Thursday, January 15, 2015

Director's Corner: Auditions


You have chosen your play. You are now ready to hold auditions! This is one of the most exciting, scary parts of the audition process. You want to make sure you are very clear on your expectations and requirements before you announce the audition dates. There are three major types of audition: cold read, improvisation, and monologue based. My recommendation is that you stay far away from from improvisation auditions for a school show. Parents like to feel in control and it is very hard to prepare kids for an improvisation auditions. They won't like that and will question your judgment the entire time.

I would recommend having the first round of auditions be a monologue based. This way kids can prepare for the piece at home and you can see which kids are good at memorizing lines. If you are holding an audition for a musical I would recommend having the students sing and possibly dance in their audition as well. Once you decide the on the type of auditions and your date you need to contact parents. This is where I made my first mistake in my first play. You need to remember that what you know about the audition process is very different from what your student's parents know. You need to send some sort of corespondence home letting parents and kids know what is expected. How long should their monologue be? Can they use any monologue they find or does it have to be from a play? Is it acceptable to memorize a poem instead of a monologue? These are items you will need to cover in your letter home. I like to keep a pile of monologues by my door, that way when students need a monologue for my play or any other play, they have access to acceptable monologues at all times.

If you are producing a musical I would highly recommend that you require students to prepare a song as well. This is another area where you want to be as specific as possible. This is the time to explain that pop songs are not appropriate for a musical. I would recommend that students learn either a musical song or a Disney song. (Be prepared to hear Let It Go until you are about to "let it go insane") Depending on the age of your students you might want to consider holding a dance audition too. Tell students that they will learn a short routine at the audition and then be scored on how well they perform it. This will also give you a chance to see how students function in a rehearsal setting.

On the day of auditions you want to make sure that everything is as organized as possible. I like to have three rooms: a parent room, a dance room, and a monologue room. The parent room is where students sign into the auditions and fill out their audition sheets. Feel free to use the provided audition sheets for your audition or you can download them for free at my teacherspayteachers store.This is also where parents stay while the audition is taking place. I always close my auditions to the parents. I find that this makes the students much less nervous (if there are 20 adults looking at you while you audition, the scarier the process is).

The dance room just needs to be an empty classroom or gym that has a CD player in it. If you can, get your choreographer to plan on leading this section of the audition. The other rooms needs to be for your song/monologue audition. This can just be a basic classroom with. CD player. You should try to have your musical director in this audition space with you. Depending on how many students you have auditioning (I had 194 this last play) you should plan on splitting the students into two groups one group can go to the dance audition while the other group goes to the monologue/singing audition, then switch half way through. Even if you don't have a choreographer or a musical director, I would recommend pulling in a kind teacher friend or two to help you with the auditions. This way you have someone to bounce ideas off of. You also have another opinion to help you defend your casting choices to parents (it sounds so much better to say the committee decided as opposed to I decided).

Your choreographer should know how to lead the dance audition, if they have a way to lead it let them to it that way. If you have no clue about dance (like I did at the beginning of this) here is a quick run down of how to do a dance audition. Before the day, create an 8-16 count piece based on a song from the play.  If you don't know a count is a count of four beats (1234,2234,3234,4234) as a large group teach the students the predetermined choreographer. Teach first very slowly in counts then add to music. Allow the students a little time to practice the choreography before you score them. I like to give them a few counts after the choreography to show off their own skills. This is great even if your kids don't have many skills, it's great to see what your kids will come up with.

The music and monologue portion of your audition is where the "important" decisions come in. As hard  as it is try not to precast your show before you begin. This is so hard but try to go in with no notion of who should be what person, this will free you up to make some daring choices. While you and the music director are listening to the auditions keep a copy of the character breakdown in front of you. I like to the names of any and all students I would consider for a role beside each character (you can also write a student name beside several characters if you think they would fit into several different roles) I would also recommend writing down in the comments the name of the monologue and song. This will help you remember what a certain student performed when you go back to talk after auditions (after 150 auditions it's hard to keep everyone straight). Make sure you make lots of comments for each student that you are considering so that you can cast them appropriately.

After you have heard all of the auditions it is now time to cast the play. If you are having trouble picking between two students for a role you might want to consider call backs. When I do call backs I only call back those students I'm deciding between. If I already know I'm casting Tommy as the lead I don't need to call him back. For call backs I like to do cold reads. this lets me see how each student sounds in the role I am considering them for. 

Once you are done with call backs it's time to make final casting decisions. I start by casting leads then working down to the company. Don't be scared to take some unique chances on your casting. No one wants to see the expected in every play. For casting the company, pick a cut off number for your company and stick to it. This is where your audition scoring will really come in handy. You can simply start at the highest scores and work your way down until you reach your number. Keep in mind, while casting is always very important, I have never had an experience where a student didn't rise to the occasion. Have fun with casting and try to take a chance on a kid, you never know when that kid is a "diamond in the rough"