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My Experience of 'Open Audition' casting

Updated: Oct 9, 2019

Many new actors and graduates of drama degrees will have inevitably scoured the web for acting jobs. Finding themselves looking through ‘Backstage’ and ‘StarNow’, and contemplating buying into many different services to find the perfect role to get their foot in the door. Many actors will have looked at getting a Spotlight profile - then mewing in sadness when they haven’t got the required agent or 4 paid acting credits. We then plunge head first into looking for an agent, alas the agent wants a Spotlight profile or 4 paid acting credits. Perfect, the perpetual loop.

Obviously if you have been to theatre schools (RADA and the like) you have an open gateway into this wonderful world. Or children linked to those amazing stage mums, who push their child into every film and advert they can. But we’re not all that lucky, or were following a different dream we’ve now fallen out of love with, or perhaps come into acting later in their life. So somehow you are to get several paid acting credits before you get close to the dream, which as you age, becomes harder to make a success of - let's be fair, roles for women over 40 are sparse!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the thought of ‘Open Auditions’, this is when a theatre company or production will literally open its doors to anyone willing to give it a good ol’ bash. In more recent years some of the West End’s biggest shows have held open auditions in the hope of finding that amazing untapped potential. Dear Evan Hansen, Phantom of the Opera and Everybody’s Talking about Jamie to name but 3 this year!

I would love to sit here and give you advice on how to nail these auditions and how you will get their attention, and you will get your first lead role on the west end — I’d be selling you a false hope. Truth is, I didn’t get any of these parts. The nerves got the better of me for Evan Hansen, I chickened out of Opera, and I sold myself short in Jamie. But I do not regret the hours of practice, the money spent and the unpaid days off work, because the experience of it all was enough for me to know I am on the right path. I want this, and sooner or later, I will attend an audition for a show, I will have a wealth of practice, and I will get it. No actor gets every role they go for, and many were knocked down frequently to begin with.

Dear Evan Hansen is one of the biggest musicals in America right now, having won 6 Tony Awards in 2017, the 'Best Musical Theatre Album' at the Grammy’s, as well as many other awards. The hit musical was then turned into a fabulous novel by Val Emmich shedding more light on the already rich tapestry of characters and plot. In 2018 Universal Pictures announced that Dear Evan Hansen may even make it on the big screen as a film musical. It is fair to say that this play was big time. The original Broadway production boasted a headline cast with the likes of Ben Platt (Pitch Perfect), Laura Dreyfuss (Glee) and Mike Faist (Newsies).

So baring all of this in mind, when the ‘Hit Musical’ set sights on London’s West End, the casting director called for an ‘Open Audition’ on the 5 child roles (Evan, Connor, Jared, Alana and Zoe). Looking back on this, I can’t be sure it wasn’t a publicity stunt — get a load of theatre freaks in line for the chance, they’ll go mad for it. Mob mentality. Looking now at the cast list, there are only 2 cast members without professional acting credits behind them. Congratulations Lucy Anderson and Doug Colling.

This was a cold day, and this moron forgot to take a coat. I remember it all so vividly. I met some absolutely wonderful people in the line and we harked and lolled away about theatre, shows we’ve seen, shows we’ve been in and how much a strong Liverpool accent sounds like a dolphin opening a medicine bottle. It was a wonderful time, and a fantastic experience as an actor to have my first ‘West End’ audition (and for a play I adored).

However, all is not wonderful. I arrived at Pineapple Dance Studios early, thinking ‘this will be a doosey’. At 8:45 in the morning, I was met by a queue over a mile long, with thousands of people waiting to be the next Evan. It was a sight to behold. Following the line, and after a trip around not only 1 but 2 entire buildings, I found the end of the line. Luckily the queue passed several "Costa Coffee"s and "Pret-a-Manger"s to have a tea break every now and then. It also crossed paths with a Cath Kidston shop where I bought the campest pair of glittery women gloves.

Shortly after hour 7, having not eaten anything and fresh out of water, a steward came around to alert us that ‘not everyone will be seen today’. This was harrowing news, especially for me because I had spent £70 on a hotel the night before and travelled for 4 hours on a Megabus, I had not done this all for nothing! We gave him our details and he told us we will get seen, just not today. So off I plodded and had a solitary Nando's (side note: the staff at Nando’s don’t believe you when you say you’re eating alone).

A few weeks later, I get my date and time slot. I book my Megabus and London bound I became. The audition was okay, but there was less of a hype, and this made me terribly nervous. I’m sad to say my performance was not my best self and I let myself down — but it doesn’t matter, the experience was incredible and unlike The Hunger Games, the odds were NOT in my favour.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, and I know why! What a show, anyone who has seen it has fallen head over heels in love with it. Such an amazing show, which has had support from many of the world's gay icons. Famous Drag Queens, Michel Visage, soap star royalty have all donned the stage to take part in this amazing production. There aren’t many musicals that can boast being set in the heart of Sheffield, set in modern day, tackling modern issues. The 4 WhatsOnStage Awards are so deserved, and it’s a tragedy that Hamilton opened the same year, as the 5 Olivier Award nominations would have been theirs.

After having 2 amazing ‘Jamie New's John McRea and Layton Williams, the casting director had their eyes open for a brand new cast member, and ‘Open Auditions’ was the timbre in their vocals. And so it was to be: the 8th and 10th of October would be the dates that the New Jamie New would be found. Instead of rows and rows of people crowding for this amazing opportunity, 56 people turned up to the Sheffield auditions, and I was one of the lucky few.

We were each given a number, and held inside the famous Crucible Theatre (Yes, where the snooker happens). As a short plump man, I was so worried about being out of place — Jamie has previously been played by taller, skinny actors. My mind was put to rest upon arrival, when I saw a sea of people of all shapes, sizes, colours and campness. Though truth be told, if anyone were to look on the gay dating app ‘Grindr’, they would have had a field day for 18-25 year old men.

Having waited only 5 hours, I was seen pretty promptly, and the experience in this audition was very different yet very similar to that of Evan Hansen. It was also another amazing time and learning curve for the world of auditions. I’ll outline the audition process more below, but it is quite daunting, and if your nerve goes and you muck up— You got to suck it up and carry on. I sang the complete wrong verse because I was worried about ‘looking boring’, but I sold it to them.

I say I sold it to them, I finished up confidently, apologised and ran out of the room as quick as I could before mock shooting myself in the head to all the other audition hopefuls. I then ate an expensive Tuna Baguette, before getting into my car paying my £17 (extortionate) car parking charge and driving home, for an hour, in absolute silence.

The audition process is literally as they tell you in the audition call. ‘Prepare 16 bars for a singing audition’, it may be different for different shows, it will definitely be different if it isn’t a musical. But you prepare what you are given; for Evan Hansen, 16 bars from any pop song or modern musical theatre; for Jamie, 16 bars from the opening 42 bars of ‘Don’t even know it’; for non-musicals learn the slides (script).

Read your audition call a million times, you don’t want to turn up and have under prepared. Similarly just because it says 16 bars of singing, if you stand still in the middle of a room and just make a beautiful noise out of your sound hole— that isn’t enough either. 16 bars gives you 30-45 seconds to sell yourself, which isn’t long, so get into character. I’m not saying choreograph and direct a small 30 second scene, but definitely think about ‘what would my character do’, how do they walk? How do they stand? And for goodness sake show a friend or 2, they will tell you if it's good or not. Most friends don’t want to let you embarrass yourself.

So, you have prepared, now it’s the night before the audition, don’t go out till all hours drinking, or partying, have an early night and try and get some sleep. Your voice is a muscle, it needs sleep to rest and recover. If you are travelling from far away (Nottingham to London for example) go down the day before and stop in a hotel, stress is another factor that can really effect your performance. When you wake up the next day, do your scales, arpeggios, go over your song once or twice — heaven forbid you’d be the first one in the audition room and you haven’t even made a noise yet that day. Everyone needs to warm up, even pros.

I’m at the venue, on time. I’ve got my acting CV and headshot. Side note, do shell out for a good headshot, not just one on your mums 5 year old Samsung Galaxy; it might be nice to her, but not casting people. As for CVs there are loads of templates online to get you started. You’ll have to go through registration, you may have to sign some forms, give some information, some places even take a photo of you on the day (more in TV than stage). It is then a waiting game. The waiting room is brilliant - you can spot the audition virgins and the semi-pro’s, the drama school kids and the ‘best one from Am-Dram’ people, everyone is distinguishable!

My tips for the waiting room:

- Make friends, everyone is in the same boat as you. You are both actors, so you have some common ground to talk about, just have fun and make friends. Networking is a fantastic thing to do to progress your career.

- Drink plenty of water. Make sure you stay hydrated, and eat, what fool doesn’t eat!

- The Nervous Toilet. It’s a thing, get over it, don’t be embarrassed by a wee, but also don’t feel you need to tell everyone that’s where you are.

“OKAY, COULD I HAVE…” It’s time…

With the auditions I have been to, they do like to use as many rooms as they can in a venue. We start by signing-in in the main reception, then to a waiting room, then to another waiting room outside the audition room. But, we’re waiting outside the room and I can hear the person before me singing and they’re good… they’re better than me…. WRONG. They’re different from you, don’t make yourself more nervous by knocking yourself down— who knows what the casting director wants. Similarly, you’d feel weird in the knowledge that a group of people were sat outside listening in on your performance, so try not to do it to them.

They call your name and you’re next through the door. At Dear Evan Hansen there was 1 casting person and a pianist, at Jamie 3 casting people and an iPhone. Which threw me as I had been practising with a piano, not a backing track, but a song's a song, you just got to sing it.

The room is always bigger than you’d expect it to be. You will be greeted, say hello back, be friendly, talk to them, they are humans too. Not only that, if you go in with a bad attitude, or are rude or sarcastic — chances are they’ve already put a line through your name, be humble at the opportunity they are giving you. Even if you know one of the panel, probably best to be nice. Again it splits here for my experience, the lady for Evan Hansen was very talkative and wanted to know about me and my day and I was eased in. For Jamie they said their hellos, played the track and I performed for them. Neither is better or worse, at the end of the day it is down to you to sell yourself to these people, they can say or do anything as far as I’m concerned, they have earned their position on the panel!

Some auditions, you will only get one shot, one run of the song, one go of the script. These types of auditions are looking for raw talent, who’s the best singer and so on. They haven’t got time for nerves and the like. Some auditioners will stop you, give you a suggestion and watch how you respond to direction, they’re still looking for talent, but talent they can mould and perfect. Sometimes the panel will be polite and let you have another crack at it, just because. I know when I audition people for our shows, the factors and expectations change dependent on what is required of an actor/actress.

Once you’ve done, you probably won’t get any feedback - I haven’t in my last few auditions. If they are on a large scale like West-End shows, you probably won’t get any feedback later on, you’ll be lucky to receive a ‘sorry you weren’t successful this time’ email. Say thank you, manners cost nothing. Then my suggestion would be go outside and get some air, you are shaking, and sweating, but also weirdly dry, hot and cold in equal measures and questioning why you wore Spanx and thermo socks. You need to clear your head after an audition, fill your lungs with rich oxygen, have 5 minutes to yourself. Not all do, but it is also a good time to critically reflect on your performance.

For me Critical Reflection is a very important part of all of this, if you nailed it and you’re very confident about your audition, think why? What made your performance so good, if you get a call-back you don’t want to forget your amazing slide thing you did with your feet. Similarly if it wasn’t all that great, beating yourself up and calling yourself rubbish isn’t going to help (nor is screaming into a bathroom mirror for 30 minutes after your Evan Hansen audition, but you live and learn don’t you). Critically reflect, what went wrong? How can you improve, what do you do better next time, and so on. Auditioning will become easier the more you do it, but if you reflect on each time, you are more likely to perfect the art sooner rather than later.

I suppose the final thing is to not let it affect your life. Just because you didn’t get a part you wanted, you can’t just boycott a show. Go and see the show, watch the person who got it and think about what they did on that stage, it will inform you for the next time you audition. But MOST importantly, have fun. Enjoy your rise to stardom, because one day you will look back on all these failed opportunities and say ‘I wasn’t right for that role’, ‘I wasn’t mature enough’ or ‘I’ve learned so much since then’. Keep going, don’t let any knock backs stop you from pursuing your dreams.

Tom Stevenson


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