Where Did You Think We Auditioned?

Sometimes, when I talk to people about being a performer, I realize there’s a big difference between what I experience every day as an auditioning actor and what people imagine auditioning much be like.

No, I’m not going to make one of those infographics that swept Facebook several months ago. Instead, I’m just going to let you in on a little secret – when an actor, dancer, or singer auditions for a show, there’s not a stage in sight.

Once upon a time, aspiring performers auditioned in theaters and on stages.  The phenomenal show A Chorus Line is set in such a space, in fact.  In the movie version, you see the line of hopeful dancers snaking out the stage door and down the block, and the giant dance call is on the very stage they’re looking at eventually performing in.  There’s something of a glamour to it.

The View From StageUnderstandably, this is what most people imagine auditioning is like – but it’s not, anymore.

I wasn’t around when producers made the switch, but a director/actor friend of mine who’s been in the business for years attributed the change to dramatically higher union salaries and stipulations required for the crew to open up a theater building.  (While I value unions on one level, I can’t stand when these sorts of situations happen – contracts bordering on unreasonable. I don’t have all the information, and I don’t want to open a political discussion, but can’t we agree that there is a point at which unions make unfair demands?)  As a result, it became significantly more affordable to audition anywhere but a theater.

Rehearsal studios were the perfect choice.

Let’s play a little game.  Imagine if, for your standard office job, you had a job interview. Wouldn’t it make sense to meet for that interview in an office or a conference room?  But instead, you were asked to meet in a janitor closet.  It would make for a slightly different interview, that’s for sure!

Well, that’s something of what it’s like to audition for a show these days.  You’re in a sterile white room the size of a small office or a conference room.  (Dance calls tend to get the bigger dance studio rooms, but it’s still packed like a sardine can.)  There’s a cheap folding table in front of you, behind which sit usually one or two people with a giant stack of resumes and their iPhone in their hand.

It’s about as far from a theater atmosphere as you can imagine.

Harsh white fluorescent lights give a corporate or hospital feel to everything.  The sound echoes too much, so that you feel like you’re singing absurdly loudly.  And through all of this, you’re supposed to be imagining that you’re speaking to someone that you can’t see, in a totally different space.

Let me tell you, that imagining thing is way easier in a dark theater.  The blackness in front of you and the bright lights that diffuse your gaze create a sort of blank canvas that excites your creative mind.  It’s so easy to forget all the minutiae of your daily life – the stress of needing a job, the frustration of your clogged bathtub that the super won’t fix, and the jealousy that flares every time you get on Facebook to see the newest babies or just-bought houses of your college friends.  You can lose yourself in that moment, and those thirty seconds might feel like a beautiful escape.

In a rehearsal studio, I can promise you from plenty of personal experience that you will spend most of that thirty seconds just trying to get out of the reality around you.  Of course, good audition teachers encourage you to stop fighting what’s around you and use it – just place your scene in a conference room or a dance studio.  But even when you’ve managed it several times, it’s a challenge.  It’s not what you’ve spent your life training to do.  Educational theatre in particular, as I’ve touched on before, doesn’t adequately prepare you for the reality – all of my auditions in college were on a stage, for example.

I had one audition on the stage of a small theater several months ago.  It was one of the best auditions of my life, and I ended up booking the show.

Will it ever be possible to audition in a theater again?  I just keep wishing.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/clickykbd/79691662/”>clickykbd</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>

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