Tips for Theatre Auditions
Watch as Executive Director Maurice LaMee and theatre luminaries, Pam Berlin and William Carden take a careful look at the heart of theatre performance – The Process – from the rehearsal hall to the stage.
Director Pam Berlin (Faculty – Rutgers University; Endpapers (Variety Arts Theatre); Steel Magnolias (Off Broadway); To Gillian on her 37th Birthday (Circle in the Square downtown) and former President of the Stage Actors and Choreographers Union (2002 – 2008).
Artistic Director and Actor William Carden is former Artistic Director of HB Playwrights (NYC) and the current Artistic Director of the Ensemble Studio Theatre (NYC), William has also worked extensively with theatre legend Uta Hagen.
So you got the job. You’re excited to get started and you want to make a great impression. This is a particularly natural and appropriate place to want to begin a rehearsal process. This instinct to impress, however, is often contrary to the work that needs to happen in rehearsal and the preparation for that work that should take place before rehearsal.
Good actors have many different ways of successfully working. Everyone’s process is different. However, there are habits that can be helpful and ideas that can be useful as one encounters roadblocks in the rehearsal process.
Pam Berlin and Billy Carden work with and direct some of the greatest theatre actors of our generation. They share many insightful observations about the rehearsal process in the accompanying video to this text. In Part 1, several ideas were discussed.
The homework before one ever enters the rehearsal should include many readings of the play. This may or may not include memorization, but it should include deep familiarization. Research, as appropriate for the role and for the play, should be undertaken. This research may be historical or contextual in nature, but it also might be related to the psychology of a character or perhaps character’s unique professional skills or personal peculiarities. It’s also useful to make some initial decisions about what motivates the character – what does the character want?
As the Rehearsal Begins
This pre-rehearsal preparation allows the actor to enter the first rehearsal open to the process of discovery. Oddly, it also allows the actor not to start the rehearsal by acting, but by listening and discovering. Uta Hagen was fond of saying, “Anyone can act, but very few can be human beings.” It takes a lot of bravery to enter the first rehearsal not showing off all of the work you’ve already done, but being open and receptive to learning something about the play or the character hadn’t already thought of. Billy Carden entices us with the notion that, as he says, “rehearsal is the steady debunking of your preconceptions.” Entering the rehearsal with ideas and questions is extremely useful to the process. “I don’t know” is often a great starting place, especially if the “I don’t know” is planted in the fertile ground of your thorough preparation. Billy Carden recommends starting rehearsal, not by acting, but by simply “talking to another human being.”
As the Rehearsal Progresses
As the rehearsal progresses, the homework shouldn’t stop. This homework isn’t memorizing lines. Memorizing lines is expected of children in a grade-school play. Homework is the processing of the work you’ve done during rehearsal so that you can bring active choices and more questions to the next days work. In rehearsal, actors must learn to own their own process, but vulnerable questions like “I don’t understand”, “ I don’t know what I’m doing or what I want” or “I’m lost” can actually be useful things to pay attention to while your working. Also, negotiating with a director about the process can be quite appropriate, “ I don’t agree”, “Can I try this”, or Can it try that later”, can be enormously useful as you explore a role. Also, failing can be the instructive. Pam Berlin calls rehearsal a “messy process…that can’t be concerned with results”. Your bold choices, active listening and continued openness are necessary. Directors may not always know precisely when or how to help. Your engagement in the process of discovery, is, by most directors, greatly appreciated.