Lessons from a Mock Audition
Timothy Thompson takes a trip to the other side of the table to help out some students from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts' high school drama program.
"Audition" is a word that carries a plethora of reactions with it: excitement, anxiety, nausea, worry. Much of my time this year has been spent in class and independently towards prepping for this next step after college, though I'm not certain what that step will be or where it'll take me. Granted, I have my idea of a dream job or role, but my start in this career will most likely depend upon how well I perform in the audition. Auditioning has been on my mind a lot.
This time of transition and uncertainty reminds me of being a senior in high school getting ready for auditions to college theater programs. Despite having a list of "dream schools" and "back-ups" I couldn't tell you where I'd be spending the next four years of my life. Thankfully, the auditors at my UNCSA audition were not only good at what they did, but somehow saw something in me that led them to believe that UNCSA would be a good fit for me—all within about five minutes. They were right, too! As I'm learning more about casting calls and auditions, I'm becoming more curious about the people on the other side of the table, how they make their decisions. After all, how did they know I would fit in?
Kelly Maxner, the dean of UNCSA's high school drama program, entertained my curiosity and invited me to set up a mock-audition with some of his students. His high school class will travel to Chicago this winter to audition for schools at Unified Auditions, just as I did four years ago. I jumped at this opportunity with the hopes that maybe I'd learn something about my own audition process, as well as help out others experiencing their own periods of transition and uncertainty. I learned many things during this brief trip to the other side of the table, namely that the role of auditing and casting isn't easy.
• The audition begins the second the actor walks into the door and ends the second the actor closes the door. I've heard this before, and it's true.
• I was never actively looking for mistakes. I was more focused on getting to know as much as I could about the actor in the time we had together, and I wanted every actor to have a good audition. HONESTLY!
• A monologue can reveal personality as much as it does ability. Although I was looking for actions, specificity technique, I was more curious about who the actor was—his/her talents, passions, interests. By watching the actors perform what they chose, I learned something personal about each actor.
• I think a lot of actors get caught up in trying to present the "correct" or "perfect" version of their piece or monologue—as if to say, "I will only be accepted if I do this the right way" (I know I'm guilty of this sometimes). Perfection is really imperfection—you know, those quirks that make one actor different from another. I was much more engaged when the actor was bringing him or herself to the character…and not the other way around. Choices that are personal allowed more colors to come through.
• Know why you chose your monologues.
• They call them, ‘monologues,' but they're actually ‘dialogues'—the other character to whom the actor is speaking to just doesn't happen to be in the room. The material was engaging when the actor had a serious and specific relationship with their (unseen) scene partner.
• A reminder that breath is important. Take one before diving in, and take one to establish that the scene is over.
• If asked the, "Do you have any questions for us?" question, it's a good idea to have one that's specific to the program/project. It can continue the dialogue. Just be sure not to ask a question that is either a no-brainer or can be found online.
With this said, I'm no expert, and I certainly don't have the experience or eye a casting agent or school auditor has (TMU contributor, Mary Anna Dennard, certainly is, and offers wonderful insights worth checking out, too!). At the end of the day, these people must find the talent that will fill the positions they have, and time is always a huge factor. There's a hope and need that the actor they need walks through the door. More is at stake on the other side of the table.