Ashley Cowan shares her experience at this year’s Olympians Festival Auditions as an observer and as the observed.
Forgive me for stepping into Olympians Festival territory in a Theater Pub world but as many of these artistic circles overlap, I hope it won’t be an unwelcome contribution. Along with writing for this bomb-diggity blog, I’ve also written a piece which will be included in this year’s Olympians Festival, taking over San Francisco in November. It’s my third year as a writer with this fantastic group and I decided it would also be the year I’d finally bite the bullet and throw myself into the acting pool as well.
As you know (because I blab about it or you’ve been keeping up with stalking me on Facebook – thank you for that), I’m an actor. But the truth is, I’ve feared these auditions in the past. Mainly because, I’ve been on the other side of them. This is not to say that the panel is unfriendly. They’re actually one of the warmest and most welcoming groups an actor could hope to face. It was more about the challenge of being thrown into the unknown in front of a large group of people I greatly respect and the fear of totally bombing in front of all of them.
But I wanted this year to be different. So I took the opportunity to be both an observer and the observed. And for this week’s blog, I thought it would be fun to offer myself (and other actors out there) some feedback and suggestions for that next audition.
1.) Accept the fates and work it:
Each actor walks into the Olympians audition and they are given a small piece of paper with a monologue on it. It’s totally random. You may get a speech from an iconic movie; you may receive something a tad more mysterious. In any case, you have to work with what you got. Even if you’re confident you could have totally rocked the monologue given to the person next to you, too bad, the fates have chosen. You still have the chance to nail what you’ve got because you’re also bringing your own skillset and interpretation to the table. So relax, take a big breath, and just dive in. Whether you sink or swim, people came to see you in the pool.
2.) Make a choice:
Once you have your monologue, you’re then brought into the audition room in groups of about five people. When you walk in, you’ll see a room filled with writers, directors, notebooks, and various snacks strewn about. Some of these people have been here for hours and at least seven of them are dying for a bathroom break. But that’s out of your control so do you best to focus on why you’re there and show off those dazzling skills. When you’re on stage, the actors stand in a line, introduce themselves, and then one at a time they read their monologues. This is your time to shine, baby. And the main point I want to stress is that the stronger your choices, the better your chances are at being remembered. Take a risk, read your side in a way we may not have been expecting, and don’t apologize for it. Distract those directors away from their bladders to get lost in the world you’re creating for them.
3.) Be aware that someone is always watching you:
As an observer, there is a lot of interesting stuff to watch. Not only do you have the person reading, but also, you have other actors on stage! Some are being active listeners, some are glancing at their monologue, some look anxious, some look overly confident. And while, yes, I’m of course mainly looking at the reader, I find myself drawn to the other actors on stage and their reactions. So be aware, as soon as a director can see you, consider your audition ON. It’s not over until you’re out of sight and back home in your sweatpants catching up on Netflix.
4.) Embrace the idea of: Yes, And?:
The next stage (pun obviously intended) of this audition is the part that had scared me off doing it for three years. Once everyone has read his or her monologue, every director or writer has the chance to ask you to try your piece with a certain direction or perform a particular talent. And this is where it gets interesting. You could be asked to sing a jingle, read a line like Samuel L. Jackson or like Ron Swanson from Parks and Rec (that’s for my play, by the way!) or maybe you’ll get asked to try it with a certain accent while being hit by imaginary flaming darts. Or like you’re trying to seduce someone… who just got raped. No joke, these are all literal examples of things people had to do at this year’s audition. And while it’s fascinating to watch the text twist and turn by new direction and understanding, it always scared the crap out of me. So I tried to stick to writing and directing. This year, I found myself in the unique situation of leaving the audience and auditioning alone on stage for the house of writers and directors as the last actor of the night. I had no choice but to grasp on to what earlier would have been my nightmare scenario. And I couldn’t be more thankful. Because it murdered that stupid fear I had built up and allowed me to just enjoy being an actor surrounded by a community of fellow friends and artists.
5.) Leave graciously and smile:
You did all you could do so be grateful for the opportunity, give yourself some credit for putting yourself out there, and then let it go. It’s out of your hands and back to the fates. I created a lot of unnecessary fear in the past regarding these auditions and in reality, it was over so quickly and was actually one of the more fun experiences I’ve had. So if I can leave with you with anything today, it would be a push to do something you’ve been putting off because it seemed scary. Submit for a new audition, finish that short story, visit the dentist, whatever. I’m rooting for you. Congratulations to those who are involved in this year’s festival and to anyone who may have avoided it in the past, I look forward to seeing you at next year!