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How to Succeed in GMT Without Really...Well, Actually...

Think that landing a part in a musical is as easy as a couple of doh-re-mis and a step-ball-change? Think again. Seasoned performer (and GMT's latest leading lady) Kelly Johnston, is here to tell you that the yellow-brick road to success is not quite as easy to travel as it may seem...

Glasgow Music Theatre believes that you shouldn't be cast in a show simply because you are already a member or have had leading roles in the past. GMT is a company who get excited about new members and gives them a fair chance. Often new people walk right into lead roles (for example Neil Simpson who plays Finch in the upcoming production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying). But some are surprised to discover they may not always jump straight into the lead role they thought they would. Picture this...

It is 2010 and a young nineteen year old has just finished a two-year course studying musical theatre. She is eager and keen to get on the stage and believes that she will make it large in the musical theatre world. The girl receives a phone call from Rachel (old school friend to whom she has not spoken for two years) asking if she would be interested in auditioning for an amateur version of West Side Story, as she doesn't want to go along on her own. Having just finished an intensive course training for a professional acting career, the young nineteen year old thought to herself, ‘well, this will be a laugh, I am bound to get a lead!’

The two girls sat at the back and looked around at the others who were there to hear about the audition. After having a sing through the audition songs they signed up for an audition on the Saturday afternoon slot. The girls decided to work on the audition material together and began practicing. The young nineteen year old found the songs were pretty comfortable in her voice. She enjoyed singing America and knew that the role of Anita was the one for her - a sassy Puerto Rican girl with plenty of attitude. They both laughed at their attempts at a Puerto Rican accent and even searched YouTube for videos of people speaking with the accent to try and mimic them! NB: There is only so far you can get listening to a women tell you how to pronounce a number of different fruits and vegetables.

After a week of preparation the audition day arrived. The audition began with with a dance workshop. The nineteen year old never thought of herself as a dancer, but knew how to put her acting skills into good use and bluff her way through the dance with a smile and some attitude. Fortunately for her, the dance had a very sexy, sassy feel to it and she shook her ass through most of it! Next up was singing. The nineteen year old felt very confident in her singing ability and let it rip (to which the reaction tends to be, ‘how can someone so small make a sound that big?!’) Next up, they were split up into smaller groups and asked to read the acting scenes. Once they had performed them, the audition was over! Before leaving Dance Glasgow, the young nineteen year old was asked to wait behind, to sing once more and do some scales to check out her vocal range. The nineteen year old left afterwards with her friend Rachel and couldn’t help but think she had nailed it!

It was early Monday afternoon and the young nineteen year old was woken up by her phone ringing. She answered and was greeted by Amy Glover (director of West Side Story), offering her a part in the show - which she gladly accepted! To her surprise however, she was not offered Anita, and had instead been given the role of Margarita - one of the Shark Girls. She was slightly confused and a bit taken aback - she thought she was talented, I mean, how couldshe not get a lead in an amateur show?! She phoned Rachel to see if she had heard anything, and learned that Rachel had been cast as Pauline - one of the Jet Girls. How could this be...?

Once the cast was altogether the production team talked them through what the rehearsal process involved and what was expected from them. After this the first dance rehearsal began. They started work on the Dance at the Gym number. As rehearsals went on, the nineteen year old began to realise this was no amateur group. Many of the dancers were able to knee themselves in the head effortlessly, especially Kirsty Grant (another new face to GMT that year) who was playing lead Jet girl Velma. The nineteen year old was confused, this was supposed to be amateur - surely they shouldn’t be this talented? She began to realise that she was in for a rumble... The rehearsal process flew by and before they knew it, it was Show Week and the two were so excited - they hadn't been in a show together since high school and to be part of this cast was making it all the more special. They were overwhelmed by the response from the audience, but sadly Show Week quickly came to an end and the excitement about the next GMT auditions began.

The nineteen year old decided to audition for the next show, but was sadly unsuccessful and ended up sitting in the audience with new GMT friend, Emma Fraser (who went on to play Sheila in A Chorus Line in 2013). Together they cheered on Rachel, who was now playing one of the leading roles in GMT's production ofCompany. The show was hilarious and had many new talented faces in the cast. Shortly after Company was over, auditions for FAME began, and the nineteen (well, by now twenty!) year old was offered a role in the ensemble.

With each show and each audition she learned something new which strengthened her acting, dancing and singing skills in some way: With West Side Story, it was the chance to do partner dancing - which she had never done before (not to mention doing a lot of high energy dancing whilst singing and trying not to sound as though you have just run a marathon!) With FAME, she worked a great deal on holding a harmony line and realised that no matter where you are on the stage, there is nowhere to hide; you can’t slip out of character because even if you are not the centre focus, there is still a very high chance that someone is watching you. This was work - HARD WORK! Once FAME came to an end the nineteen (twenty) year old was looking forward to taking a break and coming back to audition for GMT's 2013 show A Chorus Line.

This was a show that the nineteen (twenty-one) year old loved and had always dreamed of being a part of. Her dream role was Diana Morales, and she was so excited for the chance to audition for the part. She put all of her energy and everything she had learned over the past two years into making this audition be the one that counted. She practised until she was singing the songs in her sleep and was reciting the monologue in the shower. The audition came and she felt good about it. She was asked to go back for a recall and sing again. Now it was a waiting game. She sat - eagerly waiting for her phone to ring - with her friends in the pub. After an agonising 2-hour wait, her phone rang. She was greeted by Marion Baird (GMT choreographer), who offered her the role of Diana Morales. The young nineteen (twenty-one) year old screamed down the phone ‘YES!!’ and then burst into tears. A part she had dreamed about playing for as long as she had loved musical theatre was now hers. She ran back into the pub tears running down her face and told her friends the good news.


The rehearsals began for A Chorus Line and there were many new faces in the cast and a lot to be learned. The choreography was the most difficult she had ever had to do, and it was possibly the most stressful rehearsal process she had ever been a part of, but she knew it would all be worth it in the end. Finally, Show Week arrived once again. Opening night went amazingly well and the audience gave a standing ovation. But the next day the nineteen (twenty-one) year old woke up with an agonising pain in her back. Terrified of what was wrong she phoned NHS 24, who advised her to go to hospital which she refused to do as she had to be in the theatre for the second performance of the show, starting in 4 hours. The nineteen year old arrived at the theatre with her friends and was still in chronic pain but nothing was stopping her from getting on that stage and playing a role she had been dreaming of. Once the show had come to an end the nineteen (twenty-one) year old was overcome by emotions; she was so happy that she had played her dream role, yet also so sad that it was over, not to mention being devastated that it was her last show with GMT-Best-Friend Kirsty Grant (who played Val), as she was moving to London in the autumn to go to dance school.

It was then time for the auditions for GMT's 2014 show - How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. The nineteen (twenty-two) year old went along with GMT friend Andi Denny, the two of them not really expecting anything other than a part in the ensemble. She couldn't really see herself as any of the lead female roles - they all seemed a bit too straight, and the nineteen year old was more of a character actor (not to mention they all seemed to be for an older cast and she looks about 15). She gave it her best (of course) and, to her surprise, was offered the female lead - Rosemary Pilkington. The young nineteen (twenty-two) year old had done it. She had taken everything she had learned from being a part of GMT for the past 3 years and landed herself the lead in the 2014 main show. This nineteen (twenty-two) year old is the perfect example of how professional and fair GMT are and how un-amateur they really are - they even changed the mind of a cocky drama student! Everyone stands a chance when they walk into that audition; it isn't just existing members that land the lead parts, it is the people who show that they are willing to work hard and stand out and are able to grow. Yes, you may not stroll through the audition as easily as you thought, and it may take you a lot more work than you had previously thought, but if you listen to the advice given to you by the production team and are willing to work on your areas of weakness then you will get there - I did!

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