Friday, February 13, 2009

Kenton! - The Musical, Part One

As is very often the case, it took me a long time to discover what it was that I wanted to do with my life. In the environment in which I grew up, there were only really two career options: window-cleaner/preacher and janitor/preacher. Anything else was considered a threat to the most important half of the equation: The Preaching. I was damned good at the preaching, selling fantasy in an over-the-top manner comes easily to me, but I knew in my heart that what truly inspired me were films, music and literature.

Obviously, at the most tender ages, playing guitar in a band was not sold to me as an actual job one could do. I strung badminton rackets with elastic bands and sang Elvis songs around the house, but it was play, not preparation. So, I initially turned to writing as an outlet, my mother contending that this was something that I could do quietly, at home, without venturing into the evils of the entertainment world.

Until, that is, she read my work. I've never been particularly pre-occupied with fluffy bunnies.

(Incidentally, it was my father's warning about the music industry that planted the seed that would eventually find full flower. "Son," he said, "The music industry is full of nothing but illicit sex, drugs and debauchery." "Really?" I replied. "Is there a recruiting office of any kind?" Some people just don't know their own children.)

At the age of 12, I was a saxophone-mangling short story writer. At 15, I traded the sax for my first guitar and began to write my first songs. So, it makes perfect sense that at the age of 17, I became an actor, appearing in glorified extra roles in films like "Little Women", directed by Gillian Armstrong.

For fun, check out the teenage me with enormous sideburns standing at the bottom of a flight of stairs in a scene with Trini Alvarado and Christian Bale. (Lovely to all, polite and impeccably behaved, as far as I could see. Everyone has bad days, people.) I only went out for the part because I had a massive crush on Winona Ryder and had a script in mind for her. Never met her. But the work was fun, scary and brilliant, and the film remains, for me, a document of another lifetime, in another world.

I studied hard, had smarmy headshots taken, and went out for all the auditions my crazed agent arranged - she had gone mad after a long illness, during which she found "God" and decided her destiny was to find "The Next Big Thing". Mostly, she was just crazy. My acting teacher was brilliant though, and, in front of the class, gave me a piece of criticism that has stuck with me to this day: "When Kenton gets it, he is absolutely brilliant. When he doesn't, he REALLY sucks." I can't speak to the good half of that critique, but I know that I have to watch my laziness in everything I do, and try to ensure that if I ever DON'T get it, it's not for lack of trying. This critique has been repeated over the years, in various situations. (This is, of course, ignoring the deluded people who will insist that I suck ALL the time.)

I fled Canada about a year later, and set off on the English adventure that has been my adult life. The move meant the acting career went on hold and eventually, a series of accidents, divorces and brain-fires led me to my current songwriting career, with all its peaks and troughs.

Which was a very long-winded way of introducing this new series of journals about my return to acting, this time in a production of "The Full Monty".

I received an email a few weeks ago from our old label boss, with a link to a newspaper article about open auditions for the musical. With my New Year's Resolution to explore as many different work avenues as possible ringing in my ears, I went out for it. You only regret what you don't try, I believe. Unless, of course, you're determined to try walking in front of buses in the nude.

And so, I found myself in a room, several pages of script learned and two songs with ridiculous and unnecessary high notes thrown into them more or less at random rattling around my head. God bless falsetto, that's all I have to say.

I was asked to repeat the first song as - beset by nerves - I did something I always try to avoid and always tell other singers to avoid. I closed my eyes in front of an audience. Goddamn it. Thus rattled, I threw myself into the remainder of the audition and several hours later, I found I had - to my astonishment - been cast as Teddy Slaughter, the boyfriend of the lead's ex-wife, along with a collection of other smaller roles. I shall, as the director put it, be wearing a variety of hats.

Now I was faced with my greatest fear. I am fairly confident that if I put in the work, I can play the part and play it well. And, obviously, singing in front of an audience holds no special terror for me. However, it struck me that in my haste to prove myself I had neglected to consider one area of the musical theatre experience that would be much more of a challenge.

I am going to have to dance.

Even my kindest, most supportive of partners in love, music and life would be hard pressed to say, with a straight face, "Kenton is a lovely mover." As a rule, I dance, shall we say, enthusiastically. I love to dance. But I am not the most coordinated of men. The band, in fact, have suggested on many occasions that perhaps it would be more honest for me to replace the word "rhythm" in my guitar credit with the word "other" or "additional".

Nonetheless, if I have a virtue (and this is an unproven theory), it is that I seldom shirk from a challenge. And so it was I found myself this week, in first rehearsals, learning a long and fairly complicated ballroom dancing routine for one of the show's songs.

I was only injured twice. Once when another dancer clothes-lined me in an ill-timed out-flinging of arm and once when the same dancer punched me in the mouth, again, apparently accidentally.

Sad to say, the first thing that occurred to me during both incidents, wheezing and bloodied of lip was "They noticed me!". Clearly, therapy should still be considered as an option.

I can already tell that it is going to be an interesting experience and I'm hoping to bring you the full experience over the next few months, between reports of my usual musical endeavours. (Of which they may be much to tell again soon.)

In June at the Curve Theatre, Leicester, for a week's special engagement, I make my not-at-all-awaited return to the theatre. Whether this, from my viewpoint, turns out to be all singing and all dancing, or audience all gagging, all leaving remains to be seen.

In the meantime, I hope it amuses, entertains and that as little as possible ends up on YouTube.


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