The Universal Studios, Japan Experience

Published on 8th Aug, 2008

HeathHeathIt’s nearly that time of year again when many dancers, singers and performers audition their little hearts out for an experience like no other, a contract as a performer at Universal Studios Japan. Australia is known for producing extremely skilled dancers so it’s no surprise that they take quite a few aussies over each year. DanceLife caught up with Heath Keating to find out about his experience, from the audition process to living and working in another country at a young age.

1. Take us back to when you auditioned for Universal Studios Japan. Tell us a little bit about the audition process?

The day I auditioned for USJ, there were so many people there- more then I had expected! There were dancers, singers, stuntmen, acrobats and impersonators – a mixed bunch to say the least!
The audition was open to everyone- all the roles were up for grabs but I definitely had WICKED in mind.
The audition process wasn’t unusual – we started with everyone in the room and then taught the dance routine (including turns, kicks, jumps etc) we were then split into groups. Each group performed in front of the panel and cuts were made from there on.
I made it through to the end of the day, then my agency (Grayboy) was contacted and I received a contract offer.

2. Why do you think you got the job? What made you stand out from the rest of the dancers auditioning?

Good question! To be honest I felt very confident that I had mastered the routine, not only the steps but through my style and expression – which I think is a very important part of an audition process. Obviously it is essential you get the steps as accurate as you can, but more importantly, how you sell it is what wins people over. I also have skills in acrobatics which gave me a better opportunity for the role of Chistery as well as ensemble.

3. Most of the dancing roles require you to sing. What songs did you prepare and why did you choose these songs?

Yes, especially for WICKED as there is a lot of singing in the show, not only in english but also in Japanese. Each performer needed to withhold a singing ability and show great preparation for the ensemble roles. I prepared two contemporary musical theatre songs in the style of the show- a ballad and an up tempo. I was asked to sing one of the songs so I of course went with my stronger choice. I was then given a short snippet of one of the ensemble songs to sing in front of the panel.

4. Was it a hard decision for you to pack up life in Sydney and Move to Japan? Explain how you coped with the transition.

Yes it definitely was. Having relocated from the Gold Coast in 2005, I had only been living in Sydney 2 years, so I was at the stage where I was very comfortable with my environment – I felt like I was taking a big risk and throwing myself into the deep end. Luckily when I got to Japan, not only did I find myself amongst an amazing bunch of very talented people, but it was also a close family orientated environment. This made the transition very easy and comforting. It wasn’t long before we were all riding our push-bikes around town and enjoying yakitori for dinner each night.

5. What can dancers that are offered a position at Universal Studios Japan expect in terms of living arrangements, nightlife and meeting new people?
The living arrangements and housing provided at USJ makes the contract very appealing. Each performer is offered a fully equipped apartment, a cell phone, a bicycle, and gym membership. We all lived in the same 10-story building on the water which is the quiet side of Osaka. This gave me the opportunity to hang out with the other performers and neighbors- making new friends was easy! The Apartments (Kaigandori House) are located close to the city of Osaka- only 10 minutes on the train, so it was very easy to be out and about experiencing the amazing culture that Japan has to offer.

6. Run us through a day in the life of Heath working as a dancer at Universal Studios – Japan.

A typical day for me in Osaka is – up at 9am, then I would make my way to the local gym (YMCA) for a solid workout. I always tried to ride my bike in to the city so I could enjoy the local streets and scenery. After sweating it out, I would then make my way back to work either by a train directly to USJ, or riding the bike to the local ferry, which is situated within minutes from Kaigandori House.
We are given an hour and a half call time before the show, so this gives you plenty of time to organise costumes, warm up, and presets… there was even enough time to enjoy a smart Starbucks coffee before hand! After the show I would make the quick trip home, chat to my friends back home on Skype then I’m out to dinner!
There was always an event/birthday/or organised talent night, sometimes in the city or locally….. to be honest, most nights normally ended with a local bar, a smart bevy (or two!) and social time with my fellow USJ mates.

7. What was the best thing about working on the show?

I guess for me the best thing was learning.
I had to work out the best way to give 100% for every single show and stay consistent over a long period of time. Given this was my first long term contract (just over 13 months) it was important to stay on top of this.
However, with the magic embedded in WICKED through its amazing music and storyline- giving your all was easy. It was a great pleasure and honour to be apart of a show so beautiful, especially the Universal Studio’s version- the only one in the world which offers a collaboration of English and Japanese to form that one-off experience.

8. How has working in Japan added to your skills as a dancer and performer? What did you get from your experience that you couldn’t get anywhere else?

The contract was a major learning curb for me in so many ways.
Firstly, living in a foreign country for such a long period of time gives you the chance to fully experience the rawness of this unique culture and witness how the country is shaped. This completely opened my mind and gave me a whole new realisation on ‘My world’, it was quite extraordinary.
Working daily with language barriers and new customs, not only in the streets but at work as well, is a very educating experience.
As for the show my role was both Chistery and ensemble, so for me I had to keep up my fitness and stamina, as being on stage most of the show was very strenuous and hard on my body. I had to teach myself to be a safe dancer but still giving it 100% which is a great skill to have learned. As we all know, a dancer’s life depends on how far your body can take you. Overall, my USJ experience is one that I will never forget!
I was so blessed to be given a great opportunity at a perfect time in my life, and I would recommend it too anyone who is looking to perform overseas.

AUDITIONS
The Universal Japan Auditions will commence in Sydney on 4 September. For all audition details please go to http://www.dancelife.com.au/ads/entry/Universal-Studios-Japan-2008-08-08

For more information on Heath please contact his agent at Grayboy. agency@grayboyentertainment.com or 02 8399 3366

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