It is one of my favourite times in a production as anyone can surprise you.
Auditions are an important part of the production process as it is your chance as a director to push actors to see who you can take a chance on. The right cast can make or break a show so it is high pressure for everyone but it is one of my favourite times in a production as anyone can surprise you. I love seeing something I don’t expect from someone and I love pushing people to do things that they didn’t know they could offer.
Last weekend was the turn of auditions for my latest project, DNA by Dennis Kelly. The play is a really gritty one from one of my favourite playwrights written for the National Theatre Connections Scheme a few years ago and has now made it onto the GCSE English curriculum. It deals with a number of strong themes, including gangs, bullying and responsibility, and would be a nice contrast to the bright and bustling musicals the group I am working with are used to.
From the start I knew I wanted to introduce some physical theatre elements into the show to help elevate the relationships and emotions, so as well as a contemporary monologue I asked the auditionees to be prepared for a movement workshop. We started with a good warm-up and then I introduced them to some basic lifts and moves to get them thinking about new ways to move each other. I then gave them some time in their pairs to create a sequence, using the things I had shown them or entirely of their own, based on the terms round, by and through creating at least three moves related to each term. I gave them the space to interpret those words however they wanted and after a period I grouped the pairs up to add a rise and fall together into their sequence.
For any actor this is the hardest part of the audition process as you are having to throw away every movement and thought that you have rehearsed and build it all over again.
Each of the larger groups showed their pieces in turn with some music in the background. For a group with no physical theatre experience and with the majority classing themselves as non-dancers I was really pleased and surprised with the results. Their pieces were creative and moving and even the more timid group members were throwing themselves into it.
It was then time to see everyone’s monologues. In turn they each came into the room and I saw the monologue they had prepared. I would then ask them questions about the play and then context the monologue had and try to push their performance. In a lot of cases I would get them to imagine their monologue in a different setting (a police interrogation room seemed to be my favourite that day) to try and draw out a different style of performance. The key with this section is I am trying to glean how well you can take and hold direction. For any actor this is the hardest part of the audition process as you are having to throw away every movement and thought that you have rehearsed and build it all over again. For the director, this is one of the most important moments as if you don’t have the flexibility to try new things and change you are going to be harder to work with. Working with young people I use it as a measure; I always pick one or two people that didn’t do quite so well with this element as it is something that gets easier with practice but you can’t have an entire company like that or you are setting yourself up for a lot of hard work.
When it came to selecting the cast for this play I got to do my favourite thing and just pick the best. When writing this play Kelly made a point of making each character unique but not in a way that meant their gender was set in stone. This meant I was able to pick the eleven best people, regardless of gender. I started with my stack of forms and created a pile of must-haves and then kept picking up the other pile, reading the notes and picking out the best until I had the right number. I then took my eleven and thought through a number of different casting scenarios before settling on parts.
Keep coming back for more updates on DNA and my other projects.
Top Tips for Auditions
- Throw yourself into everything.
- Don’t be afraid of mistakes.
- Take your time to prepare. Launching right in to your character gives you a ‘rehearsed’ performance rather than an impulsive one. Your character is real, give yourself time to get into their skin.
- The above also applies if you have been given new direction. Take a moment to absorb how this changes your character and their reactions.