How do you spot talent in the novice performer?
This week, I made my annual trip to the London School of Musical Theatre, to audition each and every student as part of their Panel Day that they arrange for top agents.
Historically each year, I've almost always found someone special. LSMT alumni that my agency represents who are currently in the West End include Jodie Jacobs (Rock of Ages), Robbie Scotcher (Merrily We Roll Along), Rosa O'Reilly (Dirty Dancing) and Luke Newton (Book of Mormon).
I much prefer auditioning students individually than attending a showcase, as it gives you a chance to choose what you hear from the student in question, and how much you hear from them. I must admit, I'm not good at cutting people off early in their song or monologue if there's no interest, because I feel that after an entire training course, the least they can expect from their one opportunity to audition for us is that we give them the chance to sing a complete song. But I do enjoy seeing more from those in who I see potential.
I suppose this is one of the parts of an agent's job that is the most creative. It's entirely subjective deciding which student has potential - but there is a skill in it. In fact it was the skill of spotting this and 'backing the right horse' that spurred me on to pursue the occupation in the first place.
[pullquote] We've become the kind of agency that many would come to for their second agent: to advance their career after their first few jobs. But, for me, there's nothing like the thrill of finding brand new talent and helping start a career.[/pullquote]
My first few clients were all graduates, out of work actors, or in the ensemble but destined to play leads, and as one by one achieved it, it helped teach me to trust my instincts.
My opening line up of clients included my flatmate who used to sing Wizard and I every flipping night in the bedroom next to mine, which although drov me mad, did tell me that she should probably play Elphaba such was the sheer velocity of her extraordinary voice, and I was pleased to help Cassidy Janson do just that.
I signed Robyn North and Leila Benn Harris when both were in the chorus, and both went on to play Christine in The Phantom of the Opera, gain three Whatsonstage award nominations between them, with Leila going on to appear in Enron. Others I signed from graduation from musical theatre college who I helped propell to lead roles included Hannah Levane (Flashdance, We Will Rock You), Amy Lennox (Sound of Music, Legally Blonde), Iwan Lewis (Passion, Legally Blonde), Fra Fee (Dirty Dancing, Les Miserables film), Tyrone Huntley (Sister Act, Book of Mormon)... and the list goes on.
As the agency has grown in stature, we've become the kind of agency that many would come to for their second agent: to advance their career after their first few jobs. But, for me, there's nothing like the thrill of finding brand new talent and helping start a career - be it from a drama school (like those above), from a chance meeting when totally untrained (as in the case of Lisa Greenwood my client in the BBC's The Hour), from youth theatre (we signed Sienna Kelly from the NYMT's production of 13) or even from a TV Talent show (from Id Do Anything alone I signed Katie Hall who I took on the journey that led to her playing Cosette in Les Miserables, Sarah Lark, and more recently Niamh Perry who's about to play Johanna in Sweeney Todd).
From drama schools, I've signed straight actors that have eventually got to the place where they wanted to be. I signed Victoria Yeates as far back as 2006 when she graduated from RADA and although she steadily built up a credible CV with appearances at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Gate & Belgrade Coventry, and had small parts in Lip Service and Holby City, only this year in 2013 has she landed a career changing TV regular role which can't be announced until November... So I shall have to save that detailed story for a future blog! But needless to say both of us are so pleased that we stuck with each other through thick and through thin: because it eventually paid off.
And as I look through my LSMT notes from this year’s auditions, I wonder who will follow in the footsteps of those I have mentioned… Watch this space.