It was around 1997. We lived up the street from the old Tower Plaza at 40th St. and E. Thomas Rd. With braided pigtails and all, Lizabeth and Jennifer did their first auditions (in a basement) for a Valley Youth Theatre production of The Sound of Music.
They weren’t cast, but no matter. The audition process itself was fun. It was about having new experiences, meeting new people, enjoying an afternoon together. Everyone involved in the audition process—from musical director to artistic director—was cheerful, professional and kind.
We all went together to see the show when it ran—I think it was at the Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix. From set to costume and musical number to dramatic scene, it was truly memorable. Our girls never lamented not being cast. We felt happy for the kids who were chosen, and knew there was equal joy and importance in being in the audience.
That approach has served them well through the years for, like most children who audition, our daughters audition much more often than they are cast. From their earliest auditions we approached it very matter-of-factly, like shopping for shoes. A shoe might be stunning, but that doesn’t mean it will fit.
Directors are searching for the best match, not the best child. Not being chosen isn’t personal. It doesn’t mean you aren’t talented or smart. (This is a harder sell as kids get older, so set the right tone when they are tiny.)
During elementary school, both Jennifer and Lizabeth auditioned—and were cast—in productions with Greasepaint Youtheatre in Scottsdale. Jennifer was an angel and a gingerbread man (and another role that just isn’t on the tip of my pen at this point) in Greasepaint’s Hansel and Gretel, and a little girl who doted on Geppetto in Greasepaint’s Pinocchio.
I’ll never forget the small ceramic bowl and lid I painted—mottled brown like cinnamon with red and orange accents like candy buttons—for Jennifer. Or the myriad of angel wings I sprayed with glow in the dark paint. Or the costumes I helped to sew or mend. Or the treats we baked to decorate in the green room.
The shows were my introduction to building and painting sets—and I loved it. (Oddly enough, I’m returning to Stagebrush Theatre—home of Greasepaint Youtheatre—to paint the stage with fellow volunteers later today.) The last time I painted that stage Christopher was all of half my height and watching from the first row of seating as he peered up from his homework. (For all of us, I think, it feels good to be home.)
Flash forward to today, when Lizabeth is taking production studies at Arizona School for the Arts, getting training from pros in the skills I’ve merely muddled through with all these years. Fortunately, they still let me get my hands dirty now and then. Willing hands and a happy heart make many a theater manager merry.
Lizabeth is performing in Oliver! With Greasepaint Youthreatre this season (mention her name when you buy tickets and she might win the ‘top ticket sales by a cast member’ prize!). But she had a long spell of auditioning without being cast. She never gave up, and that’s what it’s all about.
Lizabeth was cast twice her first season with Greasepaint Youtheatre, but hasn’t performed with them since (until now). Those braided pigtails were just the right fit for Tom Sawyer, where we saw her sitting on the edge of the stage swingin’ her fishing pole as the show opened, then painting a white picket fence and playing hopscotch with friends in later scenes. During a church scene, she used to stomp her tiny character shoes on the floor as she clapped with conviction to the beat of a gospel tune. That one got to me every time.
Later she played one of many princesses in The King and I, gently weeping each time they did the scene where the king lay dying in his silk-draped bed. I ran into Lizabeth’s kindergarten (or was it first grade?) teacher at Childsplay’s “Bear Stage” event the other night. She’d been gracious enough to come to Lizabeth’s shows, and shared with me that she’s kept the programs Lizabeth “autographed” all those years ago. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but apparently Lizabeth suggested the teacher hold onto them so she could pull them out one day and reminisce after Lizabeth earned her Tony Award.
Through the years, Lizabeth has honed her auditioning skills. She’s improved at cold readings and vocal technique, and picked up more than a couple of dance steps (even choreographing a piece for ASA’s spring musical, Runaways, last year). Her resume has more credits, and her head shots are a bit less terrible than they used to be. (The subject is beautiful but the photo quality isn’t quite up there just yet.) Still, not every shoe fits. But she keeps trying them on. I love that about her.
Today Lizabeth learns about upcoming auditions from all sorts of places—friends who act, teachers who work in theater, theater company websites/e-bulletins and more. And she knows to expect a list each week of audition notices from Durant Communications, a theatrical publicity firm serving the metro Phoenix area (anyone can sign up to receive them).
The listings feature upcoming auditions for children and adults—for stage and film—plus opportunities for technical professionals. Just last week the Durant postings included auditions for everything from Phoenix Theatre outreach programs to a Valley fever improvisation troupe (plus the usual assortment of musicals and plays).
I’ll share a few of Lizabeth’s audition lessons learned in future blogs, as well as tips from Valley theater professionals. First up will be Bobb Cooper, producing artistic director for Valley Youth Theatre.
If your child or teen (ages 10 to 19) is eager to get out there and audition, check out the musical theatre audition workshop being offered Saturday, November 21st from 9am to noon at Phoenix Theatre in downtown Phoenix. (Yes—it too is located by my favorite foodie find—Arcadia Farms at the Phoenix Art Museum.)
The workshop is being taught by Michael Barnard, producing artistic director for Phoenix Theatre (along with Phoenix Theatre associate artist Toby Yatso), and three hours of instruction will run just $30. The workshop was more than half full the last time I spoke with Phoenix Theatre, so you need to call or e-mail right away if you want to get registered (Beth Cowan at 602-889-5293 or b.cowan@ phoenixtheatre.com).
Happy auditioning—and attending! I’ll see you at the theater.
Note: If you are a young actor or a theater professional with audition advice to share, please lend your expertise and insights in the comment section below. Success stories and horror stories (if you’re nice) are also welcome…