Atlanta Unifieds Q & A Panel

Monday night at Synchronicity Theatre C4 Atlanta convened a panel of theatre professionals from across Atlanta to aid the community in their preparations for the Atlanta Unified Auditions.

2016 Atlanta Unifieds Q&A Panel of casting and theatre professionals
2016 Atlanta Unifieds Q&A Panel of casting and theatre professionals

The panel was comprised of:

  • Anthony Rodriguez (AR), Co-Founder/Producing Artistic Director – Aurora Theatre
  • Diany Rodriguez (DR), local Atlanta actress
  • Ann-Carol Pence (AP), Co-Founder/Associate Producer – Aurora Theatre
  • Benjamin Davis (BD), local Atlanta actor and Founder/Executive Artistic Director – Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival
  • Rachel May (RM), Producing Artistic Director – Synchronicity Theatre
  • Danielle Deadwyler (DD), local Atlanta actress and performance artist
  • Brian Clowdus (BC), Founder and Executive/Artistic Director – Serenbe Playhouse
  • Jody Feldman (JF), Producer and Casting Director – Alliance Theatre

Moderated by our own Operations Manager, Chelsea Steverson, this panel was convened to both answer audition questions and gain insight into best practices of successful working local actors and preferences of local theatre casting professionals. Questions were posed by both Chelsea and the attending theatre community. We have presented their questions here along with answers from the panel for educational and career development purposes. Answers presented are the selected answers of the panel members and have been editorialized for clarity, context and length. We hope you find their insight productive and useful as you prepare auditions such as Atlanta Unifieds!

What is the first piece of advice you would give to actors auditioning for 2016 Atlanta Unifieds?

AR – Be prepared. It is the only thing that you can control.

DR – Preparation. Researching reviews, plays, the characters. Know as much as you can about what you are auditioning for.

AP – Show me the meat of your range. Show me where you like to live when you sing a song, not just your highest highs and lowest lows. If you aren’t a great singer, don’t sing.

BD – Research the theaters that are going to be there and the type of work they do. Stay away from things that are currently in production, but do try to tailor your audition to who will be there and what they may be doing in the future.

RM – Synchronicity –  You are the only person who can do what you do onstage. Own that.

DD – Be present and come into the space and own your performance. Do the work so that you can go in and claim it and be completely present.

BC – The audition starts from the second you put your foot on the stage. You can tell from how people introduce themselves who serious and who isn’t. Be the best you. How do you want yourself to be presented?

JF – It’s a really tough room. You’re trying to do a piece that everyone will react to. The tendency is to be really general and speak to everyone. That is so the wrong approach. I am looking for someone who can be very focused, specific and make very real choices. It’s about specificity.

How do you select your piece?

DR – What you look like, how old you are,. Research well know plays and scripts as a starting point. When you are selling yourself, don’t tell a story, have a conversation.

BD- Look for insight from the people who’s work you are really passionate about. You may have a really different opinion of yourself than what others have. Ask others what they would recommend or what’s their favorite play.

How long should you take for a monologue?

RM – In about 20 seconds I know if you have technique and can embody a character and if there is something I want to see again. Don’t feel like you need to race against the clock. Pick two really great 35 sec monologues and that would do it.

BC – The easiest thing you can do to help yourself is not go over your time. Don’t pick long monologues. Don’t be stressed out about “I hope I don’t run over”.

JF – Actor’s need to be constantly reading plays. Pick up a copy of American Theatre Magazine and look through the Regional Theatre list of plays being produced. This is a great way to find new work and new pieces.

If time limits are important, are two pieces always best? Maybe one medium piece? Would that be permissable? What does “two contrasting pieces” mean? [For Atlanta Unifieds, the requirements for auditions are 2 contrasting monologues or a song and monologue]

DR – I did Unifieds. I never took the full time. You can show someone that you mean what you say and you meant to say it in 20 secs.

RM – If people know you, it’s different because you have an opportunity to do something known and something unexpected. But the people who don’t know you want to see that you can perform a range.

BD – Don’t mistake the word contrasting for “something funny” and something “serious”. You can find contrasting pieces that aren’t necessarily funny or serious. Two complementary pieces can be good as well. It can also be a full package.

RM – When people do a really frenetic monologue, then I wanna see them do something really still. Contrasting pieces may mean two pieces with different energies.

Do you prefer to see something you are familiar with or something off the grid?

JF – i don’t care who wrote it. I just want to see something you believe in.

RM – Just don’t pick “the speech” that everyone does. If they have five Toms from Glass Menagerie, you have to get through those in order to be considered.

JF – If you are gonna pick a monologue out of one of those monologue books, you aren’t ready. You just don’t know enough. Thats ok, it might fine if you are just beginning. But for Unifieds, don’t do that.

I’ve been told to stay away from classical pieces. Thoughts?

RM – Not unless you are awesome. There is also only one Shakespeare company in Atlanta.

BC – It’s also really hard to do classical work. Again, there’s only one company. Look at what the theaters are doing and what you want to be considered for.

JF – You’re looking for the callback, and whatever it is do it really, really well. And then if you’re the right type, we’ll call you in.

What should I know about singing a song?

AP – If you are doing a song, a song is not dots on a page and words on a page. Music is a tool to tell a story. if you are only doing notes and cutoffs, then you can’t interpret a song. You have to know what objective you have in those 30 seconds. If you do music very simply, it will evoke more from us than a monologue. Get people to watch you do it; your friends will be honest. It should be a monologue with music.

In terms of choosing distinctive material – sometimes I pick poetry. What is your take? Keep it strictly theatrical? Is that too crazy?

DD – When it comes to theater you need to do theater based work. Poetry has a kind of monotony to it. It’s more abstract. You don’t wanna exist in that unless it’s in the world of a play.

RM – You’re safer to pick theatrical material.

DR – I think the difference between auditioning and what you want to do for the art is that someone is paying you. Its your job. I’m in the union, the union pays me for this, so that’s what I’m being paid to do. Treat it like a job interview. Can you say, would somebody pay me to do this? So if someone isn’t paying you to do poetry, then don’t do poetry. Do the set of lines and the monologues that will get you that job.You need to look like someone who is hirable. So do what makes sense for that job.

What about a song cycle song versus a song from a specific show?

AP – Does it tell a story? Good. Does it go AHAHAHHAHHAHA and show off only your high notes? If it sits in the meat of your voice and doesn’t only show of the extremes of your range, then it’s probably a good song.

JF- I have to say if you are a singer and you have those notes, and you feel really confident, I wanna hear it. But only if you truly have them.

What should we wear/not wear?

RM – I want you to be able to move and fully embody a character. I don’t want you to take your shoes off, when you wouldn’t do that on stage! Look clean and professional and be comfortable enough to do what you can do.

BC – Don’t look like a cookie cutter. Don’t wear character shoes. Go in there and feel comfortable. Don’t do what someone who isn’t working tells you to do.

JF – Everyone should have a distinctive style.

RM – Acting is a hard thing, we know that. You have a job to make sure you protect your heart. When I was teaching, I used the following exercise with my students. I would have them write down “My audition is tomorrow I need to remember #1,#2,#3″…. Then “My audition is 10 minutes, I need to remember #1, #2, #3,” … and finally, “My audition just happened, I need to remember #1, #2, #3”. If you write down those three things for each scenario and put it inside your notebook or folder, it will help you remember not to make the same mistakes. Things like – “My audition is in 10 minutes, I need to remember to use the restroom or I need to remember to speak slowly.” Or “My audition just happened, I need to remember to call my mom so that I feel better.” Put in the things that make you take care of yourself. Deconstruction after your audition is necessary but not in a way that is self loathing. It needs to be healthy.

BC – You have to get used to being told no. You have to be able to feel like crap and be ok with it. You have to do things to take care of your inner self.

What about dialect pieces or a well known british piece in an american dialect?

RM – It’s dangerous if you can’t do it every single time and nail it.

BD – It could limit you depending on whether or not someone is going to do it here.

DR- I think again treat it like a job. If there is a chance to do it wrong, don’t do it. If you wanna get the job, do the best thing for the job.

If there is a show with a dialect, are you looking for the actors to try it out on the callback?

AR- It depends and we’ll probably let you know.

AP- After you get the call back, JF is very specific about what she wants. The second thing is, when someone asks you to do something, you’ve got to be able to do it. If they want you to do something in Pig Latin, you better bone up on that Pig Latin.

Advice for callbacks, interning, covering, and getting opportunities?

AR- Don’t be general. Be really specific about that work. There is nothing vague or general about the work that the working actors on this panel do.

JF – You just need to be watching really great actors work and be seeing theater a lot. Look for the entry points for theatres. We all hire understudies. It’s like a big masterclass.

RM – Our show is being directed by someone who was an intern with us not long ago. She has made herself invaluable at our company. I had a slot and I wanted to give her a shot. The Unifieds are not the only way to get to know us. Play well with others and show up.

Understudies – has anyone ever gone on? What are the benefits?

DD- It’s the hardest thing I’ve done.

BD – I made a career out of it for a year. On the flip side, when I work at Aurora,  now because I was an understudy and an intern and made myself invaluable, they let me have an understudy when I book a commercial that might pay me $800 for one day of work. It creates more opportunities.

DD- It’s a job that gives you the potential to be onstage. You get to know the process and specificity, and getting to the end goal. You’re getting to see national talent work and that gives you the ability to get better.

Regarding apprenticeships, what do you require for the auditions? Do you cast from auditions like Unifieds?

BC-  Because we do national auditions, we usually have it set by the Unifieds, but we may have one or two slots open.

BD – Do your research on apprenticeships. Each theater has a specific type of person they are trying to bring in. Aurora is looking for fierce and fearless.

Do classes help if you can’t do an internship or apprenticeship? What are other things you can do to gain experience?

DR – Everything is a learning opportunity. If you have hobbies other than acting, you will be a better actor. Everything is a learning opportunity. Anytime you didn’t book a job, you can go to a show and see what that other person brought to it. 90% of the time it has nothing to do with what you can or can’t bring to it. Be aware of what is going on the world. It will better inform your acting. You can also just watch how people interact. I look at how a human behaves, and I try to harness that. If you can’t afford class or to go to every play, look at the people around you. It will inform your acting more than you would ever know.

BD – How many of these conservatories churn our cookie cutters that have no life experience? That sailing class you took as a teenager could make you perfect for a role. It could make you more well rounded and have more life experience. Your job is to study human interaction and human behavior and figure out that other person who isn’t you.

BC- You will get hired with special skills. If you play an instrument, or are a tumbler…take advantage of your special skills area. I ask people to do them in their callbacks.

What do you look for in a headshot and resume?

RM- We’re in an age where you can print on the back, so try not to staple. Make sure you’re headshot looks like you. Make sure it’s not blurry. Make sure your info is arranged in justified, easily readable columns. Eleven seconds is the standard to look at a headshot and resume. If you do film and TV, don’t put it at the top of a resume for a theatre audition. If you’ve done a show with my theatre, spell it correctly, and put it at the top. If you have something silly wacky you can do, put it on there. Be very clear. Put your name on the front on your headshot.

DD- A headshot is communicating a certain quality of who you are. If you are approaching this as a career, you’re going to find that money to get a quality shot.

BD- What do you recommend for printing on the back? I find it difficult to keep my materials up to date if i print on the back because every month or so I book another job.

RM- If you can’t print it, I get it. But staples are horrible and glue comes off.

AP – If you were going to go audition for a piano role, you have to have proficiency in piano. Theatre for some reason, we minimize the amount of time to do that job well, because anyone can read in English. The way we get better is you have to have the tools. I do judge a headshot, because you are saying I am not worth the investment. If you believe that you are a close-up, blurry thing, that’s not what i’m paying for. I want “i do look great, I sing as great as this picture.” You can’t be like “I’ll learn how to dance when you hire me. I’ll learn how to sing when you hire me.” Don’t make Atlanta the “earn-to-learn” community. We have so many tools at affordable pricepoints. We don’t want you to start from scratch in our apprenticeship.

I change my look every three months. Is that something that you care about?

BC- As an actor you are your own product. And if you change it all the time, I won’t notice you as much. What is your overall look usually? Do that.

DR – I have a practical solution. On my resume, i print a another jpeg with a different look than my headshot.

RM – You could also find a creative way to say that on your resume in special skills.

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