“The ABC’s of Auditioning”
by D. Jockinsen
Auditioning is the most important thing that happens in the beginning of a stage play. It’s usually the third event in a process that includes hundreds of separate steps. Auditions always come early in the order of things on the march towards opening night.
There is no ‘right way’ to hold an audition, and thus there are a *gazillion* different variations on the theme, just as there is no ‘right way’ to audition. Though one can find “how-to” books and websites aplenty on the subject, they all boil down to just a few points to offer. Basically, those points are; be prepared (more on that later), be polite, interpret the script as you see fit, don’t touch anything not yours, stay focused, keep your head, face and eyes up as much as possible, and don’t smoke or chew gum during. That pretty much sums up what the “self-help” sources will impart to you.
Because things like the movies and live theater are “Director-driven” arts, that position sits at the apex of the Production Pyramid. As a Community Theatre, TCT follows that exact same “Director-driven” pyramid that is the standard throughout the country. Much like the audition process, this method can be fraught with pitfalls. However, it is the only way that actually works. Alternate models have come and gone, but the Great Pyramid lives on! It works best when ONE person is in charge.
Casting well has been called, “90% of the work of Directing.” That may not be entirely true, but casting well is crucial to success. No matter how good the script or the set or the lighting, without quality actors, the audience is unlikely to remember your show fondly. But it gets more complicated than that. It is entirely possible to cast the greatest actors and still run headlong into a wall that doesn’t work. In live Theater, it is the combination of all of the elements that has to work. Great actors aren’t always what each part requires.
People come in different types. People come with different strengths and weaknesses, different shapes, sizes, hair colors, vocal qualities, looks, and styles. Combine that myriad of possibilities with the ‘vision’ the Director has for the piece . . . and it’s a wonder that anything every gets cast at all. 90% of the work, in the span of a few hours, to look at, to listens to, to evaluate, to decide, to reconsider, to pair, to re-pair, to reconfigure altogether, and finally - to select a cast. If you think auditioning can be a mind-numbing experience from the front of the table, try your hand at sitting behind it sometime.
Ultimately, there are performers who get the roles, and performers who do not. I personally have been on the receiving end of both those types of phone calls. The first call can bring you a supreme feeling of validation and joy. The second call . . . not so much.
However, the experienced actor takes that second call with the full knowledge that the decision was NOT based upon THEM PERSONALLY. (Not getting a part is much more common than getting one.) They know that they simply were not right for this part, in this production, at this time. And that’s the truth of the matter. Knowing that it’s the combination that makes productions work, and not the individual, allows the actor to take that second call in stride, and look forward to the next audition, and the next. They also know that there are many things they can do before the next one.
Remember those auditioning “self-help” points touched upon before? The first one mentioned was “be prepared.” You see? The Boy Scouts were right all along! There is no substitute for preparation. No other single activity can assure you the best chance (and, even at best, it’s still only ever a chance) of getting cast after auditioning.
The top three things you can do to prepare yourself to give your best auditions are:
1. Read the material. If script pieces are not supplied, surf the net to gather as much as you can about the characters, the storyline, and the general ‘feel’ of the selected production. Look for parts in the production that you might be right for. No sense in wasting time and effort trying to get cast in a part you obviously don’t fit into, right? If you do find a part that you think you’re right for – Go For It! Only ONE person will be cast in the part, and prepping yourself for the audition is the only way to give you a chance to be that one.
2. Practice being the character you intend to audition for, as you see it. This allows you to try out different things vocally and physically - prior to doing so in front of a crowd. Walk and talk the part. Have a conversation with the dog – as that character. Do whatever you can to ‘tune’ yourself to ‘be’ that character for when the time to read for it comes. It’s the way that all working actors do it. Community Theatre is no different. You will still fill out an audition card; wait until your name is called; be handed a script; and stand in a line with other actors to read for the part. It’s a universal procedure. Practice is the difference.
3. Practice ‘cold reading’. Pick up a book or a script you’re unfamiliar with and read it aloud, with feeling. This may sound silly but it’s actually a skill that’s an auditioning skill. Being able to look at written material and read it aloud at first glance is an acquired art. Like all things, it is an art that can be learned and practiced. Giving yourself an ‘edge’ over other actors going for the same part can come down completely to how well you cold read.
Lastly, in the world of live theater there is an adage that carries more weight than its simple face value. --“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Blaming is no way to help you to get cast, and there is no place for it in Theater. Remember the often-quoted adage too about how one gets to Carnegie Hall? That’s right – “Practice, practice, practice.”
~ Doc Doug