From the Teaching Trenches: Auditions!

We asked our Facebook friends to share their best audition stories with us, and they definitely delivered!

“A student came in and in all seriousness he says ‘… and I will be performing a piece from Babylon 5.’ He had no idea it was a sci-fi show and proceeded to perform a super dramatic piece about an alien I think.” — Larissa

“When I auditioned as a hand model for a Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial, the director told me ‘make your fingers look hungry.’ I didn’t get cast.” — Autumn

15032626_10210462971866610_119783878_nAutumn’s recreation of her hungry fingers.  We think she was robbed.

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From the Teaching Trenches: Carrying the Show in their Hearts

When I was in high school I was in a play called Necessary Targets for OAP. I played Azra. I loved that show, and I have lifelong friends because of it. So a couple of years ago I needed to choose a show for a large amount of girls, and I went back to that play. It was going to be the first time my school competed in OAP, and I wanted to choose something that would challenge my actresses, even though they were in middle school.

So Necessary Targets is set in a Bosnian refugee camp. And it just so happened that one of my colleagues was a refugee from Bosnia. I had her come talk to my girls about her experiences. And this was my proud director moment: they didn’t just listen. They absorbed what she told them. They took it with them on stage. And when the time finally came for them to perform this show at OAP contest, they were giving real life to their characters. After the performance, my colleague cried and told me we had nailed it. She knew those women on stage, and we had told their story beautifully. A lot of people think middle school kids can’t handle heavy drama and more adult themes. But they can.

At the end of the contest three of my actresses got individual acting awards. We didn’t place, but I like to think they’ll carry this show in their hearts the way I did because they were truly amazing.

—RaMina M., Theatre Arts teacher

Give Something

Alyssa Mooney, our social media editor, shares a bit of advice from the indelible Bryan Cranston.

Bryan Cranston, of Breaking Bad and Malcolm in the Middle fame, is on tour to promote his new book, A Life in Parts, and I attended the lecture, secretly hoping to get a little inside knowledge on Walter White and whether he’ll ever be on Better Call Saul.  (No confirmation there, darn it.) However, what I ended up with is one of the best pieces of auditioning advice I’ve encountered.

A grad student asked for advice on what is the most important step in beginning your artistic journey after graduating and Cranston jokingly replied, “The first one.” He went on to explain a mindset he started to take early on in his auditioning process: stop thinking of auditions as if they are job interviews.  

From his book, A Life in Parts:

“…[it was suggested that] I focus on process rather than outcome. I wasn’t going to the audition to get anything: a job or money or validation. I wasn’t going to compete with the other guys.

I was going to give something.

I wasn’t there to get a job. I was there to do a job. Simple as that. I was there to give a performance. If I attached to the outcome, I was setting myself up to expect, and thus to fail. My job was to focus on character. My job was to be interesting. My job was to be compelling. Take some chances. Serve the text. Enjoy the process.”

Cranston went on to talk about how freeing this was, how it gave him confidence, and how it allowed him to be truly happy for other people who got roles from good auditions.  

Sitting there in the small auditorium, it struck me how simple this advice was but also how it helped eliminate a big roadblock to many young (and seasoned) actors in the audition process. Actors are constantly told to relax in auditions, to have confidence, but it can be a grueling and scary experience that wears on your self-esteem. Chorus Line even has a song about it, with dancers joining as one agitated voice in the key of A minor, “God, I hope I get it. I hope I get it. How many people does he need?” Cranston’s idea allows the actor to let go of that anxiety and to stop worrying about getting it and care about doing it and doing it well.

Like most good advice, this is blindingly simple but also difficult to master; especially if you’re already an established actor who need the audition to go well so you can pay rent. However, educators can help their students to start to incorporate this into their mindset early on, so they’ll find it easier to do when the stakes are higher than OAP or the spring musical. If actors learn to treat their auditions as not a prize to be won but a gift to be given (without arrogance) then who knows…maybe one day they’ll be the next Walter White or Dr. Tim Whatley, Dentist to the Stars.

 

From the Teaching Trenches: When Special Ed Lands in the Theatre Room

 

Theatre teachers are all too familiar with the “dumping” that happens in our classes every single year, without fail. We are simply the soft place for those odd ball kids to land when they don’t quite have the rhythm for band/orchestra and can’t draw or paint to save their lives or they are the kid who won’t choose their fine arts elective because they are unmotivated, so someone had to choose for them. Or… the special needs kid who really can’t voice what he wants because he has moderate to severe autism, but his mom says he’s a real “character” and “loves to perform” and the class would be “perfect for him”.

This is what J’s mom said when I called her after the first day of school because her son refused to stay seated and seemed to want to float around the room, flapping his arms and making noises to himself, seeming to have no interest in my class. I was a first year middle school teacher and was literally hired the day before and had not been given much time to prepare or been given any of the required special needs paperwork for any of my students. I was barely able to figure out the computer gradebook system well enough to find J’s profile and parent contact info, which I was determined to find because J was by far the most difficult student I had encountered that day and I was leery of how well he was going to do in my class.

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From the Teaching Trenches: Truly Student Directed

In 2010, my advanced students were working on student directed one-acts.  There were four productions, directed by three seniors and one junior, and shows were cast from open auditions so some students were not in theatre classes. Unfortunately, I had to be absent to travel from WV to Maine to deal with my father’s ill-health, which ended up being his final days. I left the students in charge, with a teacher colleague “baby-sitting.”

During my absence, I received a few text messages about problems. They were not small problems either, they had to deal with re-casting two roles. The students handled the re-casting (at the last minute, mind you) and soldiered on. Their texts came to me after they took care of things on their own.  They were proud of their work and how they handled everything. I made it clear how relieved I was and how proud of them I was.

I returned the day of the performances to find they had everything very well in hand. I was honored to present them that night to the public as truly student productions.

The students not only managed to put up their shows on their own, but they inspired each other in the process.  The younger sister of one of the senior directors had a minor speech impediment that kept her quiet.  Though she had never done any theatre, she was cast in a two-character play.

The next year, she was in audition-based acting class and went on to be one my strongest and most committed students. She is currently studying theatre in college and I had the opportunity to see her play the lead in the college production of Madwoman of Chaillot last spring. She told me that theatre helped her turn her life around.

—Martha Louden; retired teacher of 26 years, 12 of those as a theatre teacher

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