Next!: Almost 200 Actors Get the Gig for Reality Theatre Experiment The Audition

News   Next!: Almost 200 Actors Get the Gig for Reality Theatre Experiment The Audition "This isn't 'American Idol' and that sort of thing never happens — at least not in a theatre audition," quipped actress-director Betsy Head whose experimental reality theatre venture The Audition returns to the New York stage next month.
Promotional art for The Audition
Promotional art for The Audition Photo by Jeffery Corrick

Page 10 Productions presents the new limited engagement to play Sept. 7-Oct. 1 at the Wings Theatre in downtown Manhattan following a sold-out run last year at the Gene Frankel Theatre.

Though the premise does seem comparable to the popular television show—dozens of hopefuls pouring their heart out for a panel of three and an onlooking audience—The Audition doesn't offer any harsh criticism nor is it about winning.

"Whenever we go to a show, we already see who wins. You see the people who get cast and you already know the ultimate outcome," poses creator Head. "But what was the show before the show?"

Such was the question Head pondered on her way to an audition herself back in April of 2004 for a role in a piece titled The Oboe Player. "I didn't get the part and I had an absolutely miserable audition. It turned out the author of my monologue was on the panel. He said 'I'm very familiar with that piece' and I was like 'Oh great!' because it's kind of a random play. I had to specifically request a copy because it was not even published. He's like 'Yes, I wrote it.'"

Though the audition did not prove fruitful for Head as an actress, the day did provide her with the inspiration for a new show. "I was on the A train going to the audition and I said to myself 'I can't wait to direct another show so I can watch people audition.' And I thought maybe other people want to watch auditions." Armed with her idea, Head created a simple structure which serves as the basis for the free form of The Audition. Actors (160 for this run) were chosen from an audition advertisement and by word of mouth, not by experience. "I don't care if this is your first audition or your 1,001st audition. I don't care if you're 18 or 80." Those who were first to respond to Head — who frets at her daytime minute usage — were booked ten to a night. "There is no pre-audition and there is no rehearsal. Most of these people I will never meet until they come to the show that they are scheduled to perform."

On performance day, the ten chosen actors head to the theatre for a 6:30 PM call — to familiarize themselves with the space and the process of the evening — and by 7:30 PM are onstage "preparing" for their shot. "They are warming up and doing what they normally do in the hallway while the audience files into the seats."

For this new run, Head has decided to add yet another element. Any audience member can volunteer at the box office to be part of the show (headshot, resume and a two-minute monologue are expected) and may be chosen at 7:45 PM to be thrust onto the stage.

At curtain time, the 11 actors deliver their prepared selections for the panel of three New York directors and for the audience. "The directors may give them some notes — they may ask an actor to try something a different way — or they may ask a question about an actor's resume, but they don't give opinion. So just like in a real audition, they never say you were wonderful or horrible."

During intermission, the audience votes for their favorite men and women (three of each) and the top six return for Act II to be paired up for cold readings of scenes written for the show by Head. "They get a chance to look it over just like at a real audition, but in no way do they memorize it. They've been specifically created for this show so that an actor can jump in and make a big choice, so there's not a lot of subtext and also so that they can fit any age range into any role."

At the conclusion of the scenes, the panel selects one man, one woman and one "wild card" — an actor from any portion of the show, whether or not they were called back — and those three perform a final cold reading together.

Head has learned her lesson from the first run to not have expectations on any given night. "When you create something like this, you feel like you know how it will go, but there's no rehearsal. You really can't predict how things will go, which is why I love this show. Each night is a new roller coaster."

Tickets ($15 at door) to The Audition at the Wings Theatre, 154 Christopher Street (at Greenwich St.), are available for reservation at (212) 696-7303. For more information, visit www.page10productions.com.

Promotional art for <i>The Audition</i>
Promotional art for The Audition Photo by Jeffery Corrick