Friday, December 12, 2008

Musings from My City of Angels Auditions and Call-Backs

I've just finished up auditions for my upcoming production of the musical City of Angels. As challenging as the audition process can be (and yes - for those who have never been on the other side of the audition table, if you think standing up in front of people and singing or reading is tough, try casting a whole show) it's always a fascinating process and I try to learn a little more each time.

First let me say thank you to everyone who got off the couch and showed interest in this show. I really appreciate it. This time around I saw some amazing auditions, but it still amazes me sometimes how some auditioners continue to make classic audition mistakes. I realize we're talking about community theater, but I refuse to set the bar low because the production may be a "non-professional" one. There is nothing non-professional about the people that I have been fortunate to work with in the past and in order for this art form to grow and thrive we have to continue to challenge ourselves to produce the very best shows with the very best teams we can. Especially when ticket buyers' dollars are stretched so thin. Our customers should feel like they just saw a professional quality show for an amateur price - that's value and customers like good values. And like just about everything else in theater, it all starts with the audition.

I'm not going to get into a rant about audition tips and things like that. Far smarter and more qualified people have been there and done that (i.e. see Broadway Producer Ken Davenport's recent post or visit But I do have some observations from my recent round of try-outs.

Where are the men? Not to diminish the guys that did come to my auditions - they were great, but few. I know this is a common challenge for community theaters, but seriously, why don't men come to auditions? We know they do shows and love to perform, but they don't come to auditions. Is it because we have come to learn that we are in high demand and eventually the show will come to us? I think there is a bit of that unconscious awareness (can awareness be unconscious?) that the competition is much lower for quality male performers than it is for females. Personally, I like the audition process and don't mind going to auditions. Is it the show selection? Is one show considered more "macho" than another? City of Angels has fantastic and "macho" male roles and still the audition room was filled with women. I think it comes down to simple supply and demand. At the community theater (read "non-paid") level there are exponentially more women who are available and/or willing to participate in a show. So recruitment is essential and I continue using my network and searching outside it to add more great guys to what is already a phenomenal cast.

But obviously I did have a lot of great people show up and some...well, not so great. Actually, in many cases it wasn't so much that they weren't good performers, but the presentation (the audition) was off. They were either unprepared ("I really don't have a song ready, I just listened to this in the car on the way here..."), or unorganized (please make the accompanist's already tough job easier by having sheet music neatly organized in a binder! They can be your best friend or worst enemy!), or full of attitude - and not the good kind (I can't wait to spend 8 weeks of my life with someone who rolls their eyes at the slightest direction) or just plain full of excuses ("I'm really sick right now..."). Like it or not, directors can't afford to guess how an actor might perform under more perfect conditions. There are no "perfect" conditions in live theater. The audition is often your only shot to get it right. Indeed, to me a true professional and experienced performer (one I want in my show) is the one who can overcome adversities and unexpected moments and still put on a great show. Stopping the show because you hear a weird note from the pit is not an option. But when you are thrown off and flustered when the audition accompanist plunks unexpectedly, it says volumes about how you might perform come showtime. Many unexpected things can and usually do happen in live theater and how one reacts to these little unexpected audition moments can also say a lot about how an actor might react if a flat falls down or a costume rips. You have a cold at auditions? Good! Show me how you can sing through that and make me believe you're the healthiest person in the world right now. I can hear through a stuffy nose or a dry throat to get to the talent underneath. How many of us have gone on feeling an inch away from death? There's no guarantee those nasty little germs won't find you on opening night! You would never dream of going into a job interview and leading off the discussion by saying "I'm really not qualified for this job, but I like the building and thought it would be cool to work here"!!

But I also saw some amazing auditions from people who really put a lot of thought and effort into their presentation and I am always so grateful for that. From wardrobe, to hair, to general presentation, the little things make all the difference.

And I am grateful to everyone who came to auditions. And each one will get a phone call from me thanking them for their time and hoping that I will see them again in the near future, regardless of whether or not it will be for this project.

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