Saturday, June 16, 2012

On booking a job so you can perform in the rain.

"The task of theatre is to find action that creates such vibrant resonance in our imaginations that it enables us to reach a mutual understanding." -Why is That So Funny? by John Wright
Last night, As You Like It opened to a very warm house. The audience deserves the true applause because it rained for the entirety of the second act. I told Riverside's production manager and founding member Ron Clark that I really liked the theater they built, but they seem to have forgot to build a roof. We were all drenched. Audrey looked like a wet goat. I've never done a play in the rain and I thought the show stayed strong, albeit slightly measured for safety's sake.

Many of my readers are theater practitioners, but most are soldiers of other infinite multitudes and probably have little to no understanding about how actors get jobs. I thought I would explain the journey of one way an actor books a job and gets to opening night. There are countless ways... but here's mine for this job.

Audition, Audition, Audition

My friend and fellow actress Katie Hartke says, "You audition for your career, not for a job." The fact that most often theater companies do not employ an actor after their first audition proves her point. Although most auditions last less than five minutes, the process of auditioning takes time because many auditions only come around once a year. It took me about 8 months to make my way into the audition rooms of all the major theatrical houses in Chicago... and that was just the first audition for each company. But the exciting thing is that I will only get more castable as I get older. There are many early twenties women pursuing acting, less late twenties, still less early thirties, etc. Which is why it is so important to work, work, work during these early years so that my skills are sharpened and ready if (but I shall say, when) a break comes my way.

Jody, the Artistic Director of Riverside Theater, has a relationship with my alma mater and every year auditions our students. I auditioned for her in Minnesota in early 2009 and a few times since then. Ron and Jody run a very generous audition room, laughing and always making sure to learn a little bit about you as a person. This year, I auditioned for the company in Chicago, where most Midwestern theaters come to conduct their season audition. My audition consisted of performing two monologues, Perdita from A Winter's Tale by Shakespeare and Jennie from Chapter Two by Neil Simon. Auditions generally call for contrasting monologues; these particular two contrast because Perdita is classical, in verse, serious, gentle, fearful and Jennie is contemporary, in prose, intense, humorous, loud, demanding. Monologues are innately silly, because you are talking to someone who is not, in fact, actually there. But we do our best to share a piece of ourselves with the auditor who generally knows within the first six seconds of you walking in the room whether they want to work with you or not. Sorta like speed dating, except you want them to pay you. So sorta like speed dating for prostitutes. However, unlike prostitution, you also need a headshot and resume. Mine currently looks like this...

Jody contacted me shortly after the audition to offering me an apprentice position in the company and the role of Audrey in As You Like It which I obviously accepted. When I received my contract, I found I was to understudy Rosalind, Shakespeare's most loquacious heroine, a thrilling and fun challenge.

After accepting the contract, I moved to Iowa, rehearsed for four weeks, memorized over 200 lines, opened the show and drank the rain like it was my job. Cause it is. I'm playing a goatherd named Audrey whose most famous line is, "I'm not a slut." It's a good life, who can really be upset when they are wearing ruffles like these? Don't tell Ken Washington, but I'm really just in it for the ruffles.

Audrey and Touchstone, photo by Bob Goodfellow

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