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True Life on the Stage

September 11, 2013

Book review:
“Confessions of a (struggling) actress.
By jo blogs
Big Finish Productions Ltd. £8.99. ISBN 978-1-78178-035-0.

There’s several outstanding books for aspiring musical theatre performers. “So You Want To Tread The Boards” and “So You Want To Be In Musicals” are excellent, full of practical advice underpinned by personal experience.

Jo Bloggs goes beyond that. Her book isn’t about the process of training, nor the joy of landing that huge first job (though she touches on both). No, this is based on Jo’s blog (hence the pseudonym) – a daily record of just how a musical theatre actress survives when she can’t be on stage.

Each blog entry is classified as either a “Confession” or an “Audition File.” The “confessions” are how she passes her days. A succession of low-paid jobs, some at least in the companionable offices of a theatre ticket agency, but others in the harsher realities of retail and care work. Jo makes them all sound more fun than they are, but the reader is always aware just how those passing days grind her down and why expensive music and dance classes become ever more a haven.

Her “Audition Files,” however, raise the question of just why she puts herself through it all. Repetitive, maybe, but each is a slight variation. They add up to finally “cracking the code” and landing a job; at which point the endless accounts suddenly make sense as the harshest of learning curves.

Adding to the enjoyment is the brilliant device of occasional “Questions” she’s asked, and the “Answer” she gives… plus the “Honest Answer” – bitingly funny, with a just tinge of vicious melancholy. Andy Peters also provides some brilliant cartoons, bringing Jo’s hopeful tales to amusing visual life.

Perhaps a little more editing might have helped put some of the stories into clearer order – she passes her driving test near the end of the book, but talks of driving herself to auditions near the beginning. The odd theatrical term like “track” isn’t explained to casual readers either. Also, I’d say that songs were “belted” rather than “pelted,” but these are minor quibbles.

What’s abundantly clear is that Jo’s life is very much typical of most musical theatre performers. The gifts she has, her sparky personality, determination and strength to survive the walk into each audition simply aren’t enough. Surviving the deepest self-doubt created by constant rejection; and the growing awareness that being that good isn’t enough – even brilliant can be mediocre compared to the next actress; all seem almost inevitable in the career she chose, and will come as a surprisingly raw realisation for readers.

Thought provoking, and a superb reality-check for those who think musical theatre work really is as easy to break into as TV makes out. The reader unfamiliar with the theatre world will never look at a musical actor on stage again without knowing just how hard it was to get there… and hopefully will also treat box office assistants with the respect they deserve too…

A copy should be in every careers library, and a vital gift to those wishing to follow in Jo’s footsteps (even if, as she says, she would prefer you not to – she doesn’t need the competition, thanks very much!).

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