Image Credit: Chris Smith/Out of Chicago
Auditions are scary. Whether you’re an A-Lister or just starting out in the theatre world, auditions are the most stressful point in a production, and yes that includes opening night and clearing up the mess left by the after-show parties. But do you know what: I don’t think that many actors actually audition.
Let me make it a bit clearer where I’m actually going with this. Recently a friend of mine was auditioning for her newest production, Carpe Diem, which is inspired by Tom Schulman’s screenplay Dead Poets Society. As the first dozen or so wannabe poets came and went, I noticed that our notes sheets were full of what I consider to be director’s blasphemy: Nice, good energy, bad and not engaging. These are words and phrases that I would never ever use when giving feedback to my actors during a rehearsal even if I’d turned up still hopelessly drunk from the night before. I had no idea why I was writing it.
Director’s feedback can be the biggest paradox within the modern theatre. If we cast our nets back to the Elizabethan/Jacobean ages, we see that theatre companies directed through mechanical acting. This approach taught actors what, for example the emotion sad looked like. You would place your left arm in one set position, then as the sadness grew you would travel across the stage and talk in a specific way. I like to call it shopping-list acting because you have a strict checklist of actions and vocal directions you need to collect to portray emotions.
These days however, actors and directors have become more internal on the stage. An example, which every person in the theatre should know, is the man considered as the founder of modern theatre: Stanislavski. Although I’m allowed to call him Stan-the-man; I don’t know why, I’ve just decided. Anyway, Stan’s teachings on psychophysical acting, connecting the body and the mind, and emotional memory have resulted in what some may consider as a human-to-human connection between audience and actor. This means many performances are now a lot more personal to an individual and this is where the paradox appears.
As a director, I want people to feel something when they watch my shows; it’s subjective. A skill which I’m still refining is giving feedback in a non-emotive way because I know that whilst the performance is affecting me, the auditorium will not be filled with five hundred me’s on opening night. The ability to remove emotive viewpoints in order to create more emotive viewpoints is something I admire hugely in any director.
So now we rejoin the action back in the audition room. We’re on a ten minute break and I start to break down what nice and engaging actually mean into words that could enable someone else to closely replicate the performance. Before long I realised that the people actually being auditioned were: Us. Sure, the actors are showing us their best but we’re in turn met with the challenge of seeing through the performance and pulling off a sort of Mystic Meg act of determining if they could work in rehearsals as well as in performance. Before a director can audition an actor, the actor first auditions the director to see how well they can pull off this Mystic Meg stunt. Remember this next time you’re auditioning, and things won’t seem so bad.