Over the last few weeks, AussieTheatre’s Rebecca Grennan has been interviewing various exciting and artistic people in the Australian theatre industry to talk about life in the industry and the daunting process of auditions.
Today, we kick off a series of articles which follow the the ins and outs of each artists’ journey and how they have “made it” it to where they are right now…
This week, I have been so fortunate to speak with a great friend of mine, James Maxfield, currently starring as Mike in the recent revival of A Chorus Line touring Australia at the moment.
James has a list of impressive credits including a regular dance spot on the premiere TV show X Factor Australia and Dance Captain in the original Australian cast of GFO’s Wicked. He has also appeared in Miss Saigon, Sweet Charity, Hugh Jackman’s The Boy from Oz and Grease the Arena Spectacular just to name a few.
James is at the pinnacle of his career to date with the role of the flipping, toe tapping, charming and suave Mike in TML’s revival of A Chorus Line and he has happily uncovered some audition secrets and keys to his success exclusively, for you!
How did you prepare for your audition for A Chorus Line?
To start off with, I watched Every Little Step, the documentary about the casting process of the 2006 Broadway Revival to get an idea of what I was in for. I grew up watching A Chorus Line, so I knew the show back to front.
I learnt a few songs that would fit in the same genre/era as the musical, very 70’s and very theatrical. I made sure I wore rehearsal gear inspired by the show to my dance call and pretty much tried to embody the part of Mike as soon as I walked in to the room. And I stretched!! My god did I stretch! Most days I got into a studio and worked on getting my flexibility and technique back in order. (It had been a while since I kicked a leg!)
The best thing about the audition process was that Michael Gorman was not only testing our stamina and technique during the audition, but also got an idea of who each person was as a dancer. Which pretty much sums up the main idea of the show, we are playing dancers who show who they really are and finally get a chance to have a voice.
What are you usually thinking about when you audition for a show?
I just try to stay focused on each aspect of the audition as it comes. You can really psyche yourself out when your thinking about a million things at once. I just make sure I’m listening to everything the Director or Choreographer is saying and try to portray what they want as well as I can on the day.“The most amazing thing that helps me through an audition is knowing that the panel WANTS you to be good“
The most amazing thing that helps me through an audition is knowing that the panel WANTS you to be good. They’re not trying to see if we stuff up or get things wrong, they are trying to find their perfect cast, and they need to find it in that audition room.
I like to tell myself to not get nervous, but to get excited to step into that audition room. Nerves can really get the better of you! When it comes to a performance, I remind myself about the reasons why I was chosen for that certain show, or that role I’m playing. Its so easy to doubt yourself and your abilities, but its always nice to remind yourself of why you do what you do and the amazing rush you get from being on stage.
What do you do to prepare for auditions and do you follow any rituals or routines?
I try to get to know the show as much as I can, the storyline, the songs, the era, the style of choreography etc. I don’t like to learn anything definite from it, just incase I learn it wrong and already have a pre conceived idea of what I think it is before I go in. Because I think 90% of the time, it’s usually wrong.
I make sure I see my singing teacher and work on my song preparation, and get to as many classes as I can to stay fit. I also hit the gym so I’m in peak physical condition and look as strong as I can.“I constantly remind myself that I am the product, and the more I work on my craft and myself then the more work I can attain.“
I don’t really follow any routines, I just like to spend most of my days trying to hone in on my craft as much I can, create more work for myself and stay on top of my fitness. I constantly remind myself that I am the product, and the more I work on my craft and myself then the more work I can attain.
But I think its very healthy to create time outside of this to have fun, go out with friends, have a beer and experience your life away from performing. It’s nice to have a happy medium.
What is it like working with an iconic American like Baayork Lee? Is there a big difference between working with Australian directors/choreographers and working with American creatives?
Baayork was amazing to work with! I mean, the energy she brings into the rehearsal room is astounding! She has lived this show since its conception, and hearing the stories behind each character, especially my own, from someone who worked with them and created this piece with them was a learning experience Ill never forget.
Each time you rehearse a new show, with a new choreographer and director the experience is always different. This certain experience was such a journey for me. Baayork has this mothering/nurturing way with her cast that really united us as a company, and we all still feel that to this day, 2 months into the run.
What do you do to centre and calm yourself/and or hype yourself up before heading on stage?
I actually play the loudest music in my dressing room! I share one with a few of the male cast members, and we blast anything that has a great beat that would get us hyped up! Because the show starts on such a high and with such a strenuous jazz number, we need to be pumped up for it.
I also like to do at 20–30-push ups side stage to get the blood pumping. A few of the cast members run the opening number at the back of the stage to get themselves ready. You definitely have to find something to get the body warm and moving before doing the opening number of this show!
What are a few qualities you feel are great in a performer?“Some qualities that I think are great in a performer is a commitment to their craft, it’s so nice to see someone so focused during a performance“
Some qualities that I think are great in a performer is a commitment to their craft, it’s so nice to see someone so focused during a performance.
Also, the ability to forget all inhibitions in a rehearsal room and onstage, watching a performer lose themselves in a dance number or scene is amazing.
Knowing the difference between light and shade in the choreography is so important when you want the number to have impact or make the audience feel something.
How important is it to know the ins and outs of your craft?
I think it’s so important. In order to have longevity as a performer, it’s so crucial to understand, hone in on, and develop your craft. The more boxes you can tick, i.e. Dancing, Singing, Acting, Acrobatics etc., the more opportunities you have in this industry.
What advice would you give to a budding performer that they may not get form their teachers?
There will never be a moment in your career where you know everything! Each show is a learning experience and you will always develop something new in each one. Allow yourself to take onboard the advice you get from each director and choreographer you work with, they have something new and important to give you.
Make sure you catch James “Jimmy” Maxfield (one of Australia’s nicest, hard working and consistently employed, musical theatre performers) in action as Mike in A Chorus Line at the Capitol Theatre, Sydney from July 20.