Tuesday, September 1, 2009
SOTD: St. Vincent, "Actor Out of Work"
In my horrible internship last year, one of the few un-horrible things I got to do was audit cattle-call auditions. For those of you who are not well-versed with the ins and outs of "showbusiness" here is a quick run-down:
All American theatre actors fall into one of three categories-- Equity, non-Equity, and EMC (Equity Membership Candidate). Actors' Equity Association is the actors' union, which actors can qualify for either by earning membership points or landing an Equity contract. Members pay annual dues to the union, and, in turn, the union negotiates their contracts to make sure employers don't over-work or endanger actors and pay the appropriate amounts towards healthcare, pension funds, etc.. Though bad actors do manage to squeak their way into the union, Equity actors are generally committed professionals who know what's up when it comes to auditioning.
Non-equity actors, on the other hand, are another story. This category ranges from young and talented college graduates just on the verge of getting their equity cards, to young and not-so-talented college graduates who have never been told they picked the wrong career path, to not-so-young not-so-talented adults who, fresh off the sucess of a community-theatre production of Our Town have decided that the bright lights of Broadway are calling (see: Tobias Funke). On one hand, Theatre companies can hire non-Equity actors on the cheap, to fill choruses/play small roles/move sets (because their contracts don't stop them from manual labor) but on the other hand...
Finding a good actor at a non-equity cattle call is a little bit like finding a straight man at an Elton John concert. So you can imagine why a big theatre company would send a lowly intern to do the scouting-- a day as an auditor means a day of sitting through some of the most boring, awkward, and downright pitiful 1.5 minute auditions you could ever imagine. But as someone who may one day decide to get back into the acting game again, I definitely learned a thing or two about a good audition monologue.
Here are my tips:
1. Don't tell a story! Lord have mercy! I got so sick and tired of passive, past tense, storytelling. You would not believe how many monologues start with When I was... or He used to be.. When choosing a monologue, pick something that has an objective other than just "to remember," or "to tell a story." And if you don't know what an objective is, please do us all a favor and take an acting class before jumping onto the professional theatre scene.
2. Know who you are talking to. Too many people find monologues in a generic collection, memorize them without ever figuring out who the character is supposed to be speaking to, and deliver them to the whole room as if giving a commencement address. Avoid speeches that address an audience of more than one and opt for monologues that come from sections of two-person dialogue. After reading the whole play your monologue comes from, you should know exactly who your character is speaking to and why. Have that character in your head when you start your monologue, and place him/her as a point of focus just beyond the heads of the auditors. If a casting director sees that you can interact with an "imaginary other," he'll believe that you can interact with other actors.
3. Don't force emotion. Unless you're Meryll Streep, one to two minutes, the length of most audition slots, is not enough time to connect with enough natural emotion to cry. Please, spare your auditors and don't force the tears, or, worse, the crazy/angry/mildly terrifying sobbing wail. In serious monologues less is usually more, trust me. Need proof? See the above music video.
4. Don't rush! I'd rather see a monologue with twenty seconds of text and forty seconds of well-connected, silent subtext than a sixty second speech with no room to breathe. Cut your monologue and give yourself time to show that you can connect onstage.
5. Know your limits. If you're 20 and look 16, it's probably a bad idea to do Martha from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. If you're not very confident with Shakespearean verse, stick to something modern. If you're not a great singer, you probably shouldn't try to sing. And if you're going to sing a song, pick a song that you can sing even on your worst day. I've seen too many bad auditions from people who pick difficult songs that they think will wow the auditors, and then get nervous and pitchy.