MEMOIRS - 14 - Audition

Away back, in the early twenties, South Africa was running Vaudeville and variety in every large town in the Union, and nearly all the Theatres were under the control of the African Theatres Limited. Artists were booked from England, America, Australia and the Continent, and given a tour which made it worth their while to visit the Union. African Theatres were always willing to give an audition to local or unknown artists visiting the Union, who were not known to them. These auditions were usually held at the Old Empire, In Johannesburg; the African Theatres having their offices above the Theatre, and when an audition was arranged, it was a simple matter for the gentleman, judging a turn, to slip down to the Theatre and watch the performance.

When the first World War was over, and I got discharged from the forces in Kenya Colony, British East Africa, as it was called in those days, I paid a visit to the Union, and went up to Johannesburg to interview the African Theatres and apply for a booking. Of course I was expected to give an audition, as my act was unknown in the Union, so one was arranged for a Wednesday morning, at 11 a.m. On presenting myself to the Stage manager at the time appointed, he looked at me blankly, and told me that he knew nothing about an audition, and anyway he was busy, and had got enough to do without wasting his time, arranging ‘try-outs’ for amateurs. I kept my temper as well as I could, and asked him to ring up the Office and get his instructions; this he did; and came back grumbling and grousing, and asked me what I wanted in the way of scenery, back cloth, lighting, etc., etc. When all was ready, I had my props and tables set out, he range up the office and told them that I was ready to start, and when the adjudicator came down from the office, and I was just about to start, he suddenly said to me, "Cut it short, old man, I am very busy, and don’ want to be here all morning." With this treatment from the Stage Manager, you can well imagine the state of mind I was in, when I started my programme. Well, the bell rang for me to commence, and once again that horrible feeling of dread came over me; the same as it had done in London on more than one occasion, when giving an audition to a void and blackness, and an empty house. I started my show and had got about half way through, when a fresh young thing with fluffy hair, and short skirts, sidled up to the Stage manager, who was watching me from the wings, and said to him, "Hello, George; how’s things this morning." Then catching sight of me doing my stuff, she said, "hello, what’s happening here," and I heart George say in a loud stage whisper, "Oh, some blinking Amateur having a try-out," – only, the word he used wasn’t ‘blinking’. To hear this right in the middle of my performance was enough to have killed my act stone dead, but, luckily, I was doing a silent act, and must have finished my programme, and done my moves, automatically, while my mind was fuming with rage at the treatment I had received from this pig of a man. When I had finished, it was my turn to tell George exactly what I thought of him, and I did so in no restricted language, and having got it over, I felt a lot better, and made my way up to the Office to sign my contract.