Dear Theatre Students,
As is always the case after a school year and or an intense wave of auditions, I have been inundated with questions from students and those who have auditioned for many of the local theatre productions about how they might do better in preparation for future auditions and opportunities. So for those who might want some insight from the other side of the table, here you go:
What can I do better?
1: Know your cast-ability.
“The mirror is not you. The mirror is you looking at yourself”- George Balanchine
I think the hardest thing about being a performer is learning to separate who you are from what you are as a commodity. As performers, you are not paint on canvas, or notes on a staff, or light and sound coming from an instrument. YOU are the medium. Your look, your voice, your age, gender, race, height, weight, etc. You are the canvas. And that is profoundly difficult.
Be willing to take a good hard honest look at your self; your physicality, your coloring, your height, weight, age etc…and then accept it. Your cast-ability is not the same in high school/college as it is once you enter the real market. In academic theatre, you may be cast as characters that range in age from 14 to 90. In semi-professional-professional theatre, your cast-ability shrink-wraps to fit exactly what and who you are.
AND…that’s okay! Rather than fight it, capitalize on it. Look for every opportunity that fits your type.
If you are unhappy with your type, there are some things you can do…gain or lose weight, change your hairstyle or color, work out or stop working out. Other than that…your height, your age range, your ethnic background, your gender…these are things to celebrate, not fight.
Besides, casting is subjective. What one director sees in one actor, ten others may not. All you can do is be your best self, and work to be the best of those in your cast-ability.
Most difficult, and yet important, know that your value as a human being has nothing to do with you as a marketable artistic medium.
2: Know your craft.
“We are but what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” - Aristotle
When you leave the academic world, the talent pool only gets bigger. And if you go to any major market like NY or LA, everyone has talent. So, what will set you apart? Knowing your craft! You need to prepare like an Olympian. No Olympic runner would dare show up on the day of the race having only trained one day a week. Likewise, when you show up for an audition, those who excel are usually those who have invested years into their training, and who work at it every day. Read plays, take classes, see other’s work, take voice lessons, take a dance class, learn a new skill, learn to play the guitar or the piano, learn a new song or a new monologue. Work at it every day.
YOU are the instrument that you are marketing. Prove to the hiring producers and the directors that you are a finely tuned, reliable and versatile instrument.
In addition to being personally prepared, prepare for each specific audition. Learn about the play you’re auditioning for, the author, the producers and directors if possible. Learn about the characters, the story, and the roles you might be right for. In an age when information is instantly available to anyone simply by clicking a button, there is no excuse for lack of preparation. None.
If given the opportunity to come to a call back, do your homework! Prepare your sides. Memorize.
Hire a coach if necessary. You are asking someone to hire you for a job. If you can’t prepare for an audition, why should they believe you would prepare for an entire show and trust you with their major investment?
The more you prepare, the more you eliminate the margin of error, and increase the distance between you and your competition. Train like an Olympian.
3: Know and Be Realistic About Your Current Abilities:
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”-Aristotle
This is a tough one for most to process. We all want to think that we can play every role and that we can sing every score, and that we have been blessed with an equal amount of talent as everyone else. This is never the truth… for anyone. Some people have been blessed with a natural ability to sing. Some have the amazing ability to pick up movement and dance. Some people have the ability to be immediately present, vulnerable, and impulsive in their work. Most of us don’t. Can you improve your skills in any area? Of course! Will you ever sing, dance or act as well as someone else?
Maybe. Maybe not. But be realistic about the work it might take you to get where you want to go.
For some, the journey to excellence may be a longer one than it will be for others who have been blessed with more natural abilities. However, I have seen countless people with mediocre talent but a profound work ethic far exceed some others who have endless natural talent, but who are lazy or entitled. For that reason, I will never tell someone they “can’t”.
Choose material that shows off your best self. Don’t worry about trying to scream the high C if you can’t nail it every time. The casting team doesn’t want people to come in and scream at them.
They want to see YOU and your ability to honestly and skillfully connect to your material. If they think you might be right for the job, they’ll call you back and ask you to perform material from the show.
4: Know that this is a business as much as it is an art.
I had the opportunity to meet a guy who collected r are books. He had original volumes of just about everything from Huckleberry Finn to the Gutenberg Bible. One particular book was an early printing of Shakespeare’s plays, which was interesting in and of it self. But inside that volume was a copy of a letter written by William Shakespeare to a local noble man. In the letter he was asking this man for an advance in his loan so that he could finish his current work. He also told the man that if he could give him the money, that he would name a character after him and write him into his play. Yep…Shakespeare was begging for money…eloquently…but still begging. And, consequently some poor actor probably lost their job so this wealthy but unqualified man could fulfill his fantasy of being an actor.
My point is…sometimes when you audition for something, you may very well be the most qualified person at the audition. However, there are hundreds of other factors that producers and directors are forced to consider.
Was Daniel Radcliff really the best choice for the revival of “How to Succeed in Business”? That’s arguable. Were there thousands of other musical theatre grads that could have blown him out of the water? ABSOLUTELY. Did ‘Harry Potter’ sell tickets to their musical? You bet he did!
Creation is an Art. Theatre is a business.
5: Know how to be gracious, grateful, and good to work with.
Theatre circles are notoriously small. Everyone knows everyone. In the information age, theatre circles are shrinking rapidly. You can never afford to burn a bridge, phone in a performance, or treat a job casually.
You never know what job may lead to the next, what director or producer may recommend you to someone else, or who may be watching.
Professionalism is more than a union card, a resume or a paycheck. It is way of working!
If you have a habit of being late, if you gossip/back bite, are argumentative with your director or other cast members, if you proceed as if your “process” is more important than the work as a whole, if you are an emotional wreck most of the time, if you show up drunk or chemically altered, if you change the staging that has been set by the director or indulge in unrestrained and unapproved ad-libbing during a performance, if you are lazy, unprepared, or entitled, if you are engage in predatory or inappropriate conduct in the working environment……if you are or do ANY of these things, then you not only become an obstacle to the creative process which is the show, but a liability to the product and the producer’s ability to bank on you…and I promise your reputation will haunt you and your career may be short lived. If you have been any of these things in the past and want to heal that, a phone call, a letter, or a personal visit to the producers can go a long way. Most of the producers I’ve worked with are very gracious about giving second chances.
If you are a disciplined talent, hard working, wonderfully supportive, positive, loyal, trustworthy employee and an asset to the production and to the company, then your reputation will follow you in wonderful ways.
6: The people behind the table want you to succeed!
Hard to believe this, but when you enter an audition room and see what feels like the firing squad behind the table…the truth is, they are SO happy you’re there. They WANT you to succeed. They are hoping that every single person has the very best audition of their life. And why wouldn’t they? Why would a restaurant owner hope that the chefs he’s interviewing can’t cook? It’s ridiculous. And yet, from an actor’s perspective, it’s so easy to believe they are glaring at you, waiting for you to crash and burn.
The casting team knows the effort it has taken for you to be there; Seeing the audition notice. Worrying about, choosing, and rehearsing your material Hiring a coach. Worrying about and choosing what to wear. Changing what you decided to wear. Changing again. Worrying about your hair. Finding a ride. Getting babysitters. Eating and feeling sick. Not eating and feeling sick. Hoping they don’t hear that you’re getting over a cold. Spending money on gas, cab fare, maybe even plane tickets. They know ALL of that and they are grateful that you would come to ‘apply’ to work for them. They may be exhausted by the 10 th hour of seeing people, but they are still glad you’re there.
However, this is a job interview. They know what the job entails and what the needs are for their particular version of this job. They know what they’re looking for. So, when there are only 25 jobs to fill and 300 auditioning, there’s going to be 275 disappointed people. Accept that you just weren’t the right person for this job. The best thing to do is to make them remember you and to want to use you in something you will be right for. You never know who is watching or what connections you may have made simply by showing up.
7: Know that there is success enough for everyone.
It is always disappointing when you work hard for something and then don’t get it. Disappointment is a natural human response. Allow your self to feel it, mourn the loss and then move on. That’s the healthy, happy, professional way to cope. It’s hard to see it in the moment, but most disappointments are only temporary and more often than not, can be windows to other opportunities.
Unfortunately, some people turn that disappointment inward to self-loathing and self- destructive thoughts and behaviors. Others turn that disappointment outward to negative, destructive and hurtful behavior towards others. In either case, it robs those who respnd in these ways of the opportunity to learn from, grow from, and to celebrate the success of others. Someone else’s success does not equal your failure!!!! Theatre is supposed to be a celebration of life, not a substitution for it. Is a show, or a role, or a job really worth risking the destruction of a soul or loss of our relationships?
Envy is a gift that keeps on giving and what you give you will always receive back ten fold.
Likewise, gratitude, grace, selflessness, charity, and love will always return to anyone willing to give it, and in amounts that are too abundant to measure.