Monthly Archives: August 2016

Tired of the Old Song And Dance Routine? Surviving Yet Another Ensemble Casting

Dear Drama Student:

There are a few things you need to know about your most recent audition, and frankly, all auditions.

Yes, auditions are grueling. No, there’s really no other way to cast shows.

I met with you today, on the Monday after the cast list went up Friday. I saw the tears, the frustration, even the anger, and I saw you search for encouragement and some sort of guarantee of future success in our conversation, that if you took the feedback I gave you, it would somehow magically make the next time easier.  I know too that because you’re a teenager, this doesn’t just feel disappointing, it feels unfair.

Because you were cast in the ensemble again when you “should” have gotten a lead. 

First of all, what you need to know is that everyone behind that table has been where you are. Every member of the artistic staff has auditioned for shows and not even gotten cast, not gotten a callback. We’ve been cut off less than a minute into our monologues, we’ve been sent home early from dance calls. We get it. You don’t believe that, but we do.

The second thing it might be important for you to realize is that we worked for those auditions too, the ones we got cut from. We worked on our monologue or song, we took the dance classes, we lost the weight, learned the skill, we shmoozed with the directors, and sometimes that didn’t work. Sometimes somebody’s friend got the part, sometimes we had the same hair color as the lead, sometimes somebody had heard something about us, sometimes we just weren’t what they were looking for.

Sometimes we didn’t get cast at all. 

But that was different. Those were community or professional auditions. The people who didn’t cast us had no obligation to us. We, your teachers, do, you think. We have an obligation to see you, to see how hard you’re working, to give you opportunities.

That is totally true, kids.

But we have another obligation, and that is to help you create your best work and grow as a performer, while honoring the mandate of theatre, that we must serve the story. We are not doing you a favor by casting you in a role you cannot sing. We are not doing you a favor by casting you in a part we can’t believe you in. We are not doing you a favor by setting you up to be mediocre or overwhelmed.

And you made a good point.  We don’t always know your potential. We don’t always know what you could do if we just gave you a shot. But we do. It’s called the audition.

Kids, most of you don’t get what you want out of auditions for a few of the same reasons.

You don’t do your research and you don’t prepare. You have the opportunity to research the show, find an appropriate song or pick the character you might get and really go for it. Do those things. Get comfortable with the script if you can get it. Impress us with your readiness.

You’re in your own way.  It has taken me a long time to realize that 80 percent of high school auditioners are unbelievably nervous, and the callback process exacerbates this. You can’t get away from the callback process, so you gotta learn to game it, kids. You need to know what you want going in and give it your best shot.  And you gotta keep a clear head. I don’t want to go all Abby Lee Miller on you, but those tears may need to be saved for the pillow.

You throw auditions for small or “unglamorous” roles you don’t want.  I have never seen this happen anywhere except high school, where the entire subtext of someone’s audition is “how dare you call me back for this role that I didn’t want?’ I have seen it done deliberately,  I have seen it done subconsciously.  It is incredibly frustrating to witness, it doesn’t work in the real world, and it makes it difficult to have empathy with you and want to cast you when we have the opportunity. You aren’t fooling us.

You don’t size up the competition and make different choices. Callbacks are conveniently held in groups so directors can see combinations. This is also a convenient time to watch your competition and do something else, or steal what they are doing and do it bigger.

You reject gifts. Left out of a callback for a role and get called in at the last minute? Asked to read with another actor?  Do it up. We’re not playing headgames, we’re trying to give you another shot. Take advantage of it.

So what if you do everything right and you still don’t get what you want?  You’re back in ensemble.

Well, you have options.

You can choose to not do the show. This is a dumb move if you are in this for the long haul, because you’re depriving yourself of a free opportunity to build skills and be in community, which is supposedly why you are doing this. If you’re a senior, you’re still depriving yourself of a fun thing, and you’ll probably look back and be annoyed with yourself, unless you realize this is not what you want, which is perfectly ok too.

You can choose to step into a different path. Tired of the old song and dance routine? Try crew, design, publicity, stage management. These are where the jobs are anyway.

You can choose to take what you got and slay it. I can’t count the number of high school shows I’ve directed where I needed an ensemble member moment and that incredibly reliable, unresentful chorus member stepped up and did an amazing job, which led to great things down the road. It happens constantly.

Whatever you choose to do, know this. No director worthy of your respect is in this to mess with you. We are here and you are there because we want it that way and we believe in your contribution to the story we are telling.  If you want to work with us, we want to make you part of the best experience we can. If what you care about is playing a lead, though, you may want to think about why you’re doing this in the first place.

To sum it up, there are a lot of factors that don’t seem important to getting a lead but are actually incredibly important. Are you reliable? Are you an independent learner? Were you undeniably the most capable performer in the callback? Can you handle the vocal demands? Have you demonstrated that you can handle the pressure of a role? Does your physicality match the other performers?

Ask yourself these questions and see where they take you. You may be surprised at what you discover, which may prove very useful in your next audition.

As Ever,

Your Drama Teacher






“I’m past patiently waitin’.I’m passionately smashin’ every expectation. Every action’s an act of creation! I’m laughin in the face of casualties and sorrow. For the first time, I’m thinkin’ past tomorrow.” -“My Shot”, HAMILTON

“In my heart there was a kind of fighting/that would not let me sleep.”-HAMLET, Act 5 Scene 2

Summer’s almost over, and with many of us entering production mode as school starts, here is a list of at least 36 things  YOU need to do before you first show opens.

  1. Look at your projected casting pool. There is once again no Hamlet, but  lot of girls who could play Hamlet. Keep in back pocket.
  2.  Google HAMLET. Click on HAMILTON instead.
  3. Look at your projected casting pool. Realize you’re not doing HAMLET or HAMILTON. Google “plays with a strong female ensemble that are not HAMLET or HAMILTON. Be surprisingly uninspired by results.
  4. Pick a show, any show.
  5. Get the rights.
  6. Pay for the rights.
  7. Make sure the rights get paid for.
  8. Announce the show.  Curtail the fantasy casting that invariably arises among students by announcing your projected cast and telling other students not to bother auditioning.
  9. Get tech and design students to read it and create preliminary designs.  Curtail the fantasy designing that invariably arises by designing everything yourself.
  10. Mention the show to non-theatre colleagues, who’ve never heard of it. They’ll  nod and smile politely.  Rap something from HAMILTON to make them feel better.  Leave the xerox room with stack of facilities request forms as applause wanes.
  11.  Fill out facilities request forms to use theatre, dressing rooms, storage facilities, parking lot, keys, gradebook, mailbox, staff bathroom,  and school.  Get the dates wrong.
  12. Decide that the show you chose is boring.  Create an original, socially progressive Beckett tribute/Happy Days mashup, working title, VLADIMIR LOVES ESTRAGON in 6 hours while attending a mandatory staff meeting. Tell colleagues it’s an action adventure piece with a Garry Marshall tribute. The 50’s are hot. Email Lin Manuel Miranda’s people to request permission  to add a rap from HAMILTON.
  13. When the students seem dubious about the new show, explain once again why we can’t do HAMILTON, WICKED, OR THE LION KING. Check your inbox to see if LMM’s people got back to you.
  14. Meet with all tech/production students.  Make wild design plans that include a ramp and a balloon drop near the garbage cans, hill of dirt, and diner interior.  Assign jobs to anyone who shows up for the pizza.
  15. Have an audition workshop at lunch hour during a day you have no preps while speed eating string cheese.  Explain everything that goes into a good audition.
  16. Hold auditions.  Notice that nobody followed directions about everything that goes into a good audition.  Call them back anyway, because you know they can do it.
  17. Post a cast list. Pretend to stay offline all weekend so students can grieve.  Watch hilarious Youtube bootlegs of HAMILTON, WICKED, and THE LION KING.
  18. Answer emails from two confused cast members at brunch who didn’t realize they were auditIoning for a show that rehearses after school,  console three weeping cast members at lunch via Twitter, and  hand out popsicles to the rest of the cast and say ” You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit. “
  19. Have your first conversation about how the actors are disrespecting tech. Have your first conversation about how tech is disrespecting actors. Prepare additional teambuilding. because the half-hour we spent tossing a beachball around and sculpting our names in the air apparently wasn’t enough.
  20. Block the show. Try to run what you blocked. Notice that everyone forgot it all, including you. Hope that a stage manager wrote down the blocking, because you were filling out a facilities request form to use your own classroom. Discover that someone wrote down the blocking, but he quit because he forgot he was on the water polo team. Hunt him down and accidentally convince him that water polo is not a good way to spend his time. Receive unexpected email from water polo coach’s people.
  21. Try to run the show with everyone there on the day they are called despite medical appointments, past life readings, study groups, and Pokemon Go meetups. Consider making the theatre a gym, adding a lure,  and changing the name of the department to “Pokemon Go” to drum up more business. Consider changing the name of the show to HAMILTON: A 50’S RETROSPECTIVE.  Consider writing a scene where Vladimir and Estragon wait for Pokemon to show up, but he never does.  Make that the second act.
  22. Watch a Youtube interview with Lin Manuel Miranda where he tells you how to live. Agree. Ask yourself why you can’t just do HAMILTON, but not tell anyone or pay for it.
  23. Give students a deadline for memorizing lines. One kid has everyone’s lines memorized, which is great when you can’t find both stage managers because they’re busy putting heavy loud wheels on a couch, making a paper mache ray gun, and creating what can only be described as “tree art”, none of which are on the build list for this show or any show in the future.
  24.  Have four heart to heart conversations with your leads about humility, watch endless devised scenes in Beginning Drama that feature a reference to either Pokemon Go or Donald Trump and  have twelve conversations with your colleagues about HAMILTON.
  25. Remind kids to make posters.
  26. Be reminded by that one parent to sell tickets, make posters, make programs, and publicize the show even though nobody’s ever heard of it.  Ask them to volunteer. They will tell you they are too busy.  Answer several emails a day from parents who want ticket information, or think they already bought tickets and want to exchange them. Explain that tickets haven’t gone on sale yet.
  27.  Momentarily worry when three cast members ask when the show is again. Secretly hope they quit the show. Check dates to remind self when show is. Secretly fantasize about quitting the show.
  28. Get observed. Be sure to write your learning objectives on the board.
  29. Check costumes. Make a mental note to request that everyone buys dress shoes next year. And an entire white outfit. And entire black outfit. Contemplate changing the next show to CHESS. Realize nobody’s heard of it.
  30. Prepare for inevitable superplague by distributing hand sanitizer, kleenex, bananas, rice, applesauce, toast, and facilities request forms.
  31. Build a set. Don’t expect it to look like the ones in the pictures.
  32. Have a prolonged conversation with that one parent about a) their student’s desire to make it on Broadway b) their student’s inability to do any non-theater related homework and c) the inadequacies of your promotion and ticket selling system at 9 pm on a Tuesday night after rehearsal in the parking lot.
  33. Print a lot of expensive posters featuring Vladimir and Estragon searching for Pokemon under a tree.  Hand them out to students for distribution.   Never see them again.
  34.  Go get coffee two feet from school. Notice that your expensive poster isn’t there, but the one from ABC high school 5 miles away who appears to have gotten the rights to HAMILTON  is.
  35. Create lesson plans for tech week  for the students in your actual classes that do not require learning objectives. Be sure to write the learning objectives on the board.
  36. Open the show, to rave reviews. Forget what just happened and get excited about your Spring Show:  Hamlet-ton: A Rap Journey Through Danish History.


“You said you have a dream…That dream…Make it come true! Make your wonderful dream a reality, and it will become your truth! If anyone can, it’s you!” – N, POKEMON

ESTRAGON:Well, shall we go? VLADIMIR:Yeslet’s goThey do not move. -WAITING FOR GODOT