By Hannah Tarr
Last year, FC’s Newsies was advertised to students wanting to audition as the once-in-a-lifetime chance to pilot a musical. But this summer, director of theatre arts Robbie Steiner announced that, for returning students, it is actually a twice-in-a-lifetime chance. Steiner announced in an email to the department in July that instead of Children of Eden, FC’s fall musical will be a pilot of Roald Dahl’s Matilda.
“Matilda is a fun new musical with lots of great roles for both high schoolers and younger kids,” said Steiner in the email.
Many great roles means more competition at auditions for those roles, and a pilot means greater than normal stakes and stress. Luckily, the FC Thespian Troupe President, senior Elizabeth Hallal, had a plan for how to help actors feel more confident going into their audition.
On Wednesday, Aug. 1, the day before Matilda auditions, she and five other senior actors held an audition workshop. An audition workshop is not an unprecedented occurrence in FC Theatre. In fact, Hallal got the inspiration from a workshop held before another big audition in FC history.
“My freshman year, preparing for 42nd Street auditions, the juniors and seniors held an audition workshop for the first years and incoming freshman students. And so I thought, ‘Why not apply that to these kids?’” said Hallal. “Because that was so, so beneficial to me.”
This year’s workshop was likewise beneficial to its participants. It was open to anyone planning to audition, according to Hallal, but especially those who wanted tips or feedback. Senior Grace Sims, an Intro to Theatre student, explained that she had never auditioned for an FC show, so she was looking forward to those tips and feedback.
“I didn’t know what it was going to be like, so I had a couple questions for the people who had experience in the department,” Sims said.
Luckily, the workshop provided plenty of opportunities for students with questions to get an insight into what to expect from the next day. The workshop congregated in the dance studio, and they split into three groups. These groups rotated throughout stations, with each station focusing on teaching the participants a specific focus of the audition preparation and process.
In the inner lobby of the auditorium, Hallal and junior Emily North, an FC Thespian Troupe Board Member, talked about the general process of auditions, callbacks, and casting. They used humor to clear up some common misconceptions about theatre: that precasting happens, that because you did not get a callback means you are not in the show, that the ensemble is unimportant to a show. They also shared some essential tips about auditioning from Steiner and choir director Angela Hampton: never apologize for anything, always audition to the best of your ability, and remember that casting is difficult because everyone who is auditioning is unique in amazing ways.
Finally, Hallal and North told the participants that the audition they were going into the next day might not be their audition. They might not get the role they wanted, or even into the show at all. But they assured the participants that this was normal. Both of them had experienced that before because everyone in theatre experiences that. They said that there is a show out there for everyone. They encouraged their audience to continue auditioning and never giving up until they find it.
In another station, back in the dance studio, senior Sarah Seay, an FC Thespian Troupe Council Member, and senior Cooper Pennington, a directing apprentice, discussed the dance call aspect of the audition. They explained the essentials of what to expect at the dance call, how choreographer Megan Bliss would decide who she wants to cast, the importance of stretching, and what to wear. An important point of discussion was the difference between dancers and movers. Dancers, they said, are people like Seay, who are trained in dance and know how to do specific moves. Movers, on the other hand, are people who, like Pennington, are great at faking it. Both are important to a production. Pennington explained to the movers in the room the key to faking it: just smile.
“Smile, and they’re going to look more at your face than your feet,” said Seay.
She and Pennington also explained that it is okay to mess up during dance call.
“Even the best dancers struggle with auditions because you’re learning something really fast,” she said. “They’re not looking for you to fail, they don’t want you to fail.”
She said it is more important that you can do it better the second time than that you get it right the first time, because Bliss wants to work with people who are coachable and can take critique.
In the choir room, the final station, senior Noah Hankins, the FC Thespian Troupe Vice President, and senior Jesse Johnson, a directing apprentice, explained how the singing portion of the audition would work. They talked about how to pick a song, what to wear, and how to introduce yourself before singing. They let each participant practice their audition song, in order to simulate what the audition would be like the next day. Then, they offered feedback for how to be even better. But to those participants who were not confident in their singing, they offered reassurance that the performance was not the most vital part of the audition.
“You don’t have to be a good singer, you don’t have to be a good dancer, you don’t have to be a good actor. You just have to have a good personality,” said Hankins. “That’s the biggest tip we have for you. Just be yourself.”
The choir room portion of the workshop was the part that Sims found most valuable.
“I was really nervous about going in and singing in front of people I’d never sang in front of before, and singing in a different room I’ve never sang a solo in before, so it helped me a lot to be able to sing in the room and sing in front of people before I went into the audition,” she said.
She also appreciated the reassurance about just being yourself.
“It was nice to have peers to talk to (people nervous about the audition) and tell them, ‘Don’t worry about it’,” she said.
Hallal is glad to have gotten to use this workshop to quell the anxieties of people who have never auditioned before.
“I think it’s always important to reach out to kids and encourage them to audition,” she said. “I think a lot of people are scared to do that, but if we can help them feel more comfortable, then they might get a lot more out of the process, as well as get the opportunity to be involved with such a close-knit group of kids and such a great program.”
Hallal plans to hold more workshops this year to continue educating new students about theatre, as well as to cultivate that close-knit group of students that is the theatre department.
“I think that doing them regularly would be beneficial to the development of our students,” she said.
Finally, she shared her number one tip for anyone auditioning for any show, big or small.
“My number one thing to tell people is just to remember that it’s not about the directors. When you audition for a show, it’s about you. It’s your time to say, ‘This is who I am, this is what I can do, and I’m proud of that.’ What anybody else thinks is irrelevant.”
FC was asked this summer by Music Theatre International to pilot the high school production of Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Rehearsals begin at the end of August, and the show opens at the beginning of November. Subscribe to The Bagpiper for future coverage.