Booking It! Tony-Winning Spring Awakening Director Michael Mayer on Auditioning and Directing

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14 Mar 2014

Michael Mayer
Michael Mayer
Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Playbill.com's new feature series Booking It asks leading industry members to share professional insights, need-to-know tips and essential tricks of the trade for up-and-coming and established theatre artists. This week we speak with Tony Award-winning director Michael Mayer.

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Director Michael Mayer, who returns to Broadway this spring with the upcoming Neil Patrick Harris vehicle, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, is known to helm musicals that expose new talent to the theatrical landscape — evident in the Tony Award-winning hit Spring Awakening (for which he was awarded the Tony for Best Direction), the pulsating rock opera American Idiot and the dance-happy musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, which skyrocketed Sutton Foster to superstardom.

Mayer, who also directs for film and television and was at the helm of the NBC musical drama "Smash," is a Tony nominee for A View from the Bridge, Millie and You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. His directing credits also include Triumph of Love, Side Man, The Lion in the Winter, Uncle Vanya, An Almost Holy Picture, After the Fall, Everyday Rapture, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and 'night, Mother.

Below, Mayer shares insight on the audition room, qualities that creatives are looking for in an actor and how to break out into the world of directing.

You're known to direct musicals that introduce some brand-new talent into the world, like Spring Awakening and American Idiot
Michael Mayer: It's so much fun for me to discover talent…

As an actor, how is it possible for one to "burst onto the scene"?
MM: I don't know that you can, as an actor, to tell you the truth. One of the sad truths about the life of an actor is that you are not in control of enough. You can't control how you get cast, but what you can control is the attitude that you bring into the audition room and the attitude you have about yourself. I think that we live in a society that encourages so many artists to label themselves in a very particular way, and I think that we're all encouraged to do that thing that we "do" — that we're known for in that moment… Every artist, including actors, can really be expansive in the way that they think about themselves, [and] I think [it] is all for the good.

I've previously talked with Lindsay Mendez and Ryan Scott Oliver about "breaking types." A lot of young actors say, "I'm this type, and I'm going to audition for this role." Is it better to mold yourself into a type or create your own type?
MM: That's a good question. I think that "types," in general, are an antiquated concept. They don't tend to interest me a whole lot. In particular, I feel that it is limiting not only to the actors own sense of potential in his or her artistry, but it also limits me in my imaginative capabilities, so I like to play against type whenever I can. I like actors who do that as well… When Jonathan Groff came in for Spring Awakening, he was a typical chorus boy who walked in — that was his experience, he'd been in the chorus, and that's how he presented himself. And, it was through the audition process that I was able to find other levels in him, and it was because of his own unbridled, personal interest in exploring all facets of his personality that I was able to see even more potential in him, so we were a very good match that way. Suddenly, he's a leading man, and that happens very rarely because, I think, of these boxes that people allow themselves to be put into… They're boxes they create for themselves because they look around and see that's how the world works. Unfortunately, that is — too often — how the world works, but I think it's up to all of us as artists to buck against that.



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