Know When to Break the Rules—Part II

Ladies and gentlemen, you may now sleep peacefully at night. The much-anticipated sequel to my previous post, “Know When to Break the Rules—Part I,” has arrived! Last time we focused on the rules of fashion—what to wear (or not) to an audition. But now I would like to move on to the audition itself. From monologue selection to its execution, creating the perfect audition package can be a source of endless agonizing. As I’m sure anyone with the barest amount of training can attest, there are endless rules that dictate the choosing, pairing and performing of audition pieces. This is perfectly understandable. When you have two minutes or less to leave the impression on which your future job depends, you want to proceed with care. And then there are times when you want to carefully flout procedure.

 Monologue Selection

Sometimes it’s hard to even get past this stage. While sorting through plays and anthologies, the voices chatter away: “too overdone, too narrative, too recent, too old, doesn’t show my type, not enough range,” and on, and on, and on. The danger is that if you only listen to the voices telling you what not to do, you won’t end up doing anything of note. The thing to remember is that most of these “rules” are general guidelines translated for the purpose of education, designed to apply to diverse groups of actors in any situation. But once you are working professionally, you have to start making decisions that apply specifically to the kind of actor you are, and the kind of career you want to have. For example, I am currently working in Atlanta, which does a lot of family-friendly theatre. A lot of my training cautioned to shy away from narrative monologues (typified by a character relating an experience or telling a personal story). But observation taught me that certain narrative pieces play into the kind of tone that has been popular in new works frequently featured in the Atlanta theatre scene over the past couple years. So while auditioning here, I will sometimes break the rules and choose narrative pieces, even pieces that include direct address, because my location is a factor I need to take into account when moving forward professionally.

Another rule I break on a regular basis is “don’t use old monologues.” This was something ingrained in my college training, and it made sense there. My auditors were professors who knew my work from year to year and also wanted me to work on new material to encourage growth. In the professional world however, when given the choice between pulling new audition material and performing a well-vetted piece, I will most often go with the piece I know, even if I have shown it around town (unless of course, I am auditioning for people for whom I have previously performed it).  I sacrifice the rule that favors diversity in favor of practicality. In the professional world, you’ll often have to run into an audition with little time to prepare, sleep deprived from working multiple jobs, flustered from getting lost on the way, etc. and when you walk in the room you want to have a rock-solid piece under your belt. Again, it’s all part of making the cognitive leap from acting in an educational environment to being a working actor.

Monologue Pairing

The same holds true when choosing an audition package. Usually when pairing pieces, I would go for contrast above all, to show range, especially in a cattle call. Were I auditioning with a monologue and a song, I would try to show off opposite ends of the spectrum, perhaps a funny, up-tempo character song and a serious monologue.  However, Atlanta seasons are generally comedy-heavy. So last year when auditioning for Unifieds (an annual cattle call attended by the majority of the Atlanta theatre community), I did a melancholy, ingénue-y song and a quirky, comedic monologue. Although they did show contrast, they were much more heavily catered to being applicable to the upcoming local seasons than to showing my full range. This year, I tweaked my performance further and opted to do two sharply contrasting monologues. While I can sing, I am not a “musical theatre” actor, and I know that when I psych myself out over a big audition (as I have done in the past with Unifieds), I will often lose breath support during the song. This year, when I am more known to some of the directors, I ignored the advice I had received to sing if I had any capability and instead chose to set myself up for success and go in with two pieces with which I was extremely comfortable. Sometimes you have to break the rules to play it safe, too.

Monologue Execution

There are a lot of rules about the actual performing of audition pieces that are just good sense. Come in memorized. I can’t imagine an occasion when it would be advisable to break that one. Give the auditors space. Don’t make eye contact with the auditors. (Although I actually have broken that one, only when auditioning for a theatre which consistently uses direct audience address, and even then only for specific directors whom I know prefer to see that particular style demonstrated in auditions).

Finally, every now and then, break what rules you must to have fun. We are actors, not machines, and it is as important to feed the creative muse as it is to cultivate the branded, polished professional. It is unlikely, unless a great many people have told you a lot of truly outrageous lies, that you are in this for the money (especially if you do much theatre). The vast majority of actors I have met, myself included, became actors because we love it and it makes us happy. So let it make you happy. Tread carefully, but learn when breaking the rules will make you a better artist, and break them then.

There’s a reason I’m not writing about how to break the rules. Everyone breaks them differently. For me, it’s far more important to know when to break them. Ultimately, that is what will give you creative freedom and allow you to discover, and then refine, the kind of working actor you want to be.

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Rachel Rachel Frawley is an actor living in Atlanta. She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Michigan State University (with cognates in Music and Professional Writing) and is an Apprentice Company graduate from the Atlanta Shakespeare Co. She also works as an education artist for local theatres, which have included the Shakespeare Tavern and Aurora Theatre. For more information, visit her website at www.rachelfrawley.com

4 Comments

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