The Shakespeare Audition
Laura Wayth (Applause Theatre and Cinema Books 2015, Trade Paperback ) 128 pages, cover price n/a
Call me thick, but I've never really understood why other actors quake, break out in hives, barf or even quit the profession altogether at the thought of having to go through an audition. To me, an audition is the exact opposite of pressure, especially if you get to choose your own audition piece. Pressure comes after you get that part for that is when an actor has to start squeezing his or her form into the metaphoric or actual clothes designed by a Director who may or may not be any good at explaining what in hell he expects to be delivered to the audience on opening night. Having that man (for 90% of the time the Director is a he) in the itchy sweatshirt that smells of a hundred cartons of Gitanes shake his head and mumble towards the floor, 'No, that's not quite it' really does make the actor think that maybe Dad was right when he said that taxidermy is a fine profession offering job security and a steady income.
An audition – or at least a good audition is a piece of performance art in and of itself. Go on stage, move around a bit and say lines in a compelling manner that attracts favorable attention from an audience. Isn't doing just that really why one decides on going into acting in the first place?
God bless her for it, as Laura Wayth who teaches acting at San Francisco State University, looks at this business of acting in a similar way to mine. Therefore of course I loved her new book The Shakespeare Audition just as much as I enjoyed and heartily recommended her first, A Field Guide to Actor Training. Mind you, the first two words of The Shakespeare Audition are, 'Auditions stink.' Okay, so maybe I'm wrong.
Let's try a different tack. Auditions don't have to stink and over the next hundred or so pages, Wayth lays out a clean and simple system of choosing and preparing a classical monologue for an actor auditioning for a play, an acting class or post-secondary enrollment. Best of all she does so in a friendly, arm-across-the-shoulders manner blessedly devoid of that humorless prose I call academese. This a book that is meant to be readable and usable, and after having reviewed God knows how many guides to acting that make a stage seem about as fun a place as a police morgue, Wayth's pleasant tone is a bloody great relief. They cal these things 'plays' for a reason, you know.
As with A Field Guide to Actor Training, I actually learned a fair bit from The Shakespeare Audition. I might suggest to English literature students who still can't tell their trochaic foot from a hole in the ground that Wayth's clear explanation of meter in poetic works is well worth memorizing. In addition, I thoroughly enjoyed how the author shows clues to character that can be gleaned from their relative status and whether they speak in prose or poetry.
What I did raise an impish smile at is how well Wayth knows her audience. It is strongly implied that a neophyte actor facing audition day will only get around to choosing their audition piece a week or so in advance of the date. Yeah, we're like that. Also, she knows that actors will be heavily concerned with questions surrounding what to wear, where to look and how to address those people sat behind the desk in front of the stage who (cue ominous music) hold your fate in their hands!!! Wayth provides appropriate advice on all those issues, so just relax.
That indeed is the most important point made in The Shakespeare Audition. As Wayth says: 'At the end of the last chapter I gave you a very unusual direction. I said, “let it go.”At a certain point, you’ve done the homework. Most of it will stick without your thinking about it. So now that you’ve thought about it so much, it’s time to stop thinking about it!' Now there is instruction I can endorse.
Every actor worth his or her salt (the pay really is lousy in live theatre) will tell you that every show's performance is unique. It doesn't matter if you've played Gravedigger Number Two for 188 straight days at the Royal Shakespeare Company, on stage with a crack cast of veteran actors drilled and rehearsed to the slightest twitch of a finger by a knighted Director. Every performance is always a little different. And why not? Every day we are alive we are slightly different from how we were the day before or the day after. Therefore why would a performance be any, um, different than life itself? Bad acting comes from trying to mercilessly recreate what was first done a week or a month ago, thus placing a layer of imperfect memory in the way. Great acting – and a great audition – is born from a womb of inner trust. You know the lines, you know how to read them, you know your movement, intent and energy, so get on with the job and ... enjoy yourself.
The Shakespeare Audition is Laura Wayth's second indispensable guide to acting as a field of study and as a profession. I will be shoving it in the face of every nervous young or old actor I come across. So if you know me, do anticipate my action and buy your own copy first. I don't like thrusting books at people as it is much more pleasant to hand them cocktails or pastries.
Be seeing you.