GUEST POST: Tips, Thoughts and Musings for Aspiring Performers
Jenna Gavigan Headshot
Actress and author Jenna Gavigan returns to RyeTheNewGuy.com to promote her newest book, Lulu The Broadway Mouse: The Show Must Go On. In anticipation of the March, 31 release, Jenna shares some of her thoughts on auditioning from her experience as an actress. You can pick up your copy of Lulu The Broadway Mouse: The Show Must Go On here.
Jenna Gavigan is the author of the middle-grade novel Lulu the Broadway Mouse. A professional actress for more than half her life, she’s appeared on Broadway, on a gaggle of television shows, in a handful of movies, and on stages east and west. A fourth-generation New Yorker, Jenna graduated with a BA in creative writing from Columbia University, where she focused on fiction, television, and screenwriting. Like Lulu, Jenna made her Broadway debut at the Shubert Theatre. (Though, sadly, she doesn’t live there.)
A few thoughts on auditioning and show biz, from me to you! Take ‘em, leave ‘em, make a collage out of them… whatever works.
1. Be prepared. This does not mean you need to know how to play every instrument. It does not mean you need to know, by heart, the scores to every Sondheim musical, or each Shakespeare sonnet, or be able to twirl batons while playing the score of Company on a flute. Being prepared means setting yourself up for each opportunity, as best you can. (While also remembering to eat and sleep.)
Make sure your music book (or iPad!) is organized and that you know the songs in it; warm up regularly; have the makeup and hair products you need to feel your best; pick a few audition outfits that make you feel good but also work for lots of roles; have friends who will help you run lines—and make sure you run lines with them when the time comes!
Memorizing is something that is key for me. It is especially important for on camera auditions, but also really helpful for theatre auditions. When I’m memorized, I’m able to actually be in the scene, be honest, have fun—rather than worrying which line comes next. Even if you think you are 100% off book, hold that book anyway!
Hold your sides! Then, in case you have a brain blip, the words will be there for you. Holding your music is also okay. I remember a time—hmmm maybe 2005?—when I was auditioning for a new musical, I thought I was off book, I went to sing the song, and made up bunch of lyrics because I forgot the ones the composer had written. The composer was kind enough to say to me, “You know, it’s totally fine to hold your music.” (Thank you, dear composer!)
Do a little research on what you’re auditioning for. For example, if you’re auditioning for a television show you’ve never seen, it’s probably wise to watch a few episodes of it. If you have time, read the full piece you’re auditioning for. Sometimes, the full script isn’t available. (Though why not ask if it is? Can’t hurt.)
2. Try not to think too much about what they’re “looking for.” Unless your agent says, “The casting director said everyone must come in wearing a white dress with red heels and a teal headband, and they must all emphasize the word bananas in an accent resembling a cross between Katharine Hepburn and Audrey Hepburn,” please inject you into your audition. You are unique. Yes, you will spend a lot of your career sitting in waiting rooms with people who look an awful lot like you, have similar vocal ranges, etc. But I promise: you are unique. Let that guide your auditions. People have been playing Hamlet for centuries, but wow, do performances vary. Worrying about “what they want” will fuzzy up your performance. Make a choice and go with it. The best thing that happens is you’ve shown them exactly what they wanted (even if it might not have been what they thought they wanted) and you get the job, and the worst thing that happens if is you don’t get the job. Middle ground: they give you an adjustment. (Adjustments = a win.)
Cover art for Lulu The Broadway Mouse: The Show Must Go On
3. Don’t take things too personally. I was the mayor of taking things too personally for a very long time. Then one day, it clicked: it’s not all about me! It’s barely about me at all! I am a puzzle piece. Sometimes I’ll complete the puzzle, sometimes I won’t. Not getting a job is very rarely about something you did wrong. If you yelled at a director, dumped your Throat Coat tea on the piano, then trashed the bathroom before fleeing the casting office in a rage? That’s on you, my friend. But most of the time, not getting a job just means that someone else was more right for the part. When a puzzle piece fits, it just fits.
Someone on the creative team barely looked up at you during your audition? That stinks, but maybe they had a bad migraine. Or just found out their kid puked at school and they have to arrange child care. Or they’re just having a grumpy day. It can be very easy to read into someone else’s behavior, reaction, or lack of reaction. Please don’t. Just do your work as well as you can and then move on to the next audition. Yes, I know, sometimes auditions are few and far between, which make the ones that happen even more important. I’m just asking you to try.
4. Have fun. At the end of the day, being an actor means you get to play make-believe. (You also get to do this as an author, FYI.) I was a kid who played dress up with my friends after school for hours. Guess what that always was? FUN. Try, as best you can, to shake off all the business of this business, go into an audition room, or a rehearsal studio, or a voice lesson—and just have fun. Enjoy what you’re doing, and chances are, the people around you will enjoy themselves as well. Your enjoyment or their enjoyment won’t always translate into you getting the part, but you’ll certainly have a happier heart if you just let all the business go and have fun playing make-believe.
Cover art for Jenna Gavigan's first book, Lulu The Broadway Mouse
5. Be open to different paths. If you had told eighteen-year-old Jenna, fresh off a Broadway show, that I would spend the next decade or so working mostly on screen, then working very sparingly as an actress but, instead, writing two novels in two years, I’d have said, “Sure, Jan.” (I’m a bit worried most of you won’t know that reference, but I’m going to leave it in there for those of you who do.) It’s great to make plans. It’s great to know what you want and go after it. All I’m saying is, if you’re in traffic, and your friend calls you and gives you an alternate, traffic-free route, maybe try it!
If you thought you were going to be a comedian but then learned that, oh wow, crying on cue is a breeze, and you started booking television crime dramas—this is a good thing, no? You’re working! There will be times in your career (and your life) when you feel like things will never work out again. I have been there. But I promise you, things will eventually work out. Someday, you’ll be sitting at a table read for a dreamy play (Hi, Straight, off-Broadway 2016!) and you’ll think, “Everything I’ve been through got me here, to where I am just so happy.” Stay open to any and all opportunities. The constant possibility of unexpected opportunity is one of the best things about this business.