As Tulsa-area production companies look forward to a new theater season, it's time for actors, green and veteran alike, to prepare themselves for auditions.
Erin Thompson, director of Heller Theatre's upcoming production of Doubt, said, "Attend an audition in town for a show that interests you. Many people are nervous or scared about it, but we want you to enjoy yourself and have fun."
Thompson admitted, "It's easier for directors than actors-after all, the director already has the job!"
Auditions are often depicted in film and television as grueling and stressful trials. The actor (alone, naked) stands in a stark spotlight while the arch and bitter director watches from the darkness, surrounded by cackling cronies.
The reality is a brilliant contrast. For most directors, the audition process is an opportunity to meet new people and to collaborate in a beloved art.
Thompson said, "It is always fun to see new faces and get people involved in the theater. It marks the beginning of a new production, and it's exciting to see all of the options for bringing the characters to life."
In this way, the audition is like an experiment whose outcome is neither right nor wrong. What matters is that the actor demonstrates his or her creativity.
A director usually arrives at the rehearsal process with only a vague idea of what kind of person will fill each role. Beyond the physical restrictions imposed by the text, the director has free rein.
Doubt, for instance, requires three women and one man. According to Thompson's casting call, the first woman must appear to be between 50 and 60, the second woman in her twenties, and the third a black woman between 20 and 40. The male must appear to be between 30 and 40.
A good director isn't looking for an actor who will successfully guess the "correct" interpretation of the text. Such an ideal does not exist, and that approach would make a mere lottery of the artistic process.
That said, there are certain features almost every director looks for in an auditioning actor.
The first is creativity. It's good for an actor to have made choices about his or her performance before auditions, but it's even better to be able to take direction on the fly.
In addition to a strong creative impulse, actors should adopt the Boy Scout's motto: "Be prepared." If the casting call asks actors to bring sixteen bars of music plus a short dramatic monologue less than one minute in length, then the actor should do precisely that. Performing a monologue which runs just under two minutes gives the director more time to see your performance, but it also clues the director in to the fact that you don't follow instructions, and that you're probably a disagreeable prima donna.
On the other hand, it never hurts to prepare additional material.
Go ahead and rehearse that one-minute monologue and your sixteen bars of music (or whatever the call has directed you to prepare), but find and memorize another sixteen bars from a completely different song. Was it a comedic song? Work on a dramatic one, too. Get a monologue that contrasts your first choice.
That way, if you should have the good fortune to have a director ask you, "Is there anything else you'd like to show us," you'll have the stuff to knock their socks off.
"If an actor has a memorized monologue (and every actor should have several), they can ask the director if he or she would like to see it. It depends on the director and the show whether that's going to be allowed," said Thompson.
Ideally, a working actor has a whole repertoire of monologues and songs that they constantly rehearse and improve.
Directors also seek range. If you can demonstrate believable range within a monologue, it's to your advantage. No one, least of all a director, wants to see an actor express a single emotion in a repetitive manner. That would be like watching a pianist strike a single note over and over.
Try, Try Again
Creativity, preparation and range are three of the most important qualities for an actor to possess during the initial audition. But what about the "callbacks?"
Callbacks are the second phase of the audition process. By this time, the director has seen nearly all the faces he or she is likely to cast, and it's just a matter of winnowing down the possibilities at that point.
For effectiveness, the director needs to see the actors paired off with one another. After all, actors don't perform in bubbles. They require each other's emotion and energy to ramp up their performance. The callback is the director's opportunity to see who has the best chemistry.
It's true that a pair of actors will sometimes just light up the stage, but this natural chemistry is rare. Rather than leave it to chance, the wise actor will do everything possible to maximize their chemical reaction, so to speak.
The best way to do this is to remain open to your acting partner. If you perform a scene twice with two different acting partners in the exact same way, that's a big clue to the director that you're completely closed off to your acting partner. Let others affect you on stage. Nobody's looking for right or wrong; they're looking for reactions, pure and simple.
One more thing to anticipate: the "cold reading." This is the technical term for the reading aloud of a text that the actor has not previously encountered. This is most common with original works.
"A cold reading usually gives us a pretty good idea of an actor's stage presence and creativity," Thompson said.
She warned, "Many auditioners get stuck in the text and have trouble getting their eyes and faces up off of the page. We want to see you connect with the other actor."
Lifting text off the page takes some practice, but all anybody needs to develop this skill is a magazine and a mirror.
Cold readings usually occur during the callbacks, but can also take place during the initial audition.
If the text is widely known or a previously established script, actors who plan to audition for the production should read a copy. Local libraries and bookstores are excellent resources for this kind of preparation.
Whatever happens, it's important to remember that an audition, like a rehearsal, is a process of positive discovery. And it's also a lot of fun!
Auditions for Doubt begin at 3pm on August 23 at Heller Theatre, . The show will open October 11 and then run for two weeks. Interested parties should visit www.hellertheatre.com for more details.
You can always keep yourself apprised of the latest auditions and performances by visiting www.tacta.net and clicking on the link to their forums, or by checking out www.tulsacreativenetwork.com. Or you can just turn a few pages and check out Urban Tulsa Weekly's Events Calendar.
Speaking of events, perhaps you'd like dinner and a musical? The Sand Springs Community Theater has The 1940s Radio Hour on the menu August 21-23 at the Central Auditorium. Call 246-2196 for more information. Because the ticket price includes dinner, you must purchase it ahead of time; you cannot purchase them at the door.
If you're looking for something more contemporary, check out The Ultimate Murder Mystery at Molly's Landing Steakhouse, an ongoing dinner theater. This particular show features the murder of an 80s hair band. It's one night only, August 23 at 7pm. Call 857-8092 for more details.
Share this article: