Hope you had a great holiday.
OK, I’m going to just interject a bit about something before addressing auditioning specifically at school. It’s a bit of a different animal.
I would be greatly remiss in this blog if I did not address the issue of political situations in school drama. I don’t mean who is class president or the senator for your state, I’m talking about the non-merit-related ways that a drama program is sometimes run. You know what I’m talking about. Teachers may have favorites, their policy is to never cast freshman as leads, it’s the same ten people in the leads every time, etc., etc. I will attempt to explain (but not excuse) some of these practices.
Directors of school plays are usually teachers. Some private schools or schools with an unusually large budget for theater can hire a director from outside the school, but for the most part, they are teachers. Drama teachers, some of them. If you’re lucky. English teachers with some acting background, music teachers who can block a scene in a musical, the choir director because it’s his first year and no one else wants to direct the play and he’s the low man on the totem pole. Some teachers love it, some hate it. You could get super lucky and get a professional or former professional theatre artist. Whatever their motivation for being there, they are also responsible a huge load of work, for which they are shamefully underpaid. Seldom will a teacher get extra pay for directing the play on top of their regular classload. And they have to beg for help, where in theatre there is a team in place. The teacher in charge is responsible for the directing, costumes, sets, props, makeup, budget, EVERYTHING. Even if they are able to get an assistant or two, or parent volunteers, or student helpers, that teacher is still ultimately responsible for the success of the production. If anyone drops the ball (and it is likely that they will), that teacher has to pick it up.
It is that teacher’s name on the work. Their reputation as a teacher and as an artist depends on the quality of the people they choose to work with.
I give you the teacher sob story only so you can see how these unfair practices work for them, and, ultimately, for the school and the program.
A teacher with limited time, limited resources, and very limited energy, needs to have, at the end of the day, something he can count on. Something he only has to put a certain amount of physical and/or creative energy into to get a great product. If he as a talent pool of ten or fifteen people who always show up, always learn their lines, never let him down, and always do their part in turning out a great or even a decent show, then he can cast them in the leads every time and leave them alone to do what they do well. This gives him more energy and time to work with the less experienced or less professional kids in the smaller roles. His risk factor, you see, is much lower if he casts kids he doesn’t necessarily know in smaller parts, because if they screw up a small part, it’s not as big a deal as if they were to screw up a big and more important part.
The way this works for the school and the program is that if the director has a solid talent pool such as this, the shows tend to be of consistent quality, that is, they’re always good. More audience members come to good shows than bad ones. The school gets a reputation for doing great shows, and lots of people buy tickets. Money comes in, budget can go up, and the shows get even better as new actors are groomed for the talent pool when the older folks graduate. It’s not a fair system, but it’s a system.
How to break in then? Be the person with the qualities that a director can take a chance on. Show up to that audition on time, with a smile on your face, dressed well, prepared as much as you can be, with a resume in hand. All of that tells that teacher that you are serious about what you are doing and are willing and able to do what it takes to be professional. Then if you are cast as Villager #1 or faceless rabble, be the best rabble you can possibly be. Don’t blow it off. Volunteer to help larger parts run lines when you’re standing around while the third scene is being blocked. Keep your eyes and ears open, and try to get the extra bits, too. Walk-throughs, extra lines, understudy opportunities are all open doors into that upper level of the political scene. If that’s how your department is run, make it work for you.
DISCLAIMER: By “make it work for you” I do NOT mean to get into backbiting and sabotage. I mean to analyze what the director does and why, and decide if you can work within that system while keeping your professional and personal morals and ethics intact.
Know this, wherever you go: You are in the most unfair profession ever conceived. Don’t ever expect it to be fair. Also knows this: at some point, it will be unfair in your favor.
More next week.