Breaking legs, not breaking down

Tips and tricks for students facing theatre auditions at McGill

Like many things at McGill, the world of theatre can be as confounding as the plays of Samuel Beckett, leaving newcomers wondering which way to turn and how to get involved. But no one likes to be left waiting for Godot. While dates, times, and sign up sheets for auditions may be found in the Arts building lobby, scrawling a name into a time slot is only a fraction of what makes up the audition process for any of McGill’s many theatre companies.

Even before scoping out the parts up for grabs, it’s important to realize that theatre productions at McGill are unique in comparison to other universities. “McGill theatre, it bites harder” exclaimed James Campbell, (McGill Student) a veteran of the University’s stages, when he sat down with the Daily to shed some light backstage and behind the scenes. Campbell attributes McGill’s theatrical individuality to the proliferation of student  directing on campus – a realm he himself will be inhabiting this year as he directs The Hazards of Love, a new work for Player’s Theatre. While professors do take a seat in the director’s chair from time to time, two of the primary theatre companies on campus, Tuesday Night Café Theatre (TNC) and Player’s Theatre, feature productions exclusively with students at the directorial helm.

Regardless of the company one may be auditioning for, Campbell stressed that the audition process is always variable. The requirements of the specific script majorly contribute to how an audition will be run. One thing that prospective actors can expect to encounter is a mix of improvisation and script work in the audition room. “In these auditions you are looking to get [actors] to improvise, first off, because then you get a sense for who they are outside the script. Then you get them to read the script to see how well they can interpret scripts,” Campbell explained. The penchants and peculiarities of a particular director also make a big difference in the audition process, and often continue to effect a play’s progress long after the cast list has been posted. “You can tell how a show is going to end up several months later based on how the director [runs] auditions.” observed Campbell.

Not only do the auditions themselves vary from show to show, but what a director is looking for within them can change just as much. “If you’re doing musical theatre, frankly, there’s a bit more experience required because you need people who can sing and dance,” Campbell specified. More often than not, however, he stated that what directors really have their eyes on are “interesting people”. “You want people who are intense, interesting people, and who walk into a room, and change the room that they enter.”

Naturally, prior experience is always beneficial for those wishing to grace McGill’s stages, but by no means is it necessary. “Generally people with experience will come in and they’ll be less shy and they’ll give you what they have,” noted Campbell, but when it comes down to the final casting, memorable energy and a willingness to experiment are often what will really give any candidate an edge. “Directors will always need to shape you,” he emphasized, so an ability to be flexible and adaptable within the audition is key. In many cases, directors aren’t just looking for someone who can act a part, but rather someone who can respond to direction, and be moulded to the director’s vision of the piece.

A little preparation is also something that will go a long way. “Definitely read the script before coming into your audition,” Campbell emphasized. Getting to know the characters can be particularly helpful. “Pick out the people that you can see yourself actually excelling at becoming,” he suggests.

When it comes down to it, auditions are all about giving it a go. And perhaps, with a whole lot of energy and a little bit of luck, you’ll land the role of a lifetime… or at least of a school year.