and great new experiences. I would like to thank everyone involved for such an amazing experience and opportunity.
I would hugely recommend any musician to apply and audition for Youth Music Theatre. Here is some advice on enhancing your time there and preps for the audition.
Reading was a huge part of learning new material at YMT. If you are a confident, or not so confident reader in your instrument I would strongly advise brushing up or learning how to, especially on counting bars. It makes learning new material and following scores so much easier and would most likely enhance your chances of getting through the audition. Whilst there your reading will improve tenfold automatically, as you have to follow most songs bar by bar in order to keep track of where you are so you don't miss cues or anything else.
Upon arrival I realised that the equipment provided for the band was not the best I was hoping for. A battered old CB kit with old heads on it. I did the best I could with the tunings but opted to go back to Newcastle where all my kit was to bring some of my breakables down including my drum stool, kick pedal, cymbals and cymbal washers and clamps. This could have been avoided if I turned up with my own equipment in the first place. The advice then is to take everything you think you might need as you will most likely use it at some point. I also find playing on your own equipment, even if it is just a stool, kick pedal and cymbals enhances your confidence and comfortability.
I realised quite early on that things like arrangements, bar structures, chords, beats, cues, scripts and pretty much everything else gets changed around a lot and very regularly, especially with a project that was being written at the time. This meant that being stubborn or unwilling to change would not have worked at all. Learn the songs given thoroughly but with 100% adaptability to change.
Music in Shows
During the shows the changes between songs would sometimes be seconds, meaning you would have to be extremely quick with getting your sheet music out ready for the next song. I organised every song into a different polly pocket in a ring binder folder which meant it was easily accessible on stage at any time and was all kept in the same place. I left the folder on a chair beside my floor tom and after every song ended I immediately put the next sheets out. This seems obvious but it can be easily overlooked. I then would place the song just performed on the floor in a pile next to my hi hats and took the time after the show to put them back into order in the folder ready for the next show.
I would also advise spending some time looking over the script with your musical director, or sit in on rehearsals and write in any cues for your songs or underscores the page before they happen to give you a pre warning, then highlight the places and pages you are playing in a bright highlighter. This was simply because it was easy to know what was coming up as and when it did, especially with the non transcripted cues and underscores which linked directly to the dialogue.
I hope all of this helps! And good luck for the auditioners, you won't regret it!
Song of the Week