Open" Auditions; Awkward Age; Weight

Open" Auditions; Awkward Age; Weight Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column addresses the issues of auditioning in front of your peers, being the "wrong" age, working with teachers you worship, and offers some helpful tips to actresses concerned about weight. I invite actors of all ages to continue write me with any problems encountered at auditions, in class, or anything you feel could be standing between you and your talent. Make sure to check the previous columns to see if your question, or one like it, has been answered already!
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Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column addresses the issues of auditioning in front of your peers, being the "wrong" age, working with teachers you worship, and offers some helpful tips to actresses concerned about weight. I invite actors of all ages to continue write me with any problems encountered at auditions, in class, or anything you feel could be standing between you and your talent. Make sure to check the previous columns to see if your question, or one like it, has been answered already!

Question
Dear Blair,
I am currently a Musical Theatre major, and am about to enter my sophomore year of college. Every year my school begins its season with an open audition. This means that anyone who is auditioning can sit in the back of the theatre and watch your audition. The school feels that this is a good way to introduce the incoming freshman, and transfers students, as well as reunite all musical theatre majors. I however, hate this idea. I really don't like open auditions, because they simply give your competition an opportunity to criticize you and your audition. I personally don't believe that it is anyone's business what you do at your audition unless it is you, or those involved in casting, etc. However, this system is something that I must deal with, and this coming show is a favorite of mine. I am planning to attend the audition no matter what, but I need your advice as a teacher, and actress. What can I do that will really help me just forget about everyone else, and perform the way I know I can? At closed auditions and callbacks I don't have this problem, but I dread open auditions. I'd appreciate anything you could offer me to help.
Danielle

Dear Danielle,

Something about the word "open" audition just makes me close up! The pressure I have felt to impress my peers has made it impossible to concentrate and I end up doing the opposite.

I must say I think it's great that your school holds auditions this way. What better place to face your fear then in the sheltered environment of school? Just like you, I always thought the first thing that people were going to do was criticize me. And some competitive people do. And many don't. And so what? Why let a little criticism get in your way? You are going to have to face plenty of backwash in this profession, and now is the perfect time to start ignoring what other people think and feel and have to say about your work--unless you feel it is useful, constructive and honest feedback.

The first thing I can offer you is another perspective on the audition. View it as an opportunity to perform, to strut your stuff, and to face this demon. If you can cultivate an appreciation for it, it may help you relieve some pressure.

The second thing I suggest is to give yourself the freedom to BLOW IT. Imagine that you get up there on the big stage. You trip, collect yourself, announce your name and your voice cracks. You begin the monologue and you can't find your connection to the character. You know you're off so you try to be "more real" but your audition just stinks. Sit with that.

Now, that is the WORST that can happen. And you can live with that. Because you know you have talent and potential, and this audition does NOT define your talent by any means. All it defines is an issue you are struggling with, about how to show up in front of EVERYONE.

Now that you've given yourself the space to muck up, (here at PBOL we're polite), it should free you to put your worry into your work. Really do your homework for the audition--keep discovering who your character is and know your piece by heart. Focus on the preparation and not on the audition. When you get to the audition, remember to breathe. If your mind starts to tug at you, trying to get you to obsess about all the people watching, criticizing; focus instead on what's happening inside you. Can you find a connection with what's happening inside with you to the inner life of the character? In other words, drop the content of what's causing the anxiety and allow it or whatever feelings going on to flow through you and actually feed your performance.

This can be easier said then done, but go for it.

I hope this helps, Danielle. Lemme know how it goes!

Question
Dear Blair,
I am a 13-year-old actress who acts in musicals and dramas in children's theater, community and regional theatre. . .My problem is I am at an age where I am too old to play a child and too young to play a teen. The last play I auditioned for, half of my friends and I got cut because we were too old for children, but not old enough for teens. The only musicals I know of that has children around that age are The Sound of Music and A Little Night Music. I know of a professional drama company that uses children around that age and I have been in a few plays there, but I LOVE musicals. What should I do? Do you have any tips on looking older or younger? Thanks so much.
Sincerely,
The Wrong Age

Dear The Wrong Age,
I'm sorry that your opportunities seem limited right now because of your age. But there's good news: you won't be "the wrong age" for very much longer.

Keep doing what you are doing. At this point in your career I would suggest not trying to manipulate yourself to look older or younger. Now is a great time to join some classes. Also, you can get together with other friends who are "The Wrong Age" and do a show about being "The Wrong Age."

Hope this helps.

Question
Dear Blair,
I know from your column that you have studied with some very impressive well-established actors. Recently I have been lucky enough to be offered a private coaching by a truly incredible actress whom I admire more than almost any other. I feel horrible for asking this, feeling that I'm too lucky and should be too happy to worry at all, but how do you deal with having a coach that you are in awe of? I have a sneaking suspicion that my admiration of this woman may get in my way. I feel myself even now focusing on impressing her with my acting instead of honing my skills. It's an amazing opportunity and she's a terrific person, very generous and kind, so it's not a situation that I should (or want to) turn down. Do you have any tips for how I can shift the focus off my actor's ego and on to learning where it belongs?
Thanks,
Kate

Dear Kate
I really liked your question.

As revealed in my answer to Danielle, I have often struggled with this exact kind of predicament. One thing that helps me focus is to remember that it's NATURAL to feel in awe of anyone who has mastered anything, not to mention someone who has "made it" in the biz. And it's also natural to make them the authority on the subject of their mastery, and therefore want to impress them.

I always wanted to show people (especially those who mattered) that I had that "special something." I felt compulsed to "perform" well because people wouldn't respect and love me if I didn't. Of course, this always backfired.

Make yourself vulnerable right off the start and let her know that you are in awe of her and that you are scared. Whatever your fears are, speaking them to her, and/ or channeling them into your work and using them, are great ways to deal. The fears will loosen their hold on you, and if you truly want to learn, which from your question it's obvious that you do, you will, despite your fears. In my experience, trying to force your "ego" out of the way only makes it rear its' ugly head even louder.

Congrats on the opportunity!

Take care, Kate.

Question
Hi Blair,
I am 24 and have been active in theater since I was about 12. Since that time I have been in several different shows as the lead in nearly all of them. The stage gives me a confidence in myself that nothing else has ever been able to give me.
However since I have been married and had a child I have put on quite a bit of weight and I have been unable to take it off. In the past I have auditioned for what would be considered as the female lead , but now I am finding that I am not really sure where I fit in , being young AND overweight. It isn't that I'm embarrassed to be seen on stage but I'm not sure how many parts there are for someone in my situation. My question is if I should continue auditioning for the same roles that I would play if I were thin or if I should be thinking about going for roles that are a bit more designed for an older actress, where extra weight is sometimes more reasonable?
Thank you for any insight that you might be able to lend.
-- Melody

Dear Melody,
Thanks for your bold question. It's a tough call. First question:
Are you really overweight--or are you just societally brainwashed to think so? If the answer is the latter, then please allow yourself to audition for anything you desire to be in and can realistically see yourself playing --in other words--not Juliet.

If you are really overweight, then yes, I think it would be wise to examine the choices of things you audition for. It may be time, now that you've had the experience of playing the ingenue, to move into the character roles. It's VERY helpful as an actor to be able to know how to market yourself; to know what types of roles you will realistically be cast in. Naturally you don't have to stop auditioning for parts you want to play but might not get due to your appearance. However, there are some terrific roles out there for women who aren't stereotypically beautiful or may be a little chunky. I would prefer not to single them out , but I can think of a few terrific "padded" character actresses that have made it in both theatre and film, and I respect and admire their choices a great deal.

Good luck, Melody.