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Thursday, February 14, 2013

THEATER STORIES, VOL I: BOBBY KENISTON AUDITIONS FOR ACTING SCHOOL (AUDITION ADVICE, PART 2)


High School Musical production of "Once Upon a Mattress".  I'm the Jester.

How many of you high school seniors out there know, just KNOW beyond any shadow of a doubt that you want to be an actor, either for the stage or for the screen (or, of course, both)?  That's all I ever wanted growing up.  From the age of 10 and beyond I was addicted to performing, and the very notion of Bobby the Actor felt inseparable for Bobby the Person.  I read tons of plays, books about acting, biographies of Brando (oh, how I loved the stories of his early days on the Broadway stage in "A Streetcar Named Desire").  My only dream in the world was to be an actor like that, an actor who moved people and even changed people.  It was a foregone conclusion and everyone knew it, even the people who couldn't stand me--- Bobby was going to be an actor.   And, with any luck (and, I thought, why shouldn't I be able to have that?), a pretty famous and successful one.  After all, it wasn't about the fame or the applause.  It was about the process, it was about how I felt completely at home stepping on a stage (I still do), it was all about the creation of it all. 

Does this dream sound familiar to any of high school seniors out there?  Any of you who might have sufered under the label of "drama geek" or worse for quite some time, but plowed forward in the knowledge you were on the right path? 
Good.  I hope so.  Because there is nothing wrong with that dream, and it is a dream that is attainable, though not without severe focus and drive. 

The first step for many of you may well be applying to acting schools. 

One day I might write a blog about why these days I might advise promising young actors to study a broad array of subjects instead of sticking to a conservatory education, but not today.  Today is all about how I auditioned for and was accepted into Boston University's School For the Arts conservatory. 

I won't lie to you... I was scared my senior year of high school.  I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt how I wanted to proceed.  I even knew it was Boston University I wanted, more than Syracuse (where I sent a ridiculous videotaped audition, but nevertheless was accepted), more than NYU, more than anyplace else (except maybe DePaul in Chicago, but I couldn't make it to any of their auditions). 

I was scared because I was from Dover-Foxcroft, ME, a small town, and I only had a resume of community theater and school theater credits.  Also, I was very short.  And, my resume wasn't a professional resume, but a sheet of paper with a senior picture stapled to it (which, in all fairness, was considered an "acceptable" resume for the BU audition).  I knew BU's School for the Arts was (and probably still is) very selective.  I had read something like only 40 students out of 1000s who audtioned were acceped (actually, my year, the freshman class wound up being 65 I believe, one of their largest, with four five of them being from Maine).    What if I was not one of the lucky ones?  My academics were not going to save me and get me into the program (I was rather brainy in high school). 

And I was short.  (Yes, still am, but it bothered me a great deal when I was considering acting schools... I wanted to be at least 5/8", Brando's height).

Still, I knew my desire was high, and believed that it was possible I wanted it more than others, and that the Universe would help me make it happen.  So I got an audition date, and my parents rented a motel room and two bus tickets (one for me and one for my dad), and off we went.

The weeks leading up to the audition were nerve-wracking to say the very least, and filled with self-doubt and a million awful "what if" scenerios.  I had to prepare two monologues, one classical and one contemporary.  BU's packet came with samples, but I didn't want to use any of them... they didn't click with me.  For my contemporary piece, I chose a monologue from "Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad", a piece from the character Jonathan, who has a heavy stutter.  For my classical monologue, I chose a monologue from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream", Puck, of course (though not his ending monologue, but a different one, telling the story of affixing the donkey head to Bottom). 

People asked me if I wanted to practice in front of them, and I turned everyone down.  I don't know why, but I decided that the only people who were going to see my audition pieces would be the people I was auditioning for.  Again, I am not recommending this, per se.  I was a weird guy.  Most people would probably want feedback from others before such an important audition, but, for some reason in my going-on-eighteen-year-old head, I wanted to either fly or fail on my own choices and merits, without any influence from anyone who was not me. 

I praciticed in the mirror a lot.  I worked tremendously hard on the stutter, making it seem as real as I could, like it took the entirety of my upper body to finally force the words out of my mouth.  I also worked hard on being "magical" for Puck, and for making the language seem like it was really coming out of my mouth.  Or, at least I did my best.

So my dad and I get to Boston in the late afternoon before my audition.  Our hotel was in walking distance from the School for the Arts.  I had very little with me.  I had decided to wear black for my aution, black pants, black t-shirt (yeah, I know, I know, but I was a kid from a small town who didn't know at all what to wear, and this all-black made me feel kind of comfortable and fairly confident.  I liked wearing black). 

The night before my audition in the hotel room my dad and I were sharing, I somewhat broke my promise to myself.  I let my dad LISTEN to me recite the monologue from "Oh Dad, Poor Dad", but wouldn't let him watch me, and I kept Puck a secret. 

So, the next morning, I walked to the School for the Arts with my dad, wearing my black and clutching my cheap resume, and found myself in a waiting room with other nervous would-be BU students, some of them talking about attending specialized drama camps, and even one kid talking about some touring company he had been a part of.  I immediately felt I was out of my league, looking at the others with their professional headshots in their hands.  I thought my chances were probably zero to negative 50. 

And, yes, I was the shortest guy in the room.

I thought I was going to be auditioning for 3 or 4 people, but it turns out I was put into a room with an audience of one, a woman named Eve who, I believe, was the assistant dean, or something of that nature.  I can't truly remember. 

She was very personable and seemed kind enough, but she did have an air of professionalism about her as well.  She had me begin with my contemporary monologue.  So I dove in. 

After about twenty seconds, she stopped me.  "Uh, Robert," she said (Oh, God, why didn't I put Bobby on my resume?  I hate being called Robert), "Could you finish the monologue without the stutter, please?"

The stutter had been one of my major keys to the character.  I had practiced over and over and over and over and over, with the stutter.  But, of course, she was in charge.  "Sure," I said.  And I went through the monologue with the same body language and didn't (I don't think) stutter again (except for maybe one tiny one).  When I finished, she merly said, "Thank you, that was a nice adjustment, Robert.  And your classical?"  And I went into my Puck monologue, and she didn't laugh once (but, then again, even though it was a part of BU's packet, she'd probably heard it a bunch... it wasn't all that obscure).  When I finished, she said, "Thank you.  Do you have any questions for me?"   "No," I said, because I didn't think I could scrounge up a coherent one for at least an hour.  "Thank you for coming," she said, then told me they would be in touch with their decision. 

I walked out of the office, and my dad and I started walking back to the hotel.  We were getting on a bus in just a few hours.  "How'd it go?" my dad asked.  "I did my best," I said, which was true, but in my mind, I was thinking, "I don't think I got this.  What am I going to do?"

Older and wiser, I have learned that one should probably never do a major audition, whether it be for school or any other professional placement, with a monologue featuring a character with any kind of speech impediment.  This never crossed my mind.  I just liked the monologue and thought I could do well.  I understand that Eve stopped me not because it wasn't right for the character, but so she could hear me SPEAK.  I also understand that my making the adjustment was probably a big bonus point in my favor. 

I never mean to be iconoclastic, but I guess, somewhat out of ignorance on my part, it kind of happens.  Becaue I got it. 

And yes, it was a happy day, probably the happiest day I had ever felt up until that point in my life.

So, I realize I'm telling you my theater story that probably contains advice that wannabe acting students should, in all liklihood, avoid.  Except for a few:

1.  Don't presume that who you are or where you're from means that you are less talented than anyone else,
and
2.  All black is always classy.

Thanks for reading my memories on this important time in my life.

Come back to Theater is a Sport tomorrow for an awesome interview with the wonderfully talented and prolific playwright, Pat Cook!  I'm so excited he agreed to be my first official interview for this blog!  You won't want to miss this one!

So, until tomorrow, remember--- theater is a sport.

1 comment:

  1. I remember that time like it was yesterday. I stayed at home, and was a nervous wreck. I kept wondering how it was going.

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