As a favor for some professionals who can not attend due to overcrowded schedules, I have been attending some University “Showcases” of talent for graduating students, both Bachelor degrees and Master’s Degrees. Spring is the time and they all flood to NYC, Chicago, LA and other markets around the country to “Show their wares.”
Here is my report:
Overall, it has been enjoyable. Most wonderfully, the actors to a person all seem to possess good and honest hearts, though with varying skill levels.
But...usually the administrators all/some/several get up and tell you how wonderful their program and university is with the strong implication that it is “the best.” Sometimes even the Chancellor or President has come and talks and salivating all over himself/herself tells you how much they are expanding and building and the amount of dollars (if a public university - my tax dollars they fail to note) are going into expanding and growing. All the professional members of the audience are saying to themselves “Get the hook! We have to get home and deal with the kids, dinner and get up in the morning.” One school department head was very brief, so brief, it almost seemed as if it did not happen…which of course was the way it should be. It is the actors’ night, not the teachers’ or administrators’.
Another is the choice of material. One casting director came in recently, sat at the table where wine and hors-douvres are served, put head in hands and exclaimed, ”I just want to get it out there…I am so sick of Neil LaBute.” Everyone laughed.
How many times can one sit in an audience listen to, “f*ck f*ck f*ck, sh*t sh*t sh*t and damn damn damn.” And the same scenes chosen by all the schools, as if there is a cabal out there! There is a great canon of dramatic writing. Surprise us. A great scene or great monologue done well, even if we have seen it eight times, can be better than having to hear that pedestrian language after a long day’s work. Believe me, we know college students know how to curse and swear! It is not that I mind Neil Labute, just in smaller doses. One girl actually stood out in quieter scene from his ”Fat Pig.”)
One actor actually did a lovely performance of a monologue from Hamlet. The only classical piece I have seen. How refreshing! Real writing! Nothing bombast. Quietly. Beautifully. He has been my favorite actor I have seen, and I know many agents have felt the same way. Not handsome, not flashy. Just “a guy” who had a real sense of inner confidence in himself, on the stage, and with honed skills. He did two other short things in the evening as well. Quite wonderful. This is what makes it worth going to. (This is essentially why we all attend theatre, for that memorable event no matter how fleeting.) And as an actor, he also had the rare and beautiful gift/honed ability to make the other actors look good as well. Much like a sporting team who plays better when they have a good ancho/leader...like Michael Jordan!
One actor did a lovely job with a piece from “The Sign in Sydney Brustein’s Window.”
Also, there are so many monologues that have been directed having the actor addressing the audience that are not written to be addressing the audience. We are not the lawyer they are talking to in the scene. We are not the boyfriend or girlfriend or parent. This approach skewers the intention of the piece, and throws the interpretation off kilter. We know they should not be including us by the text they are saying. It is definitely okay to address the audience if it is written to be so.
An over-riding question I have is, how can a student go through four or three years of “great” training and not even know how to speak well? Not know how to carry their bodies? Slurred words, bad diction, voices in the throat, unpleasant tonality, especially possess no/little sense of the syllabification, rhythm and cadence of language, and some can’t be heard even in a smaller theatre? If this were the way doctors, scientists and engineers are trained I would be horrified!
Another is, how do the actors dress? I am not a fan nor practioner of sartorial display, but this is an audition! Has no one taught them to have “audition clothes?” They do not have to be in suits and formal gowns but something that would be a couple of notches up from what they wear to class. Some of the actors understood this. Most did not. This is the first time professionals are going to see you while you are actually looking for a job! And it may be the last.
Fortunately, most have been short, under an hour or thereabouts - once the program begins. Some have gone on for much longer for no apparent reason.
Some schools that are smaller have been combining their showcase presentations with other scools. This is a good thinking, to get them all on one date, rather than go to several different days to see only a few people.
I was able to recommend eight (out of about 150 so far) four coming from the same smaller program, which is not a well-known program at all. (The Hamlet guy came from there. The Sydney Brustein guy came from a smaller school as well.)
One thing I would mention is, no one did any imaginative casting. I would love to see some Latino, African-American, Asian actors doing Oscar Wilde, Brian Friel, Arthur Miller, John Patrick Shanley, Tom Stoppard, Bertolt Brecht, Wendy Wasserstein, Lillian Hellman, Neil Simon, Conor McPherson, Richard Greenberg etc. Or any mixture of actors doing August Wilson.
Great read, Res. Being knee deep in a theatre education myself (albeit technical/management) I agree that it can be a mixed bag. Some folks consistantly impress me in terms of work ethic, talent, attitude, etc, and some folks are borderline shocking in what they think will fly professionally. Regardless, I think it's exciting to watch young performers at that stage of development, especially when you get to work side by side with them.