Jon Robyns: "There is nothing worse than walking on stage thinking I can't do this"

Jon Robyns: "There is nothing worse than walking on stage thinking I can't do this"

Jon Robyns: "There is nothing worse than walking on stage thinking I can't do this"

Five Minute Call - S01E02 - Episode Summary

In this episode of the Five Minute Call Podcast, we chat to the wonderful Jon Robyns - learning of his incredible journey through the world of musical theatre. From his early beginnings in amateur dramatics to his impressive roles in hit productions such as Les Misérables, Phantom of the Opera, Avenue Q, and Hamilton. Jon offers a candid and insightful look into the life of a professional performer.

Throughout the conversation, Jon discusses the challenges of balancing his personal life with the demands of a successful career on stage. He opens up about the highs and lows of performing eight shows a week, the importance of a strong support network, and the strategies he employs to maintain his mental and physical well-being.

Jon also delves into the creative process behind his new musical, "Then, Now and Next," co-written with Christopher J. Orton. He shares the joys and difficulties of bringing an original piece to life, from the initial spark of an idea to the exhilarating experience of seeing it performed in front of a live audience.

This episode of the Five Minute Call is a must-listen for aspiring actors, theatre enthusiasts, and anyone interested in the inner workings of the performing arts industry. Jon's honesty, humility, and passion for his craft shine through in every anecdote and piece of advice he shares, making for a truly compelling and inspiring conversation.


Watch FMC on YouTube

Listen to FMC on Spotify


Episode Transcript:

[00:00:00] Oren: This is a podcast that takes a deep dive into the stories of the people that make theatre happen. And today we are talking to the wonderful John Robyns. John has had an incredible career in theatre, working on productions like Miss Saigon, Spamalot, Les Mis, three times doing Marius Enjolras and Valjean, as well as playing Phantom in Phantom of the Opera.

[00:00:22] Oren: Tell us more about you, the you that we don't get to see from those Wikipedia articles and these kind of

[00:00:29] Jon: I don't really know where to start. I feel a bit compartmented in my life and my work. I, I tend to try and keep them as separate as I can. Um, Robbins is a stage name, so it's very easy to differentiate who knows me from where.

[00:00:45] Jon: And I do tend to try and Not be a different person on purpose, but I think we do tend to Um become a slightly different person in different situations, right? So my work persona is quite different to my And my wife can't believe that the same person that leaves the house is, uh, you know, liked by other people because at home, eh.

[00:01:14] Jon: Not so likable. Not so likable. No. I mean, it's, it's, it's a very, it's a very different, um, balancing act. Especially when, you know, your job involves showing bits of yourself, metaphorically, to the public. Um, And I have a performative job. So, you know, it's important that I have a, uh, a persona at work that.

[00:01:38] Jon: Um, my, myself at home is very, very dull. I'm a suburban 40 year old father. It's like, it's about as dull as it gets. I walk the dog, and I pick the kids up from school, and I hoover. But we have a cordless hoover, so, oh, God, it's so good. Quite generous. It helps with the dog hair. Roomba? Or just like a I don't know, are we allowed to mention it's a Dyson?

[00:02:04] Jon: It's a Dyson. It was a birthday present. I know, I'm very It was a birthday present! It was? That's what I asked for for my birthday!

[00:02:14] Claire: I do have a friend who was given like a, um, a dirt devil hand hoover for her Christmas present by her husband. They didn't speak for some time afterwards. But you

[00:02:24] Jon: seemed pleased with yours.

[00:02:24] Jon: I was delighted. Listen, this is who we are. My I I Honestly, for one of her anniversaries, gave my wife a shredder. Because, because she was worried that you were about identity theft. So she's a very practical gal. It's a very romantic gift in that context. Listen, romance is about making the person happy, not about living up to some ascribed ideal.

[00:02:46] Jon: So if you know that person and you know what's going to make them the happiest, even if it is a lump of slime, then that's what you give them and that's what makes them happy. I think romance is knowing the person, not attaching extra stuff. You know, I think that's very profound. Very profound. But I did get a Hoover out of it.

[00:03:08] Claire: at what point did the two Johns. Diverge on the train. In, in, in. No. But in terms of life, like at what point you are Little John. Yeah. You are growing up. Yeah. At what point do you, are, do you start to be aware that there's another side or another?

[00:03:23] Jon: I guess, uh, when I was training at college, I mean, Hmm.

[00:03:28] Jon: That's when I gave myself my stage name and got an agent and people started knowing me as that name rather than my actual name But I mean, I suppose it's I suppose it's earlier. I mean, I went to a lot of am drum groups There was one point where I was in for performing arts groups a week Wow And my mother drove me around all of them.

[00:03:51] Jon: Wow. I know it was a lot school stuff Uh, an opera group, uh, an am drum group, and a drama group on a Saturday. So, you know, I suppose you develop your performer, your performing side of you in those groups. Um, so I suppose maybe even early back as 13 or 14. But I think at 13 or 14 you become aware of a lot of stuff.

[00:04:13] Jon: Yeah, true. And trying to navigate how to do a lot of stuff. Yeah. So, the fact that I was spending most of my time. In these rehearsals and performances, I think just added on to that. And did that

[00:04:23] help

[00:04:24] Claire: socially? Was it a hindrance?

[00:04:26] Jon: Yeah, there's way less straight guys in them. Oh, you mean other than women?

[00:04:32] Jon: Other than women, probably not. I

[00:04:34] Claire: wasn't specifically talking about your romantic life at that point, no. Listen, you ask

[00:04:37] Jon: most guys why they do it, it's because that's where the pretty girls were, right? Or it's where the pretty boys were. I think it's just, you know, these people gravitate to them because it's like, I'm interested in singing and I'm interested in kissing girls.

[00:04:50] Jon: Where can I find both? Musical theatre. Musical theatre. So, I don't know, I mean, I was very sporty as a kid, and I was in every single sports team, so I had a busy week as a, as an adolescent. I remember leaving a rugby game at half time to go to a singing lesson, and the PE teacher screaming at me across the field in disgust.

[00:05:13] Jon: You'll never be a rugby player. And I'm walking off going, I know, I know I'm fine

[00:05:18] Claire: with it, stop

[00:05:20] Jon: shouting at me. Um, yeah, so it was, uh, it was, it was definitely a choice. It was a. It was definitely do that. And did it help socially? Possibly. I think you get as much ridicule for performing as a kid as you do.

[00:05:34] Jon: Congratulations. The congratulations tends to come from those who are older than you or those inside your circle because you know, the teachers and the directors that you work with and the, uh, singing teachers and the peripatetic teachers and the drama staff and all these guys are going, you're really good at this.

[00:05:53] Jon: You should do this. Although my head of drama at school did tell me I couldn't be an actor because my skin wasn't thick enough. Which I suspect helped, which might have been his plan all along, but let's not credit him with that much intelligence. But all your contemporaries are just bamboozled as to why you're doing this, like why would you get up in front of everybody when everyone else you know is trying to hide, you know, and not be seen.

[00:06:18] Jon: And I wanted to be seen. Did they come and watch you? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And heckle. Nice. That was in bands and I did school, uh, school productions and we did a production of Dido and Anais and I'm playing Anais and it's a, it's a, it's a heavy piece, right? And, you know, we're wearing. Greek stuff, you know, it's not like I've got the guns out But you know, you're wearing robes and things and people are laughing at you and it's and it it is hard but It was what I wanted to do and you tend to stick within your group I now realize in hindsight growing up.

[00:06:55] Jon: It made me it made it difficult to relate to people that didn't have a focus and I If they didn't have a thing. Doesn't matter what that thing was. Could be art, could be crafts, could be sport, could be photography. It could be anything. But I find it difficult to relate to people that don't have a focus and a thing.

[00:07:15] Jon: And my children don't have a thing. And neither of them. I mean they both like certain things. But as a father now I'm going, why haven't you got a thing? It's hard for me to kind of, because you try not to impose yourself on them. Onto your kids. It's hard. I try. You try. It's difficult. And I had a, I had a thing.

[00:07:32] Jon: I had a, I had a very singular focus. I knew what I wanted to do. I remember at 14 and 15 talking to the careers counselor or whatever they were called at school. And they said, what do you want to do? And I went, I want to be an actor. And they went, yeah, but what if that doesn't work out? And I went, I don't know.

[00:07:49] Jon: I'll just do that. And they said, well, shouldn't you come up with a backup? And I went, no.

[00:07:53] Oren: They always have a backup. Have a backup.

[00:07:55] Claire: That's not a real job. Kind of just.

[00:07:58] Oren: Puts the, the, the self belief of, of that individual who wants to do that, that acting completely to the side and goes, ah, yeah, we don't, we don't think you're, we don't think you're good enough for that.

[00:08:07] Oren: Yeah.

[00:08:08] Jon: Find something else to do. Well, they're only playing the odd. Which is? Most people won't make a living at it. Most people don't make a living at it. Most people do it because they love it and it's supplemented by something else. If you're able to make a living at the thing you love, that's a massive bonus.

[00:08:23] Jon: Which is again why I find it difficult to relate to people, muggles, who do proper jobs, in inverted commas, who hate their jobs and they just go there for the money and because it's something to do. And I can't relate to that.

[00:08:36] Claire: It's a, it's a definitely a different, uh, focus on life, a different, um, I don't know.

[00:08:43] Claire: That's the word I'm looking at. It's like looking at it through a different side of the prism. Yeah. Where, you know, we go to work for everything that makes us fire, and then we learn how to exist in real life. There are people who choose to do it the other way around, and that's okay, but I don't know how I would do it.

[00:09:01] Claire: No. I did try for 18 months. What? I worked in an office for 18 months, and then woke up one morning and thought, Oh, man. Oh, nothing's changed for 18 months. I haven't had any emotional highs or lows, which you'd think would be a good thing, but I was like, whoa, that's really

[00:09:15] Jon: weird. Can't do that. No, we're wired to

[00:09:21] Jon: define our existence through those highs and lows. So

[00:09:24] Claire: we know it starts at 10. And we know you get to college. Sure. What happens then?

[00:09:30] Jon: I've spent my whole life being overweight, so I'm very overweight. And within the first year, I think I lose three stone doing dance classes and, well, not being fed by my mum.

[00:09:43] Jon: Because I'm feeding myself now. So, you know, I probably didn't have any money to buy food. Sorry, mum, I did eat, I promise. Um, And, you know, that was, that's always been a big thing for me. Um, weight has always been, has always been an issue. So it was important to the course that I was on at Mountview that I was fit.

[00:10:05] Jon: Because I don't think I was fit enough when I showed up. But, you know, you just naturally Get fitter when you dance for three hours every morning. You just can't help it. I remember feeling my abs for the first time ever, halfway through the first year when I couldn't get up off the sofa. Because, because my abs, and I went, Oh, oh my God, that's what stomach muscles feel like.

[00:10:29] Jon: Oh Jesus. Oh God. Um, that was weird. And, I don't know, I loved college. I adored it. It was, do the thing you love, all day, every day, for years. And, what, you don't need me to do any maths in the middle of it? No. You can, you know, I mean, I'd never danced, so that was my challenge. And I was in the bottom dance stream, um, working my way up to the top dance stream by the end of the second year.

[00:10:59] Jon: Nice work! Because I worked really hard! Um, and, uh, but singing was a thing that I felt very confident with, and so that was something that, um, I didn't need to work on necessarily Because i've been having singing lessons since I was 11. So my technique was pretty solid Um, they had to unpick a few things and reteach a few things um, the main thing to unpick when coming from the classical singing world that i'd been in I was in choirs and I was part of welsh national youth opera and Uh was to think about what i'm saying rather than how i'm saying it And I teach at drama schools now and I teach see a lot of students make the same mistakes that I made and come at it from the way that I came at it, which was, I need to sound pretty so that you feel something, which is the wrong way around in musical theater.

[00:11:55] Jon: In opera, that might very well be the case. Um, so that was, that was another thing that I had to learn, but I just loved it. I loved every bit of it. Third year was, was fantastic. I did Sweeney Todd, played Sweeney Todd in, in, uh, Directed by Ken Caswell, who's an absolute theatre god, um, and he had worked for CML, for Cameron Mackintosh Limited, a lot.

[00:12:19] Jon: He'd been resident director of Les Misérables, and he was original cast of Les Misérables. Anyway, he brought all the CML people to see Sweeney Todd, I think, to see me. And, um, in hindsight, that has definitely helped, because they've watched me literally from the first time I performed all the way through my career.

[00:12:38] Jon: Um, and the people in that office have never been anything but supportive and wonderful and friendly and like a family, which is great. And I got the tour of Miss Saigon before I left college. So I auditioned for about halfway through third year and left early to go and to go and do that tour. And how was that?

[00:12:57] Claire: The tour of Saigon? Suddenly be going out on tour?

[00:13:00] Jon: Hard. Um, You're the newbie, you are, you've no idea what is and isn't your responsibility. There was a stage manager who very kindly told me off for doing too many things. Like I was setting my own props and looking after my own costumes. Because you don't know.

[00:13:18] Jon: You don't know. How are you going to know? And I wanted to be conscientious. So I was at the front of every line, and I was, you know, with my hand up, and I was, I could read music. So When, when they just give you the music, I just sang it, and I think I got a bit of a reputation as a brown nose for knowing my lines and stuff.

[00:13:37] Jon: And I've always been the sort of person that did the homework, and I've always been the sort of person that tried really hard. And some people respect that, and some people don't. Find it uncomfortable. Find it very uncomfortable, because I think they think I'm pointing out their foibles. Yeah. Which is not my intention.

[00:13:51] Jon: No. Why do you

[00:13:52] Claire: do that?

[00:13:52] Jon: What? Prep so hard. Because I want to get it right. I now know that there is no such thing as right, but I think it comes from wanting to feel comfortable and I want to feel prepared so that, uh, I can get the best out of me and everyone around me. I mean, you've worked with me for a long time.

[00:14:14] Jon: We've 15 years. I'm always early. Yeah. I've always, I've always done the prep. I've always, and these are things that I hold myself to as a standard. Um, and that's just my

[00:14:31] Claire: process. It's interesting to me that you say, you, you were talking about, um, experience at Mount View and not having to work at singing.

[00:14:38] Claire: But actually, cause that's, that is the, the prism I see you through. Working at singing. Working at singing. Right. I would say you work incredibly hard at singing, but maybe it doesn't feel like hard work. No. Because it, it sits naturally in your body and actually even if we're developing new techniques and moving sounds around, that doesn't feel like work in the same way that dance does.

[00:15:03] Jon: No, because it's, it's within boundaries that I feel comfortable. I mean, you and I have changing my sound through various years. And some naturally, just because I got older, and some purposefully for certain roles. And doing that does take a lot of work, but it's like familiar to me. When I did Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in 2015, um, I had to do a seven minute tap break for Your Bamboo.

[00:15:38] Jon: And Stephen Mear was incredibly kind and patient with me. But the dancers that he'd hired got it in an afternoon. It took me three weeks, and I did it every day, at every break, and all night at home, so that I could get it right, so that I looked like I knew exactly what I was doing. I don't know. I just, I'm, I'm the

[00:15:58] Claire: that it only took you three weeks for this.

[00:16:00] Claire: I'd still be working on it now.

[00:16:03] Jon: Yeah, it was, it was a lot, but it was, you know, it's, I guess it's important to me that I don't let people down and I don't want to let an audience down. I don't want to let the company down and I don't let myself down. So my way of feeling comfortable with that is to know that I've done the work because then, and this is something I've learned only recently in the last few years, that If it doesn't happen one night, one week, one month, if it doesn't happen, it's not because you didn't work hard.

[00:16:33] Jon: Sometimes things don't happen, and you have to learn to roll with those punches too. Um, I think where a lot of young performers get annoyed is that, I've done the work, why isn't it happening? And sometimes it doesn't. Trust that the process does eventually work. Um, So that's a, that's a learning curve to take.

[00:16:58] Claire: When do you remember hitting

[00:16:59] that

[00:17:00] Jon: spot? I think doing Valjean. Um, Valjean was something that I'd aimed at for 20 years. And, Shall we tell the story of when I came to you with it? Shall we tell the story? Okay, fine. Do you want to do it? No, you should do it. No,

[00:17:15] Claire: because you're the guest.

[00:17:18] Jon: I'd done Les Mis, um, twice.

[00:17:22] Jon: I'd played Marius for a year in the West End, then I'd played Enjolras for, um, a year on tour. And then, um, I'd sort of grown out of those age parts. I'd passed into my thirties and had kids. And then about 36, 37, um, I'd been doing various roles and I'd always wanted to do Valjean. And at the end of 2017, I came to you and said, we're going to have a crack at Varljean.

[00:17:51] Jon: And at this point I didn't have an audition and I didn't have I hadn't told anyone. Um, I just said to you, we're going to do, start doing the homework on it. And you went, okay, um, game on. And I, and I expected it to take a couple of years of maturing that sound and getting that feel. Um, as it worked out, uh, I managed to get an audition for it and get through to the finals of, um, what turned out to be the last cast of the original production in the West End.

[00:18:22] Jon: I'm assuming anyone listening to this podcast doesn't need context for Les Misérables, but I think that's a

[00:18:27] Oren: safe assumption.

[00:18:30] Jon: Good. Um, but the old production finished in 2018? 19? I mean, play 19. 19, yeah. I'd unsuccessfully Auditioned for the role of Arjan and it had gone to Dean Chisnell. Um, and they said to me, well, actually what we're going to do, we're not going to give you the role this year.

[00:18:50] Jon: And I said, that's fine. That's of course, that's fine. This is exactly what I expected. But what we're going to do is, we're going to workshop with you over the next year. And, um, we're going to close the original production and open the new production. And you're going to lead that one at the end of 2019.

[00:19:05] Jon: And I went, mm hmm, okay. So that led to a year of workshops. And you and I did, what, every month or two, with various people or by ourselves, and going back and reworking pretty much the same material all the way through, trying to get the right feel for it, trying to get the right sound for it, trying to get the right energies for it, trying to understand.

[00:19:27] Jon: We were essentially rehearsing the part for a year. Yes, we took him apart, didn't we? We absolutely took him apart. Yeah. But that stuff is what I live for. I love that stuff. That's where I get my absolute joy is when you can pick apart a human being that doesn't really exist but still they're three dimensional.

[00:19:44] Jon: Yeah,

[00:19:45] Claire: for sure. And find out then how he lives in your sound and your energy and

[00:19:50] Oren: That's so important, isn't it? Finding it in you.

[00:19:53] Jon: Well, I have this sort of I have this um, idea this this this Construct in my head where you have the actor and you have the part And they are different sizes And the part starts out towering over the actor like david and goliath and the part is enormous And you have to eventually figure out how to even it out so that the part becomes the same size as the actor And then figure out how you can manipulate the part so that you end up being bigger than the part.

[00:20:27] Jon: You don't want to overwhelm the part with you. So there is an EQing to be done. There is a balance to be found. And the more you do it, the more, uh, the more accomplished you become at finding that balance. Which is why I think with these big roles like Farjean or Phantom or, you know, uh, I suppose Hamilton now and you know the the large the alphabas and the large musical theater parts that exist The longer people do them the deeper they seem to understand them and the better they become at them um Even though they're saying the same words, the same notes and standing in the same place.

[00:21:06] Jon: You watch someone who's done a role for three years on their opening night and at the end. It will be a very different performance because of the understanding of who the character is. I would make revelations every, I don't know, every couple of months about who Valjean is. I can, I can write you an essay about who I think he is and what my approach to him was.

[00:21:26] Jon: But it can only be my approach. It can't be the approach that Colm took. It can't be the approach that John Owen Jones took. It can't be the approach that Drew Sarich took. It can't be, it has to be yours. And that's how you can get through these massive roles that have these legacies. Because, You levelling up to it is not the same as someone else levelling up to it.

[00:21:47] Jon: A lot of people

[00:21:47] Oren: struggle with that, I think. The comparisons. Yeah. Seeing somebody and trying to imitate that version of the performance, but applying it to themselves as opposed to finding

[00:21:59] Jon: it for themselves. You have to think about every show you rehearse as this is the first time anyone's done it. So, Why am I moving there?

[00:22:09] Jon: And even if you end up moving in the same time, in the same place, you have to understand it. Mm-Hmm. . So as an actor, you know, getting things dictated to you is hard, especially when you're trying to recreate existing shows. But you have to find your way of doing it. And even if it results, the net result is the same, you will have a greater understanding of it.

[00:22:29] Jon: And that takes some bravery, partly standing up to the expectation of it, and partly standing up to the people who are asking you to do it. And luckily, the people who ask you to rehearse Les Mis are on that page too, and they want you to discover it for yourself, because they know that it will be more authentic.

[00:22:49] Jon: And more real and people will just out now enjoy it more if they feel they have ownership of it. We talked about that,

[00:22:55] Claire: didn't we, when you were doing King George that, which is a very extreme representation of fitting into. A very set way of doing something, you know, he barely moves, but where you find the creativity in that role so that you stay alive with

[00:23:12] Jon: it every night.

[00:23:13] Jon: Well, the people that put together Hamilton are all geniuses. I mean, literal geniuses. Lin got given the MacArthur Genius Grant. Um, And actually is a certified genius, . So anything it has a badge, anything they ask you, , wouldn't you love that man? , anything that they ask you to do is, uh, steeped in realism and steeped in reason.

[00:23:39] Jon: And the thing about King George is that he's, he's almost conceptual. So, the, the more you understand the concept, the less the physical matters. And that show is incredibly dictated and yet feels fluid. And that's a credit to the people putting it on and the people they cast. Um, King George is supposed to physically look like a portrait.

[00:24:08] Jon: It's based on an exact portrait. He is essentially a pundit, because he's not part of the narrative. He's commenting on the narrative. And it's a construct of, uh, viewing the events of the American Revolution so that they have international context, which they did, because they had international repercussions.

[00:24:29] Jon: Um, so once you get your head around, What he is. Yeah, then you have to go to who he is and that again the drama Backs up the physical because he doesn't need to move. He's a king Playing a king is an interesting challenge and playing a king who's never heard the word. No is an interesting challenge we're taught as Children, no, don't pick that up.

[00:24:56] Jon: No, you get used to know imagine if you'd never heard no and then You One day you hear the word no, it's going to feel weird to you. So playing it camp or playing it angry, it's more complicated than that. It's rooted in a deep psychological confusion of, I don't understand. Why? Why is that?

[00:25:20] Claire: And you get to bring yourself to it.

[00:25:22] Claire: To that part

[00:25:23] Jon: of it? I think so. Yeah. Um, the story about my final audition for, uh, Hamilton, I think is indicative of how I played it. I had had the children all day. Um, my wife had been at work and I had taken them to, uh, the Princess Diana Memorial Park in London, which is great, but there's sand everywhere and they had ice cream in their hair and, They didn't want to leave and they, you know, were screaming at each other and they were tired.

[00:25:55] Jon: And I had to go straight from that to my Hamilton final. And my wife met me at the audition studio with my suit. And I was so het up and so so paternally frustrated with, with, you don't understand you silly little people. I know more than you do that I think that came out in the audition. Yes! That's the guy!

[00:26:26] Jon: That's the feeling. Because that's the feeling. The feeling of someone at that point with an absolute monarchy, an absolute power of, I understand everything, you understand nothing, why are you even talking to me? And you can, that can be like, When you're talking to toddlers. Yeah. When you're talking to toddlers, No, I don't want to go!

[00:26:44] Jon: But we have to. No! And you're like, I know more than you! Shut up! So I think that did help me get the role. You talk about

[00:26:53] Claire: kids. Yeah. Yes.

[00:26:59] Jon: I'm married to a very wonderful woman who does most of it. Um, and has, let's give her all the credit. Um, and she should have most of the credit. Like so many of my mates and my contemporaries who didn't have kids until quite recently have said, I can't, how have you done this?

[00:27:16] Jon: How have you managed to? forge a career and have a family and you, you can't, you can't, you have to be part of a team and you have to be part of a partnership. Um, I grew up in a single parent household and my mum was a single mother and you know, I think she put a lot of things that she wanted to the side until I was in my late teens and that must have been hard for her.

[00:27:40] Jon: Um, but, The balance that had been struck in my marriage was, she, my wife, was going to happily stay and look after the kids, and I would go and work. And that was different pressures on both of us. Um, in 2014, I had no work. And she had to go out and work, and I spent most of that year at home being a full time dad.

[00:28:05] Jon: And, um, That was a hard year because she was only able to sort of temp, which meant that finances were quite tight, really tight. And I booked Memphis in the West End, and that started right at the end of the year, but I booked it at the beginning of the year, so I couldn't take anything else. So the rest of that year was spent sort of just waiting.

[00:28:23] Jon: That was, that was very tough, and, and, but it was important that we both understood the other person's pressure of, right, well, Yeah. You don't realise that I've been at home all day with the children and I'm exhausted. Yeah, well you don't realise that I've been at work all day earning enough money. You know, those things.

[00:28:39] Jon: And that balance is a constant juggling act. So, um, I'd love to say it's nice and easy having kids and working in theatre, but it's not.

[00:28:47] Claire: Can you see anything about how the business runs that could make it

[00:28:50] Jon: easier? I mean, the nature of theatre is we're working when everyone else doesn't. So weekends and evenings and holidays.

[00:28:59] Jon: Thanks. Which is really when kids need the most minding by their parents because either they're at school or, um, you know, they're, they're at clubs or whatever they're doing. So there is an intrinsic mismatch with scheduling. But I think theatre is, um, standing up to job sharing in some instances. I think it's been a massive step forward for working parents.

[00:29:25] Jon: I think, uh, understanding that There is no one to look after my child so I have to stay home today is a legitimate reason. Whereas it wasn't 10 or 15 years ago, it was Well, maybe someone else should do your job. The theatre industry generally has become more understanding of people's lives. Covid helped, because everyone was way more aware of mental health, um, is way more aware.

[00:29:52] Jon: aware of mental health now than they used to be. You have a life after you step out of the theater that needs attending to, you know. If it's children, if it's elderly parents, if it's a mental health or a physical health issue that is, you know, ongoing. Most, I'm sure, people who don't work in theater don't know that you have to fill out a health form when you start a job, which is probably the same as all jobs, but, you know, having a repeatedly sore neck that.

[00:30:21] Jon: It's not such a big deal in an office job, potentially, as it might be in a theatre job. So when I write, I sometimes get a sore neck. Sometimes it's flagged. So, you know, as well, is that going to stop you working? And I say, I don't know. Not if we look after it. Not if we look after it. Yeah. And they do that too now more than ever.

[00:30:42] Jon: Um, you used to have to pay for your own physiotherapy. You don't do that, have to do that now. Um, and this is, you know, the, the larger end of theatre that I've also worked for smaller producers who out and out can't afford to do that. And you understand that too. You know, it's important that you don't bankrupt people.

[00:31:01] Jon: Because we want, we want, We want producers to supply work for people and we want creatives in theatres to help the industry grow so you can't just rinse them for physio every two days. Um, so it's important that you keep an overall perspective. But, you know, the larger companies are able to do this and do.

[00:31:23] Jon: Um, which is good. It would be nice if ensemble wages were higher, but I think that's true of any industry where they would like wages to be higher. Um, I think the understanding of your time is what they're buying is, is greater now than it was. You know, we can't rehearse you five days out of six. Um, whereas that was again a thing when I started where just when you're in rehearsals that day and there's a show tonight, get on with it.

[00:31:53] Jon: Um, I'll make it sound like I went to, started theatre in the medieval ages when there were thumbscrews. You

[00:31:59] Claire: know, that's quite a huge change you're describing

[00:32:03] Jon: just over the course of your career. Yeah, and I love it. And, you know, the, the graduates that are coming into, Uh, the business now who are setting their own props and testing their own costumes, get told by me, go to physio for that.

[00:32:19] Jon: And they say, Oh, I don't want to cause a fuss and I say, no, the fuss that you will cause is if you come to work and you can't do the job, no one's going to be crossed with you if you are. Being seen to be doing stuff about any problems you have. It's important. Talk. Help. We're here to help. Address it. And that's this gen this younger generation below me is, is It's a lot more open to that, which is great.

[00:32:43] Jon: I always make it clear that anyone can come and talk to me about stuff. And that if they want advice for stuff, I'm happy to try and help. I don't have any answers, but I'll try. Some people have said that that's been very helpful to them, which makes me feel nice. Um, which makes me feel nice about being part of the company.

[00:33:03] Jon: I just love being part of the company. Being part of a company, it's the best thing about going to work. It was interesting actually, when I was doing Hamilton, because the King George role is really not, I mean, it's a principal, but he's very separate. I didn't ever feel excluded from the company mainly because I would go around other dressing rooms and see people, whether they wanted me there or not.

[00:33:22] Jon: Mostly people want to feel part of a team and mostly people want to feel that everyone on that team is important and that everyone on that team is valued. And. As a leader in that team I always feel that's my job to make sure everyone feels valued and important and heard. I guess you'd have to ask other people whether I do it well.

[00:33:41] Jon: Well

[00:33:44] Claire: I have heard.

[00:33:46] Oren: How does that kind of translate then with your new production? Does that How does that idea and that thought train translate from the other side of that, from the production side, the writing side? Very

[00:33:56] Jon: different. So I've written, co written a musical called Then, Now and Next that had a full production over the summer of 23 at the Southwark Playhouse.

[00:34:07] Jon: And being a writer, I mean, I have no frame of reference for how to behave as a writer. I have no context for this. And so I'm, I was, it was a really steep learning curve and some of it I got horribly wrong and that's okay because we learn from mistakes. So that's something I shall take into the next one.

[00:34:28] Jon: But yeah, trying to apply any sort of, um, unifier mentality as the writer just didn't, doesn't work because as a writer, you You come up with the ideas, you write them all down, and then you hand them to a group of people who need to have ownership of them, and that goes back to what we were saying about Les Mis, that Claude Michel Schoenberg and Alan Bluebill wrote this thing in the late 70s, and have handed it to a series of people who needed to have ownership of it.

[00:34:58] Jon: If I was doing something that Claude Michel didn't like, he would come and tell me. But basically, he just lets you get on with it because he knows that the piece is strong enough to withstand anyone's interpretation within margins. But that's the point of rehearsals, is to find the margins. My piece is not as strong as Les Miserables, so, uh, it's not.

[00:35:19] Jon: And it's our first, it's our first piece that got produced, so, you know, we're still We're still refining, um, but I think the concept is the same. So it was important that I sort of handed it over to people and stood back. That did mean that when I was watching performances of it, there were things that weren't coming through that I wanted, and that were coming through that I didn't want.

[00:35:42] Jon: Equally, there were things coming through that I hadn't thought of that were better than what I thought of, and some that were worse. So, you know, art is a beautiful thing. Performing arts is alive when you're watching it. So you can't really control it. All you can do is put the plans in place and then let it go.

[00:36:02] Jon: So, you know, if we do the production again We'll know better where the pitfalls are and what plans to put in place and what bits needed changing or altering. And so, but yeah, no one, no one wants the writers in the room. No one likes, no one likes the writers because, I mean, theater is really about problem solving, right?

[00:36:23] Jon: Yeah. So you've got this script or this score, and the challenge is how are we gonna get it from here into people's minds via their eyes and ears. Yeah. So. Um, But as the writer, you are the author of the problem. So, It's an interesting way of thinking about it. You are, you are the person laying out the hurdles on the, on the nice flat track for people.

[00:36:49] Jon: So they sort of look at you like, how could you put this hurdle in front of us? Why have you done this like this? This makes no sense. And then I explain it and they go, well, that's not how I think about it. And you kind of go, I know let's, let's talk about it. Um, but it was an amazing experience. And I never thought that.

[00:37:07] Jon: Anything I would write would ever sort of get in front of people and We had people get in touch with us via social media saying how much it affected them and and the peace deals with grief. So it's and healing and um That's a massive gargantuan subject and yet incredibly personal so having those two juxtaposed things is quite difficult to balance and we had a lot of people say that it Spoke to them which I guess is job done, right?

[00:37:37] Jon: So no matter how the company cleared the hurdle that I threw there, if it affected somebody in the audience, then that's sort of the, the gig, right? I always think performing arts and theater and no matter what genre is, is about making people think and feel. So, you know, if you've done that, even if it's not exactly what you intended, Yeah.

[00:38:03] Jon: Then you've done your job. Yes, I think you have

[00:38:05] Claire: to let them think and feel. Yeah. Yeah. You can't say, this is what I want you to feel, and I'm going to make you

[00:38:11] Jon: feel it. That's a better way of saying it. Yes. And I let them

[00:38:14] Claire: think you mean. You want, you want them to have a feeling experience through it.

[00:38:18] Claire: That's what we mean by making them. Yeah,

[00:38:19] Jon: but the audience are going to bring themselves to it as well. Yes. You know, if, if you're watching a piece about, uh, a son saying goodbye to his mother on a deathbed, and your mother died recently, you're going, you're going to empathize with that, you're gonna stir in to the mixture the stuff that is you.

[00:38:39] Jon: So you do have to allow space for that. You know, and I think the best pieces of theatre allow some space for audiences to colour it in. Um, And some of the worst pieces of theatre hit you over the head with it and tell you exactly what to feel. Which, ironically, makes you withdraw. It's an interesting theory about what theatre is and how it affects you.

[00:39:00] Jon: The theoretical side of it really interests me. How is

[00:39:03] Oren: it trying to write that into the piece? And accounting for those moments of letting the audience have those moments for themselves? We

[00:39:12] Jon: purposely left it open ended. Um, there's um, The whole piece sort of takes place within a split second of, uh, reliving the memories of the principal character, Alex, and she, um, we've bookended the piece with a man coming in at the very beginning and saying, are you ready?

[00:39:35] Jon: And then she looks around, and all these memories come back to her. And the memories are out of order, and the chronology of the last 20 years of her life flashes before her. And then, at the end, the same man comes in and says, Are you ready? Mum, are you ready? And, he's grown up, and all the time we've seen this.

[00:39:53] Jon: Boy growing up with her and then they say yes, darling, and then they walk off and where they're going is up to you And you can color it based on what you saw for the last two hours Or it can be something completely different and I think that makes an audience Feel like they're more involved in the world than just watching it from the outside So yeah, we purposely didn't answer everything I'm I don't mind confusing an audience as long as you make them feel involved You know, , ,

[00:40:26] Claire: it's okay to go and be confused by something.

[00:40:29] Claire: I think it's actually kind of gray.

[00:40:31] Jon: I, the best thing that anyone can do walking out of a piece I wrote is putting it together after they come out. Mm-Hmm. kind of going, oh, so that bit goes before this bit and that, and this is why this, and making the connections, because that's allowing people to think, right?

[00:40:48] Jon: Yeah. That's the plan anyway. I think it worked. How did it come about? Then now and next. Yeah. Boredom. My co writer, uh, Kit, Christopher J. Orton, I call him Kit, most people call him Kit, um, and I were in Spamalot together. And Spamalot's a very short show, and um, very snappy. 90 minutes straight through. There was an interval but there didn't need to be an interval, they just put it in for the drinks bills.

[00:41:18] Jon: So we had a 2. 30 show and an 8 o'clock show. So there was three hours in between shows, twice a week. So in this three hours you can eat, you can go to the gym and you've still got an hour left of like So he has been a writer for years and I was like, Oh, I kind of write a bit. So we started writing and we spent six to eight months writing this thing.

[00:41:42] Jon: And it sort of emerged sort of amorphous couple of songs and an idea and a structure ish, ish. And then we went our separate ways and put it down for about seven years. And then. had our various lives and careers and then lockdown happened and Kit is not the sort of person who can be bored. He needs things, he needs projects, he has a million ideas.

[00:42:04] Jon: I feel like I know somebody like that. Is that you? Is that why I'm sitting here talking? Yes, right. He emailed me with some of the songs that we wrote in 2013 and said these aren't bad, let's kick them around. So we did and we found that it was Not only fun, but sort of needed by both of us because neither of us had a creative outlet and it really gave us a focus and that's important.

[00:42:32] Jon: And like I said to you, I like doing homework. So, um, I did a lot of homework on it and within a year we had a full draft with 20 songs sort of structured and we had, uh, had Kate Golledge dramaturge it and help us with it. And, um, we did, um, Zoom workshop. And then when lockdown restrictions, uh, went away, we had an in person workshop and now it's 18 months on and we've got 12 drafts and we've been through lots of rewrites and it gets to the end of 2022, October 22.

[00:43:10] Jon: Yeah, October 22. And we do an industry workshop performance, invited industry people. And from that. We get a producer who, um, says, well, Oh no, it was the October 21, wasn't it? Yeah, October 21 and then through 22 we developed it and then it sort of in autumn 22 he said, Well, the Sullock Playhouse would quite like to do it in the summer.

[00:43:34] Jon: And we went, What? So it sort of took three years from this is quite good, let's have a go, which is very quick in musical theatre work. Really fast, but I think the fact that we had 18 months in there with nothing else. Yeah helped Yeah, I would really like to do that again I would really like to take a year out to just work on the next thing because we know we're doing the next thing So that's sort of how it came.

[00:43:56] Jon: It came out of boredom both times and a need to get this stuff out. So it's

[00:44:02] Claire: all sort of formed before you get to that point? Um,

[00:44:05] Jon: mostly, generally, if I'm writing a song or a bit of script or anything like that, it's a small nugget of an idea that I get out, form into what I want, and then build off that.

[00:44:17] Jon: So I'll have, on a very basic level, a melody or a chord structure or a lyric, and I'll build out of that. And being part of a writing team means that. There are so many voice notes. There are so many emails and voice memos. And I'll sit at the piano and play him what I came up with, which might only be a minute long.

[00:44:36] Jon: And I'll send it to him and go, do things to it. And he might come back and go, okay, I took it in this direction. And then I'll say, okay, what about if we do this? You're both doing music and lyrics. Yeah, we ended up doing sort of 50 50. So he wrote most, he's a far better musician than I am. Um, so he's one of those plays six instruments guys.

[00:44:57] Jon: And so he can orchestrate stuff and just record it and make it sound incredible, even if it's quite basic. So it was, yeah, it was just, it was just joyous. And the one we're doing at the moment, it's just joyous. It's so much fun. I'd love to talk about it. It's very Is there

[00:45:11] Claire: any difference writing a second one to a first one?

[00:45:13] Claire: Yeah,

[00:45:13] Jon: because this one's based on something. Um, this one has source material. The then, now and next is, was completely new. Not based on source material. an existing story or songs or characters or historical anything. I mean it's, it's funny isn't it, theatre goes through phases and fashions and the fashion for book musicals so based on massive novels came through in like the 80s didn't it?

[00:45:38] Jon: I mean there was bible musicals before that and then big, big novel musicals and then you got Into jukebox things and pre existing back catalogues and then movie musicals and it seems to be historical things at the moment. So taking an interesting historical figure and making a story and a narrative out of them.

[00:46:00] Jon: But we didn't base The Now and Next on anything. We just, which made it very hard sell. Because what's it about? Usually you can say, well, it's the story of the American Revolution told through one of the Founding Fathers eyes. Which Founding Father? The one you never heard about. Right? Okay. Here we go.

[00:46:15] Jon: Interesting. Here we go. Right. Yeah. You can't do that with an original musical. But, um, writing from existing source material is a very different thing because essentially you're adapting rather than creating. But it still has to feel new. Because a lot of, it's not a movie that we're adapting, but if it, you know, basing things on a movie, people have an existing, uh, idea of what it is and how it looks.

[00:46:40] Jon: So that guy doesn't look and sound like Marty McFly. Right? Yeah. So they have to make him sound as much and look as much like Martin McFly as they can. Because it's based on that. It's important. Um, otherwise the audience reject it. So basing things off novels is a lot easier because there isn't a visual reference.

[00:47:02] Jon: You know, no one knows what Javert looks like. So they can have a bit more leeway on coming up with that. But yeah, the writing process is quite different this time. It's still fun. But it's still fun. Oh yeah. Still fun.

[00:47:16] Claire: You can just take, because I think a lot of novelists talk about their second book being much harder than the first.

[00:47:20] Claire: Huh. The first had been actually percolating for 20 years before they actually sat down and Yeah. Wrote it. And then number two has to come fresh from somewhere. Well, I don't think

[00:47:31] Jon: it did with us. I, I didn't spend seven years going, oh, I really want to write down that thing that we, you know, it was just once we flick the switch, we we're off.

[00:47:39] Jon: Yeah. So luckily we both work that way. Great. Um. So if we were allowed 18 months of nothing, you know, we'd have a draft for you quite quick. Um, and we'd workshop it quite quickly. But, you know, other things like families and earning a living get in the way. So And, you know,

[00:47:59] Claire: appearing in a leading show.

[00:48:03] Jon: Yes, that's, that's, that's the work element.

[00:48:05] Oren: So, you were the first to play all three, Phantom, Baozhang and

[00:48:11] Jon: King George. Yeah, I mean, King George is quite a new role, so there'll be others, I'm sure. Take the first. Take the first. Take the trophy. Sure, sure, sure,

[00:48:19] Oren: sure. Do you have any plans of what you would like to do next?

[00:48:23] Jon: No, um, I, I was talking to my wife about this the other day.

[00:48:27] Jon: I had always Wanted to play Valjean, and that was, uh, something to aim at. That was a horizon to run at for 20 years. And I got to do it, and it was just Incredible and terrifying and stupendous and awful and brilliant all at once and it was all the things. And you went through all of those things with me, didn't you Claire?

[00:48:50] Jon: Not all of them. You did. But You were very helpful and I love you for it. But I don't know if there's a new horizon to aim at. I feel as though musical theatre sort of Guides you through your career as much as you want to guide yourself It doesn't you you know, you have to wait till the parts are there I'm in a weird self employed employed Venn diagram of Well, I can't create my own work wholly I can create some of it But I have to be asked to come and work as an actor.

[00:49:24] Jon: So Um, that's always a challenge to, to see what happens and you just have to sort of relax and be open to what comes. So I don't know what comes. I mean there are guys who are 10 to 15 years older than me that have had similar paths through their careers and it's interesting to see which ways they've gone.

[00:49:45] Jon: Um, so that is sort of a vague blueprint that I could take but you just don't know what's going to come up. New writing. Is I feel like the holy grail of musical theatre when you get to create something as an actor and it becomes massive and I've done a couple of workshops in the last year or two that if they became massive you kind of go well that's the part that defines your career but you just don't know so I've no idea is the answer to your question but I tried to live in the now as much as I can am I comfortable about it Occupationally and artistically very comfortable financially.

[00:50:25] Jon: No, I'd like to know what I'm doing. Thanks very much Yeah, but like, you know, the artist in me is totally comfortable with it the pragmatist in me But would like a loft extension. Yeah Is is not so comfortable with it, but I don't know. You just, you just have to wait and see. Like I've spent 20 years doing wait and see and it's worked out fine to now.

[00:50:48] Jon: If the next chapter is different then fine. I don't think there's any, there's any way you can be anything other than accepting of that. Otherwise you'd just be fighting the tide and that's so tiring and you don't win. Generally. Yeah. That's why surfers are so relaxed because they just go with the flow.

[00:51:08] Jon: The way it was just to complete my metaphor. Very nice. I see how you tied that all together. You're welcome. That was very tidy.

[00:51:15] Claire: If you could go back to 20 year old self, is there any advice you'd give him? Yeah, I

[00:51:22] Jon: think try not to prove yourself so much. I mean, I think these are probably generic things that we'd all say to ourselves.

[00:51:29] Jon: I spent a lot of time trying to make sure everyone knew that I knew I was doing what I was doing. And I think you there was no need to do that. I I think Allowing myself off the hook when it didn't go well Um, which I didn't did not do um would would be important but That begs the question would I know it now if I hadn't done it?

[00:51:52] Jon: so You know, you've got to learn these things, you can't You can't jump the learning. No. Otherwise you haven't learned it. So I, yeah, I mean, I'd like, I'd like him to be more relaxed. That would be nice and worry less about it. And, uh, but 20 year old me is not that dissimilar to 40 year old me. Um, and I know this because people like the wonderful company manager, Hannah Schaffran, worked with me in, in Saigon, um, then worked with me.

[00:52:25] Jon: two years ago in Les Mis and said you're exactly the same as you were when you were 21, you're just at the front. I was like, yeah, pretty much. So I don't know if I was that different. I think trying to worry about proving myself was the big thing. But I think that was the same as when I was, go back 30 years, I think it was still the same.

[00:52:45] Jon: If your

[00:52:45] Claire: path through the jobs you've had had been different, do you think you'd still have got to the point you're at now? There

[00:52:53] Jon: was a sliding doors moment during the Avenue Q auditions that I know about now, that I've been told from the creators of Avenue Q. I, I'm going to assume that people don't know about Avenue Q now because it was so long ago.

[00:53:07] Jon: That was a Broadway transfer that came over to London in 2006 and I was part of the original company and although it was very much an ensemble piece, there was a protagonist called Princeton that I was playing. So, um, you go through a very long audition process because it requires puppetry for those who've never seen it.

[00:53:30] Jon: Um, do YouTube it because it's just, it's just wonderful. And I loved it so much and I was 22 and that was my first West End job. My West End debut was a lead in a Broadway transfer. So, um, You know, that was a massive step, massive step. I think I missed out maybe 10 years trying to get to that point. And that was nothing but luck, right, right person, right place, right time.

[00:53:56] Jon: I know for a fact that up until the very last audition, someone else was in line to play Princeton and I was supposed to be a swing. Um, because I was good with the puppets. Um, and they were like, well, he's good with puppets. He can do voices. He can be a swing. Great. He can just go through the audition process.

[00:54:15] Jon: We know he's going to be a swing. Great. And actually, the previous audition, uh, Jason Moore, who was the director, did pull me in for a one on one meeting and said, Look, we're going to put you in the production. We just don't know where. I'd had eight or nine auditions for Avenue Q over the course of six months.

[00:54:29] Jon: So it was a long audition process, and I'd been told I was going to be in it. And in the very last audition, I had done a show of Rent in Frankfurt, got on a flight back to London at 3 a. m., landed. Gone home. Changed to my London, uh, flat. Gone into London. Auditioned at 9am. Um, did the audition, went back, flew back to Frankfurt and did a matinee of Rent.

[00:54:56] Jon: It was a long 24 hours, right? I mean,

[00:54:59] Claire: I wish I could express surprise, but these stories are

[00:55:02] Jon: This still happens. Well, this is the thing, people, you know, when they say to you, well, that's the audition. It's, the onus is on you to do it or not do it. The older I get, the more I go, I'm not doing that. But I was 22!

[00:55:15] Jon: I was 22. I was like, yep, doing it, fine. Now, I'm like, when I get my audition times through, I'm like, that's before midday, I'm not going to do that. We don't sing before midday. Some days I'm like, that's the day after a matinee. No. But, you know, you earn these things. I'm very demanding. In that last audition, I think, with all the adrenaline and everything, there was an X factor to my audition that the other guy didn't have on that particular day.

[00:55:41] Jon: That other guy, by the way, has done very, very well for himself. So he's, he's fine. He's, he's ended up playing a massive lead in the West End and he's very happy. I could have not been at the front of Avenue Q and that would have been a big difference. But if I'd have ended up here, I don't know. It's, I mean, it's impossible to tell.

[00:56:01] Jon: And you can drive yourself crazy with the, with the. You absolutely

[00:56:03] Claire: can. It's just, it's interesting for me with the perspective of a vocal coach, having watched your voice. Go through and it feels now looking back like all the pieces that came from each production that you were on eventually gave you everything you needed.

[00:56:19] Claire: Yeah. For Valjean

[00:56:21] Jon: and now Phantom. Well, I've always felt as a vocalist that it's your job to sound like the character. So how are we gonna change the sound so it sounds like that? Do you remember why Cameron McIntosh initially sent me to you? Do you remember this?

[00:56:36] Claire: I don't remember our first meeting, but I don't

[00:56:38] Jon: remember what my brief was.

[00:56:39] Jon: Our first meeting was a lesson at your mother's house, and, um, the brief was, make him sound less like a puppet. Because I was, I was going into Les Mis to play Marius. Yeah. The only thing that Cameron's knew me as was, This guy. Right? The puppet guy. The puppet guy. And, uh, There was, there was a lot of twang present.

[00:57:04] Jon: And so it was make him sound less like a puppet, please. But it was important that I sounded very much like a puppet for nearly two years. So that required homework. But I think it's a job as a vocalist to have as many different strings to your bow as possible. When I did Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a very different thing.

[00:57:20] Jon: It's barely singing. It's more to do with the characterful nature of what you're saying. You know, it's Dick Van Dyke ish. So. I think it's our job to be as malleable as possible, which can be hard because it takes a lot of trust, because a lot of vocalists worry that if I don't sound like me, you know, I've got to sound, I've got to sound like this because this is what I'm comfortable with.

[00:57:44] Jon: And pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone is how we grow. But also

[00:57:48] Claire: incredibly important to find out Where your comfort zone is to honor it and and value it Well then be able to step away

[00:57:58] Jon: from it Interestingly the longer my career has gone on the more I get asked to do concerts and the concert world is a very specific skill like There is a concert version of me which is Not a character It's definitely me, but it is a certain It's certain parts of me that are hand picked to make this concert evening nice because it's not a fully involved narrative, nor is it a recital.

[00:58:30] Jon: What is it the audience wants is sort of what dictates where you go with stuff, I think. You

[00:58:36] Claire: mentioned highs and lows of performing. Yeah. Tell me how you navigate

[00:58:40] Jon: those. Uh, with difficulty and faith that You will eventually not feel this way. Um, doing, doing long runs of shows, eight shows a week for a year, two years, three years, um, as I've done, um, you, you, learning to accept that out of every eight shows, you're gonna have four that are just fine, you're gonna have two shitty ones, one that you really liked, and one that was horrendous.

[00:59:15] Jon: So, if you have to learn to accept that as a general average, I think there have been periods, uh, that were sometimes quite prolonged, um, weeks into a month, six weeks, where I just couldn't deliver, no matter what I did, health wise, psychologically, could not deliver. The show that I wanted to deliver and the maddening thing is that everyone around you says it's fine It's okay.

[00:59:45] Jon: The show you're delivering is perfectly okay And you have to learn to trust some of those people whose opinion that you do trust and Um, if there are things that you aren't happy about learning to target what they are Why they're going wrong and how you can start to address that I ended up Uh whilst I was doing version in therapy for performance anxiety.

[01:00:12] Jon: And I went to maybe two or three sessions and they were generally hypnotherapy. So, um, essentially deep guided meditations, talking about your fears and why you feel this way. And that was incredibly helpful. And it led me to getting into the habit of meditation, which I do every day, um, before every show, even if it's only five or six minutes.

[01:00:36] Jon: Um, I have to do it every show. And it just allows you the time to be still. Because being still and quiet is unusual in this world. Um, so being purposefully still and purposefully quiet. And meditation gets a sort of slightly hippie ish rap, right? Rap. But um, these days I think it's probably more mainstream than it was.

[01:01:01] Jon: Um, and mindfulness is so important and such a buzzword. Having a strong support network is very important. My family keep me very grounded and having friends like you, um, we've just met, but you're very nice. I think those things help. I think being very targeted about what the issue is and what you can do about it is, is very important because there can just have this overwhelming feeling of I'm not good enough, or I can't do it, or, uh, I'm not, I shouldn't be here.

[01:01:34] Jon: And the imposter syndrome is just rampant in this industry. Everyone feels like they shouldn't be there. And that's the 20 year old self who wanted to prove himself really keenly felt that. And I don't feel that much now as much now as I did, I guess, because I've been repeatedly asked to come and work.

[01:01:56] Jon: So. You know, that has bred confidence, hopefully not arrogance. Um, because, because, yes. Because I still feel like there are days where I'm walking away from a show going, that was not it, not delivering, not delivering that, let's try again tomorrow. No matter how it goes, it's gonna go well, it's gonna go badly, just keep showing up and trying.

[01:02:19] Jon: The proviso of that is, if you feel like you can't show up and try, why? And go and address that and then come back and try again. So, you know, that I needed some time off. I had to, I had to have a break, um, so that I could go and get my head in the right place. And then I came back and slowly started to build up confidence for, uh, performing.

[01:02:45] Jon: But the lows are really hard because there is nothing worse than walking on stage thinking, I can't do this. and whether it's a vocal thing or a psychological thing, you and I know they're a lot closer than people think they are. I have walked on stage being upset with something in real life and literally not being able to make a noise.

[01:03:04] Jon: So they are intrinsically the same thing. That's the worst, not being able, walking on not feeling confident that you can deliver, which is

[01:03:15] Claire: hard. I don't want to put words in people's mouth but I think a lot of younger performers might. I'd be quite surprised to know that a very experienced, very accomplished performer is still dealing with those issues.

[01:03:28] Jon: Yeah, yeah, I think, I think we all do. Um, I remember seeing, um, An acceptance speech for some Lifetime Achievement Award by Dustin Hoffman in years ago And he was saying I still don't really know what I'm doing And I'm still trying out ideas and I think and I remember feeling oh my god If someone like him who has been acting for 50 years at the very top of Hollywood That is still trying stuff and still experimenting, then maybe it's okay that I'm still trying and experimenting and learning and failing and I think it's important that we do that.

[01:04:06] Jon: I, I would say the generation above me were not open to admitting that they were having that and I found that very hard. I found some of the guys who were 20 years older than me, so when I was starting out and they were playing these, they were very closed off and they were very, um, Uh, uh, they had their hearts quite close to their chest about how they were feeling and they were that they weren't willing to be open enough to say that they were struggling with something or that they found what they did hard because I think they were scared that people were going to take it away from them.

[01:04:40] Jon: And I'm glad that that general mentality has shifted. And if I can be part of the. older, more experienced generation that allows that conversation to flourish, then, then great. To

[01:04:53] Claire: hear with great honesty that actually that feeling doesn't necessarily go, you maybe just get a little bit better at handling it.

[01:05:01] Jon: Yeah. I think you know that there's another show coming. Yeah, you know, there's there's you can try again tomorrow and not to panic which is easier said than done. Of course it is but learning to Assess honestly and taking the I just think I'm crap Element out of it. Yeah is is important and I do watch younger performers now Um sort of go through it and give themself a very hard time.

[01:05:36] Jon: And I try and talk to them again, whether they want the advice or not, that, you know, you can try again, you can try again and it's okay. And also you have attained a certain level that the general public are not going to know the difference, which is both bolstering and maddening all at once. Because you think, Well, if I have a 7 out of 10 show, they're not going to know the difference between a 7 and a 10.

[01:06:03] Jon: They might know the difference between a 10 and a 2. But if you pull out a 7 show, one of those 4 shows a week where it's just fine, and you're like, pfft, that show was just fine, and someone at stage door tells you that it's the most moving, earth shattering, life changing thing they've ever known, and you go, why, it was only a 7.

[01:06:20] Jon: But

[01:06:20] Claire: that comes back to what we were talking about before, which is that you can't control. How they come to the performance, what they bring with them. Absolutely. So. And you could give it a 10 out of 10 performance and actually they came in with a 2 in their, in their heads for their day and they're not in the place to receive it.

[01:06:37] Claire: So,

[01:06:38] Jon: yeah. Absolutely. So knowing that it is, A living, breathing organism thing that you can't control all by yourself. Um, it's contributed to by lots of things. Uh, is, is, relaxes you because you think, well, I'll just do what I do. Um, but also it's annoying because it's like no I worked my ass off for you tonight and It's fine, but you get another chance, you know You get you get other chances to do this and if you're working at west end level You'll be operating at such a high level Anyway, otherwise, they wouldn't let you in, you know, the imposter syndrome thing is based on the fact that you haven't been fired That's what's combats that And I always say to human performers, I'm like, have they fired you?

[01:07:24] Jon: Then, fine. Because they, because they will. Because, because if you crap, they'll kick you out. If you haven't been kicked out You're fine. We're good for tomorrow. Yeah. Let's keep going. Yeah. And that sounds quite harsh, but I think it's important to remember that, you know, the people that are putting these structures in place for us to perform, so the producers and the theatre owners and the writers and the people that do this.

[01:07:52] Jon: Um, and I now know even better as a writer that they're trusting you with it and if they continue to trust you with it, then we're all good. It's, it, it, it's very hard to get yourself into the right frame of mind, but I think the meditation definitely helps. How does it feel when you do a great show? It's fantastic, but you have to let it go.

[01:08:12] Jon: The highs can't be too high because you don't want the lows to be too low. You want to live in a world where you can recognise success without over celebrating it, and you can recognise failure without over dramatising it. And presumably, if you're

[01:08:28] Claire: able to recognise success in the context of that went well because a lot of other things went well, were not under my control.

[01:08:35] Claire: No. then it's easier to balance the lows because that might be not going well because of a lot of other things that aren't in my control.

[01:08:42] Jon: Sure, sure. And that isn't trying to shirk responsibility, but it's just recognizing that it's a collaborative art. Absolutely. And especially in A collaborative human art.

[01:08:50] Jon: Yeah, yeah. And especially in the big shows where, if the person learning the sound desk, it's only their first time on, it's not going to sound right. If the person on conducting the band that has 25 depths in it, it's not gonna sound normal. You know, if, if, if you're playing opposite an understudy who is their first time on, they're going to be doing the headlights.

[01:09:12] Jon: You're never going to get the right, it will be different. It will be a different energy. It'll be an energy you can feed off. And that's how you take, you know, what you're being given and make it into something that You can understand and present. Yeah. So you've got to be open to that. Yeah. So I think it all just comes down to relaxation on stage.

[01:09:34] Jon: And being open. Open to whatever comes you'll handle it. Yeah, but that takes some experience and some trust I suppose which I think as well

[01:09:42] Oren: Leads back to delivering a bit of vocal performance if you're more relaxed if you're more trusting of the people that you're working with So that you release that tension and therefore that's one less variable to have to try and combat in that moment

[01:09:56] Jon: When you do a great show, you do get that Olivier moment of, Why can't I do that every night?

[01:10:03] Jon: You know? And you're walking home, or you're on the train on the way home, and, you know, the adrenaline is wearing off and you're analysing and I try not to analyse too much anymore. I made a rule with my wife that I'm not allowed to discuss how the show went on my way home. Because I call her to see if she's alright and if the kids are okay.

[01:10:19] Jon: Yeah, and I'm not allowed she's like we're not allowed to do. How did the show go? No, we just don't do it It just was a show. Yeah, the show was the show was the show. Yeah, not that it doesn't matter But it's not important enough right now. Yeah when I finish the contract, I'll think about how the show went Because then you have a greater sample size

[01:10:42] Claire: gaining your data. Yeah. Yeah. From which to evaluate how you're doing and from which to have context for how you're feeling. You've only done the show three times, you haven't got enough data.

[01:10:54] Jon: No. Valjean was a perfect example of that, because it's so big, and it was like, you know I talked about the part being big and you being small, it was a constant fluctuation of who's bigger today.

[01:11:07] Jon: Yeah, yeah. Um, and for long periods, I was in control of it, and then for a series of weeks, I wasn't. And I would keep a mental tally, almost numerical score. Yeah. Every night and they'd never write it down because I think that might have been harmful in the end but I did keep a sort of graph in my head of okay, that was five four out of tens in a row and then I'd Do twenty seven out of tens in a row, but your average is about a six and so I think having done the part for the best part of three years, I came out with a decent average of seven to nine.

[01:11:45] Jon: I was happy with it because most shows were in that bracket. There were the occasional tens, I reckon I did about eight. 550 vagens, and I reckon I came out with about five tens

[01:12:00] Jon: There's a the dressing room Yeah, I will take it Yeah, there's a dress there's a shower in the dressing room at the sundime of the vaginal dressing room and I would remember getting in the shower About five times and going. Yep that That one But then, and sometimes, it would be a two show day, and I would do a brilliant one followed by a terrible one, or a terrible one followed by a brilliant one, and there's no, there's no rhyme or reason to it.

[01:12:29] Jon: So all you can do is be open to it, and see what comes. But that does take trust. Because like we've said, there's a whole bunch of shit that you can't control. So, don't try. If you've got a vocal injury, don't do the show. And that's, that's okay too. There have been days, Of course. Loads of days where I know for a fact that I won't be able to deliver the show that people are paying lots of money for.

[01:12:56] Jon: And that there are three understudies in that building who can. And the audience deserves to see the best version of the show. Right? Someone who can deliver it. And that's when you have to put your ego to the side and say, it doesn't matter that it's me. It's the show that needs to be told. The story needs to be told.

[01:13:14] Jon: I will let it be told. The other person tell it because they can undoubtedly do it better than me right now. And that's just what needs to happen. And so if you, it's not about like, I know I can do it every day. It isn't that because I won't be able to and that's okay too. And I think the theatre world is becoming okay with that as well.

[01:13:36] Jon: What is

[01:13:36] Oren: your five minute call like? What do you do? You get your five minute call. Go for a wee. What happens? Just a wee? Yeah.

[01:13:43] Jon: That's it. It sort of depends on, depends on if you're a beginner or not. If you need it on stage at beginners, then go for a wee at the five and go to the stage. The current role I'm doing doesn't, isn't up here for half an hour.

[01:13:57] Jon: So the Phantom is on at eight o'clock. So at the five, I'll go for a wee and brush my teeth. Very carefully because I've got lip makeup on. Bye. And then, uh, and then that's when I'll do my meditation currently, but with Vajon, I used, I did it at the quarter, um, between the quarter and the five so that I could then go for a wee and go on stage.

[01:14:19] Jon: So, uh, yeah, that's, that's the, that's the five, but it's sort of dependent on the show. I don't have a set routine for every show. There are certain things that I will do, the toilet being one of them, because you don't want to go on stage needing a wee, especially if it's a big role and you know, you're not coming back off the stage for half an hour.

[01:14:38] Jon: He's hoping the conductor will conduct quicker

[01:14:44] Oren: We're starting a tradition on this podcast that I have completely stolen from Stephen Bartlett's diary of CEO And I'm not ashamed to admit that where it's a compliment. It is. Yeah, we'll go with that It's a compliment every guest writes a question for the next guest to answer. We have one question for you Oh, and then you're gonna write one.

[01:15:05] Oren: Okay, what's the worst? You Or most embarrassing reason you've missed a

[01:15:10] Jon: queue? Um, I missed a line, an off stage line, when we were doing Avenue Q, because I was watching telly, and it was the, it was, we had a, no, no it wasn't, it was the um, Dorothy casting program on, on telly when they cast, is it called Over the Rainbow?

[01:15:35] Jon: That one. And it was the final and everyone was gathered. Everyone was gathered in the dressing room watching, going around the telly waiting for it to come and the show was happening and there's that gap that should be filled by my line. I'm not there. And then the show continued and the stage manager came in to see if I was all right and I went.

[01:15:56] Jon: Oh, sorry. Yeah, that is over the rainbows over the rainbows So, yeah, that was that was pretty bad Yeah, thank you

[01:16:06] Oren: very much. Never mind. It's

[01:16:07] Claire: fantastic. Um, would you write a question for our next guest?

[01:16:10] Jon: Yeah, i'm gonna film you writing a question and then

[01:16:12] Claire: yeah, the book will be sealed and we won't see it. You don't

[01:16:15] Jon: see either Oh, that's fun.

[01:16:17] Claire: Thank you very very much for your time and your honesty. It's been a pleasure having you.

[01:16:22] Jon: Thank you anytime


This episode is sponsored by Vocalitea

Vocalitea has been blended by award winning voice experts and master tea blenders to help you achieve vocal clarity, soothe your voice, and taste amazing!

Shop the story