Jack Black doles out some fantastic advice and anecdotes that would benefit anybody in the business of acting. I highly recommend a listen.
Jack Black doles out some fantastic advice and anecdotes that would benefit anybody in the business of acting. I highly recommend a listen.
Family and non-theatre friends (“Civilians” as my friend Jay calls them) are essential supporters in our lives. We’re in a high sacrifice, low payout career. Having normal human beings around can be the key to maintaining sanity and perspective. Still, we occasionally have to translate our odd experiences to those, the fully functional, who have not chosen to be systematically rejected as a way of life. Bless them.
Off we trot to audition after audition. They shout, “Just be confident! Be yourself!” We try not say, “That’s not helpful! It doesn’t mean anything. But thank you for your support!”
It isn’t meaningless.
In fact, it’s flawless. It’s perfect. They are so right on. It is ever so more helpful than my usual, “Tits up!” (Although at the very least, it can’t hurt, right?)
Let me translate.
You’re on the phone with your Mom. You say, “Welp, guess I better go get ready for this audition.” And she says, “Well, you know what you do? You just get in there and be yourself. Break a leg!” (My Mom has stopped saying this due to the audible sighing on my end of the line. I don’t blame her. BUT she USED to. My Dad still does. Turns out they are geniuses. Read on.)
You think, How can I possibly be myself when I’m either terrified or have surrended to hopelessness or am feeling so competitive I don’t even recognize the person inhabiting my body (depending on the audition) and am speaking/singing someone else’s words under someone’s else’s circumstances. I am nothing if not NOT myself. Myself shows up belching in the car afterward, changing into flip flops and cracking something with caffeine I had denied myself until the audition was over, texting Will saying “I’m done. You want Chipotle?” THAT is me. Eager Beave in the audition room is somebody else. They say, “Can you do an Armenian accent?” And this person, whoever she is, says, “YES! Of course! I also clean bathrooms for free.”
You feel me. I know you do.
I once had an audition, I swear to God, that went like this.
DIRECTOR: Are you funny? You seem funny.
ME: (Completely not funny.) Yes. I’m funny.
DIRECTOR: Are you nervous?
ME: I’m always nervous.
DIRECTOR: That’s funny.
DIRECTOR: Don’t be nervous.
Don’t think of purple dinosaurs, lady.
Actually, that ended up being a fairly successful audition. But my true self was sitting at the back of the house eating popcorn and saying, “OH just wait until I tell the other personalities about THIS one.”
So how do we access the humorous, joyous, intelligent and charming individuals we all are when we are also under positive stress. Here’s how:
1. Your material. This is a running theme with me. What you pick, what you are attracted to, the language of the pieces you use are all ways of showing who you are. What are those roles that just scream YOU to you? Do a piece from those shows!
Sidebar: Why not just write something for myself then? Well. I mean this with love. You probably aren’t a very good playwright. Most people aren’t. It’s cool. I’m not. This is very thin ice to tread. BUT if you think you are a good writer, and you think you can write a piece that will blow folks out of the water, then do it. Take a good risk. Make sure it’s active and not a story. I would also suggest saying the piece was written by “Anonymous” because if you say you wrote it, you will have just made a steep hill an even steeper one to climb. BUT, I’m all about authenticity and if you have genitals made of steel, more power to you. Preach!
2. Quit trying to imagine what the director or casting director is looking for. You will never know. Pick material you think is appropriate for the piece. Prepare it well. Audition. Go home and get Chipotle.
In a callback situation, read the play (READ THE PLAY), make strong choices. Let them direct you. Accept that they won’t always direct you. The important thing is how these words come out of YOUR mouth. What YOUR presence is in the role. Yes, YOU. Certainly we would all like to try our hand at playing an age 40 years different from ours cross-gendered with an Italian accent because we are ACTORS! We can play any role! But you know…that’s really more of an academic exercise OR sketch comedy. Being “right” for a role doesn’t mean it’s easy.
But don’t attempt to read minds. Trying to suss out what the director is looking for weakens your choices. They may not even know what they are looking for. OR you might change their mind.
3. Dress nicely but dress in your style. Wear shoes that feel good and make you feel like you look good. Don’t worry to much about “dressing for the part.” Just the other day I heard a director say, “Ugh I HATE that,” followed by a music director saying, “Mmmph I LOVE that.” See? You can’t win. Wear something awesome that feels good. Imagine if there was a movie about you, how would the costume designer costume the actor playing you? In something that made your body rock, that was a more cleaned and ironed version of your normal clothes. It’s like you popped up a notch so the back of the house can see. But then, I’ve been confused for a drag queen. So grain of salt. Grain of salt.
4. Your material. I’m saying it again. Find pieces you LOVE. YOU. LOVE. They are fun. They seem to be tailor made for your skillz. And they exist. For everybody. Find them. Love them. Prepare them well.
What does that even mean!? I actually thought that. For years. I’m not crying in the corner! That’s the best I can do, people. I showed up, didn’t I? Be confident. Hmph. Be electric. Be incandescent. Be stripey.
It reminds me of a song by Steve Martin:
“Be courteous, kind and forgiving
Be gentle and peaceful each day.
Be warm and human and grateful
and have a good thing to say.
Be thoughtful and trustful and childlike
Be witty and happy and wise
Be honest and love all your neighbors
Be obsequious, purple and clairvoyant.
Be pompous, obese and eat cactus
Be dull and boring and omnipresent
Criticize things you don’t know about
Be oblong and have your knees removed.
Be tasteless rude and offensive
Live in a swamp and be three dimensional
Put a live chicken in your underwear
Get all excited and go to a yawning festival.”
Even the most stoic among us is going to get nervous for certain auditions that hold a degree of importance to us. You don’t get nervous? Pin a rose on your nose, dude. Good for you. A director of mine just told me that she heard Uta Hagen say, “If you don’t nervous. Get out of the business because you don’t care.”
I kind of agree. But that’s neither here nor there because nervousness is not the opposite of confidence. Insecurity is. Confidence is knowing your path. Confidence is not comparing yourself to others. Confidence is standing in your own shoes and presenting who you are without judgement. That’s why confidence is attractive. If you don’t know if you are right for it, (say like RuPaul) how the hell they gonna know you are right for it? Confidence is knowing that whether they call you or not, you are going to go on L-I-V-I-N’ and enjoying the trail you are blazing. And that’s key. You have to blaze your own trail. You know why a lot of directors don’t want you to dress for the part? Because they don’t want a room full of the same person.
You can be nervous and confident at the same time.
“Be new, George. They tell you ’til they’re blue, George. You’re new or else you’re through, George. And even if it’s true, George. You do what you can do….” Sunday in the Park with George
Guess what. You’re new! You might not be young, but you’re new BECAUSE you’re you. Don’t blend in, for the love of god. This is Chicago. We don’t have to play by the rules.
Your material is new because you’ve prepared it with YOUR take on it. This is why I’m begging you to look at your material and ask yourself, “Do I like this piece?” If the answer is “no” or “meh”. Get rid of it. Find something you love. Picking a piece you are itching to share with people is a way to invigorate your auditions. Stand tall. Feel your nerves. Feel the weight of the audition. But know that you are showing them something they’ve never seen before because it’s you performing it from your perspective. THAT is confidence. That’s how you leave them wanting more. Don’t just try to get through. Live in it for that two minutes. That two minutes is a show and you are the lead.
So in conclusion, my Mom and Dad, and your Mom and Dad and your friends are GENIUSES. Be confident! Be yourself! with the addition of Be prepared, you’ve got a battle plan and a no-fail one at that. You’re not going to get every show. You just. Aren’t. You will get the shows that are right for you, the experiences that belong on your path, if you stand tall in who you really are. Being able to show up, do your thang, and walk away towards the next opportunity AS yourself IS confidence.
I have this philosophy that being open about the closed-door process of auditioning demystifies potentially intimidating situations and help us all learn from each other’s experiences. I know, I know…grab some s’more supplies and we’ll all gather around the campfire and sing “Kumbaya”.
But on the real, something I am intensely interested in is audition repertoire. I’m really fascinated by pieces actors choose. I also love really digging into my own book. For most performers, it’s kind of an after thought. After auditions, rehearsals, day jobs, performances, who has the time, right? You see a posting, you fling something together or use that tired old monologue that’s been your trusted workhorse for years. Trust me. I do this too. Still, we make our lives more difficult by being flip with our repertoire. I believe it’s essential to really sit with your audition pieces. Ask questions of them. I say this over and over, but it’s true; as a performer, you are your own empire. Your audition pieces are your employees. They work for you. Are they doing their jobs fully? Also, are you utilizing all they have to offer? Have you been actively recruiting exciting new pieces? If you like your material, nay LOVE your material, if you find joy in performing it…auditioning becomes that much more easy and fun.
It can be overwhelming to look at your repertoire in it’s entirety and ask these questions. You might be thinking, where do I even start?
Over several posts I’m going to be digging into different areas of audition repertoire and talking about how you can find really exciting and fun pieces that show off who you are as a performer.
Since I like to talk about things in real time, currently I’m switching out my old Shakespeare piece and bringing in a new one, so let’s talk about the Bard.
Conventional practice says YOU NEED A SHAKESPEARE MONOLOGUE. I agree. BUT, if you really hate Shakespeare….if classical theatre curls your toes, screw it. Don’t do classical theatre. Don’t have a Shakespeare monologue.
Heresy, right?! Not really. Do what you like. That said, a theatre company may hold a general audition in which they want to see two contrasting pieces, one classical. Typically you could eek your way around this by not expressing interest in the classical show, but tread carefully. Not doing the pieces that were requested can very quickly make you look “difficult.” Still, it’s your life. Don’t waste it on stuff you don’t care about.
That said, in my opinion Shakespeare rocks, and you are missing out on a fairly large and vibrant subsection of productions if you don’t spread your wings in that direction.
So what to pick? Ideally, you should have TWO Shakespearean pieces, one comedic, one dramatic. Which will you use most? I can’t tell ya. It depends on who you are as an actor, what kind of productions are currently being produced, and what roles you are interested in. What would rather play? What would you rather play? Dogberry or Claudio? That would be an indicator.
There is often concern about what pieces are “overdone.” Well, I’ll tell you something. What’s overdone is not investing in your classical pieces or being intimidated by them. They are just text, my friends. Albeit really really great text, generally speaking. So, if you want to do “To be or not to be…” If that is the piece above all others that you connect to…Do it. Just make it awesome.
That said, while the philosophical question behind “To be or not to be” is food for thought, I would offer that from the perspective of an actor auditioning for something, you could find a monologue that is more active and vibrant and shows off who you are as a person and a performer.
So. (And I will ask this over and over ad nauseum) Who are you? What floats your boat? Personally, I like my Shakespeare monologues with a dose of evil. It’s just so damn fun. Lady MacBeth isn’t a bitch! She’s ambitious, people. Talk about motivation. What is fun for you to perform? Do you like to wax romantic? Do you like to make ‘em laugh?
Still, even if you know exactly what you are looking for in a Shakespeare monologue, the cannon itself is a little overwhelming. I often suggest heading towards the Histories. They are often pushed aside in favor of the Comedies or Tragedies. In fact, the new monologue I’m working is Queen Margaret from Henry VI, Part II. I know, you just fell out of your chair from excitement. But listen, this woman is NOT HAVING ANY MORE BULLSHIT. “I am no loathsome leper, look on me!” It reminds me of this moment from Best in Show: (go to :55 in the video)
The key is to find the right character and then find them at a moment of crisis. By crisis, I don’t necessarily mean Drama or Tragedy. I mean crux. See these characters are human, because they are. For now, in your search, push aside ideas of “heightened” language, scansion, or anything else that makes you a little wary. Just find a human you connect to and want to play.
Secondly, find this moment of crisis as it is happening. Don’t find the moment when they are telling someone about it after it happened. Don’t pick a story monologue. It isn’t active. These moments work in the context of the the play or scene, but in an audition, you haven’t built enough relationship with your audience to make a story monologue viable.
I mentioned Claudio before, so let’s dig in a little. Claudio, as you may recall, is the suitor to Hero in Much Ado About Nothing (one of my very favorites.) Based on false information, he thinks Hero has been banging somebody else so when he shows up for their wedding grieving, angry and distraught, he has this to say:
CLAUDIO Sweet prince, you learn me noble thankfulness.
There, Leonato, take her back again:
Give not this rotten orange to your friend;
She’s but the sign and semblance of her honour.
Behold how like a maid she blushes here!
O, what authority and show of truth
Can cunning sin cover itself withal!
Comes not that blood as modest evidence
To witness simple virtue? Would you not swear,
All you that see her, that she were a maid,
By these exterior shows? But she is none:
She knows the heat of a luxurious bed;
Her blush is guiltiness, not modesty.
This “rotten orange”? “She shows the heat of a luxurious bed”?! Dude is throwing SHADE. He is pissed! He is also devastated. Admittedly, this is a short piece but imagine the power you could rack up in this. Short pieces can be very effective.
Staying with Much Ado About Nothing, let’s take a look at some comedy. I offer you Benedick, the charming blowhard who starts the show with everything figured right out, and always affirming his Bachelor status. In this monologue he is expounding on just how much he hates Beatrice…the woman he (spoiler alert) shortly marries:
BENEDICK O, she misused me past the endurance of a block!
an oak but with one green leaf on it would have
answered her; my very visor began to assume life and
scold with her. She told me, not thinking I had been
myself, that I was the prince’s jester, that I was
duller than a great thaw; huddling jest upon jest
with such impossible conveyance upon me that I stood
like a man at a mark, with a whole army shooting at
me. She speaks poniards, and every word stabs:
if her breath were as terrible as her terminations,
there were no living near her; she would infect to
the north star. I would not marry her, though she
were endowed with all that Adam bad left him before
he transgressed: she would have made Hercules have
turned spit, yea, and have cleft his club to make
the fire too. Come, talk not of her: you shall find
her the infernal Ate in good apparel. I would to God
some scholar would conjure her; for certainly, while
she is here, a man may live as quiet in hell as in a
sanctuary; and people sin upon purpose, because they
would go thither; so, indeed, all disquiet, horror
and perturbation follows her.
Look, here she comes.
Enter CLAUDIO, BEATRICE, HERO, and LEONATO
BENEDICK Will your grace command me any service to the
world’s end? I will go on the slightest errand now
to the Antipodes that you can devise to send me on;
I will fetch you a tooth-picker now from the
furthest inch of Asia, bring you the length of
Prester John’s foot, fetch you a hair off the great
Cham’s beard, do you any embassage to the Pigmies,
rather than hold three words’ conference with this
harpy. You have no employment for me?
None, but to desire your good company.
O God, sir, here’s a dish I love not: I cannot
endure my Lady Tongue.
Purists may balk, but I say either cut or integrate Don Pedro’s lines and you’ve got yourself a monologue. He goes from listing Beatrice’s horrible attributes (and inadvertedly showing us how witty and hilarious Beatrice is in her own right), to desperately begging Don Pedro to send him anywhere ANYWHERE Beatrice is not.
Remember, in the context of auditioning, don’t think of Shakespeare as separate or different from any other piece.
While you search, remember: there are comedic monologues in tragedies, there are tragic monologues in comedies, and there are both in the histories. It’s all the delivery and timing.
I’ll post later about preparing these monologues, but for now read and gather. Sit with them for awhile. Read them out loud. Find phrases that speak to you. Ideas that seem clear and pointed. Just like any monologue, it’s easiest when the character is talking TO someone. Once we dig into preparation, you’ll find most of the time Shakespeare tells you exactly what to do. In many ways, Shakespeare provides a road map to preparation right there in the text.
But for now, have fun! Find pieces that excite you and spark your creativity.
Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this
special observance, that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature:
for any thing so o’erdone is from the purpose of playing, whose
end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as ’twere the
mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own
image, and the very age and body of the time his form and
In an audition, the true nature you should be concerned with is your own.
A castmate and I were musing about our respective moves to Chicago and how our 21 year old selves would view our current lives. While I sort of wrote this blog post to my 21 year old self, I also know that I couldn’t have learned these things by reading a list. I really had to learn these lessons authentically. Still they are things I have to reiterate to myself and it’s nice to see them all lined up and spell- checked and in numerical order with a movie clip at the end. (Also note to 21 year old self, you are currently working on a project you LOVE.)
Sidebar: I hope my 41-year-old self writes something to my current self like, “Use that windfall of 14 million dollars to buy a villa NOT a yacht. THAT was a hard-learned lesson, giggle giggle. Care for a bellini? Let me just summon my faithful houseman Agador Spartacus.”
11 Things about Doing Theatre in Chicago
1. Confidence means more when you aren’t onstage. Talent, training, technique and rehearsal are the keys to a good performance or audition. Confidence is deeper. You have to know…you have to KNOW that the path you are on is your path and the one that is right for you. Comparison to other actors is death. It kills your spirit. It kills your creativity. And it kills your spark. Judy is right, you have to “be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”
2. Have priorities. Change them if you need to. And make sure they are actually yours, not someone else’s. You can be a professional actor and not necessarily want to star in a tv series. It’s your career. If you want to do Cher covers while rollerskating, then the world will be a better place for it. I am so serious. The world needs HAPPY rollerskating Cher coverers not UNHAPPY commercial actors who wish they were rollerskating and covering “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves.” In the same vein, if that sounds like it sucks? Dude. Don’t do it then. Only an performer thinks, “Ugh that project sounds horrible. I’ll do it.” Why? WHY?
3. As in the beginning…so in the middle…so in the end. If that company sucked to audition for….if they were running an hour behind….if they were rude or dismissive…I assure you the rehearsal process will be the same way. On the other hand, if the audition process was smooth, the people friendly, and the paperwork informative, that’s a huge high sign that they have it together.
4. Make sure you love every single audition piece you use. If you are bored by something, the people behind the table will be too.
5. If you are offered a project and you have an inexplicable sinking feeling or panic….that’s your intuition telling you to say no. (Not to be confused with feelings of healthy fear that indicate you are challenging yourself.)
6. It’s okay to say no. If you say no upfront to a project in a polite way, you won’t burn a bridge ( If you bail halfway through with a shady excuse, that’s a different story). The project that feels “not right” for you might be a dream job for someone else who will love it. If you know you can’t throw yourself into the project wholly, what’s the point?
7. It’s totally okay to take a break for as long as you want to.
8. When you take a break, it can take a long time to get back into the swing of things.
7. If a role scares you, it’s probably the right role and you will benefit from playing it.
8. If you have to force something from the get go, it’s not worth it. (Not to be confused with healthy competition)
9. You have to love doing this for your own sanity. I call it the Nachos Philosophy. Sure every once in a while, I get tired of nachos. Or am occasionally disappointed with a plate of nachos (what is with the cheese and pickled jalapenos only bullshit?). Might you occasionally resent this inexplicable need for nachos and that it occasionally causes you to sacrifice other amazing foods in your quest for more nachos? Of course. But can I imagine my life without nachos? No I cannot, Madame. You’ve got to love it like nachos.
10. You can stop loving it and start loving it again.