Students doing theater at Vassar are often building upon years of experience in acting, costume, lighting and crew from high school. But for those who have never acted, one can only really witness the finished product: the production.
All of the hard work that goes into making a memorable performance quite typically goes unseen, and, for all who are not a part of the production, the work that begins even before the cast’s first dramatic reading almost always goes unwitnessed.
One may hear about the audition process from friends. One may happen to catch a gaggle of students gathering anxiously before the cast list in the College Center, but not fully understand the many joys and difficulties of the process.
The auditions for productions taking place in the second semester were held between Friday, Feb. 7 and Sunday, Feb. 9 in Rockefeller Hall. The cast lists were all posted on Sunday around midnight, much to the delight of the anxiously awaiting actors considering in the past, cast lists have often been posted around 1 a.m.
To prepare for an audition, some actors memorize a monologue of their choice. Others prepare a cold reading before auditioning and practice in front of both the mirror and their friends. Actors usually commiserate over their shared anxieties. The whole process is confined to essentially one weekend of performances, but the entire process can take up an entire weekend if an actor gets many callbacks. But for those who end up getting the part, the hard work that goes into preparing for an audition is certainly worth it.
“The more callbacks you have, the better chance you have of getting into a show, because it means that everyone you audition for is considering you. If multiple shows want you, they’ll talk about what show will work best for you,” said Dorian Oberstein ’16. Oberstein advises all actors, from the novice to the more experienced, to audition for as many shows as possible. Even if they do not get a callback for every show, the more shows an actor auditions for, the better chance he or she has of getting cast.
And while some might call the process efficient, it comes with its own stresses. “It’s all happening at once and for people like me who audition for a billion shows, it just takes up your entire weekend. When you’re not auditioning, you’re usually stressing out when you’re not physically in a room,” said Oberstein. For most actors, homework is sort of an afterthought during auditions weekend.
Perhaps the solution to nerves is simply to embrace the inevitable stress of auditioning. “Remember to recognize when you are getting nervous, tell yourself, ‘Yes, OK, I’m nervous. That’s OK, everyone else is nervous too.’ Repeatedly telling yourself to calm down or to stop being nervous does not help. Be you, show what you can do, and try to have fun with it,” said Zach Boylan ’16 in an emailed statement.
“Although it’s a possibility that you won’t get cast, just relax, try your hardest and treat the audition like a performance. It’s more fun that way. Forget that they’re judging you and just perform,” said Oberstein. Still, it can be difficult to shake those nerves. Some wish that directors and production crew members could hold audition in soundproof rooms. “It’s nerve-wracking hearing everyone who goes in before you and knowing that everyone else waiting will be listening to you when it’s your turn,” wrote Hannah Colonnese ’16 in an emailed statement.
One of the worst things that an actor could do is psych him or herself out before or even after a performance.
Boylan recounts leaving Rockefeller Hall last semester with his confidence diminished, thinking he did not perform well for a certain audition, but in the end he realized he performed a lot better than he thought. “I thought that I had completely messed up, and I had no chance of being cast. Turns out, I did really well. I got callbacks for the show I wanted to be in and wound up being cast with a sizable role. I had just completely psyched myself out and beat myself up afterwards.”
Doug Greer ’14, the director of “Rent,” is on the other end of the audition process, but he understands how anxiety inducing an audition can—and almost always is—for actors. “It’s really stressful because people feel like they have to be flawless, but at the end of the day, the directors and stage managers are just ecstatic to have people interested in their show and wanting to get involved,” Greer said. “Also, a lot of directors are also performers and have been through the audition process so they know how stressful it is and that gets taken into account. No one ever thinks ‘Oh, they messed up that note, get them out of my sight.’”
That isn’t to say that auditions are not all bad. Plays and musicals possess an entertainment value at their core, and the entertaining and fun environment permeates through all parts of a production, which even includes the notorious auditions.
Those who have gathered more experience acting and audition tend to be more at ease than the neophytes. “I think the end goal of every student theater production is to have fun and, in doing so, emit good energy,” said Soraya Perry ’17, who has been acting all her life. “Having fun with whatever is asked of you in the audition is going to demonstrate what kind of positive energy you can contribute to the show.”