Hard road to the top

Britain's Got Talent, X Factor, How do you solve a problem like Maria? The list of TV reality shows is seemingly endless.

James Marston

Britain's Got Talent, X Factor, How do you solve a problem like Maria? The list of TV reality shows is seemingly endless. But there is another way into the toughest of industries- the hard graft of theatre school and auditions. JAMES MARSTON meets a student passionate about performing.

IT all looks easy doesn't it?

You queue up, sing in front of Simon Cowell or Andrew Lloyd Webber or some such bigwig and a few months later you are propelled into stardom.

But for most performers reality TV isn't the usual route into one of the most competitive industries around.

And for Ashley Wade there is no substitute for the more traditional route of theatre school and working your way up.

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Ashley, of Mill Lane, Trimley St Martin, said: “I'm about to graduate from Performers College where I have been studying musical theatre for three years.

“I've got several auditions coming up and the possibility of working on a cruise ship later in the year.”

It is an exciting time for the 21-year-old. He has finished formal education and is now looking for the first break into an industry that is notoriously insecure.

He said: “I started on stage when I was six and at primary school. I saw a poster and got involved with Stage Door. I was in the chorus in The Music Man. From the moment I stepped on stage I knew it was what I wanted to do.”

As he grew up Ashley grasped every opportunity to perform.

As well as Stage Door, he was a member of several other amateur theatre groups. He also regularly performed in the annual Spa Pavilion pantomime produced by The Dennis Lowe Theatre Company.

Ashley was also a regular at the Spa Pavilion's Summer Youth Project.

He said: “The Summer Youth Projects gave me a lot of experience in performing. There are so many groups out there to join and take part in. It is very good for younger people and gave me lots of opportunities.”

Among his favourite parts were:

Fagin in Oliver!

King Rat in Dick Whittington

Bill Snibson in Me and My Girl

Barnum in Barnum

and Khashoggi in We Will Rock You

As a student at Deben High School, Ashley studied music and drama before going on to study a-levels in music, drama and performance skills - he also plays the violin and clarinet.

After sixth form Ashley was determined to go to stage school.

He said: “Everything is geared up for you to go to university but stage school isn't in the UCAS system. I had to find out about it and apply.

“It was a tough process, almost 1,000 people applied for 50 places. When I opened the letter telling me I had got in I knew it was where I wanted to go.

“I have really enjoyed the last three years, it has been a challenge but very rewarding.”

He added: “I don't think people realise just how hard you have to work at theatre school. People at university do ten hours a week, we do ten hours a day from 8am to 6pm every day.”

Ashley outlined a typical day.

He said: “We have five lessons which last one and a half hours each of dancing, singing and acting, it is very physically demanding.”

8.15am - 8.45am - half-hour warm up

9am - 10.30am - ballet

10.45am - 12.15am - acting - script and improvisation

1.15am - 2.45am - singing lesion - songs and technical exercises

3pm - 4.30pm - dance lesson - jazz

4.45pm - 6.15pm dance lesson - jazz (a different style of jazz than the previous lesson).

Ashley added: “Theatre school isn't a 'bit of fun'. I don't think some of the reality shows are really fair to those people who have trained for years.”

Now beginning his search for work, Ashley is under no illusion that getting a break into musical theatre is no easy task.

He said: “Things are difficult at the moment, like in any industry people who are in jobs are hanging on to their jobs so it is hard to get your break but you have to keep going until you get the break you need and I am prepared to do that.”

In the meantime Ashley works as a teacher at Woodbridge Stagecoach and this allows him the flexibility to be available for auditions when required.

He said: “I am very ambitious but I'm not in it for the fame. Ideally I'd like to get into the West End in the chorus of a show - my dream is to be in Les Miserables.”

As well as musical theatre Ashley is looking for work in a variety of entertainment genres including TV, regional theatre, film work, touring musicals, radio and cruise ship work.

He has already appeared on TV shows such as The Sunday Night Project where he was a support dancer to Lilly Allen, Midsomer Murders in an episode in which he discovered the body, and as an extra in Love Honour and Obey starring Jude Law.

He has recently auditioned for the European tour of The Best of the Musicals.

Ashley added: “You can have up to four or even five auditions a week and you have to start by thinking you're going to get the job, you have to have a strong belief in your talent.

“A typical open audition starts at about 10am when you arrive and hand over your CV and headshot - these are crucial tools of the trade.

“You are numbered, then you get taught a routine and then you normally perform it in twos, you just can't think about the other person, even if you know them.”

Auditions take place in front of a panel of people, as many as seven, and include people like the director, choreographer and production team.

Ashley added: “Then the first set of cuts takes place when they call out the numbers of people they'd like to see again. If you're not called you go home.

“Then there's another dance routine and the cuts are done again. The singing audition is often on another day. You usually sing about 16 bars of a song but there is a lot of waiting around.

“I have waited four and a half hours to sing a few bars. It is in those few bars you have to show your voice off and try to impress the panel.”

And even if you do get the job the hours are unsocial, the pay isn't great, there's no pension and there's absolutely no job security.

So why does Ashley, and so may others like him, do it?

He said: “I love the buzz and the whole adrenaline rush. You can be a different person when you're standing on stage. There's nothing else I want to do.”

Have you seen Ashley perform? What do you think of reality TV shows? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or send an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk