We are 2 months into 2018, and for a lot of theatre educators and directors, this means one thing: audition season. If you are in charge of your school's spring musical or play, this very well may be the time you're gearing up to stay after school and watch kids sing and dance, and then cast your production.
Now, this is my 10th year of organizing and sitting through auditions. I've been fortunate enough to work with various schools that support the arts, and that yield high numbers of students interested in auditioning. But as a middle school educator, there are some changes I've made in my audition process that really seem to help the students and streamline the casting process. I'm going to share those now:
1) Provide the materials
High school students have an easier time choosing material- they know more musicals, some may take lessons and know where to find sheet music. 11-13 years old's have a harder time with this, and the majority won't put in the extra effort to ask and learn. So I post my audition notice with the following info:
- 4 song options (with cuts marked) from the show. I usually choose 2 higher voice parts, and 2 lower voice parts.
- 4 scene options (with cuts marked) from the show. I provide a reader in the audition, so they can read with someone instead of me.
Something that makes my life easier in this: Google Drive. I put all the materials into a Drive folder, post the link on our blog, and let the kids explore. If you are doing an MTI junior production, they'll even send you MP3 files of the music with AND without lyrics. Utilize that.
2) Offer an Audition Workshop
We live in a society where kids are so afraid of failure, that they would rather not try than try and fail. I've even noticed this just these past weeks when there were less signups than usual. I asked a student "What's going on?" she said "Well people are so afraid of getting cut, that they don't want to try out."
Obviously, this is backwards, because how is someone supposed to learn and improve if they don't try? But that's not the mentality at the moment, so we as educators need to step in and try to combat that, or run the risk of having low numbers. So that's why I offer an audition workshop, one week before auditions.
Interested students come after school, I teach the songs and their cuts, I have them talk through the scenes in groups, and then we do some mock auditions. This is something I've found hugely helpful- this gives the more outgoing student a chance to practice their audition in a low-stakes situation, and it lets the quieter, more unsure students see what the process looks like. The best is when the whole group applauds for the people who volunteer- it creates such a great vibe.
3) Create the Experience For THEM- Not For You
What I mean is simply this: Not every student who comes out for auditions is there because they want to be a star. Some are looking for a group to be part of, some are unsure of what theatre is and wants to learn more, some want to be with their friends to hang out after school. Whatever the reason is, it's our responsibility to make it as positive an experience as possible. If your program does audition cuts- encourage them to join crew and stay part of the musical "team". When you have your cast, make sure everyone recognizes that they're all working *together* towards a great final product.
Best of luck to you in
Spring Musical season!
Joan Schubin, Timberlane Middle School
Jr. Thespian State Board Member
We asked our very own Junior State Thespian Officer, Joseph, to describe his take on audiences. He discusses what he thinks the importance of an audience is, and gives some helpful tips for performing with the presence of an audience.
Performing vs. spectating
"Performing a play is different from watching a play because when you’re performing in a play, you are the character and you are the one feeling the adrenaline and the excitement of being a specific character. But, when you are watching the play, the feeling that you feel is suspense because you don’t know what’s going to happen next unless you’ve seen it before."
sharing an experience...
"When actors and audiences share a live theatre experience, it just becomes more entertaining for the audience and the actor/performer because neither of you know what will happen next. For example, in The Spelling Bee, the show is pure audience participation, and the audience member that is chosen to interact doesn’t know what will happen on stage and the performer doesn’t know the member’s reaction.
The audience is important because without the audience, there is no show: nobody to laugh, cry, or sing with you while the show is going on. It is just another practice. Without the audience, there is no point in performing a show because there is nobody there to appreciate it as much as the performer does.
A theatre production will communicate different messages to different people because of the audience’s lives. If you are watching a show about World War 2 it will affect a person who lived in that time in 1940 more than it will affect someone born in 1990."
"A time when I interacted with the audience was in The Spelling Bee when one of the performers called up a few people to do a spelling bee. An example is when one of the audience participants needed to spell “cow”. The audience participants were told to always ask for a definition and for that word to be used in a sentence. So when this person got told to spell “cow”, she was laughing because she knew that she needed to ask for the definition and a sentence. It is times like these when you really get to appreciate the audience for being really good sports."
Tips on performing
Joseph Martinez; Junior State Thespian Officer 17-18
Love them or hate them, New Year’s Resolutions are here …for at least a day or two.
I am trying to get organized and think positively about 2018… So where does one begin?
1. Depend and delegate
I know, for me, this is one of the hardest things...sharing the responsibility! I come up with a million excuses, “I can do it faster, I know what I want it to look like or sound like,” etc.
We have a million things to do to prepare for the show. Depend on your colleagues to help you. Trust that you have surrounded yourself with people who want to see the show succeed.
My district created a parent organization to support the arts called The Producers. Not only do they raise funds for our needs, but they also organize the volunteers. One of the main ideas with this group is “We are here to support the director/teachers artist vision. Tell us what you need and we will get it for you!” This has been such an amazing support system for our programs. Delegate jobs and let others get it done! #GOTEAM
2. Stay organized
Keep a notebook with a to-do list. Jotting notes down in your script can be helpful but go back after rehearsal and add to your lists (costumes, prop, actor notes) I have tried to keep a few steno pads, one for notes for the production we are currently rehearsing, one is a log for student behavior and one for classroom to do etc.
Then I have the attendance book for the cast with the absentee list (printed daily), nurse notes, parent contacts, parent notes, teacher notes, phone call log…Then I have a book for set design plans, notes, etc. And of course my director script with a gazillion blocking, lighting, prop, setting, costumes notes.
I LOVE when I am able to cross things off of those lists as they are completed.
3. be Positive and laugh
Running the show is never easy but you are here because you love it. Keep that positive energy around you and the performers. This will in turn keep everyone POSITIVE. The energy can help when you do come up against a challenge. Laughter is the best medicine. Remind yourself and the cast, “We can laugh and have fun, if we are getting our jobs done.”
4. Don't panic and get caught up in the drama
Everyone is stressed out three weeks out! You are juggling 100 different jobs/problems at once for how many cast members. You have money issues, set issues, costumes etc.
Just breath and know it will come together.
Sometimes in the hype and excitement we get consumed with the “drama.” Remember you are an example to the children. Remain calm under pressure and LAUGH when you can.
5. Take care of you!
Sleep, eat and breathe.
You are pulling 14 hour days. Teaching all day and trying to get this show ready.
Eat well- yeah that donut is a quick fix but try and eat some fruits and vegetables.
Drink some water. Get to bed early once or twice a week in your hectic weeks leading up to the show. Breath-Yoga, meditation. Put an app on your phone. Lock yourself in your office or classroom for five minutes without doing anything show related.
Post new year's resolution notes
My previous thoughts were conceived during our first week in the theater prepping for our musical theatre production of High School Musical Jr. with over 60 sixth grade students. As much as tech week is next week, I have three other projects that I will be juggling between now and May that I must start working on now. The advice I gave can be used not just for one show but for your whole year. The only thoughts I would add are:
6. PLAN AHEAD
I have to give my district my upcoming calendar year in March. Not always easy to do when I don’t know what shows I may be doing, what the cast size or make up is, etc.
However, knowing those dates are set in stone does help me plan accordingly. Does that mean the “stone” calendar never changes? HA HA HA…no! It does change. I work in a public school where academic testing and events force our hand. A strong schedule helps not only the staff or team, it also helps the parents and hopefully the excuses from rolling in come rehearsal and performance dates.
7. YOUR WHY?
What is your why? What drives you to spend 300 hours on a production when you get paid for 40? What drives you to work with “that” student who everyone else has given up on? Why are you there? Knowing your “why” can help you stay focused even when everything else is challenging you to the point of “I QUIT!”
I put my timeline of production posters/memorabilia on my wall in my classroom, to ground me and remind me of all the students’ lives I have touched, the history that I have created with so many. Sometimes when I am working on a project or creating new lesson ideas, I will find pictures or a note from a former student. It always makes me smile and fills my heart with my why? What is your why?
What are your New Year’s Resolutions for your program?
How can you make your life easier but just as effective?
Would love to hear what you do to GET IT DONE!
Caitlin E. Gioe
5th and 6th grade Drama Teacher
Stafford Intermediate School
Another year. More resolutions. Lots of reflections. NJ Jr. Thespians asked our very own Junior State Thespian Officer, Kayleigh, to reflect on the importance of theatre.
WHY IS THEATRE IMPORTANT TO YOU?
"Theatre is important because it can influence all aspects of life. You are able to express yourself, be creative, and share your ideas with others. Your memory improves even school work can improve."
WHY SHOULD WE CARE ABOUT THEATRE?
"I think “we” should care about theatre because it’s very important. Theatre is a safe space for anyone who wants to feel welcome because nobody judges you. You’re free to be yourself and not worry about what people think of you."
DESCRIBE A PAST DRAMA CLUB EXPERIENCE THAT MADE YOU RECOGNIZE THE IMPORTANCE OF THEATRE.
"I think that theatre is important from my own experiences. Before I decided to audition for plays in middle school, I was very shy, and I didn’t have many friends. Theatre gave me the chance to make some very good friends. During practices I felt free, and had a sense of belonging."
Kayleigh Cahill; Junior State Thespian Officer 17-18
Carl H. Kumpf Middle School
...and How to Make Those Dreams a Reality
This past month I held auditions for my fourth full-length musical at my middle school. This show involves an average of 120 students every year from cast, stage crew, student pit, and scenic design. Each year, I learn from my successes, but I learn even more from the endless bumps and “fails” (as my students would say). During these “fails,” I want to know where my Fairy Godmother Tree is or when the tap dancing Genie will make his grand entrance.
Do we middle school directors ever have a tree that produces a beautiful gown or are we ever granted three wishes?
As, I begin to plan for my school’s production, my wish list has grown - along with the number of students involved. Many of these wishes can be granted by using a teacher’s most powerful tool - their students. The students that are attracted to the world of theatre can be the most creative and dedicated group of young people ever! Once you allow yourself to let the students contribute to more than stage time - you will feel the presence of true theatre magic.
The following are my top wishes and ways that I have tried to make them come true:
1. More Hands (we can only do so much)
3. Actors that Remember Dances, Lines, and Entrances
Break your students in small teams. These teams can be filled with students of all different roles and skills. Have these teams help each other practice ensemble numbers and give each other feedback . You can even have a mini competition for these teams.
(i.e. first team to make places, first team to hang up all costumes, be creative!)
Please feel free to try these suggestions out, add your own tips below, or ask questions! Together we can make the theatre a place of fun and magic for our students and our communities!
Mark Accardi; Mongomery Upper Middle School
Do you have trouble creating characters, or teaching your student's how to develop their characters? Well, we asked our very own Junior State Thespian Officer, Maya, to describe how she transforms into her characters on stage.
Do your research
When I create a character on stage, I do research to learn the story line and the character I am portraying. I watch Youtube videos of other performers doing the role and try to imitate the actors I like best. I take any advice my directors have for me to incorporate into my character.
practice your expressions
IT'S A LEARNING PROCESS...
Becoming a character on stage has been a learning process for me. Initially, I was typecast into the sweet, little girl. Eventually I began to repeat working with directors who gained trust in my ability and this trust led to my becoming characters that were very different from what I was accustomed to. This year working as the youngest actor in a show forced me to step up to become a believable character for the older teens I was acting with. The director pushed me to become someone different-day and night. Changing how I moved, talked and danced in a way different from “me” helped me be the character. That is one tip I have to being a great character. Others are to watch and learn from others who have played the role, or see the show if it is available to view. Also, talk to the director after a scene and ask “what did I do right?", and "what should I change?”.
Putting all of these tips together help make a great, yet unique character.
Maya Jacoby, Junior State Thespian Officer 17-18