Auditions Schmauditions

View from the stage at the Woodlawn Theatre

I don’t know how working actors do it. I would love to go from audition to audition and work on project to project, but I have never grown accustomed to that. I say “never,” but I’ve only seriously started acting/auditioning since a couple of years ago. So, maybe I’m still a newbie. Does auditioning ever get any easier?

My first stage role was James the Less in CORPUS CHRISTI by Terrence McNally for The Playhouse (formerly, The San Pedro Playhouse) Cellar Theatre. It was and continues to be a controversial script. We had protesters from opening night then through the entire run of the show. The cast bonded (1) because of the subject-matter and (2) probably from the heated discussions that arose in the public. The cast became a family, and we still keep in touch, with some now-and-then mini-reunions and trips to shows in San Antonio and Austin. I always felt lucky that I was selected to be a part of this production. It was both a personal journey and a professional endeavor that led me to believe strongly in myself as a human being, an artist, and a friend.

I still remember the audition process (I wrote a previous post about just GETTING to the audition), but once I got there, once I walked into the building, my heart wanted to pound itself out of my chest cavity. I don’t know how many times I inhaled deeply, but I still remember holding my breath as I wrote my name down on the sign-in sheet.

Then all the actors auditioning sat inside a small studio. Soon, the director introduced himself and explained that there were no other rooms available for the audition. We all had to do our monologues and cold-reads in front of each other.

“WHAT?” I thought to myself. My eyes must have been bulging and, for a split second, I thought I had said “what” out loud. I looked around to see if anyone else was freaking out, but everyone was calmly sitting down and completely cool about the announcement. “Wow,” I told myself, “either these guys & gals are really good actors or this is not really so out of the ordinary. Why am I going up against such confidence?”

We each stood alone in front of the… I don’t even remember who was on the panel. We each ran through our audition monologues, then we all went through the cold readings of various parts in the play.

Was I holding my breath through the entire process?

By the time it was over, I was breathing easier and telling myself how much fun I had pretending to be someone else. I even convinced myself that I didn’t care if I were to get a part or not. I was just so excited that I got through the audition… my very first audition… without getting sick.

I got a part, we started rehearsals, and the show opened. It was honestly one of the best experiences in my life.

Another audition I remember going to was for A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE by Tennessee Williams. I don’t know if I could have pulled off Stanley or even Mitch, although maybe perhaps Pablo, but I really just wanted to be in another show. The auditions were intense. This time, each actor had to get on stage, recite his or her monologue, while the director (and others) watched you from the audience. Talk about feeling naked.

Well, I got a callback, at which point I saw old friends that were with me in CORPUS CHRISTI! That helped ease the knots in my stomach… a little. Then the director had us do some improvisational exercises. I’m not good at improvisation (there’s that negative voice, again). OK, I guess I should say that I’ve never “studied” improvisation so I’m not completely aware of the mechanics involved… if they even exist. I’m an analytical person, so a part of me is convinced that there are some steps that help make improvisation easier. (Right? Anyone?)

Interestingly, if I’m not thinking about improvisation, I can make people laugh. It doesn’t work when I try hard or think about it a lot. The strange thing is, and this is probably not even related to the topic at hand, but I remember a co-worker in a past job tell me that I am “a stealth bitch.” Apparently, I was making fun of people with backhanded compliments. I thought I was just being facetious, but in her ears it came across as hysterically rude. Is that considered improvisation? Maybe not, if people do not get the joke… or, worse, if they feel insulted. But how else can I share my passive aggressiveness with the world?

Anyway, where was I? So, I got a part in the ensemble as part of the New Orleans crowd. Alas, the production was canceled, and it was time to move on to something else.

Then I heard about THE PILLOWMAN by  Martin McDonagh coming to The Woodlawn Theatre for the premiere in their new Black Box Theatre. So what did I do to prepare for the audition? I went to the library, checked out the play, and read it. It was a rather creepy, dark comedy. I read it one and a half times: one complete read-through and a second time going over some of my favorite parts!

I memorized a monologue that was not very similar in tone but it also had some dark comic undertones. I got to the auditions, waited in the little lobby of the still-under-construction Black Box Theatre, and through the doors I could hear those before me… very clearly. A part of me wishes I would not have heard anything.

When it was my turn, I got up on the little stage area, met the director, and started my monologue. I got to a point in my memorized monologue that I could not, for the life of me, remember what came next! I took a long pause. Why can’t I remember? I’ve reviewed this piece a hundred times at home, on my way to work, during lunch, at night before bed…

“Do you need to take a breather?” I was asked.

“I’m so sorry,” I nervously laughed, “I must be more anxious than I thought.”

“That’s OK. Take your time. Luis, you know us; you’ve worked with us before on other projects. No need to feel so nervous.”

I took a deep breath, tried again… and AGAIN I paused at that darn roadblock in my mind. I stopped, took a deep breath, turned around, then remembered the rest of the monologue. I picked up where I left off, continued, and finished my monologue. I was so embarrassed.

Deep breath. I was asked if I could return for callbacks. “Yes! I got through the first round!”

At callbacks, we were asked to recite a monologue from the play, then got to work as teams taking on different roles with the other actors. That was fun, but I was another nervous wreck for some strange reason.

Aside from the forgetful nervousness (or is that nervous forgetfulness?), I learned a lot about myself at that audition: I need to practice scene work with a partner or two. I’m better at being by myself with memorized words that some other creative individual wrote. With scene work, you have to work hard to listen and react to what the other is saying. That’s hard enough during rehearsals, but doing cold-readings and trying to figure out how your character might move or not move at auditions is something else that I have to learn. I’m getting better at it, but I think I need more practice in general.

So those are some of my experiences at auditions.

In every production I’ve been able to work, I experience something new. And that is really important. I am insatiably curious about acting, about singing, about making scenes work… and that’s what keeps me going back for more. Auditions are one small part of the process: sometimes you do well, and sometimes you don’t; sometimes you get the part, and sometimes you don’t. At least for me, I don’t ever want to stop learning and absorbing as much as I can about this craft, so I go into every experience with wide eyes and an open mind.

So do auditions ever get any easier? It hasn’t, yet, for me. The butterflies are still there, but they keep me alert. What IS getting easier–and it seems to help overall–is that I’ve made a lot of actor friends. And there are those who I run into at auditions, they always hug, and provide a word of encouragement. The acting community here has a lot of individuals like that, and I am happy to be a part of such supportive group of people.

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