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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

CHANGING YOUR LIFE: AUDITIONING FOR SCHOOL OR COMMUNITY THEATER (Part One)


I think the greatest joys I've experienced in my years of being a part of school and community theater are the times when I've been blessed to watch a person fall in love with performing onstage, particularly people who really didn't quite know what to expect when they showed up for auditions.  I am grateful I have seen this transformation from "layperson" to "theater person" quite often, and could site countless examples.  

Two of my favorites occured at Lakewood Theater in Madison, Maine.  Lakewood Theater was designed to be a "Broadway Theater" in the state of Maine, and was frequented by a long list of celebrities, and perhaps, one day, I shall have a long blog post about this beautiful place that served as my summer home growing up.  For over twenty years now, Lakewood has been the home to a community theater group called Curtain Up Enterprises.   The first example I will mention is about a man named Dan, who had never really been in a play.  He auditioned and was cast in a production of "All Shook Up" as a chorus member.  I was playing Dennis, the nebbish "sidekick" of the lead character.  As I got to know Dan throughout the process, I could see the transition being in this play was having on him.  Within a few summers, he was playing Sky Masterson in "Guys and Dolls", and several other leading man types.

The other young man is named James, who I had the pleasure of directing his first season at Lakewood in a production of "Jack the Ripper".  When I'm directing community theater, I like to treat it a bit like and Acting 101 class with character building exercises, improvisation, etc.  Indeed, James has thanked me several times, thanking me for giving him an acting class.  In return, I have had the pleasure of seeing him blossom into leading roles, and have watched him create some truly memorable characters.  He, like Dan, fell in love with it.

In short, community theater changed their lives.  The fellowship, the creativity, the permission to express yourself in a safe and nurturing environment can have a profound impact on people who have never really had that brand of freedom.  In short, no matter what your day job may be, you become an actor.  I know James in particular is always looking for his next acting "fix".

This is why I encourage everyone, truly, EVERYONE, to be involved with at least one school or community theater production in their lifetime.  It is true that not everyone is moved quite so profoundly as others, and, yes, some can just take it or leave it.  From my observation, however, those who can do that are in the minority.

So, now that I've explained why being a part of school and community theater is so important, I'm going to give you some tips about how to land a part, even if only a small one the first time out (remember, there are no small... okay, that's not true--- BUT, remember that even small parts are important and truly contribute to the success of the overall production). 

What makes me so qualified to give acting advice?  Well, I have been a director for several schools and community theater groups, I studied theater in college, and have been in over 45 stage productions in the last ten years or so.  I'm not saying I'm an expert, but I do know at least what I look for when I'm casting a play. 

 For lack of a better word, I will call the first important attribute ATTITUDE.  Having a good, open attitude is very important.  It's a fundamental character trait that lends itself to teambuilding and team work.  Also falling under attitude is the idea of BEING EASY TO WORK WITH.  I would rather have 10 moderately talented people with a positive attitude in my cast then 10 extraordinary actors who are terrible divas. 

Not every community theater holds auditions in the same way.  Some ask people to prepare monologues (as well as a song for musicals).  Many of the theaters I have worked with forego the monologues and go right to the "cold readings".  Cold readings are basically reading from the script.  Cold.  In this situation, if you are not familiar with the play, my advice is to scan what you can and make a CHOICE and go for it (of course, it never hurts to read the play you are auditioning for before the audition).  As a director, I am looking for actors who are not afraid to make choices.  I might not always agree with the choices they make, but diving in and being bold creates and impression. 

Don't be afraid of messing up during your cold reading.  Stumbling over a word or two is perfectly normal when you are a little nervous.  One of the best actors I've ever known can't cold read to save his life.  He needs to process it.  But when he does, watch out.

Do your best to speak clearly and loudly.  Community theater directors look for that.  In fact, making a choice, reading clearly and reading loudly is pretty much all a director can glean from a cold reading, except, perhaps, for a certain spark that comes along now and then. 

If your community theater has callback auditions, this is when the director will put you together with other people, try out different casting combinations, and see who seems to work well with who.  Sometimes, casting even involves things beyond your control--- creating stage pictures with people of different looks and body types, creating stage families, etc.  This is not to say that people are cast only because of looks--- far from it.  I mention it only because directors do try to put together stage pictures that look natural and honest.

I would like to go through my three "Please Don't Do This" for school and community theater auditions.  They drive me crazy as a director:

1.  Don't come to auditions in costume.  Maybe some directors disagree with me, but I can't stand it.  If I'm casting "Dracula" and someone shows up wearing a cape, it bugs me.  It's fine if you want to dress somewhat reminiscent of the character you are auditioning for, but costumes for me (and several other people I know) are no-nos. 

2.  Don't correct other auditioners during a cold read.  If they mispronounce the word, let it go.  Trust that the director knows the correct pronounciation, but, perhaps does not want to embarrass the person auditioning. 

3.  If you only want to play one certain part, do not say that you are willing to take any part you are given.  Be honest.  If I take you at your word, and then you don't accept the part I've offered, I have to scramble to replace you.  Does not leave a postive impression if you ever want to audition for me again. 

Once you are cast in a part, then the true joys of building a character and putting on a play begins.  So remember, just be cool, speak well, be honest, flexible and do your best, and you'll be on the road to becoming a community or school theater thespian in no time.  And, by doing so, you are well on your way to changing your life.

There is much more to be said on this subject, so think of tomorrow as a part 2.

Thanks for reading this edition of  Theater is a Sport.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to e-mail me at theater.is.a.sport@gmail.com.  If you would like to become a fan of Theater is a Sport on facebook, follow this link: https://www.facebook.com/#!/TheaterIsASport

If you would like to learn more about me as a playwright, please follow this link:  https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Bobby-Keniston-Playwright-Page/148232788536601

Tomorrow, I will be following up on today's advice with some "Theater Stories" about auditions from my own experience.  Until then, thanks again, and please remember:  theater is a sport.

2 comments:

  1. The don't do's are terrific....As a very amateur director, I say AMEN, son. This is another interesting and helpful blog. I enjoyed reading it.

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  2. This blog makes me want to audition NOW! This advice is familiar to me. I learned it from one of the toughest, but best directors I ever had. Marti I owe you a lot! You started the Keniston family on a road of high adventure.

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