I have a love/hate relationship with auditions. As a director, I’m excited to see the growth of my students’ auditioning skills from their previous auditions. I’m optimistic that new jewels are about to be discovered, and that those diamonds-in-the-rough from the previous year are now sparkling and ready to “wow” me. Watching students enter the audition process with excitement, hope, and determination is something that I absolutely love. I hate, however, the eventual task of making those difficult (and many times hair-splitting) decisions, breaking hearts, and disappointing kids. Unfortunately, it’s part of the process if your students are truly invested in your program.
With the beginning of another school year, many directors are currently going through the audition process. Below are a few tips that have worked for me.
- The CALENDAR. Have a calendar with dates of rehearsals, performances, contests, and any other dates that your company members will be required to attend. It’s important to be very specific concerning the expectations you have of your students’ time. This will, hopefully, eliminate conflicts in the future. It will also give you leverage later should a student ask to miss a required event due to a conflict that was not previously approved.
- The CONTRACT. A contract listing your rehearsal, performance, and contest expectations, along with information concerning the dates you require students to attend these events (attach calendar mentioned in #1) should be distributed at auditions. Have students read the contract and allow them to communicate any questions they may have. Contracts should be signed by both the student and a parent. There should be a statement indicating that the parent and the student both understand and agree to your expectations and the student will be available on all dates indicated as a required event.
- The AUDITION FORM. I include a section for students to list their other activities (job, school activities, church activities, private lessons, etc…) on the audition form. Have students list all possible activities they will be involved with during the rehearsal process and through the run of the show (including advancement dates for contest and any rehearsals to accompany advancement). They should include dates/times for these activities. It’s important that you get an idea how busy the student is and with which activities they are involved. It’s best to know that a student has conflicts prior to casting them. Sometimes, you can work through the issues and the student can still participate, but if the student is going to have to make choices, it’s best for them and for you to know that now.
- The PROCESS. It’s important to consider many things when perusing scripts: your talent pool, your audience, your community, your budget, and the literary merit of the material you’re considering just to name a few. Finding “the one” is often a time-consuming process. If more than one script could be “the one”, consider auditioning multiple scripts to get an idea of which is the best. During the audition process, include a brief interview with each of the students who receive a call-back (and, if time allows, during regular auditions). If you haven’t already discussed possible conflicts from the audition form with each student, the interview process is a great time to have that discussion. Interviews can be done during lunch and before or after school on non-audition days if desired. Also, consider using various audition techniques in your assessment of auditions. A cold reading of the chosen script can be useful, but not all students cold-read well. Warm-ups and improv activities can be valuable in discovering who is quick-witted, creative, or willing to get out of their comfort zone. Having students memorize a brief monologue or scene for call-backs is yet another way to access a student’s abilities. Pantomime activities are a great way to observe a student’s use of physicality when acting. When multiple assessments are used, a director can consider how each student uses the body, voice, imagination, and script. This will give you a much better picture of the actor you are casting. Crew members should also have an audition and interview process.
- The “TALK”. I give “the talk” prior to the start of auditions and at the conclusion of each audition session. The “talk” at the beginning of the audition session will include information concerning what I’m looking for in auditions. I also give each student a list of characters with character descriptions, a synopsis of the play, and the calendar/contract/audition form. I want the students to have all the information they need to be successful and to understand the expectations of them. At the end of each audition session, and especially on the final day of regular auditions and call-back auditions, I conclude with another “talk”. I explain to the students that I have to make very difficult decisions, and not everyone will get what they want. I ask that they look at me and really hear the following words, “I’m talking to you”. So many of them truly believe they’ve aced their audition, and there’s no way you can’t choose them. They need to understand that rejection is a part of the process. If you get the part you want, that probably means someone else (or several people) have not gotten what they wanted. It happens. It’s disappointing, and it is alright to be disappointed. It’s NOT alright to be angry, bitter, or disruptive to the production process if you’re disappointed. During the production process, we teach theatre, but we also teach “life”. Teaching them how to handle disappointment and triumph is part of what we do. I tell my students, “You’re always auditioning” in hopes that this will encourage them to reflect before reacting negatively. Help them learn that you love them enough to hold them accountable for their behavior.
Don’t forget that you, too, will be auditioning during the student audition process. Students come into auditions evaluating you, your program, & your choice of script. They’re considering, “Do I want to spend my time being a part of this process?”, “Does this director seem like someone I want to work with?”, and “Do I really want to be in this particular play?”. Be organized. Be engaging. Be excited. Students want to make sure that the commitment of their time, talent, and efforts is well placed. The audition process will help them make that decision. Best wishes with your auditions this year, and remember—-you, and they, are always auditioning!