By Roy Steinberg, Producing Artistic Director
There is a truism in the theatre that “you book a gig in the first thirty seconds of your audition”. Theatre is about a transferring of energy between actors and between actors and the audience. During a live audition that energy is palpable and can make directors and producers re-consider pre-conceived notions about what actor can play a particular role. When that door opens and an artist enters, all kinds of information is shared.
Some actors are funny even before they start – others are intense and complicated. Idle chit chat is never really that. A simple response to the question “where are you from” reveals personality – “Pittsburgh and I love it there” or “the arm pit of the nation, it’s called Pittsburgh”. A quick on the spot improvisation or an adjustment in a monologue – “do that speech again as a gangster making a threat” reveals an actor’s ability to take direction or use their imagination. When we were casting the dog in “Sylvia” I told an actress (as the dog) that there was a treat hidden in the studio and to find it. The actress who got the part was so honest and funny and inventive that we knew right then the search was over – she had that role.
Of course, call-backs can show chemistry between artists and a second look may help ensure that the right people play the roles. Breathing the same air in the same room is invaluable.
Something called Covid-19 happened and in 2020 the Audition Center at Actors Equity Association was shuttered and auditions online became the norm. That changed everything. Actors could submit their work and I found hundreds of emails every day for some months some from as far away as Turkey. I kept a list for Equity (the union for actors and stage managers) to fulfill our contractual obligation to see their members over certain days.
Electronic auditions are somehow cooler. Errors can be fixed with another take. The beating heart of a live audition has an immediacy.
Well, now for the first time since 2019 the Audition Center at the offices of Actors Equity Association are open for in person auditions. I know most actors prefer that and so do I though it involves travel and lodging and other expenses.
In the past, actors would line up and sign in to be seen by a particular theatre. Often, they were there before the building even opened out in the cold. Now there is an online system for signing up for what is called an Equity Principal Audition and there is a lottery that is a new experiment.
The combination of technology and the pandemic has made it possible to do both. Some actors from far away or with scheduling conflicts ask to submit electronically. Most opt to come in person where that short meeting can mean so much in terms of booking a role. I think most directors prefer to see people in the room but I was at a seminar held by the Directors Guild of America and (even before the pandemic) Clint Eastwood said he can’t bear to be in the room because he is an actor and doesn’t want to turn anybody down. Mr. Eastwood sees film clips of all actors who are auditioning and as soon as he sees what he needs he says “that’s it”. Its important to be in the first group of clips so his casting director arranges them in a way that Mr. Eastwood can see what he needs early in the process.
This season Cape May Stage auditions are live – both in New York and locally.