West End Producer's identity is the subject of feverish speculation in the media, fuelled by his regular appearances at West End opening nights in costume, wig and latex mask. He has become a genuine theatre impresario, launching talent competitions Search for a Twitter Star and its successor, Search for a Twitter Composer.
And now he's written a book, Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Acting (But Were Afraid To Ask, Dear), full of wit and mischievous indiscretion, and packed with gossip and insider knowledge of the theatre business.
Here he reveals what set him on the path to West End glory, and shares his guide to the different types of actor as well as his indispensable survival tips, exclusive to WhatsOnStage.
Hello, dears! West End Producer here.
Let me tell you a little bit about myself. I've been involved in the entertainment business all my life. From the moment I was born onstage during a performance of Titus Andronicus, I knew I was destined for a career in showbiz.
Firstly working as a volunteer, and then as an assistant stage manager, I got a hands-on training at my local theatre. It was here I learned the importance of biscuits in the rehearsal room, lager in the stage-management fridge, and a willing young man in the leading actor's dressing room. However, after being bitterly disappointed by a particularly poor production of My Fair Lady, where Eliza was totally incapable of ‘dancing all night', I decided I could produce much better shows myself.
And the rest, as they say, is history...
My life these days revolves around producing, writing, tweeting, blogging, playing with my Andrew Lloyd Webber glove puppet, and supporting emerging talent. I am hugely passionate about new work, new talent and new bottles of Dom Perignon.
I can often be seen attending theatrical first nights with my Jean Valjean teddy bear. I adore theatre, in particular musicals – and always try to ensure that opening nights run smoothly by throwing nuts at Sir Peter Hall to keep him awake. At home, I love spending quality time with my Miss Saigon blow-up doll and listening to original cast recordings of anything apart from Love Never Dies.
When the delightful people at Nick Hern Books asked me if I would write a book, I said yes, as long as Sir Tim was available to write the lyrics. It turns out he wasn't, dear. Never mind, I wrote it anyway. It contains everything I've learnt in the course of my career about actors and acting, including:
• Getting into drama school (learning how to sit in a circle)
• Auditioning (perfecting the ‘staring vacantly out front' pose)
• Rehearsal techniques (including how to act in a serious play)
• The different kinds of actor (from sex pest to company idiot)
• Combating boredom (and avoiding backstage naughtiness)
• How to behave at first-night parties (obeying the traffic-light colour code)
• And, most importantly, the correct way to bow at the curtain call
If you're an actor, there's enough in my book to revive even the most unpromising career. If you're not, it's never too late, dear. Give it a go. If you can master the art of doing the jazz hands, I promise you'll never regret it.
Here are some exclusive extracts from the book to get you in the mood, dears...
The Types of Actors
Every company you are part of becomes like living in a ‘bubble' with a different dynamic and a different energy – and after a few days your status in this new group will be decided. However, in each job you can actually decide to be a different kind of person, a different personality – and this can make the job even more enjoyable, and even more naughty. Most people have one first day at work. Actors have hundreds.
The nine different ‘types' in an acting company are:
The Leader – This is the person or persons who are playing the leading roles. They have a desire and responsibility to lead the company in every aspect – both in the theatre, and in the pub afterwards. They are expected to buy lots of drinks for the rest of the company and pay at least fifty per cent of any company meal.
The Comedian – The person who makes a joke out of every situation. The comedian is rather fun during the rehearsal period, but tends to turn into a depressed alcoholic mess in the second month of the run.
The Sex Pest – This person constantly talks about sex and attempts to sleep with anyone and everyone in the company. They will usually be in a relationship, and are firm believers in the ‘It doesn't count on tour' rule. They will also attend monthly seminars held by Leslie Grantham and Steve McFadden.
The Teacher's Pet – This person will do whatever they are told by anyone who says it. They will be highly skilled in laughing at the director's jokes, and will be the first person in the rehearsal room. The sex pest will try their luck with this person in week one as they seem the most impressionable. But they are not. They are just highly skilled at ‘playing the game'.
The Rebel – This person will always try and be Equity Deputy and stand up for actors' rights. They will be very verbal about their thoughts on any situation, whether they know what they're talking about or not. It is easiest just to smile and agree with them. If they are provoked they will talk for hours, and turn many a good drinking night into a heated political debate. When this happens simply hand them a copy of the Equity Rulebook and ask them what came first – Equity or Acting.
The Dominatrix – Exactly the same as the sex pest, but owns a whip.
The Juve – The ‘juve' refers to the juvenile lead – or youngest person in the company. These people tend to have a 28-inch waist and a nice complexion. They will be the newest and freshest person in the company – and will enter the rehearsal room with grand ideas and obscure acting methods. For the sanity of the rest of the company it is essential these ideas are knocked out of them by day two.
The Mother – This person likes to care for and support the rest of the company. It will usually be a lady in her mid-forties to late fifties, who wears at least a 36DD bra. The mother is a popular company member, and will earn points by bringing in biscuits and cakes for the rest of the company.
The Company Idiot – There is always one member of the company who is known as the idiot. If you don't know who this person is, then it is you.
Within the first week of rehearsals you should be able to spot who is who from the above list. If you know what person you usually are, I suggest trying to be someone else. For example, if you are usually the sex pest try being the mother instead. It will be a marvellous new experience for you. I adore watching rehearsals and picking out which actor is the dominatrix – it gives me and my casting director hours of fun.
How to Know When You've ‘Made It'
Throughout your career there will be moments when you feel successful and moments when you feel like a worthless nobody. It is inevitable. And is to be expected in a business that is constantly changing. No actor is permanently in work and, indeed, an actor who is deemed famous one year may be forgotten about by the next. It can be harsh, brutal, and downright annoying.
The joy of the business is that at any time your life could change in an instant. You could one day find yourself waltzing into an audition, impressing the panel, and being offered the job of Superman in the forthcoming remake of the remake. And then you are set! Suddenly you are working, you are earning big bucks, and all of your ex-lovers regret dumping you. It is a magnificent feeling. And one which can make years of hardship seem worthwhile.
However, it is vital that you have actually ‘made it' before you start behaving like a star and spending all your money in The Ivy, The Groucho and Pizza Express. If you are unsure, here are some telltale signs:
• You are allowed into the theatre after the half-hour call.
• Your name is on all the publicity material.
• You are asked to do radio and television interviews.
• The musical director is happy to change the key of a song for you.
• It is not expected that you will attend the company warm-up.
• You get dressing room number 1.
• Members of the ensemble laugh at all of your jokes.
• You will be able to sleep with any of the front-of-house team.
• You can give notes to the rest of the company.
• The company manager is nice to you.
• You will never be expected to sing harmony lines.
• The producer will know your name.
West End Producer's Survival Tips
• Never try and be too different. Whilst I'm sure you were told at drama school to make sure you ‘stand out', you should always make sure you don't stand out too much. There is nothing worse than an actor being different just for the sake of being different. You are different. You are you. And that is enough. Just deliver the song, the script, the dance or the striptease to the best of your ability – and you will stand out. For the right reasons, for being good.
• Be careful who you get drunk with. There's no point making a complete ass of yourself in front of the most important casting director in London. Unless they are buying you lots of drinks – in which case you should go for it. But always be on your guard. Don't talk about your acting roles too much, and never break into a drunken chorus of ‘Stars'. Chances are you won't do yourself, or the song, any justice. Unless you are Russell Crowe. Then it doesn't really matter.
• It is your career, so control it. There's no point auditioning to be a costume character at Disneyland if you actually want to work for the RSC (unless, of course, you want to sleep with Minnie Mouse). Plan your career, and imagine what kind of CV you want to have. Only do those jobs that you have a genuine desire to do. Don't do them just because your agent wants you to. It is your career. You decided to be an actor – so now decide what kind of an actor you are.
• Be prepared for those times when you are not acting. This is the hardest part of being an actor. You can feel miserable, unwanted, ugly – and poor! But don't be disheartened, every actor goes through it – it is part of an actor's life. So be ready for it, plan for it. Everyone has to pay their bills, and still have enough money to get sloshed at the weekend, so be aware that you will invariably end up doing some silly jobs at some point. And why not? Do it! Do those silly temp jobs, because you never know who you will meet. That person handing out flyers could be the next artistic director of the National Theatre. Or it could even be the current artistic director.
• But what to do when you are feeling down? Well, I suggest this: do a lunge, or a ball-change, or simply display your jazz hands for the world to see. It's amazing what a spontaneous jazz hand can do to lift your mood. And indeed not only your mood, but the mood of everyone else around you. And a ball-change? A ball-change is accepted anywhere. Do it in your gym, your local Wetherspoon's, and even The Ivy (although I would suggest not doing it in your local public toilets unless you are George Michael). This simple formula is a sure way to raise your spirits in moments of negativity.
Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Acting (But Were Afraid To Ask, Dear) by West End Producer is published by Nick Hern Books on 21 November, priced £10.99.