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Get the part

September 5, 2010

Most actors hate them. Some pretend to love them. Casting directors have made truck loads of money penning encouraging books about the secrets of doing them flawlessly. They are, perhaps, one of the most inappropriate job interviews still in practice.

The audition.

-I was once told by a working New York actor that he’d book one commercial out of every 100 he auditioned for. Gee, great.
-I’ve been told to ‘prepare anything’ for an audition, and then dismissed harshly when it wasn’t a comedic monologue.
-I’ve been asked to read a Shakespeare monologue cold (from a play I wasn’t auditioning for), and then given the direction to ‘make it more active.’ Oh, sorry, scuse me while I try to figure out what the hell I’m saying.

No matter how obnoxious, they all have one thing in common.  When they are over, you feel like a million dollars, or like you ate bad Chinese. Maybe more experienced auditioners have grown more de-sensitized to the barbaric art (more about why I think this later), but taking a 10-month tour and then joining an ensemble theater have severely limited my need to audition over the last four years, aside from getting called in here or there for a job in Baltimore. So, not only have my auditioning skills most likely declined, I’ve also drifted quite far away from the reality that I’ll have to reintegrate them into my routine.

So here we are, week two. Auditioning.

The second year students were auditioning for the Conservatory Season, while I (along with the other first years) auditioned for understudy assignments in the Repertory Season. So, time to dust off the ol’ URTA monologues that I used for the grad school audition, back in January. Not including the callback from Baltimore Shakespeare Festival that I was invited to, it’s been about 8 months since I’ve actually auditioned for anything. Forget the fact that I feel like I’m a strong at auditions, you go 8 months without doing something, it isn’t going to be easy to excel at it.

Then, of course, the grad school wrench. “Never look at your auditioner,” speaketh the undergrad professors. “You MUST look at a real person when you audition,” saith the grad school professor.

Undergrad: “That makes auditioners uncomfortable.”
Grad: “This is the way they’ll know you can live in a moment and communicate with a person, not an imaginary ghost on an exit sign”
Undergrad: “If I have to act back to someone who is auditioning, I can’t assess their audition”
Grad: “I want to see how someone interacts with real impulses, not shout at an invisible character”

Then another grad school wrench. “You know this brand new technique and method you’re learning? Use that on your audition.”

Undergrad: Orchestrate your audition. Mark your beats. Mark your intentions.
Grad: Memorize your lines without intention. Play the impulses. Be alive on stage.
Undergrad: Practice your audition a million times until you know every focal point, every gesture, and every inflection.
Grad: Don’t plan. Empty your brain of ideas. Access your calm. The creativity will come.

Well. Nothing like a big, fat pair of wrenches in your routine to make you really comfortable.

Saturday came and went. My audition, all 120 seconds of it, blew right by. I looked them right in the face. I tried to delete my orchestration. I started calm and let the creativity come to me. I walked off stage and laughed my ass off.

“Must have gone well,” said a stunned classmate with raised eyebrows.

“I don’t know. No. It was fine. I think,” I responded.

“Great job! I’m so proud of you,” says the third year student who timed my audition. I don’t know if I’m appreciative for her genuine support or loathsome that she’s probably lying to me. Don’t get me wrong, her intentions were golden and without a sliver of  sarcasm. I just feel like the two monologues I did were about the farthest thing I’ve done from ‘acting’ in a long time.

So was my professor right? Yes. Acting with a person is an unbelievably more natural and comfortable way to act. This is how it feels on stage, after all. But clearing out all the orchestration and planning left me feeling like I was fishing without a hook. I emptied my brain. I played the impulses. And? I felt totally and completely without conviction or action. My voice cracked and I skipped two lines. These are two things that haven’t happened to me on stage since maybe middle school.

Suddenly, I realized why the department prohibits first year students from performing in anything (Asolo-related or otherwise) during our first semester of study. We’re absorbing a method. We’re deleting bad habits, re-aligning our bodies, and re-inventing our voices. The old “they tear you apart your first year and put you back together your second year” cliche actually doesn’t seem to be as much of a cliche right now. We’re all here to get better. Yes, I’m sure everyone is expecting a level of talent and accomplishment, but are they expecting perfection? Probably not, or we wouldn’t be here.

Have I forgotten how to act? No. Am I learning how to turn all the tricks and gags I’ve been leaning on into unwavering creativity? Yes. We’re artists, after all. And this means that at the terminal level of education in our field, we should be able to fiercely examine what makes our art go, and I don’t know how we’d do that without a little diassembly along the way. We’re creative machines, in a way, and if we want to operate at efficiency, we need to take everything apart, see what we’re working with, and re-build (I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the approach to our voice training, Fitzmaurice Voicework, is called destructuring/restructuring).

Let me ask you: in any field, is there necessarily a better way to get better?

At the end of the day, I’m not thrilled that my professors got their first taste of my skills at THIS particular audition, but I’m proud that I shook off my habits and tried something new. Have I made a sports analogy yet? I’m like a rookie with a brand new playbook. Everyone knows what got me here, but now we start from scratch. Truthfully, I’m probably caught somewhere between two completely separate acting methods, and the end result is kind of a scramble.

Welcome to grad school.

POSTSCRIPT: Auditions are ridiculous*. Here’s three reasons why.

1) You perform an unnatural and awkward ritual to be evaluated for an artform that is drastically different than the interview method. Kind of like if you went in for a bartending interview and they asked all applicants to come in and make two contrasting fruit smoothies that you’ll never need to make while you’re actually working the job, you know, “to see your mixing skills.”

2) A brilliant audition often has zero connection to getting hired, especially if someone else looks the part more. Acting is the last industry where discrimination is a blatant, tolerated and supported method of hiring. Sorry, slender white guy in his twenties, you ain’t ever playing Othello no matter how good of an actor you are. Wrong race/sex/age/type/size? Keep looking.

3) You get around two minutes to prove your worth. Imagine an interview for a marketing position where they said “We’re just going to watch you type an email for a minute. Alright now staple these papers together. Actually thanks, that’s enough.”

*And yet, they still work. 

“Actor Out of Work” by St Vincent. Such a hilarious and spot-on jab at auditions I can’t even describe it. 

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