Directing Spamalot, With The Help Of Alan Ayckbourn
And thinking about the joys of the audition ...
POSTED BY DAVID PIBWORTH ON 09/08/2016 @ 8:00AM
For any of you who have been there, auditions are a terrible thing. You sweat about them and always think you've done badly. I've been on hundreds of them over the years ...
I do love Spamalot and I know it'll be hard work, so all in all, it should be a challenge!
Curiously, the ones I think I've done the worst are the ones where I get the job. So that then puts me in the curious position of being a bit miserable when I think I've done a good one. Much about the audition process is confidence and the ability to walk in with little doubt that you can do the job though not allowing yourself to come across as arrogant.
I have just been on an audition panel as I'm directing a local production of 'Spamalot'. As an actor I am in a good position to understand what the actor is going through, and what I am looking for in an actor is not the finished character but how he or she goes about the role.
It's slightly difficult with something like Spamalot, as it is basically Monty Python and the characters are well known to the likes of me who were brought up on such programmes and films.
People like Michael Palin, John Cleese and the whole Python team characterised the roles so well that there is a temptation to choose someone who does an impersonation, but I've fought that as I want the actor to put themselves into it.
Also, the acting has to be far more over the top for a stage production than it does for TV or film. The close ups and subtlety that can be achieved by a camera angle or cutaway shot just aren't available on stage.
"Many years ago I attended a directors course in Scarborough run by Alan Ayckbourn."
It's the only course I've ever been on, purely for the reason that if I'm going to learn, then I want to learn from someone who is brilliant and has a track record, so I couldn't really go wrong there. I learnt more in one week than I've ever learned before. We chatted to him, quizzed him and watched him direct his next production. We even went out for fish and chips with him.
Although Alan has a head start on all of us, in that he can get almost any actor that he wants in his productions, he did carefully explain that the director's job was all to do with the casting. Get the casting wrong and you will have all sorts of problems.
Quite a bit of it is to get people who are easy to work with. Also, he explained that in his opinion the actor will do most of the work. I think he said it was 80% the actor and 20% the director. Let them do their thing to start with as they may well come up with idea's and characterisations you hadn't considered.
A case in point was Sybil played by Prunella Scales in Fawlty Towers. John Cleese and Connie Booth who wrote it had in mind a totally different character but as soon as Scales did her reading, they realised that she was perfect, but not in the way they had initially thought and so the monsterous Sybil was born. They went with the actor.
Alan also said just gradually bring in the little tweaks that perfect the show and also not to worry if an actor thinks that the idea was his or hers. Doesn't matter who came up with it, so long as the show is superb.
It could be an idea from stage management, props department or a bit of good work by the lighting director or musical director. It's a team effort. Alan seemed to do little in rehearsals. He'd sit there and laugh and occasionally have a quiet chat with an actor, and at the end he would give very positive notes to all those involved. Also every week he would have a theatre meeting with everyone in the theatre including front of house staff, bar staff, cleaners and .... well, everyone.
If there were any little niggling problems they would chat them through and there were then very few major issues. That's a lesson to be learnt in all aspects of life really.
The bit of advice he gave me personally, which I've always remembered, is that he said that if I followed his ways, I would get some critisism from those who 'like to be directed pointlessly'. If they are good actors they won't need to have their motivation explained too much. Actor: "What's my motivation for walking across to the drinks cabinet?" Director: "You want a drink, you great pillock".
Ok, you do have to cheat a bit, and get people out of the way sometimes, and no action is without reason on stage. You don't want anyone on stage unless there is a good reason for them being there. But he said to me that sometimes an actor will say that you, the director, didn't do anything, and let them say that.
The ones who are really good will know you've given them their lead and crafted it around to what you want, and to be honest once the show is up and running, most people don't give the director another thought, and that's how it should be.
So with Spamalot we have the auditions and the actors have to be able to understand that style of comedy, be able to sing well and, in many cases, to dance or certainly move well.
We have plenty of people in Milton Keynes who are fine actors, singers and dancers so it's a matter of finding those who can do it all, but we are well on our way to casting it and we have an excellent production team, MD and choreographer so all will be great.
The other thing Alan said was to only direct productions you really love as the last thing you want is for it to become a chore. That way lays despair. I do love Spamalot and I know it'll be hard work, so all in all, it should be a challenge and something I love ... the perfect combination.
When Etcetera Theatre Company asked me to direct it and to have a say in the casting, I jumped at the chance. The producers have also said I can play the role of 'God' if I want, so I think it will be the last time I direct anything.
"How can you beat directing a show and really play God at the same time?"
It's not until February 2017, (28th Feb - 4th March at Stantonbury) and we will be promoting it soon, but do have a look at www.etctheatre.co.uk for more details.
And if anyone says to me that I didn't do anything, I shall raise a glass to Sir Alan Ayckbourn - not for the first time.
David is the owner of David Pibworth Productions (DPP) which provide corporate entertainment and also actors for corporate training and development.
Having worked in the Light Entertainment field for many years and produced shows for Al Murray & Joe Pasquale amongst others, David is in a position to advise on well-known comedy and musical acts. DPP also represent Ray Galton and Alan Simpson's scripts which include Hancock's Half Hour and Steptoe and Son.
He is the director of MK Theatre of Comedy who are very well known locally for their stage adaptations of classic comedy scripts such as Fawlty Towers, The Vicar of Dibley, Allo Allo and many others.
He is a long-standing member of Equity and the Directors Guild of Great Britain and has acted in, and directed, many productions over the years, mainly in Light Entertainment, but with occasional forays into Shakespeare etc. Every Christmas he is contracted as an Ugly Sister in Cinderella, currently with 'That's Entertainment' who also use him as a director.
He teaches eccentric magic for The Pauline Quirke Academy and MKTOC also run a youth drama school in Olney from the DPP offices.
David maintains his busy lifestyle is a surefire way to avoid being on any committees. He is married to Julie, and they have one daughter, Esther and live in Clifton Reynes, surrounded by dogs, cats and horses. They live so close to the church that David has instructed his daughter - when he dies and not before - to fire him over the wall from a circus cannon.
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