When I think about how kids learn to present themselves, one picture in particular comes to mind. I remember 12 years ago, when I was auditioning kids for a youth production of “The Wizard of Oz”. There was a small, fragile and lovely little girl with a teeny tiny little voice who would only look at her shoes. Despite her shyness, her voice held immense promise. It was high pitched and as clear as a bell. She landed the part of the good witch, had her first solo, and by performance time, had stopped looking at her shoes. That same young lady is now a popular local country singer with her own CD. I realized during that audition process that most young people, unless trained, do not really have a clue as to how to audition. The very next youth production I held auditions for was preceded by an auditon workshop.
As a producer of community-based youth musicals, I realized early on that what I did know multiplied by 100 was equal to what I did not know. I use this law as a constant reminder to learn from observation. My observation of that little girl made me realize the importance of preparing a child for the audition process. Sure, she came to the audition with potential, but I realized that I really could have provided her with a kick-start via a workshop on auditioning. From that point on, all of the shows that I have produced have some level of audition-preparedness built in on the front-end.
Taking the approach that children learn by example, I start my audition workshops by performing a faux audition as a confident, experienced actor, with myself as the person auditioning. I also perform a contrasting audition as an inexperienced person stricken with stage fright. This provides them with a concept of what they can do, given the proper tools.
I then take each step of the audition process, and break it down. I focus on the following points:
1. Where to look. When a young person is feeling the first anxiety of stage fright, they tend to freeze up and either stare at the floor or their eyes flicker around like a firefly. Although actors can be required to focus visually based on the direction and scenario, for audition purposes I encourage the visual focus to be just over the heads of the audience, with the chin slightly lifted. Sometimes there may be a clock or other fixture on the wall for them to fix on.
2. Vocal projection. Most children by nature have small natural voices (barring when they are yelling). As a primer to vocal exercise, I encourage them to take a breath prior to each phrase. I ask them to visualize sending their voice to the back of the room without yelling.
3. Vocal dynamics, anunciation, and timing. Using a sentence or two from the script, I deliver it in a variety of ways, and then ask them to identify what was different. This helps them become sensitive to how volume, pace, and clarity relate to the effect of the words upon the audience.
4. Posture and stance. I suggest to the young people that unless the director has requested them to take on the appearance of a specific character, that they practice good, common sense posture. I also identify common traits associated with stage fright, such as fidgeting, and touching the face and hair. Once mindful of these traits, they are less prone to do them.
5. Entry and exit. I describe the importance of making a confident entrance, properly introducing yourself, greeting the judges, and exiting gracefully with a “thank you” at the end.
The final portion of the workshop is used to allow each person to perform two or more faux auditions. After the first one, I identify reasonable areas of improvement for that child, after which they perform their next (and almost always significantly better) second audition.
The audition workshop has an immense impact on the kids who audition for our productions. I hope that you will consider this concept when it’s time to produce your next performing arts experience for young people.