What song are you singing? Will you be using a minus-one or do you want our pianist to play for you? Stand on the “X” on the floor in the middle of the room. Project, and remember to always face the panel while you’re singing. Break a leg.
These were the words we would say to the thousands of performing artists who auditioned for the musical, “Miss Saigon,” from the late 80’s to the early 90’s. The series of auditions were held to cast the production of the hit musical in different parts of the world – from London to Stuttgart to Toronto to Amsterdam. For those who don’t know, Lea Salonga, then already an established performing artist, wasn’t pre-cast, she wasn’t discovered by Oprah - she auditioned for the part. So did Monique Wilson, Michael Williams, Isay Alvarez, Robert Sena, etc. Dulce auditioned too, but was deemed over qualified. The most established artists got was skip lining up to register for the auditions – but just like everybody else, they had to submit their CV's together with their headshots, get a slot in the audition schedule, and show up at least half an hour before their scheduled audition.
I share this now in light of a recent conversation with noted tenor, John Glenn Gaerlan, about how young local thespians seem to have developed an aversion to auditions. For them, after being in one, two or five plays, auditioning is already beyond them. And when they do audition and don’t get the part they want, they take it personally and against the people who deemed them not right for the part.
I remember this particular local theater practitioner who auditioned for one of my musicals years ago whom I cast in a supporting role. After learning of his role during our first reading of the script, he never showed up again. It turned out that he wanted to be cast as the lead, and when he didn’t get the role he wanted, backed out. I would meet him again years later, in an aborted production of a popular musical that was to be produced by a local civic organization of which his mother was a member. He showed up during one of our rehearsals with his mother, one of the show’s de facto producers, perhaps expecting to be cast automatically in the production. When I asked him to prepare his audition piece and to let me know whenever he’s ready to audition, again, he backed out.
I once auditioned for Raymond Red’s first feature film, “Bayani.” I was given a supporting role. Years later, Red was about to do his second feature, “Sakay.” I called him up and asked about it, deep inside hoping that he would just give me a role in it. I thought that since we’ve worked together before, he would already know what I can deliver and therefore not require me to audition anymore. He said that he had a role in mind for me, then asked me to audition for the part.
Marlon Brando auditioned for the lead role in “Rebel Without A Cause,” and we all know who got the role eventually. Al Pacino had to audition for the part of Michael Corleone in “The Godfather.” In that same movie, two of the greatest actors of all time, Laurence Olivier and Marlon Brando were being considered for the role of Vito Corleone, which was eventually played by Brando. Olivier did not get the chance to read or audition for the part only because he was sick at the time.
Unless you get a part in a soap opera or sitcom that would last for eight or ten seasons, actors are hired on a per project basis, which would feed you for a month or two. There is no job security in this business, but it is not true that you’re only as good as your last gig. You are in fact as good as your last workshop, the last time you trained to hone your talent, the last time you studied your craft to have an even deeper understanding of it. Nobody else knows how good you are at any given point in your career, that’s why you audition. You may have failed in an audition with this or that particular director in the past, but you can always prove to them that you have gotten better at your craft since at another time. On the other hand, you may have worked with a particular director in the past, but prove to have stagnated as an artist since and be turned down the next time you’re standing on the “X” in the middle of the floor in front of him.
So to actors out there, just like Salonga, Wilson, Brando, Olivier, Pacino, go ahead, audition, and audition again. When you get turned down, strive to be a better artist instead of sulking. And remember, project! And remember to always face the panel. Break a leg.