Page 10 Productions presents the new limited engagement through Oct. 1 at the Wings Theatre in downtown Manhattan. It follows a sold-out run last year at the Gene Frankel Theatre.
"Whenever we go to a show, we already see who wins," writer-director Betsy Head told Playbill.com. "You see the people who get cast and you already know the ultimate outcome. But what was the show before the show?"
The free-form "show" at hand at the Wings Theatre each night is a simple structure created by Head: 10 actors (from a pool of 160 chosen from an audition advertisement and by word of mouth) arrive for a 6:30 PM call to familiarize themselves with the space and the process of the evening. By 7:30 PM they are on stage "preparing" for their shot.
"They are warming up and doing what they normally do in the hallway while the audience files into the seats," Head said.
"There is no pre-audition and there is no rehearsal," she explained. "Most of these people I will never meet until they come to the show that they are scheduled to perform." How experienced are the actors? Head said, "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."
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," Head said. "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," Head said. "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 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," she said. "You really can't predict how things will go, which is why I love this show. Each night is a new roller coaster."
Audiences won't witness directors cruelly berating audition performances, like on some reality TV competitions?
"This isn't 'American Idol' and that sort of thing never happens — at least not in a theatre audition," Head said.
Although the premise does seem comparable to the popular television show — dozens of hopefuls pouring their hearts out for a panel of three and an onlooking audience — The Audition doesn't offer any harsh criticism, nor is it about "winning."
The idea for The Audition came from Head's experience as an actress. In April 2004 she auditioned for a role in a piece titled The Oboe Player.
"I didn't get the part and I had an absolutely miserable audition," she said. "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."
Tickets ($15 at door) to The Audition at the Wings Theatre, 154 Christopher Street (at Greenwich St.), are available by reservation at (212) 696-7303. For more information, visit www.page10productions.com.