October 25, 2015

Hi, Subscribers ~

I had to take a break from my blog because of cataract surgery.  I also couldn’t think of a blasted thing to write about.

I finally came up with something I know well – amateur acting. Have you ever been in a play?  If not, below is the slippery slope of the whole procedure.

I have auditioned for many plays, but the fear of auditioning never goes away.  At one audition, I was shaking so hard, I could barely read the script.  I guess the director felt sorry for me and cast me anyway.

Here’s the whole procedure from start to finish:

You read about auditions that are coming up at your local community theatre. You screw up your courage and go. Feel free to bring a friend for courage.  They don’t have to audition, they just need to be there for you. It just makes it less scary.

Jeans and a t-shirt are fine. You are given a clipboard with a form, then told to go into the casting room.  Take your friend with you.

On the form they usually just want to know your name, address, phone, any plays you may have been in – not required – and the type of part you want, big or small, basically.

You walk into the casting room and there are folding grey chairs and at least 20 people.  They all seem to know each other very well and are conversing easily. That will be your first moment of panic. You don’t know anyone and feel like a dork.  I don’t care how gorgeous you are, you are still going to feel a little scared and intimidated by the others.

I later found out from the other actors that all that talking was people covering up their own hysteria about the casting process. I hope that makes you feel better.

The director comes in and everyone shuts up and takes a seat.

The director collects all the forms people filled out, and starts calling people up to the stage. The directors are always very nice. They know you are terrified, but a good director also sees the “type” you would be good for. He also needs you more than you need him. Try to keep that in mind.

When the auditioning starts, he will assign certain pages for you to read. He’ll try people out to do various parts and switches people all around from part to part. Once he gets the big picture, he narrows down who would be good for each part.

If he keeps asking you to read certain parts, you know he is definitely interested in you.

Once auditions are over (this usually takes an hour or more), you leave and wait for a phone call.  At that point, you are relieved the auditions are over, but now you are nervous again. OMG, what if I get cast?

Well, surprise!  You thought you did a lousy job, but are cast in a very large part. Then there is that roller coaster panic again.  What if I can’t do it?  What if I can’t remember the lines?

You will be told when rehearsals will begin. Usually, the people with the large parts are rehearsed first.  You will be given a script, and the director will tell you where to stand and move on the stage.  This is called “blocking”.

Don’t worry about trying to remember the lingo.  The Director will help you.

A “cue” is when the other actor says a line and then you say your line.  He may say: “Whew, that was some party.” That is your cue to say your line: “Yes, it was.” The thing you will hear the director say over and over is: “Pick up your cues!” Meaning, don’t wait so long to say your line.

“Upstage” means walking or standing near the very back of the stage. “Down stage” means you walking or standing on the stage nearest the audience.

“Stage right” means the actor moves to their right on the stage, not the audience’s right.

“Hold for laughs” means you stop speaking after your line, so the audience has time to laugh.  This can feel awkward as you need something to do while the audience laughs. It can mean anything:  if you are a man you could cross your legs and examine your nails, for women or men you can pick up something from a table and examine it.

It is crucial to “hold for laughs”, otherwise, the audience can’t laugh  because they are afraid they will miss the next line. Audiences HATE that, so just shut up during a small or huge laugh, so they feel free to cut loose.  They will now relax because they know they can laugh as much as they want to without missing the next line.

You will be holding your script, so when the Director says “move down stage after that line” you write in pencil in the script a code: ds after your line to remind you to move downstage on that line.

You will be in evening rehearsals for five to six weeks.

There will come a day when the director will say:  “Okay, I want everyone off script next week.”  That means you have to know your lines and blocking by then without using your script.  It is totally appropriate for you to feel terrified. Everyone else is.

Somewhere during this rehearsal period, a very nice lady will stop by to take your measurements.  She needs to order your costumes as determined by the director. Fancy with flourishes, tailed suit, etc.

You will then have a “run through”.  This means you will be in costume on the stage and going through the whole play from start to finish for the first time. The first run through is usually a disaster and the Director knows it.

There will be several run throughs in costume.  There is an old saying that “a bad final run through means a good show”.

You are going to go off stage and down stairs to change your costume.  Many times someone is there to help you.  Then you race upstairs, then be sure you are behind the black curtain behind the scenery and be on the correct side of the stage to make your entrance.

That black curtain is called the “scrim”.  I don’t know why.

You will also hear the word: “project”.  This means you need to talk louder so the people in the balcony can hear it. It will feel weird to you, but not the audience.

As to make-up, you usually bring your own.  It is normal make-up just like what you buy at a department store.  The difference is that you will put it on four times stronger than for the streets.  This is because the “kleig” lights are very strong and will wash you out. If you need help with this, the others  actors will show you how to put it on and how much.

Okay, it is show time.  You hear the audience come in and sit down.  There is a stage manager who is responsible for everything backstage. I’m not sure what that really means, but I certainly would never want the job.

There will be a prop table behind stage on the side. Your props will be there, but it is your responsibility to make certain they are there: a book, flashlight, umbrella, etc.

You take your place on stage or wait in the “wings” next to your entrance.

Then the curtain rises.

Once you get over the first five minute of jitters, you suddenly realize – “Oh, this is just like we rehearsed it”. I know that sounds weird, but it will happen to you.

Forgetting your line.  Every actor’s biggest fear. It doesn’t matter how famous you are. I have seen interviews where Oscar winning actors will easily confess the terror they feel when the camera starts to roll.

Especially on a stage, the director can not say “cut” to give you a second chance. Hopefully, another actor will come to your aid and say part of your line in a way the audience won’t notice.

If that doesn’t work, you have to jump to improvising. This can get scary because you have to remember the whole point of the conversation.  If he is talking about cats, you can’t suddenly start talking about dogs.  Just remember to stay in character.

When an actor forgets a line it is called: “going up”.

When the play is finally over, the director will have taught you exactly how to line up on stage when the curtain goes up for your “curtain call”.  Just do what he said.

It is really fun when you learn to “read an audience”.  You can tell from their applause if they LOVED it or not.  You can also learn to read an audience while you are acting. If they gasp after a line is said, that means they are really listening and are engrossed in the play.

After your curtain call (two or more is fantastic), the audience may keep applauding after the curtain goes down. The stage manager will then order the curtain to be raised again so you can take a second bow.

Reviews.  You have probably seen this a million times in movies.  After the play has its opening night, the professional actors have a party at someone’s house and wait until 5:00 am or so, to run down and buy the papers to read the reviews. They are truly scared to death.  A famous powerful critic can kill a show. He hates it, so ticket sales can dry up and they have to close the play. The actors are paid to be in this play, so if it doesn’t go over with the critics, they may be out of a job.

So for us amateurs, we have to wait until the next evening to get the papers. We are scared of the critics, too. But the reviews are not barbed with cruel words.

They will mention by name the main actors and actresses and some supporting actors. They may compliment the scenery and wardrobe.  I don’t think I have ever read a really bad or mean review in community theatre.  The criticism I remember was the actors were not speaking loudly enough or the pace was slow.

In most amateur theatres, there are season subscribers. They have paid ahead and will probably come see it anyway.

The saddest part of being in a play is when it is over and you know your family of actors will scatter to the wind. You will have no idea how closely you have all bonded until you have to say goodbye.  I always found that part very lonely.

I read an interview with Janet Leigh who starred in a movie with James Dean. She said that after the movie “wrapped” – no more filming needed,  she found James Dean crouched under a grand piano crying very hard.  She gently asked him what was wrong. He said:  “They are all gone. It’s over. I feel so alone.”

Now that you have one play under your belt, you will probably be eager to audition for another one.  You may not get cast again at that particular theatre, but there are usually one or two more within a 20 miles radius.

You also want to check with the colleges. Many have “open” casting which means you don’t have to be a student to audition.

Plus, there are positions backstage “the crew” and you could apply for that. You would be assisting someone and learning a new skill.

I left out something.  Behind all this terror and insecurity, is also an adrenaline rush. So, if you are an adrenaline junkie, you are going to LOVE being in a play.

All and all, this should be on your Bucket List. It is a great memory.

Best wishes and a warm hello to my new subscribers!


Like what you have read?  Please sign-up to receive future blogs by email.  Also, spread the word to your friends.  

Updated: February 8, 2017 — 6:09 pm
Ann McElroy Blog © 2017 Frontier Theme