Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I had a weekend...

I spent all day Saturday and Sunday with my casting director hat on, auditioning would-be hopefulls for King Lear and Two Gents. Monday and Tuesday I spent with my mother in Randsburg, CA. If you've never heard of Randsburg, it's a living ghost town on the road to Mammoth Mountain, off of Highway 395.

My mom's husband passed away right after Christmas, following on the heels of her two dogs, and her cat that ran away. 2009 wasn't very kind to my dear mum, and 2010 looks to be a bit of an uphill battle. My mom is the strongest person I know, and I know she'll find her way - she always does. But to be bereft of an entire household, almost at the same time - is a bit much for anyone. The 24 hour period I was visiting marked the first time in I can't remember how long that my mom and I were alone together. Talking. Which was pretty amazing to me. I take for granted that my mom wants to see me more, and I don't think she realized that I want to be closer to her. Anyway, I'm taking steps to remedy this. And hopefully help my mom find some canine companions. We went to the animal shelter while I was there. I should never be taken to animal shelters, county pounds, or pet stores; I inevitably want to take all of the animals home. And then I cry because I can't. It's all very pathetic.

With concern to auditions ... they were two very long days. Especially Saturday. Apparently, actors are scared away by those droplets of water that fall from the sky, called rain. I had 10 no-shows. Not only were they no-shows, they were no-calls, no-emails, no-courtesy. Needless to say, I was a bit appalled. And really ticked off when the last appointments of the day on *both* days stood me up, which left me waiting around over an hour and a half. In the cold and the rain. Our theatre is an amphitheater - outside. No, I don't audition people outside - we have a building in the back. But the only place to wait by the front gate is our box office, which is concrete and wood. No insolation, no heater. Do you know what the only worse creature is than a pissed-off casting director? A cold, wet, and appalled casting director.

The last casting entry I wrote about was for submissions.This one is for the actual auditions:

1. SHOW UP. Just do it. You don't work if you don't audition. However, if you can't show up, because of something as serious as car issues, health woes, or oh, I don't know - something as terrifying as rain ....

2. CALL or E-MAIL. If you have a scheduled appointment (obviously, not for generals), you need to inform the casting director as much ahead of time as possible. If that's not possible, still call or e-mail. We remember the names of people who stood us up. And we have files.

3. BREATHE. Breathe before the audition, breathe *during* the audition, and certainly breathe after. Auditions are terrible, god-awful things. Nervousness is natural. But the more you breathe, the more of yourself you're maintaining for room. Have a nice chat with the person/people at the front desk. Ask questions...because...

4. WE TALK. The folks in the front will tell the auditors in the back if someone was rude or, alternatively, they were super nice. The people at the front desks can be advocates for you in a way that the auditor might not get to see, because actors are *always* nice to us. We want to know what you'd be like in a company of other actors. The people at the front desks (who are more often than not company members) will speak their mind and let us know if you're someone they want to be around. because that's important in the theatre. You don't need to spend all your focus and attention on them - but "pleases," "Thank you's," smiling, and general kindness will go a LONG way. Because they're there all day too.

5. HOW TO WALK INTO A ROOM. Remember: You deserve to be there. If you've been called in, there is something about you that the auditor wants to see - your resume, your training, more times than not a combo of both - we want to see you shine. We want you to be the one. And that starts as soon as you walk into a room. Breathing applies here, too. Just be yourself. You know the rodeo - now enjoy it as much as you can.

6. PIECES. This is probably the #1 mistake made by most actors - and in their defense, it's the hardest one to figure out. You need to have the right pieces. Don't make the casting director work to place you in their shows - it should be evident by the pieces you choose. If the season is King Lear and Two Gents, don't come in with Cymbeline, Measure for Measure, or Love's Labour's Lost. This would be a good time to bring out the big guns - Othello, Romeo & Juliet, Twelfth Night, Midsummer. Why those? You have Shakespeare's most difficult, most heart-wrenching tragedy - probably ever written; paired along side one of his earliest, youngest, and somewhat silly plays. Cymbeline, Love's Labour's, and Measure all live in this half-world - the characters are quite different than the plays you're auditioning for; hell, the themes don't even match. You're also dealing with the epic prolificness of Lear's language. We need to know if you can handle it - so doing the less epic/more obscure combos = bad news bears ... (there was a woman who did back to back Imogen monologues for her "contrasting" pieces...AH!) but you also need to know -

7. YOUR TYPE. Please, please, please know your type! If you are a 5'7" male, weighing 130 pounds (or less), and look like you're 18, DO NOT bring in a Hotspur piece (for those who may not know, Hotspur is Hal's rival in the Henry IV cycle - he's a crazy good warrior). If you're a 6'0" woman, don't do Hermia. These are kind of extreme examples, but they happen ALL THE TIME! Many casting directors will discard you with poor choices. I usually won't (unless your text is just plain bad). I will offer you the chance to come back - with different pieces. But I don't stop there ... I even give you suggestions! Now, don't take this precious gift I've just given you for FREE (which I could have charged lots of your hard-earned money for in the form of a casting director workshop) and throw it away because of your insecurities. Take the suggestion, work on it, and come back and own those pieces. Not only are you showing the casting director you're willing to work, but you're showing us that you can take direction and work with us. And that's a much better win than dwelling on the rejection of the pieces you picked yourself.

8. YOUR AUDITIONING REPERTOIRE. If you are an actively auditioning stage actor, you should have at least 6 monologues ready to go at any given time. Here they are:

1 Serious/Contemporary
1 Comedic/Contemporary
1 Dramatic/Classical
1 Comedic/Classical
1 Romantic/Classical
1 Wildcard of whatever you want

The first three should be self-explanatory. The Comedic classical should be something silly - a clown, a fool, something over-the-top. If you want to audition for Viola, that's what your romantic piece is for - don't waste your romance on the comedy. I can't tell you how many times I asked this weekend, "Do you have something silly?" I want to see if you can go out there and make a risk and be a clown. Just because Shakespeare wrote romantic comedies, doesn't mean the leads are funny. More often than not ... they're not at all. Not in the language, anyway.

The wildcard should be another of whichever you want. It should be something you're passionate about, something you feel comfortable in, something you can whip out, when asked, and nail it every time. It should be an expression of you. The wildcard does NOT need to be "your type." In fact, it shouldn't be. But if a director or a casting director ever asks if you "have something different" - enter the Wildcard. Give them something they haven't seen, and make them remember you.

The reason I say you should have three classicals, and only two contemporaries, has to do with language. Contemporary pieces are a lot easier to slide by with in terms of the contrast of language. This is not the case with classical texts. In contemporary plays, the language is usually secondary, and is there to support character, action, and plot. The art of the play is not in the words, but in what the actors do (this has to do with the late 19th century addition of subtext, but that's a lesson for another time). In Classical texts, it's all about the words. There is no subtext in Shakespeare. Let me repeat that: THERE IS NO SUBTEXT IN SHAKESPEARE. It wasn't a concept yet. Shakespeare's characters tell us everything they're going to do, everything they're thinking. This is not to say there aren't layers to the language - of course their are! But he's not hiding from you. He's not writing for actors to say one thing, and have an entire non-verbal sub-story. The story IS the story, the language is profound and honest (except for when he's being ironic), and this makes the characters all very different. An example of a well rounded classical monologue set:

For Men:                                               For Women: 
Touchstone/Launce                                 Phoebe/Helena/Hermia
Orsino/Orlando                                      Viola/Julia
Othello/Macbeth/Richard III/Iago            Lady Macbeth/Hermoine/Paulina

9. There are two speeches you should never, ever, ever do in an audition. The First is Mercutio's "Queen Mab" speech from R&J. The second is ( know it) Hamlet's "To be or not to be." Why? in the first case, no one knows what this speech is really about, but everyone has an idea of how it should be played. In the second, everyone knows what it's about, everyone has an opinion on how it should be done, and you'll catch the auditors moving their lips along with you, because *everyone* knows this speech by heart. In either case, you're setting yourself up for automatic failure. Just don't do it.

10. THE GOODBYE. Just say "Thank you." If they want to talk with you, that's awesome. They'll stop you. But otherwise assume that you should just leave. I know the impulse to linger is strong, but fight it. Just be proud of the work you did, thank them for their time, and turn to leave. Whether they talk to you or not is irrelevant. There's no rule book when it comes to casting, and everyone does it differently. And smile. You just did an incredibly brave, risk-filled thing! You just stood up in front of total strangers and heaved your heart and your guts onto the floor. It's over! Be glad! Have a little celebration of relief and joy on the inside. But a smile can be infectious. If you love what you do, even if you didn't "nail it" - your love of your craft will show. And in the theatre, a love of craft can be your most potent weapon. Other theatre artists want to work with people who love their craft. Theatre is, and always will be, a love fest. So love yourself, love your work, and be ready to do it all again tomorrow.
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