Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Monday, August 14, 2006

What I Know About Auditions

I had the dubious honor and enormous responsibility of running the audition process for Richmond Shakespeare's 2006-2007 downtown season over the past week. Actors came from near and far, some driving in from as far as Washington DC, Fredericksburg, and Staunton to audition.

Now, I have participated in my share of professional auditions, generally from the actor side, rather than the auditor side. Some have gone well, some have not. Okay, most have not. But nothing has made me appreciate the necessity for auditioning skills more than running auditions on the collegiate and professional level. If at all possible, actors, get yourself into auditions just to watch other actors screw up. Things that feel perfectly natural while you're performing may look ridiculous and amateurish from the table across the room. You may recognize some things that you do badly in other actors.

If you're an actor interested in improving your auditioning skills, I highly recommend Michael Shurtleff's seminal work, Audition, which goes beyond auditioning skills and well into the tools necessary for creating a three-dimensional performance. And nothing helps your auditioning skills like practicing. Audition for everything, and teach yourself to love auditioning. I mean l-o-v-e love. But there are certain iron-clad facts about auditioning that can be expressed in far shorter terms than Shurtleff's 300 pages. So I am here listing Andrew Hamm's Rules and Guidelines of Auditioning. Take them or (most likely) leave them.
  1. Be yourself. When you perform your monologue, I want to see you be the best you you can be, not the best Hamlet or Ophelia or whatever. Deeply character-specific choices are for callbacks.
  2. Enjoy yourself. Present this message: "I am so happy to be here and I will be so delightful to work with." Present it to everyone you meet and at every moment of the process, from the ASM holding the door to the other actors in your cold-reading scene. Don't overdo it, but be pleasant. Make yourself believe it. If you are unpleasant, I don't care how talented you are. I will not cast people who appear to be rehearsal-room cancer.
  3. Keep your slate basic. I need two pieces of information before your monologue: your name and the play you're performing a piece from. Nothing else. Your auditor either knows the playwright, character, and scene, or they don't care. "Good morning. My name is Andrew Hamm, and I will be performing a piece from Twelfth Night." That's it. K.I.S.S.
  4. No death scenes. One actor actually did a very famous Shakespearean death scene on Monday night. I'm talking very famous. Here's what that looks like: When you come in, smile, give your slate, and immediately transition into level-10 emotional histrionics, that tells me that you are completely faking it. There's no way for you to be connected to your slate and then connected to Hamlet's death that quickly. Pick something a bit lighter, and much closer to you.
  5. Dress appropriately. There is such a thing as too much cleavage, too much leg, and too much makeup (especially if you're a guy). Leave your punk-emo getup at home; all those neckaces, chains and bracelets tell me you're not ready to get down on the floor and roll around (which I needed several actors to do). Don't wear giant-legged MC Hammer pants. Don't wear a rosary, for crying out loud. And don't wear a T-shirt with words on it; I will read the words instead of watching your performance. I compulsively read words when I see them, and I suspect many other theatre artists are the same. This is not the place for your clothes to take the place of genuine personal expression. Dress to move, in a way that shows me your body and a bit of your personality. This is a professional interview, but one that just may involve crawling on a dirty floor.
  6. In callbacks, don't be afraid to go too far! One actor, given the direction "don't be restricted by naturalism," performed Dr. Faustus for me by writhing and shrieking on the floor. Was that what I wanted from Faustus? Hecks no. But it showed me that she was prepared to listen and follow direction, and that she was available for some real emotional extremes. We offered her parts in two shows the day after callbacks.
  7. Take some acting classes. If you're interested in doing Shakespeare (and all actors should be), get some learnin' in ya. Take some classes. Know how to speak the speech and know how to pursue an objective.
  8. Take nothing personally. If we cut you off, it is because we have seen enough to make a judgment, good or bad. If we don't call you back or cast you, it is often because you aren't what we're looking for, or you remind us of an actor who was very bad news recently (we had a couple of these this week), or you are too tall or too short, or you look too young, or just someone else was more appropriate. It is almost never because you are a "bad actor." You have to be like a cornerback: yeah, you just got burned by Santana Moss for a 72-yard touchdown, but you've got to shake it off instantly and get back in position.

The bottom line: in an audition situation, control what you can control and let go of what you can't.


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