The OCS Theatre Camp kicks off each summer session with a group audition held on the second day of camp. Over the years, our audition process has evolved so that even our shyest campers walk away from their audition feeling confident and proud of their performance. Key factors to the success of our audition process, and why it is such a hit with students who attend OCSTC, include a balance between solo performances, group activities, and structured redirection. While this process certainly does not completely alleviate all of the “audition blues”that students might have, the collaborative nature of the audition helps students to feel included and appreciated, not isolated or judged. If you are looking for a different way to engage your students during an audition, consider these activities to boost ensemble building from day one of your rehearsal process.
At the OCS Theatre Camp, directors want to see not only how our young actors will perform on their own but also how they will interact with others in the rehearsal room. For this purpose, our auditions include collaborative exercises, and all actors perform for each other. Everyone stays in the room and becomes an audience member, even if only one person is performing. This “lights on” approach to our auditions mirrors the staging conditions that the campers will experience during their final performance festival. Actors and audience members share the same pool of light at the Blackfriars Playhouse, which allows them to share the world of the play. Collaborative auditions also imbue the campers with a sense of mutual trust and respect even before they learn each others’ names.
Students arrive having memorized 10 lines of a Shakespeare monologue. We provide a thorough online guide to assist the campers in preparing their monologue text, including scansion notation, rhetorical analysis, and paraphrasing. Once at camp, the students have an audition workshop during which they review their monologue text with a camp counselor and then perform in front of a small group of their fellow campers. The monologue performances are only a small section of our audition process, yet taking the time to ensure that the campers are prepared helps them to feel supported even before the audition day.
At the audition, campers participate in a group warm-up followed by a singing exercise. This past summer, our counselors led the campers in a round, which they sung in chorus and then in parts. The tune fits to the text of Hamlet’s letter to Ophelia:
Campers first listen to the counselors sing the round and then repeat the tune after them. After everyone learns the lyrics, the counselors lead the round sections with each successive group starting after the first phrase of the song, “Doubt thou the stars are fire.”
The song exercise helps to alleviate several audition anxieties that teens often face: No one has to be the first to perform. Everyone starts out with the same amount of information, and the focus of the casting directors is on the group as a whole. This structure also permits those who are nervous about singing solo the chance to feel comfortable singing in a group.
Campers’ Take on the Song
The song leads to the first collaborative exercise. In groups of three to four, campers must refashion the song into a different musical genre, such as country western, opera, jazz, or rock n’ roll. They create their own choreography, and incorporate any additional musical instruments that they bring with them to the audition. This activity allows the directors to see the campers’ ability to improvise and to practice choreography, as well as giving them the opportunity to note who can play a musical instrument. Their willingness to try something new and to commit to a performance that they have helped to shape is what matters most.
The second exercise introduces text from the plays, from which the campers create a dumb show. Shakespeare uses dumb shows, or silent pantomimic stories, in several of his plays including Hamlet and Pericles. Counselors choose six to ten lines from each of plays and read them aloud to their groups. The campers must then tell a physical story inspired by the images and emotions reflected in those lines. The dumb shows last no longer than 3 to 5 minutes each. During the time that they are devising their shows, the directors rotate to each of the groups and observe the campers’ work and interactions with each other. Counselors guide the devising process by reading the text aloud and by making blocking suggestions so that all campers remain visible to the audience.
Following these two activities, campers have generally released some anxiety about performing their monologues. The feeling in the audition room is usually one of enthusiasm, elation, and excitement from the fun of creating theatre together. This is an excellent place to begin the monologue performances because the students are already primed to support one another with smiles and cheers. Each camper must also practice “slating”, or saying their name and the play title from which they chose their monologue.
After each camper has the opportunity to perform once, directors and their assistant directors re-direct the campers to perform a second time. Campers come to the stage in pairs to receive their re-direction situation. Situational re-directions allow the two actors to interact with each other instead of focusing on any critique about their own individual performance. Re-directions can of course address individual performance critiques in constructive ways. Re-directions can be silly, imaginative, and playful. The campers perform the situation using the text of their monologues as dialogue. Students who are less comfortable with this type of improvisation tend to respond positively to having a scene partner and to being able to rely on performing text that they have already memorized.
The re-directions get the entire room laughing, sometimes to tears. The campers clearly feel in their freest, most creative mode. All those feelings of what auditions used to be – stressful, isolating, and competitive – have given way to confidence, team-spirit, and excitement about what the next three weeks will hold as they continue to collaborate on their plays. The audition is truly transformative, both for the campers and for those of us lucky enough to watch.
-Kim Newton, Director of College Prep Programs