Rejuvenation

It’s been a long time since I’ve pumped out one of these.  But the pandemic ground my auditioning to a standstill so I haven’t had material with which to work.  But I did have one doozy of a tale at the height of the pandemic.  A story of rejuvenation.

This year marks an anniversary for me.  Mid-July will mark the twentieth anniversary of my audition for The Elephant Man.  For those of you unfamiliar with that saga, click here.

At the end of that tale, I had mentioned my belief that God used the play to pull me out of the depression from which I’d been suffering.  Little did I know He’d use it again to galvanize me.

One of the last theatre tales I wrote was to address the question of when would I be on stage again.  I answered honestly, but I had real time to further analyze that question during the pandemic with the sudden plethora of time I had on my hands.

When I did Leaving Iowa, I finally believed fully in my acting prowess.  Even better, I was now able to audition with a greater sense of freedom since I could enjoy being in the moment instead of worrying about whether or not I’d get cast.

Though I was now enjoying the freedom of the audition, the reality was that my fortunes didn’t change all that much.  Granted, I was auditioning much less, but I was back to giving great auditions, but unable to land parts.  In fact, I’ve only performed twice in the last 9 years and the gap separating those two performances was 5 ½ years. 

I no longer doubted my ability to act, but I did start to doubt my ability to get cast.  An x factor over which no performer has control.

I was starting to wonder, in my heart of hearts, whether or not my storytelling days were done and if my future involvement would solely be dedicated to writing.  I didn’t have any sadness as I could look back on my body of work with a sense of satisfaction, but I did have a sense of melancholy as I felt I had sped through the five stages of acting.

1.  Who’s Chris Elston?
2.  Get me Chris Elston.
3.  Get me a young Chris Elston.
4.  Get me a Chris Elston type.
5.  Who’s Chris Elston?

In my case, I felt I had skipped steps two and three.  And, yet, I also couldn’t say people were asking “Who’s Chris Elston?”  The Corner made me an ever present name in theatre.  It’s just that I was now far better known for my writing than I ever was for my acting.

But in recent times I began to hear that question more and more.  “When are we going to see you on stage again?”

One night I was pondering that question when I was suddenly struck by a powerful desire to break out my copy of The Elephant Man which I hadn’t looked at since the night of the audition back in 2002.

I scooted my coffee table out of the way.  Then, purely for my own enjoyment, I began acting out scenes from the play.  When I finished, I sank into my couch with a deep sense of satisfaction.

My time as a storyteller was not quite finished yet.  Maybe it was just getting started or restarted as the case may be.

This feeling has only continued to grow as theatre has begun to regain some sense of normalcy.  I can feel my creativity surging through my veins again.  I genuinely want to be back on stage again.

So I don’t know when I’m going to be back on stage again, but I firmly believe it will be soon because I know this much.

I am ready.

The Purpose of an Audition

What is the purpose of an audition?

“To get the role,” I hear you say.  But, no.  That’s the hope of an audition.

The purpose of an audition is simply to be memorable.  For if you are memorable, directors will want to see you again and, sooner or later, will want to work with you.

So how is one memorable?  It begins from the moment you enter the audition locale.

  • Always be polite.

–Politeness pays.  From the moment you walk in the door you are always under observation.  Believe me, if you’re rude or obnoxious or a bad sport, that word will get to the ears of the casting agents/directors and you will be dead before you start.  Be sure to thank your accompanist and the casting agents/directors.  Be gracious to the other auditioners.  Little things go a long way. 

I earned my second role through politeness.  I knew from the beginning that it certainly wasn’t because of my chops as the audition was lousy.  But the director told me that my genuine interest in the show combined with my friendliness is what made him decide to give me a bit part.

  • Always keep in mind that this is a showcase, not a competition.

–I can’t stress this one enough as it was the lesson that took me the longest to learn.  For years I treated auditions as a competition.  For me, it was simple.  If I were the best reader for a part, logically I should get that part.

Boy, was I wrong about that.

When a director casts a show, he or she is piecing together a puzzle and attempting to build something that suits her or his vision of the story.  Your acting is the one and only thing you get to control and that amounts to about 1% in the casting process.  As such, you can be the worst performer in the room as I certainly was in the previous example and somehow get a part.  Or you can be on the opposite side and lap the others several times and still somehow not get cast. 

But, if you’re good, you’ll be remembered.  And if you’re remembered, you’ll get cast eventually.

  • Trust your instincts.

–Everybody is going to see a character differently.  The actors, the director, the stage manager, the costume designer, everyone is going to have a different idea about a character.  So just go full steam ahead with your take on the role.  That’s not to say that you shouldn’t ask questions about the character if you need some clarity.  But don’t be worried about trying to match your character to the director’s vision.  When the whole begins to come together, that vision is likely to change many times over before the final result.

The final show I auditioned for in college before I graduated was called Death of a Blind, Old Man, a modernized take on Oedipus at Colonus. At the audition, I noted that everyone reading for Oedipus played him strongly as if he were still the mighty warrior before his life was blasted. My instinct ran completely the other direction and I broke him in two. I read him as a frightened, beaten old man. Without question, it was one of the two best reads I ever had in college and while I didn’t make the cut, I was darn proud of the read. And that’s the feeling you want to have when you finish a read.

  • Be bold.

–This goes hand in hand with trusting your instincts.  Time and again I’ve seen actors (not to mention myself) hold back because they’re afraid of making a mistake.  That’s the surest way to destroy your creativity.

This is an audition.  There’s no such thing as a mistake.  I’ll repeat that.  This is an audition.  There’s no such thing as a mistake.

Your view of the character may be completely off the wall and off the mark, but if you’re bold and brave about that choice, the director may very well step in and give you some direction and if you then make that change based off the direction, you will look brilliant.  What the director is more concerned about is your ability to make a strong choice, not necessarily the “correct” choice.

Years ago, I auditioned for The Elephant Man and I was reading a monologue for the character of Dr. Treves.  At this point in the show, he was feeling incredibly guilty and despondent about making the title character a freak again, albeit a high class one.  He’s trying to explain to the bishop his feelings, but doesn’t quite know how to spit it out. 

Now I saw the character as heading towards a breakdown and I attacked the read as such.  I mean I read the monologue with an impassioned desperation. 

Was it the right trek?  No.  But I was so bold about the choice that the director stepped in and had me make a massive adjustment.  So I went from nearly cracking up to quietly shaming myself.  He loved the changes and I looked like a million bucks.

No, I didn’t get in the show, but the director has never forgotten me.

  • Keep perspective.

By this I mean, don’t fall apart at the seams if you thought your audition sucked or if you thought it was brilliant and didn’t get in. . .at least not publicly.  Take your moment to be sad privately.  Punch out a pillow.  Scream to the fields.  Do whatever you need to get the feeling out and then let it go.  But remain professional until you can get to that private place.

There’s a lot of rejection in this field and, as clichéd as it sounds, there truly is always another show.  I openly admit that in my early days, rejection gnawed on me like a hungry dog enjoying a tasty bone.  Auditions were almost life and death and it always felt like a shotgun blast to my stomach when I wasn’t cast. 

Even when I got good at the acting side of things, auditions continued to haunt me.  But when I finally realized how little control I had over the casting process, I was finally able to let that burden go.  Then I got to enjoy myself and became more memorable.

So when you audition, keep your head held high.  Be brave.  Be bold.  BE YOU!!  Then you’ll be memorable.  You may not get cast every time, but you will get cast sometimes.