In my column, “How Do You Spot Talent in the Novice Performer”, I explained that when I started my agency, it began with an empty client list, and a phone that didn’t ring. I signed graduates and friends who were just starting out, perhaps on their first or second job. And the agency grew in stature as I backed the right horses. Some of my favourite moments as an agent have been when I have signed graduates from college and then shared a career break moment with them.
Just before Christmas, I went to GSA Musical Theatre Course college show, from which we have previously signed Iwan Lewis (Legally Blonde, Passion), Amy Lennox (Legally Blonde, 9 to 5), Harry Morrison (Oliver, Sound of Music) and other GSA alumni on our books include Lauren Samuels (We Will Rock You, Water Babies), Lisa Anne Wood (Les Miserables) and Stephen Carlile (The Lion King, The Producers, My Fair Lady).
Before Christmas, I signed director Steven Dexter, whose many theatre credits include the Olivier nominated Loserville (Garrick/West Yorkshire Playhouse) and Honk! (Watermill, Newbury).
I first met Steven when I was 9 years old and he was the resident director of Annie Get Your Gun. It was my first audition, “for a West End show” my Dad told me as he drove me up to London, and I remember thinking that I had no idea what that was, but nodded, nervously. All the other children were from stage schools and seemed to be wearing white Sylvia Young T-shirts or red Barbara Speake T-shirts. I was just wearing jeans and a shirt with the top button done up like a saddo. There was one girl called Scarlett who was really pretty and a total star and I was too intimidated to talk to her. Apparently her auntie was on Doctor Who or something. I stepped forward, and had to sing two lines of ‘Doin What Comes Naturally’ for the director, or God as he seemed to me, and sang very loudly (I only had one volume and it was 11/10).
I got the job. I discovered what ‘a West End show’ was, when the orchestra struck up, the audience cheered, girls and boys ran round scantily clad back stage, stood rigid in the wings with the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end each night as Kim Criswell sang ‘Can’t Get a Man with a Gun’ and decided that Christmas that I wanted to be in show business.
Next show I auditioned for was The Sound of Music starring Liz Robertson and Christopher Cazenove. As I pulled up with the parents in the car park, getting out of his car was the director, Steven Dexter. Boom, I thought. This one’s in the bag.
I sailed through the morning auditions, and at tea time we were all sent home for dinner and asked to come back in the evening for final round. I went home, and pinned a flyer for The Sound of Music on my pin board in my bedroom, and wrote in biro ‘Stuart Piper IN’ above the title, and made a list of all the friends and family I would invite when I got it. But as I returned in the evening, and the Von Trapp children were lined up, the strict height restriction meant that as Steven read the names out of the successful children, mine wasn’t there. “There must be some mistake” I thought. Maybe its going to be line a Chorus Line, where the names he reads out are actually the one’s going home… but alas, I had dusty binned.
So I digressed somewhat – but the point is, Steven gave me my first insight into the industry, and also my first taste of rejection. I’ve never told him that story, so I like to imagine him giggling at this point.
So that was a long winded way of explaining why when Steven told me I had to come and see Rent at GSA, I schlepped down there on a Friday night, and thank God I did – because his inventive production was the best production I’ve seen of the show since its first outing in the UK at the Shaftesbury Theatre, and I discovered two of the most talented graduates I’ve ever found – Rebekkah Lowings and Oliver Reynolds who played Maureen and Roger respectively.
It felt like only yesterday that I was graduating from Arts Ed going to watch Rent like a band of groupies with my college friends Jaye Jacobs and Rachel Lynes. And I was filled with excitement and optimism as I chatted with the youthful talented cast after the show – who had had their ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ moment with Steven, if not their ‘Sound of Music’ one (!).
I returned for GSA’s panel day recently, where a group of agents sit around a cluster of desks and watch each and every student audition individually. It was slightly surreal, and a little bit like being on The Voice – you know how the more the ‘coaches’ like the singer, the more they pretend not to – yet despite best efforts to hide enthusiasm, a successful singer leaving the room, would always prompt a flurry of papers being moved from a no pile to a yes pile! There is healthy competition among agents at this point in the process – and the kind of talent GSA have graduating this year warrants it.
I look forward to reporting back in a future column as to what happens to Bekki and Oli, but until then, the trip to Rent and discovery of these two reminded me exactly why I became an agent in the first place – to discover and nurture jaw droppingly amazing talent like them.