THEATRE SCHOOL AUDITIONS
by Richard Evans CDG
The popularity of stage musicals has never been greater and many more people have been inspired to audition and train as performers, not only through trips to the theatre, enjoying the actual shows themselves, but by watching TV talent shows, such as ‘I'd Do Anything’, ‘How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?’ and ‘Grease Is The Word’. While these performances can often look easy and effortless, there is a huge amount of skill and technique involved and as there are many more outstanding performers than available jobs, a good training has never been so important.
So what will this training give you? Primarily, it will help you to gain the skills, knowledge and confidence that you’ll need to get through auditions and, once offered a job, sustain your vocal and physical performance for up to 12 shows every week. If you’re seriously considering applying for theatre school auditions for a full-time course, you will have probably already been part of a youth theatre or operatic society and taken some classes in singing, dancing and acting, therefore knowing your strengths as well as the areas you need to improve. If you haven’t yet gone down this path and have just been inspired by what you’ve seen, I strongly recommend taking a short course or summer school before making your decision, which will also give you a good grounding.
Once you are sure, the first step is to do your research and target the theatre schools that seem most appropriate for your needs. Many advertise in The Stage, and in Contacts (published by Spotlight). Look at their websites and request prospectuses. Check out what you will be taught, the people who'll be teaching you and the success of past graduates. Don't be afraid to ask people who are training, and even established performers for their views on where they trained. Before making any decision, work out your budget, remembering that all schools will charge an audition fee and that you may have to travel long distances, perhaps staying overnight (twice, if you’re recalled), which will restrict the number of theatre school auditions you can afford to take. When the date of your audition is confirmed, thoroughly prepare everything they’ve asked to see, with the help of family, friends and preferably a qualified teacher.
So what will the panel need to see when you audition? Schools look for several things: the most important being that you can demonstrate that you have potential to build on the skills which you already have and will be receptive to what you are taught. This is vital, as a great performer cannot be created out of nothing – a school has to build on the talent that you already possess. They will also look for somebody who is going to be a pleasure to teach, as nobody wants to be stuck with a diva or pain, no matter how talented they are. Having sat on many audition panels, I have seen many amazing people rejected for these reasons.
Like any audition in this overcrowded industry, auditioning for your desired theatre school can be extremely competitive, so make sure you stand out from the crowd, as they will doubtless be seeing many people that day and throughout the year for a comparatively small number of places. You will achieve this by being prepared, knowledgeable and original. Do as much research as you can before the day, on the school, the panel and the business which you plan to enter. I am amazed how many people don't bother to learn even the simplest of things about this Industry, thinking that because they are so talented every school will want them – this is rarely the case. When picking your songs and acting pieces, don’t limit yourself just to the shows you have seen (musicals were written before the 1980s) as this will give you a definite advantage. Be real and honest about your abilities; know why you want to enter the world of musical theatre and what you want to achieve, remembering that not everyone will be, or wants to be a star. Think seriously about why you want to train, what you hope to get out of it, where you fit into the Industry and how you would pay for the training and living expenses if you weren’t to win a scholarship or be awarded funding. You will be questioned on these topics at every audition you do, so be prepared and think ahead.
Most importantly, be yourself, believe you can succeed, enjoy your audition and go for it!
My book AUDITIONS: A PRACTICAL GUIDE contains in-depth information on auditioning for theatre schools, as well as chapters on auditions for musical theatre and many other media for graduates and experienced performers, and lists of often overlooked composers and playwrights. Click here to buy your copy.
This article was originally published in the Musical Theatre Supplement of The Stage on 28 May 2009.
© Richard Evans CDG 2009
PREPARATION FOR SUCCESS
by Richard Evans CDG
So you have an audition? That’s great! How do you feel? Excited? Nervous? Happy? Scared? A combination of them all? These are all natural reactions and how you feel perhaps may change as the time of your audition gets closer. Hopefully, you will get more and more confident and the way to achieve this state of mind is by being as prepared as you possibly can before the day. So how can you do this?
Preparation for success really is the key here. The first step is to find out as much information as you can about the audition, the production and part for which you’re auditioning and what you’ll be required to do. How do you find this information and who do you ask? The trick is to get as much information as you can when you are offered the audition, so it pays to think ahead and write down the questions that you’ll need to ask in order to be fully prepared. Don't be afraid to ask whoever is giving you the appointment for your audition for any pointers or guidelines they can give you on the character you're playing or the piece for which you are auditioning. Knowing as much as you can about these will significantly increase your chances of success, so be sure to ask. As well as researching the project in general, also try and find out about the people and company for whom you will be auditioning. You could try Googling them on the internet, or asking your drama tutor or friends what they know. I would also recommend dressing to give an idea of the part you are playing, but don't go too far over the top – an accessory or look to give the panel an idea that you could play the part and have made an effort is fine, but nobody needs to see you in full costume (a mistake made by lots of performers, even experienced ones).
Find out where the audition is, work out the route using an internet mapping service and allow enough time to get there, bearing in mind that there may be delays on public transport or the traffic may be bad. Being late and rushing will do your confidence no favours. Also allow enough time if the audition is running late (castings can sometimes run several hours late, especially if they are seeing a lot of people) so be prepared for this. They can also run early, if several people have cancelled at short notice or a shorter time is taken with each than has been allotted, so again be prepared to go into the room as soon as you arrive, even if this is way before your scheduled time. Always arrived a few minutes before your appointment time – 5 or 10 is great, though if there is script for you to read you may want to arrive earlier than this (if you are dyslexic and need more time with the script, please let the organisers know this ahead of time, as it is your right to have an equal chance when it comes to sight reading).
Keep your energy levels up while you're waiting, even though it may be far longer than you thought, and when you are called into the room take a deep breath, smile and walk through the door with a sense of purpose. This will make you look confident no matter how you are really feeling inside. If you are introduced, tried to remember the names of those on the panel and help them to remember your name by saying it clearly. If you are offered a hand to shake, make sure your handshake is firm (rather than limp or bonecrushingly strong) and your hand is dry – sweaty palms are a symptom of nervousness, so wipe your hands if you have to, just before you enter the room.
What exactly will happen during your audition nobody can predict, as every one is different, so be prepared for anything. Remain positive and confident in everything you say and do throughout your audition. Even if you think you have done badly, never make excuses – it has gone however it has gone, and your negative viewpoint may be very different from that of the panel. When your audition has finished, leave the room as quickly as you came into it, being prepared to go back in after you have left should the panel need to see more, so it’s important to keep your energy levels up until you are away from the building, just in case.
There, that’s it. All that remains is to wait for the outcome – though it really isn’t worth worrying about – if the part is meant for you, then you’ll get it, and if not, something better will come along when the time is right. Whatever happens, learn from your experience and above all, enjoy every audition that you do. Good luck!
My book, AUDITIONS: A PRACTICAL GUIDE, contains in depth advice, preparing you for many situations, and includes an audition log, which will help you with the questions to ask when you are offered an audition. Click here to buy your copy.
A version of this article also appears on the website Get Into Theatre.
© Richard Evans CDG 2009
REMEMBER MY NAME
By Richard Evans CDG
‘Have we met?’ and ‘I'm useless when it comes to names!’ are phrases I hear from actors and performers time and time again. While everyone knows it is important for those who show their talents publicly to be memorable and remembered, it's also very useful to remember those who may be able to help you as far as work is concerned (the same is true in every profession, not just the performing arts). As a casting director, it is a large part of my job to have a sound memory of performers and their capabilities – something on which I have always prided myself – and I don't necessarily expect to be remembered by the actors I meet and have called in for castings. That said, it is always nice when they do recall my name and face, sometimes after long periods of time, after all, everyone likes to feel valued and having someone remember you makes one perhaps see them in a better and more favourable light.
So, how do you remember people? The human memory works in many ways, it remembers what it wants to remember and what interests it, as well as people and things on which it has something to hang (a memory aide). My memory likes remembering actors, perhaps those I have seen in plays several decades ago – I often don't know how I am able to dredge something up from the back of my mind from years ago, yet I can walk past a shop several times without remembering that I have to go in there to buy something (this is why I always write myself a list at the beginning of every day, which I carry around with me). Your memory may work a different way: you might find it easier to recognise faces rather than names, or vice versa. You might think you are dreadful at doing both. Whichever is the case, there are techniques which you can use to help strengthen your memory.
If you know you are going to meet someone, or a panel of people at an audition, interview or event, for example, do as much research on them as you can prior to your meeting. If you Google them on the Internet, you may be able to find information, biographies and even photographs, which will help you know as much about them as possible. But what do you do if you are introduced to somebody that you are not expecting to meet? The first thing I always do when being introduced, or reintroduced to someone, is to look them in the eyes, shaking their hand if appropriate and repeat their name, saying something like ‘Hello (name), good to meet you!’ This simple, everyday act is not only perceived as a kind gesture, but also serves as a way of getting their name into my memory. As I mentioned earlier, the human mind needs something to hang information onto, so as well as repeating their name in the conversation, to further memorise it, I will think of their name while talking to them and associate it with a famous person or someone I know who shares the same name. If, for instance, I was talking to someone named Kate, I might think of the actress Kate Winslet, or one of several friends I have who are named Kate. This will give me more of a memory for them and something to remind me should I forget their name at any point.
At the same time as doing this, I would also be looking at them, thinking if they reminded me of anyone, which I could also use to help me identify them the next time we met. If there was no obvious lookalike that immediately sprang to my mind, I would see if there was anything else distinguishing and memorable about them, that I would remember and recognise in the future. I would keep reminding my brain of these things at regular intervals and when there was an opportunity to be alone, I would write the information in my notebook or on a piece of paper while it was still fresh in my mind. I would then transfer it to my diary or a file as soon as I could. You should include information like this in your audition log and keep it on file. If you were to meet that person again and see their face, it is far easier to identify them using the memory aides that you have made from their name and physical appearance, than if you have nothing about them to refer to.
By the same token, it is important that they remember you too. ‘Remember My Name – Fame’ may seem like a cheesy adage, but never a truer word was spoken. Often a creative team will see between 20 and 100+ performers in any day of auditions, so it is important to stand out from the crowd. Always ensure you say your name clearly, putting in a slight pause between your two or three names. Some people will do the things I have mentioned in order to remember you, but help them if you can, by giving them some information on which to hang your name. I paint a picture with mine; I will say ‘My name is Richard Evans – that’s Richard as in Burton and Evans like the shop for larger sizes!’ If they comment on this, I will follow it up by saying ‘Whenever you walk past an Evans store now, you will always think of me!’ This is far from the flippant joke that it seems, as it is a positive affirmation – people whom I've met over the years regularly come up to me and tell me that they always think of me every time they pass a branch of the store – I love being remembered, especially by those who might do my career some good! Think of pictures to paint with your own name, the less conventional it is the more pictures you can paint and memorable you can make it.
Two final thoughts: if you can’t remember somebody’s name in a social situation, either don’t use it at all, if you can get away with it, or be honest and say something to the effect of ‘ I’m really sorry, but I can’t remember your name’ – a far better policy than trying to bluff your way out of a situation. Conversely, if someone can’t remember your name, or where they know you from, please don’t keep them guessing, or assume that they’ll remember during the conversation by asking you questions, just tell them. I always introduce myself to everyone unless they’ve used my name first, by saying ‘Hello (name), Richard Evans, Casting Director’. That way, it won’t keep them guessing and they’ll know exactly where they know me from… even if they do already.
The more you can remember those you meet, the more memorable you’ll be to them, so do yourself a favour and remember my name!
My book, AUDITIONS: A PRACTICAL GUIDE, contains in depth advice on interview techniques, standing out from the crowd and painting pictures with your name. Click here to buy your copy.
© Richard Evans CDG 2009
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
By Richard Evans CDG
‘What's in a name?’ as my teacher, Mrs Kywzpocycziecwsky-Smith, always used to say. How important is your name in your professional career? Will the name by which you are known make any difference to your success? Assuming you aren't going to use the name you were born with, what name should you choose?
s to whether using your birth name, or changing it will increase your chances of success, the simple answer is who knows?! Would Anthony Macmillan have been any less successful had he not changed his name to Robbie Coltrane? Or indeed Norma Jean Baker if she’d not become Marilyn Monroe? We'll never know – though in Monroe's case, the name she chose is somewhat more memorable as it is an alliterative, with both names beginning with the letter M.
Why might you change your name? It may be that you feel your birth name doesn’t sound particularly good, although there are some actors with very unusual names, which are not easily forgettable. It may also be that an existing member of Equity already has your name, and under their ruling no two members must share the same name. That said, as it is no longer compulsory to be a member of Equity to work in the Industry, anybody who is not in the union can now use anyone else's name. Take one of my favourite actors, Colin Farrell… he had to change his name when a good-looking young Irishman came along and landed leading roles in a few movies, using the same name (being Irish, he’s not a member of British Equity). Despite a prestigious career over many decades on television and with leading theatre companies, including the RSC, the Colin Farrell was forced to change his name to Col in order to avoid confusion. I received a phone call a while ago, from an actor whose name I knew well, inviting me to see him in a play on the London Fringe. I was somewhat surprised, as the actor whom I knew was playing a leading role in a hit West End musical at the time. ‘Have the producers given you time off to do the play?’, I asked. ‘Oh no’, he replied, ‘I’m not that Stephen, I’m Steven with a v’. Silly me for not realising! The duplication of names is hugely confusing for those responsible for casting too, sometimes resulting in the wrong performer being brought in to read for a part for which they are not remotely right – a waste of time and embarrassing for all concerned – and therefore should be avoided.
Your name is by far the most important thing about you and will (hopefully) be remembered for years to come, so ensure you’re 100% happy with your choice before launching it into the minds of potential employers. The first thing to do before your final shows – when you’ll doubtless be writing to agents and casting personnel – is to contact the membership department at Equity to find out if your name is available, or if someone has already staked their claim to it. This may be done for you by your college or discussed when a representative from Equity comes to talk to your year, but if this isn’t the case, do your own research, as, while membership isn’t obligatory, it’s well worth being a member, especially in the early years of your career.
So if you have to change your name, how do you go about deciding on the right one? Firstly ask your family and friends what they think suits you and if there are any family names that you could possibly use. You might choose a name that people may recognise from another context, such as Poppy Seed or Bill Durr; one that’s a soundalike of one that’s already famous, James Pond or Judy Bench, for example; one that’s doubled, like Norman Norman or Kelly Kelly or even a single name, like Lemarr or Madonna. While these may sound a good idea and be memorable in principle, choosing a name like this may affect your chances of being taken seriously in the Industry, so be sensible in your choices, making sure the name suits you, your look, ethnicity and personality.
Remember also that it’s far easier to change your last name and keep your first, as it the one thing to which you will always respond, having been programmed into your brain since you were born. On many occasions at castings, I’ve called out someone’s name several times… which, because it hasn’t been the name they were born with, they haven’t recognised as being their own! Choosing a last name that begins with a letter earlier in the alphabet will also ensure you’re billed nearer the top when actors’ names are listed alphabetically.
One thing to avoid is changing your name during your career, or indeed regularly, as this can be really confusing to those who know you professionally. Once we are told something that we believe to be plausible, our brain recognises this as fact. If, for instance, we met at a party and I said ‘Hello, my name is Anthony Dunn’, unless you knew that I was Richard Evans, your brain would accept this as true and whenever you saw me, you would immediately think ‘Oh, there’s Anthony Dunn’. If, some years later, I told you that my name is actually Richard Evans and not Anthony Dunn, you would accept this, but your brain would continue to think of me as the name it was originally given, as that is what it has always associated with me. It may be, as in Colin Farrell’s case, you’ll have little choice but to change your name during your career, but it is usually an option taken by those who have bad reputations in the hope that people won’t remember them and they can start afresh (it rarely works!)
Whatever name you end up choosing, it’s vital to ensure that it is memorable. ‘Remember my name – Fame!’ may be cheesy, but it is actually very true. If you can’t get your name to stick inside the heads of those who can give you work, and indeed the theatregoing or TV watching public, then you might as well give up. My book, Auditions: A Practical Guide, contains some simple and effective techniques that will help you to make it unforgettable (click here to get your copy). I look forward to hearing, and remembering your name in the future!
This article was originally published in The Drama Student Magazine in May 2010.
© Richard Evans CDG 2010
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