Archive for actress

AUDITIONS ADDRESSED

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 4, 2011 by erikball123

Every year we have the great fortune to offer four full-length theatrical productions at Faith Lutheran Jr/Sr High School. We try very hard to run the extra-curricular program like a professional theatre company. We attempt in every way to offer a multitude of opportunities to educate and effectively prepare students to succeed in audition and performance situations.

There are four directors at our school and I feel secure enough to speak on behalf of all of them to say that we never give students roles. We grant them opportunities to play roles based on their performances in auditions. (We refuse to adopt the philosophy that “now they are a senior, let’s give them the lead” or “they’ve climbed to the top of the totem pole, so let’s give them a chance.”) Along with the great fortune of being a teacher at Faith (a tuition-based, private school,) I have the privilege to work with some of the most talented students in Las Vegas. They are focused, hard-working and beautiful people who offer a multitude of talents onstage to the glory of God. Students who attend Faith are fortunate. They are secured…nurtured…and very much loved. I would say that the biggest challenge I have with STUDENTS at Faith Lutheran is entitlement. I don’t blame the students. Being an enrolled student there is an expectation of the Faith faculty to offer a quality, Christ-centered education AND a multitude of extra-curricular opportunities to help enrich their interests/goals. I am pleased and proud to do this every day. It is my greatest joy.

As we approach auditions for “A Christmas Story” (the loveable, popular story of Ralphie and his quest to obtain a Red Ryder BB Gun, based on the popular Christmas classic) I look into the eyes of dozens of hopeful students as they prepare to take to the stage, and bring forth the fruits of my instruction. I expect them to prepare in advance. I expect them to work hard on characterization, relationship and dedication. I expect them to brush up on audition etiquette and the support, encouragement and positive reflection toward their fellow student. I expect them to pray and give thanks to God for their talents and the opportunity to glorify Him.

What I don’t expect from my students….is perfection.

Auditioning is a process. There are no professional audtioners. Everyone must be adjudicated and assessed before earning an opportunity to add to the dynamic of a production. Trying to wrestle the notion that a theatrical play/musical is ultimately generated for an AUDIENCE, (at least in the professional industry) is very hard to do. In high school…this should be an educational experience…period. Part of that education is a formal audition process, that will appropriately put students in roles that will exemplify the demands of the part, add positively to the dynamic of the show and position the student, the cast and the production as a whole for success. Bottom line.

My job in the equation…is to be trusted to use my schooling, experience and knowledge to make informed, performance-based decisions that will flesh out these production demands without compromising the process or hurting the individual student’s approach to their passion for performing.

It’s never perfect. The process is subjective. Like a football coach standing on the sidelines in the middle of a fevered game, we have to make judgements, and act immediately, based on what we think would be best. There is a huge element of trust that goes along with that. I can tell you stories of students….bloody talented students who we invest our heart and souls into….students we care about VERY much….who have left an audition / performance bitter, angered and upset about how the audition / performance turned out. They feel robbed of an opportunity, tossed aside or ignored. It becomes personal, fast. Auditions are what give me the most joy…and they break me in two.

One of the joys of being a theatrical arts educator is watching students grow up and realize the amazing gifts God has blessed them with…and then realize that they have been put on this earth to use them to glorify Him. It brings me SO much joy to watch them flourish and thrive and receive applause. The demands from parents, the expectation of a looming financial burden so that students can attend a quality institution, and the pressures of an exposing audition in front of peers with the like conditions is enough to bring any “normal” student to the edge of insanity. (And that’s before the Anatomy homework!) It’s no wonder people prefer to run Track or go out for one of the 57 football teams we have on campus. It’s really hard to be a student actor.

I will never make light of the unbelievable pressures of auditions. I look forward to auditions this Wednesday. I asked students in my Musical Theatre class to write out questions they have about auditions. This is not the last time I will talk about auditions. It’s an ever-growing, multifaceted topic that demands tons of attention. I argue that an actor should NEVER, NEVER be satisfied with their craft. One of the greatest joys of performing is the demand, and the desire to continue to create. Finding new ways to approach auditioning is just ONE way an actor (student, or otherwise) can find great joy in performing. I hope that the simple offering in my answers below can offer some insight to questions you may have about the topic.

  • Why do we get so nervous at auditions?  Stage fright is the most common plight of EVERY high school actor. First and foremost, it’s natural. We have human nature defense mechanism that reacts based on a “fear of failure.” We all fear failure. We want to do well. We want to make our parents, friends, directors, etc. proud of us. We are standing in front of a group of our peers so that we may be “judged.” It’s very exposing, and before we even open our mouths we find ourselves scared to pieces! The bottom line is (and in answer to your question) we get scared….because we desperately CARE about what the director / fellow classmates think about us. (I blame society.) If you can wrap your head around the fact that the director is TOTALLY rooting for you to succeed…and that your classmates will be in the very same boat you’re in…it gives you courage. That courage fuels your confidence…and that confidence will calm your fears. Just remember…I’m very proud of you. Even if you personally don’t think you hit a home run with your audition….a triple still scores runs. You can do it. If you are your own cheerleader…then you can start on building up that confidence…now.
  • Mr. Ball, every time I step onstage (alone mostly, I’m good in groups) I get all choked up and can’t force any sound to come out. I love to belt it out at home and I tell myself I’m not nervous but I just can’t get over this. Take a gander at what I had to say about about stage fright. First thing you need to know…you are not alone, and this is a very common thing. I recall an audition for “AIDA” that I worked very hard for…practiced again and again…I felt very confident…I found myself auditioning in a room, in front of people I knew and respected (and for the most part, comfortable in front of) and to my great surprise….I FORGOT THE WORDS! I kept singing…I made up words (something about chasing my son up a tree!! I don’t know!) and then stood there completely stoic. The director said “thank you, Erik.” I left the room….and about died! It was a terrible experience. But, I’ll tell you what I took away from the experience. I found out that even the most trained, rehearsed, poised actor needs to be on their toes and “nervous.” I thought I was ready. Maybe I was. But, it’s part of the process. The “on guard” mind set that you have to bring with you to auditions….the uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach, needs to be a part of what you do. It’s how you manage it that structures the fabric of your process. Use that nervous energy to bring to the table an energetic, passionate, full-of-life (including nerves) offering. Bottling up (or in your case, choking up) is a reaction to those nerves. You’re closing up. It’s a conscious reaction. Think if it like this…if a monster approached you…would you curl up in the fetal position and hope he goes away….or will you make a loud noise and emote in an exaggerated manner, facing that monster? You may be scared to death of the monster…and he may eat you OR run away…but, you will have FACED the monster either way.
  • Why shouldn’t a person dress like the character the are auditioning for? This is an easy question to answer. Bottom line…you want the focus of your audition to be what you have to offer. Not what you’re wearing. There is a funny moment in the musical “A Chorus Line” when a busty character muses on the fact that she seems to be getting more work every since her plastic surgery. (I won’t go into it in any further detail!) In the professional industry, yes, you will be cast in some things STRICTLY because of your “look.” I encourage all actors to embrace who they are. There are a million roles out there…and because of what you bring to the table, physically, you’re going to be PERFECT for a LOT of them! But, for a high school (or maybe a college audition), make the FOCUS of your audition your talents. I’ve had kids dress like Elvis, in bunny suits, etc. for auditions. They did fine…but ultimately, they were auditioning a notion or gimmick. I rank it up there with those silly auditions you might see in the outtakes of American Idol. Is it memorable? Yeah. But for the right reasons? That’s arguable. Another thing to chew on…an actor never wants to limit a character based on their audition. By dressing “in character” you’re saying “this is what it should be like.” The director may disagree…and then you’ve backed yourself into a corner. Give them something to think about by leaving a little mystery.
  • Where is the line of impersonation and inspiration? Wow. What a mature question. I’d say it’s a fine, fine line. For example, in “A Christmas Story”…a very popular (cherished) Christmas movie that has been adapted to the stage…there will be a certain expectation of the audience to attend a show that will be somewhat reminiscent of the movie. I found myself in a similar situation when I played Gaston in “Beauty & the Beast.” It’s an iconic animated movie. There is an expectation that I tip my hat (creatively) to the original. But…with that said…I think you will be setting yourself up for failure if you don’t take those beloved, cherish moments…and make them your own. (Meaning, find new ways to breath new life into them.) Perhaps the best way you can do this is to research what about the movie version is so beloved (this can be part of your pre-audition research, especially if you’re not as familiar with the movie) and then work on WHY those moments are so memorable. Put your own spin on them! Nobody should resort to mimicry. There’s little creative process in being able to do an effective impression. Even the most skilled impressionists (like Terry Fator) find an outlet to channel that talent through that is completely original.
  • How can you fail with pride at an audition? (i.e. goof up a song, forgot your lines, etc.) Remember, directors aren’t necessarily wanting to know how well you memorize lines (unless specifically indicated.) My advice…stay in character. Stay dedicated. Never say die! Don’t allow something as trite as a line, or a lyric…or an entire song of lyrics…spoil your audition for you. See above…during my “AIDA” audition, I lost the words. I still got a callback. Was it the pride of my auditioning career? Probably not…but I didn’t go down without a fight! I think the directorial staff admired that. All auditions are GOOD experiences, even the bad ones. You can walk away, evaluate things…pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start the process all over again. The only time you are EVER defeated in the auditioning process is when you walk away from it.
  • Do directors notice when people get up on stage and do the same exact thing another person just did…but just try to one up the other person? The audition process is imperfect. It’s subjective. You will NEVER find a process that caters to the way you would like. I’ve auditioned for one person in a room all by myself…and for what seemed to be a crowd of people. I’ve sang for an audition in front of hundreds of people and in front of only a video camera. All processes should be approached with the same mind-set. You need to make the FOCUS of the audition what YOU have to offer. Know the material…focus on your craft….present confidentially and take chances. Have fun! If you are in a room with people who are auditioning before you and after you….fine. It’s doesn’t matter. Do not allow other people’s offerings trip you up. You have something special to offer, right? Well, why would you focus on anything else? I found myself saying “if you see something someone else is doing…and doing well…steal it, adapt it to your dynamic…and make it your own.” I think it’s reasonable to assume that you’ll monitor what others are doing. (We are, after all, human!) If you like what someone else did. Fine. But, don’t copy. Make it your own. Copy cats are as obvious as it gets. Making it your own shows a dedication and a willingness to adapt. Both qualities are things directors love. Oh, and to answer your question directly….yes, we notice it.
  • How can I get into character? I could spend all night talking about this topic. I would advise you to always prepare ahead of time. Get into the script…really get a feel for the pulse of the show. Identify with a character you’d like to audition for. Study the character, practice the character…and work on getting connected with the character (emotionally.) When you are called up to read for your audition…recall those feelings that you’ve practiced and lock in on those emotions. If you’re well practiced you should find yourself approaching your audition in a confident manner.
  • Why is it that people shoot snippy looks at you during auditions and how do you prevent people from getting into our heads? People are mean. Not all people. But, yes, there are mean people in the world. Mainly members of the Third Reich, Zombies and those who attend auditions. In all seriousness, I would be a fool to say that there will never been people who sit right in front of you and shoot you daggers in the hopes you fail. It happens all the time. I auditioned once for a scholarship with one of my best friends. As I sang “Put on a Happy Face,” one of my dear friends made faces at me from the second row. Now…he was a dear friends, but in my head, this dude was auditioning for the same scholarship that I was…and that sucked. Whatever reason it happened, it doesn’t matter. There will always be someone out there who is upset that you are in the spotlight. Remember why you are in the spotlight: to glorify God with the talents He blessed you with. All other things are secondary. You don’t need the approval or applause from the zombie in the audience. Let them shoot daggers. Be confident in your work and you just watch those daggers drop right in front of you. You will be unaffected. My advice…never sink to the level of dagger shooters. Be above that. Support others…congratulate others…be happy for others. Worry about your craft. There is a saying by Esther Lederer that I love, “Hanging onto resentment is letting someone you despise live rent-free in your head.”
  • How does one know what kind of character your should go for? Like, how do you decide if you should go for a bigger or smaller role? Part of your preperation is a thorough understanding of the show and characters. Then you need to have a thorough understanding of who YOU are, and what you can thoughtfully offer. Know your limitations and see what you could add to the show. Everyone in high school wants the leading role…but think about it this way…if the director gave you the leading role, would you be confident in your approach? If the answer is “no,” then maybe look at a secondary role or ensemble role. Those roles are just as important and have a completely different set of demands. Thousands of actors have lifelong careers doing nothing but playing ensemble roles, character roles, dancers, etc. Figure out what special talents you have to offer, and then make that your “special talent.” Figure out what part of the show your special talent would be best utilized.
  • I’m so pumped to work on bigger roles, and I know I can do it, but I can’t seem to make roles bigger than just ensemble parts. What is something I could do or work on to break out of my “ensemble role” shell? I would start with an analysis of your audition process. What are you doing REALLY good? What needs work? Also…take it a step further…those that ARE receiving leading roles, what are they doing REALLY good? I argue that leading roles are usually the roles with the MOST demands. (Vocally, musically and dramatically.) A firm understanding of your limitations is essential. If you’re packin’ a bag of small apples and a sling-shot…it’s gonna be hard to reach a leading role target a hundred yards away. There is NO SHAME in identifying what you’re good at, even if it means an ensemble role. I will NEVER say that an ensemble role less glorious than a leading role. They are JUST as important, JUST as needed and JUST as fulfilling, personally. I have a dear friend who refuses to audition for anything BUT ensemble roles. Why? Because she loves being the “superglue” of the show. The ensemble holds everything together. I’m not saying settle for ensemble roles. Rather, take great pride in any role you receive, knowing that there are always kids who are not cast who would die for that ensemble role. Instead…work hard…always, always, always continue working on expanding your craft. Know that God has a plan for you.
  • When auditioning is there such a thing as being too bold, going too far, or making too many choices? Of course. If you went out there and screamed like a banshee and lit your shirt on fire….I’d constitute that as a bad thing. In all seriousness, it is important to educate yourself to the dynamic of theatre. One easy way to do this is to WATCH a lot of theatre. All types. See how actors approach the storytelling element in their performance. They’re bold, strident and daring…but they are never “too much.” Be exaggerated and take chances. I would argue that it is VERY important to invest TRUST in your own instinct. Go with your gut. You never want to walk away from an audition regretting that you didn’t offer something. Give it a shot. If you find yourself doing something “just for a laugh,” then it probably had little to do with the scene itself. If you present a glass of orange juice in a crazy glass with umbrellas and shish-ka-bobbed fruit sticking out….it’s still all about the orange juice.

I always like to end things with a crazy analogy. Heh.

If you have a question about AUDITIONING…please leave a comment or email me at ERIKBALL123@GMAIL.COM.

Advertisements

“My King and I”

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , on July 31, 2009 by erikball123

Sitting through hours of “King & I” auditions, carefully watching every flinch and then transcribing my thoughts regarding their worth in a useful way so that the director can decipher my thoughts…is, quite frankly, exhausting. And this coming from a dude who would spend nearly every waking moment plotting, planning and executing live theatre.

One of the responsibilites as a board member for Signature Productions here in town is to support the effforts of the directors and staff during the audition process. Now I’m not the creative team for this one…but I did anticipate a little bit of paper shuffle in the process. I was shocked when they wanted me to sit in on auditions and evaluate with them. They didn’t have to ask me twice, and I took off my “helper” hat and popped my “director” cap on. (I put it on backwards….rally cap, I know, but I’m not directing, just offering my thoughts to the director. I thought it would be rude to actually wear my director’s cap in he usual fashion.)

Things went very well for the most part. Two of my students auditioned and I couldn’t be MORE PROUD of them if I tried. (I see them growing in front of my eyes…in height and talent.) In both of them I saw “something wonderful.”

Tonight was callbacks…which are always filled with jitters, anticipation, hopeful energy and excitement. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly actors turn into sharks when you dial up the pressure! Sheesh. But, overall they were an impressive group and I was glad to position the camcorder at them.

During my drive home, I was indeed “whistling a happy tune”…but I was also thinking about how stiff my neck was in relation to the audition process in general. How this one might differ from ones I might conduct…or in relation to Broadway turn-outs.

Those hopefuls, so full of excitement and nervous energy, standing in front of us…all they want is a chance. The glow of the spotlight is very cozy, and whatever life-altering ting brought them to the theatre that day to shed their outer skin and expose their raw talent to a table full of strangers, is enough to give anyone a stiff neck. I read somewhere that there is a constant 80% unemployment rate for working actors. Hm. Why do it, then? Why work so hard for a moment SO brief…all of which is at the mercy of the director’s subjective mind. Why do it? I can only think of one answer….because you love to perform. You love the CHANCE to find yourself in a position to challenge yourself to create something you didn’t think you could.

I’m working toward my next audition right now. It’s really hard to get up every day and force myself to do what it takes to prepare myself to the point that will boost me OVER the top and make myself a stand-out in the director’s eyes. But, I like the challenge…and I look forward to the audition. And I’ll kill it!

And if I don’t….that’ll give me something ELSE to look froward to. The evaluation…the re-group….the preparation….and the next audition…..where I’ll kill it!

What if you had to audition to be a Christian? Wouldn’t that make things interesting? I wouldn’t imagine God would want to be put in the same category as Simon Cowell…but suppose in order to deem yourself a Christian man or women, you had to “audition” in front of the one who was ultimately “in charge.” All of a sudden that would put a different spin on things, hmmm? People who would TRULY want to consider themselves a Christian would be doing homework, and stretching spiritual muscles that haven’t been used in a long time. Or, maybe they wouldn’t and say, “well…I’ll wait until the next audition. Besides, I don’t know what He’s looking for.”

I wonder what life would be like if Christians were as unbridled as an industry performer. Those performers who REALLY REALLY work hard to just get that opportunity to create. They’d have to prepare….strengthen themselves….study and work hard…and then when the pressure’s on and they were faced with adversity….spread the word of the Gospel. They may win they’re audience over….or maybe not. But, even then, that’ll give them something ELSE to look forward to. Apples and oranges? Maybe not.

Have you ever found yourself trying to make an impression on God? Trying to win him over with a good work, or feverish Bible study…or voluenteering at your church for everything under the sun? Have you found yourself patting yourself on the back? Are you sure that’s what God wants you to do?

I’d say 80% of being an actor is the preparation. What goes on before and after you step onstage. It’s hard work…thankless….and sometimes, unrewarding. But, you do it because you believe in the work, and you want to get better so that you can do more work. You want to create.

Shouldn’t that be the goal of our walks with Christ? Shouldn’t we strive to create clean hearts not only within ourselves…but in others as well?

As someone who wants to spread the word of God…I would hope nobody would perceive me as being “unemployed,” simply because I’m not sitting in a pew at church.

I suppose it’s wishful thinking to think that all the people I jotted down on my mental “who I would cast” list will make it into “The King and I.” But, who knows. I can say that some of them truly won me over! There was sparkle…there were golden moments….there was talent….”etcetra, etcetra, etcetra.” I’ll be honest, and say that I was living a little vicariously through them.

Acting is fun because if you use the talents God gave you to glorify him…always…then it’s a double whammy. You’re doing something you love…and you’re doing something He loves.

So, I’ll wait for that cast list to be posted to see if my prediction are true and I’ll continue to prepare for my next audition as well. And while I would never consider myself “unemployed” right now…I will say that I’m looking forward to the next audition…and I’m preparing and praying so that I may look good in the director’s eye….but mostly in my King’s eye.

Congrats to everyone who auditioned.

AUDITIONS: The Aftermath

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 12, 2008 by erikball123

675

Well….the dust has settled.

Who am I kidding. The dust will be whipping thru the air for some time! The aftermath of a high school audition tends to linger and simmer into deep resentment, broken hearts and hurt feelings that snowball into entitlement issues, brazen commentary and yet more hurt feelings. Regardless of the length of the pre-audition pep talk….regardless of the post-cast list “open door”…..It’s high school. It’s gonna happen. Let’s not forget that there is much to celebrate for all. Those that DID get in the cast…congrats! Those that barely missed it….congrats! You did great. But, you can’t really have a dialogue with a piece of paper stapled to a bulletin board, right?

My wife (who is the director of this particular show) and I sat in the drama classroom with 20 hopefuls who were called back for round two. When we left, we were SO very impressed. Without pouring myself into specifics regarding each student, let me just say that I was surprised at the level of dedication that each student achieved. Truly, the cast could have been generated in a dozen different ways. I didn’t envy my wife last night as she toiled away, sitting at the dining room table.

Of course, I chimed in from time to time. I’m pretty sure that’s why she turned up the volume to the Cosby Show episode that we Tivo’d.

I love my wife because of many things…but one of the top ten reasons remains the fact that she’s a stellar director. Far superior to anything I’ve ever offered in many ways. Her philosophies and HOW she executes her vision is VERY different than the way I do things. (But from a creative aspect…that’s a good thing, right?) I think we compliment each other well. Her cast is brilliant. They will flesh out the farcical “CLUE” amazingly, I have no doubt. But I can’t help but thinkg that it is the students that DIDN’T get the role today, that they thought they deserved (who may walk away gritting their teeth) that brings me to my blog today.

Emily and I have the unique privilege of working with very talented students. There is always a forum for dramatic arts: inner city, gold-plated suburbia…and, of course Summerlin….and there is never a short-handed supply of those who WANT to perform. (How many students went to sleep yesterday with visions of Prof. Plums dancing in their heads?? I argue: many.)

What we don’t get is a consistent stream of opportunity for those interested. We chose, with great care, mind you, plays and musicals that will be appealing to patrons as well as performers, something enriching, something fun, something challenging……something borrowed, something blue! We have to think about marketability…who wants to play to an empty house. And on top of all that (and more) we’re the ones to light the fire under those students who are on the fence as to whether or not they even have the confidence to attempt to get a role! (That’s a hard fire to shovel coal into.)

That cast list is posted and the smiles will turn upside-down. The nervous hands will go limp. The tension will release. And emotion will take over. I will have 9th graders scorning 11th grades. Young hopefuls will turn into young hatefuls. And I will have students never return to the stage as a result. I argue that passion is never a bad thing, if it’s about something you care about. (Imagine students having passionate feelings about something they believe in…might be a nice change.) It only when they lose sight of those beliefs do their passions turn into pains. Am I being too dramatic? How dramatic is TOO dramatic, when you’re the drama teacher? I think I’m just being honest.

I want so badly to just…..shake these kids! (Reason #56 why Emily and I don’t have kids yet!) How can someone SO talented….so dedicated….so thoughtful…..be so unbelievably clueless. I’m sorry for the reality check…but the fact remains, students DON’T get roles 90% of the time because they are OUT AUDITIONED….not because we don’t think they’re good enough.

“GOOD”….heh. Funny word, isn’t it? Yet, it’s used all the time in things like auditions. Students tend to think we’re looking for something “good” in them. What they don’t know….is that we already know there is. What we’re looking for is a means by which to compliment the students by fulfilling the demands of the show…all the while, educating them. That’s not as easy to say as “Good.”

Granted…not all students are alike. I’m addressing a few, only. There will be those who sing praises regardless. I’m not even concerned or upset. Merely, I want all of my students to know that I believe in them. Mrs. Ball believes in you. We have Faith that win, lose, or draw….God has a plan for all of you. If that means not being a part of the High School Play “CLUE”….so be it. But, until we meet again onstage or off…you are always in our hearts and prayers, for we want you to succeed.

I love my students. I love my job. I love theatre. But, until the day comes that someone somewhere develops a less human way to cast a show that leaves everyone involved chipper….I will stand by my wife, and stand by the formula that is the audition. It works. It works very well. I hope some of the students who were in the room during auditions will selflessly reflect on what those who DID get cast did what was right in order to garnish that role. Until then….with my door wide open….I will continue to offer a shoulder, an ear and thoughtful consideration to anyone who wants to talk about drama, post-audition.

Counselor, I’m not….but I am a human being with feelings. And when my students are crushed….I’m crushed. I don’t have the constitution to be any less a person.

“We’re actors. We’re the opposite of people.” – Tom Stoppard

%d bloggers like this: