Cowan Palace: My Nightmare Audition

Ashley and her friends sit around the Theater Pub campfire and tell tales of horror…ible auditions.

Comedy Month continues here with the Theater Pub gang where we’re all about laughing at our errors! And since I love dishing out tales of my own awkward struggles in this theatrical world (remember when I wrote this blog?) I thought it’d be fun to dedicate this week’s entry to nightmare auditions!

Thanks to some Facebook pals, I managed to get a few great tales. But if you too have an audition horror story, please feel free to leave it in the comments section! Let this be a time to celebrate our mistakes and laugh about them together! Besides, when I used to try and sneak-read Cosmo in study hall, my favorite section was always the embarrassing stories. And some of these stories are sexy too – two of them involve boobs! But first, here’s mine:

I’ve had a lot of bad auditions. Luckily, I’ve had a few good ones too but eesh, some of the bad were just awful. The one that comes to mind first when I think of “nightmare audition” was my audition for URTA (University Resident Theatre Association) my senior year of college.

New England was experiencing a brutal winter that year and I was in tech week for my senior project, acting in The Fox, a play by Allan Miller based on D.H. Lawrence’s novella by the same name. I was getting ready to begin my final semester of college and I was absolutely freaking out. Beyond terrified. So I thought, hey, maybe I can hide in grad school for a few years while I figure things out! Genius! But, ugh, I don’t want to go into more debt, I’m gonna need a school to pay for me to go there. Cool! I’ll audition for URTA, where I’ll get seen by schools all over the country and then go wherever I get in, even if it’s in rural Alabama.

That was my big plan. So my cast mate, Dave and I boarded a train surrounded in four feet of snow to head to New York City for a few hours before having to rush back to Rhode Island to finish getting our play ready.

We arrived around 1am to our college budget friendly hotel and woke around 5am to prepare for our early call. I wore a cream colored sweater and a conventional black skirt because the URTA Suggestions Guide mentioned that auditioning actors looked good in light colored tops and dark bottoms.

We got to the fancy hotel where auditions were taking place to check in and I discovered the “headshot” I brought with me (which was just an enlarged passport picture I got the day before from Walgreens) had fallen into the snow and had been ruined beyond repair. I sucked it up though and was given my audition time. (My one proud moment of the day was being placed in the time slot with the auditioners with the highest GPAs – holla, theatre nerd alert!)

Finally, it was my turn. I faked some confidence and walked into the room with a smile, my plain skirt swishing behind! I started my Moliere monologue and then blanked. Like just the worst blank in the entire world. I even asked the panel of viewers what I should do and they were boggled. They looked pained for me. Finally, I just started in on my second monologue from The Rainmaker. I completed it. But it was nothing special. After that, in a daze, I walked out of the room feeling like the entire world was collapsing in on me. I had just ruined my future. I was lost in a cloud of despair when I passed Dave. He asked me how it went and I shook my head unable to even cry. “I need to go.” I told him and I wished him luck on his audition.

Then I walked out of the fancy hotel into foreign streets. I was unfamiliar with New York City and had only been there a handful of times on school trips as a kid. It was freezing and my shoes were soaked with snow. But I walked trying to put back the shattered pieces of my dreams until Dave called me.

“I lost it,” he said, “I just blanked.”

I hurried to meet him and within seconds of looking at each other like we wanted to cry, we were laughing. We were two idiot kids with no business being at that audition. We weren’t prepared, we just wanted the safety of a place to hide in a bit longer before having to try and make it in the real world.

We immediately sought to find solace in pizza. I didn’t yet know the type of magical healing powers found in New York pizza, but let me say, it can cure many woes. And while we sat shoveling feelings and slices into our faces, I caught the eye of a man outside. He entered the restaurant and sat down at a table near to us. He kept staring at me, which I assumed was probably thanks to my smart outfit, but after a few minutes he approached us. I was prepared to hear him ask us for money but he did not. Instead, he showed me something he had been working on while sitting in the corner. It was a drawing of a crowd. All different types of people standing tall and gazing out from the page. That’s when I saw it. I was there. He pointed to the sketched version of me and said in broken English, “I wanted to draw you too.”

Dave and me acting in The Fox. While we did not get a single callback for any of the URTA schools, we did get an A on our senior project!

Dave and me acting in The Fox. While we did not get a single callback for any of the URTA schools, we did get an A on our senior project!

Suddenly, through some very kind and thoughtful strokes (homegirl looked way prettier than the snow soaked Ashley looked that day), was a new me standing beside other New Yorkers. That’s the moment I knew I was going to move to NYC after I graduated. Perhaps I needed someone else to see me there, who knows, but that’s exactly what I did. The man quietly walked away and we finished our pizza. Simple movements that forever changed my life.

Dave and I moved to NYC together a few months later and ate a whole lot more pizza. And both of us auditioned for a play together right away… we got in it… only to learn it was an anti abortion play… ah, but I’ll save that story for another time. The lesson here is that nightmare auditions are going to happen to even the best of us but there’s always something to take away from them, even if it’s just being able to laugh at yourself for being an idiot. Who else would be stupid enough to put themselves through so much rejection and heartbreak? We need each other to commiserate with, to celebrate with, and to keep encouraging each other to laugh. So in honor of that idea, here are some tales of audition horror from some of my fellow actors and friends!

Dave Collins (the guy from my story!):

So, I’m not sure if this is my worst audition story or my worst audition story from LA but either way it was pretty awful.

I was called in for this Danica Patrick commercial and thought I was just going to be one of three or four guys basically drooling over this beautiful race-car driver. This is what I came in prepared to do, not a very big stretch. This was not the case. I get into the room in front of the casting director and she proceeds to tell me that the joke of this commercial is that they want to show three dudes watching a clip of this beautiful woman showering and then pan to a dude’s naked chest… that these idiots somehow mistake for hers… Then, the camera would slowly go back up to the dude’s face. What?!! So the casting director asks me to take my shirt off and squeeze my very masculine, hairy, breasts together to try and put one over on these unsuspecting dbags. It was weird, humiliating, and I did it. And I didn’t get the part. I guess my male breasts weren’t feminine enough. Gross. I need to go shower now.

Shay Wisniewski:

I moved to New York about 3 months ago and was ready to hit the ground running with auditions. So I went to a call for Peer Gynt by Ibson, it’s one of his lesser known plays. I headed to Brooklyn for one of my first auditions. I show up and start filling out my audition form. Pretty standard. They even asked how we felt about nudity on stage. At this point in my life, I felt I could show off my breast if needed for a show. No big deal. Also, I told myself I wouldn’t turn anything down since I’m new to the city. So in I went.

In the room was an older man. White hair and a pony tail, along with his daughter who was handling the music in the show. They had me sing, improvise some dancing, do a monologue. Things were going great. I even get a callback which was even better than the audition. Full of viewpoints and group movement work, Meisner technique. Everything was right up my alley. He sits us down at the end of the callback and says, “so, I want to clarify the nudity aspect of the show. I love women, I love sex and I think both are very important things in a man’s life. Mothers, lovers, sister and so on. So at the end of the play, I want the main guy, to be breastfed by all the women on stage.”

Oh, I’m sorry. That’s not nudity, that’s porn.

And one of the guys in the audition group even went up to the director afterwards to let him know he was okay with the nudity in the show. Of course you are! You’d be getting a titty parade in your mouth! Sucking on multiple breasts is way better than having some strange adult man breast feed when you aren’t even dating.

I ended up getting cast. No, I didn’t take it. I couldn’t have something like that show up on YouTube one day when I’m famous. Whenever that is. Oh, and it paid zero dollars. So, no, you will not be seeing my breast feeding premiere this fall in New York.

Alex Harris:

You know what? When I saw your post on Facebook I immediately thought of a TERRIBLE one I had on Wednesday! Have you ever had an audition where, like, you read what they wanted, you knew what they wanted, and then when you go in there, you do absolutely everything you’re not supposed to? Well, that was me at this commercial audition, yikes bikes!! I walked in and the taping happens right in the audition waiting area so while you’re auditioning, you’re being watched by the other girls who are there (BIG HELP TO THE NERVES). And I just like had a lapse of where I was. I did exaggerated expressions like I was on stage or doing improv, instead of understated looks and reactions for simple commercial shots, oh it is awful Ashley. Awful.

Natalie Ashodian:

I once auditioned a woman for the very serious part of a Planned Parenthood nurse. A woman (in her 50’s or older, mind you!) showed up in a sexy nurse uniform. You know, Halloween costume 1940’s pin up style nurse. Needless to say, please don’t over-do character auditions. Unless the show is, you know, inherently campy.

Lea Gulino:

My last on-camera audition in LA – a 3rd callback for a Visa ad and the 3rd time I put everything I had into bleating like a goat…

Christi Chew:

He said, “Well now we know you can sing. Can you do it again, but crawl around like a cat?” It wasn’t CATS.

Do you have an audition horror story to share? Come join the party and leave it in the comments section!


Bizarre Love Triangle

Everyone knows Taming of the Shrew for its warring leads, but the action of the story begins with Lucentio’s quest to marry Kate’s sister, the fair and mild-mannered (or is she?) Bianca. In honor of our show opening tonight, we took the time to interview our Lucentio (Brian Martin), our Bianca (Shay Wisniewski) and our Tranio (Sam Bertken), Lucentio’s loyal servant who in some ways spends as much time courting Bianca as Lucentio does.

So who are you, in a hundred words or less.

Brian: I am Brian Martin, a native San Franciscan and a recent graduate of the theater program at SF State. I have been acting steadily in San Francisco for several years now.

Shay: I’m a performer in the Bay Area that loves to dance, act and sing (only alone in my apartment with my cat). I started a theater company with two of my good friends senior year of college called Do It Live Productions and have been producing lots of shows, including new work in the area.

Sam: I’m a Bay Area native returning from four years in the Midwest. I like writing, performing, drawing stories in general.

And how did you get involved with Theater Pub?

Brian: I got involved with Theater Pub in its first year when Stuart Bousel asked me to be a part of the Lovecraft staged reading series, and since then I have done a reading of The Dragon, and was in the second Pint Sized Play Festival.

Shay: I had started going to theatre pub a few years back and have always been interested in what it was all about. Finally, I was asked by Stuart to be a part of Taming of the Shrew

Sam: I met Stuart while volunteering at the SF Fringe Festival. I was described as “always auditioning,” which I guess is how I got this part!

Who wouldn't hire that smile? Actor Sam Bertken is one tricky slave.

Who wouldn’t hire that smile? Actor Sam Bertken is one tricky slave.

What’s got you excited about working here?

Sam: Honestly, at first I was just excited to be performing in San Francisco, but the sense of camaraderie is very infectious.

Brian: I’m so excited to be back at Theater Pub; I have a blast every time I perform here. I really like the atmosphere and excitement that comes with performing in a Theater Pub show, the audience always seems to appreciate the work and the fact that it’s a more relaxed atmosphere.

What’s got you worried?

Brian: So many things can happen at Theater Pub shows that you have no way of preparing for in rehearsal, so I am little worried about doing a full production in this situation but it’s also part of what makes this process exciting.

Sam: Yeah, I’m mostly worried that I’m going to step on someone.

Shay: Well, im always excited to do theater! And I always get excited about doing Shakespeare. Doing a show with a company that I have never worked with is always a thrill, I just worry that I wont fit in so I stay shy for a good portion of the process. I get worried about putting up a show with a three week rehearsal process, especially Shakespeare. It always takes a bit longer to learn the lines. But, I
have put my trust in this very talented cast and will perform with all my confidence in them.

Shay Wisniewski: too trusting for her own good?

Shay Wisniewski: too trusting for her own good?

Have you ever been in this play before? What’s your history with this show?

Shay: I had never been in or seen this play. I had actually never read it all the way through (bad theater student)! I have seen the wooing scene done in high school at competitions, and those scenes always stand out in my mind so because of that, I have always wanted to be in it! One day I will conquer Kate…

Sam: Never been in Shrew but I have been in other Shakespeare plays! I watched some classmates do the opening scene between Tranio and Lucentio once, but that’s the extent of it. The interpretation this time is a bit different.

Brian: This will be my first production of The Taming of The Shrew. I am familiar with it from reading it and from seeing the Elizabeth Taylor/ Richard Burton film and a DVD of a really entertaining comedia del arte performance ACT did in the late 70’s.

Shrew is considered controversial- why do you think that is?

Sam: I think the go-to answer is perceived misogyny.  The gut reaction to this play is that it preaches subjugating women to the will of their husbands.

Brian: Well, I have to admit that’s how I use to think of the show, but working on it and understanding it better, I no longer believe that.

Shay: The only thing I could really think could be controversial about it is how open it is about women in the time it was written being seen as objects and property. But that is still true, in some ways, in modern times, and I think what is great about this play is how Kate is a strong woman, despite the times, and she doesnt loose that through the play. Through some say a ‘man’ changed her, I see it as someone who took the time and effort to see past her ‘shrewishness’ and to dig out the good while still respect her personality.

So tell us about your characters. 

Brian: Lucentio is a wealth young man from Pisa, who is thrilled to begin his studies in Padua until he spots Bianca and can think of nothing else but how to win her and with the help of his best friend and servant Tranio, concocts a scheme to do just that. I love him for his passion and commitment; when he sets his sights on something he will work to overcome every obstacle to get it. I don’t hate anything about him, but this passion and commitment can make him inconsiderate and selfish at times. I think the biggest challenge is to make sure I create a well-rounded three dimensional character that fits into this particular production.

Brian Martin: rounding it out.

Brian Martin: rounding it out.

Shay: Bianca, the other shrew. I love that she, like Kate, has a strong sense of who she is and what she wants. She has a strong hold on so many men in this play. I like to love vicariously through her. She, like me, is the little sister, so I could connect with her and the younger sibling manipulation element to her character. I wish she was more out spoken! But I guess there cant be that much shrew in one show.

Sam: We’ve been talking a lot about the commedia stock characters that are the root of the characters in this play, and Tranio, my character, is definitely Arlecchino, who is a personal favorite of mine.  I like that I get to be mischievous and play silly characters, but the biggest challenge is coming up with interesting stakes for the character.  If he succeeds or fails, he just goes back to being a servant.  So, why strive for success?

What makes Tranio different from the usual sidekick role?

Sam: For one thing, this sidekick has some brains on him.  He’s quick on his feet and takes on some big risks but pulls it with aplomb (I hope!)  One of the possibilities that also exists in a character like Tranio is having his own aspirations be interesting and important, outside of helping his master woo a dame.  Even though he can never transcend his actual role in society, it’s interesting to see how he takes to manipulating folks for his (master’s?) own ends.

When you go about creating a role, what’s your process, in a nutshell? How do find a way into a character, particularly one written so long ago?

Shay: I like to look at what I say in regards to myself, and the others that I interact with. Then I like to go through everyone else’s lines to see what they say about me. I make decisions on whether those things are actually true or if its a facade. I then discuss my relationships with the other actors and create secrets about each one that they never know about. I think whether the character is written yesterday or 400 years ago, you can still find something in common with them that will ring true to who you are as an actor.

Brian: When I create a role I read the play over and over and then think about the themes and how my character fits into the play as a whole. Then I investigate my character line by line, his actions and what others say about him to find his objectives, obstacles, relationships and backstory and with Shakespeare I look for the directions he gives in the writing. Then I set about relating to and understanding him so that his choices are my choices and his backstory become mine. Even though they were written so long ago I really don’t think the process of getting into a Shakespearian character is any different from getting into a modern character, except for certain beliefs at the time that influence the way a character thinks and behaves. Lucentio wants the same things any modern character might want: love, success, sex etc.

Sam: I love physical theatre, and since there is some commedia influence here, I start from the outside, creating the character body and developing a caricature that way.  That’s the first impression the audience gets.  Then, from this center point, I think about what situations prompt the character to change–how does he react to different stimuli (specifically, the ones in the play)?  That takes the character where he needs to go for a larger-than-life type of production like this.  It’s also helpful to think about the character in relation to his double–Lucentio–and ruminate on what sets him apart and what makes them peas in a pod.

For Shay and Brian, Shakespeare is known for having several sets of lovers in his comedies- usually a serious couple and a not-so-serious couple. Which couple are you and what’s cool about being that couple? What kind of sucks about it?

Brian: It depends on what you mean by serious, we are the serious couple in behavior and story as our character’s behavior and arc is a little more traditional than that of Petruchio’s and Kate’s, but we are “not-so serious” couple in that I think Petruchio and Kate are the couple the audience becomes more invested in. I am enjoying being a one of the more traditional young lovers, because I get to work with the very passionate and sincere romantic dialogue and scenes. I don’t think anything sucks about it, Shakespeare’s characters are always interesting and challenging to play, and unlike some of the other secondary young lovers in Shakespeare’s play, Lucentio and Bianca are not goody-goodies, victims or dupes; we go after what we want despite the trouble we may cause. We’re kind of selfish.

Shay: Well, I think out of the two, we are actually the serious couple. But I think we have a lot of comedic moments between us which were not necessarily written into the script, but that we discovered through the process of our of character building. Yes, we get some good kissing moments but I admit I wouldn’t mind slapping someone around on stage a bit.

A lot of famous lines in Shrew- what’s your favorite one?

Brian: “Tranio, I burn, I pine, I perish, Tranio, / If I achieve not this young modest girl.”

Sam: “I am content to be Lucentio, because so well I love Lucentio.”

Shay: “The more fool you, for laying on my duty.” I enjoy this because I feel like its a moment where Bianca, a newly married woman, shows she can still stand up to the men around her. Stating that she is not just property you can order around and place bet on.

A large selection of beers at our bar- what’s your favorite beer?

Brian: I’m a wimpy beer drinker so Blue Moon, Shock Top or any beer you can put a fruit in!

Sam: Does it need to be one on tap? Cause mine is Oberon from Bell’s Brewery. But I’m sure I’ll find one I love at the bar.

I had a chance to take a look at the beer list during tech to better prepare myself for the after party. Though I usually go for a nice white, Belgium beer, one of my favorites is Chimay. But lets be real, Im not picky. Except No IPAs. Ever.

Don’t miss Taming of The Shrew, playing for four nights, starting tonight. Admission is FREE, no reservations necessary, but get there early to ensure a good seat!

Our Next Show Begins Performances on March 18!


It’s Kate vs. the World!

When brilliant but brittle Katherina (Kim Saunders)’s younger sister Bianca (Shay Wisniewski) finds herself being courted by three eligible bachelors (Vince Faso, Brian Martin, Ron Talbot), their opportunistic mother (Jan Marsh) lays down the law that Bianca won’t be allowed to marry until Katherina finds a husband. The suitors select Petruchio (Paul Jennings), a money seeking adventurer who might be Kate’s worst nightmare- or the best thing that ever happened to her.

Also featuring Sam Bertken, Shane Rhodes, Sarah Stewart, and directed by Stuart Bousel, this fast and furious production of the classic play will be one part Shakespeare, one part boxing match, and all parts Theater Pub.

The show plays March 18, 19, 25 and 27, at 8 PM at the Cafe Royale. Tickets are free and no reservations are required, but we encourage you to come early, enjoy the pop-up restaurant of the evening, and donate at the door to keep Theater Pub alive!

Two Amazing Events On Their Way!

Taming of the Shrew Opens March 18! 

Theater Pub jumps into their third Shakespeare production, this time taking on the ever-controversial, ever-thought provoking, ever-fascinating TAMING OF THE SHREW.

It’s Kate vs. the World! When brilliant but brittle Katherina (Kim Saunders)’s younger sister Bianca (Shay Wisniewski) finds herself being courted by three eligible bachelors (Vince Faso, Brian Martin, Ron Talbot), their opportunistic mother (Jan Marsh) lays down the law that Bianca won’t be allowed to marry until Katherina finds a husband. The suitors select Petruchio (Paul Jennings), a money seeking adventurer who might be Kate’s worst nightmare- or the best thing that ever happened to her.

Also featuring Sam Bertken, Shane Rhodes, Sarah Stewart, and directed by Stuart Bousel, this fast and furious production of the classic play will be one part Shakespeare, one part boxing match, and all parts Theater Pub.

The show plays March 18, 19, 25 and 27, at 8 PM at the Cafe Royale. Tickets are free and no reservations are required, but we encourage you to come early, enjoy the pop-up restaurant of the evening, and donate at the door to keep Theater Pub alive!

The first Saturday Write Fever will be March 23rd at the Exit Cafe! 

The Exit Theater announces a new Saturday night monthly event in their Café- and an exciting new collaboration with the San Francisco Theater Pub!

Starting March 23rd, every third Saturday of the month, we invite writers, actors, directors, theater creators and theater audiences alike to an evening of quick script-making and flash-fried performance!

Join us for an 8:30 mixer followed by a 9:00 writing sprint where writers (any writers who care to participate that night) have 30 minutes to generate original monologues based around that night’s pre-selected subjects (will they be drawn from a hat? WHO CAN SAY?!?). We cast actors from the crowd (no experience necessary), then at 9:30, they perform the work on stage in the café for an on-the-spot, one-night-only instant festival! Come join in the communal creativity, either as writer, performer, or audience!

Hosted by local writers Stuart Bousel and Megan Cohen, admission to this event is free, with the Café staying open and staffed so you can purchase drinks and snacks all night long! No need for reservations! We’ll provide paper and pens, all you need to bring is your amazing, sexy mind and the desire to create for creation’s sake.

See you there!