DIRECTOR, EDUCATOR & ADVOCATE
March 28, 2020
A = AUDTIONS
David Connolly (C) in conversation with Danielle Wade (D) for Matinee to Z,
a series of Instagram Live Master Classes developed in response to Covid-19.
C: It’s so great to see you Danielle. How are you, where are you?
D: I’m in North Carolina right now. With all of the things happening, we were a little afraid to cross the border and not be able get back for work.
C: Got it. Thank you so much for doing this! So, one of the things I am most excited to talk about ever is auditions. I've been very fortunate to be in thousands of them on the creative team and I think it's just super important that we talk about them and dispel myths. Okay, let's jump in and start with, I don't know, your best audition story?
D: Auditions are so fun and scary at the same time. Once I auditioned for a new Canadian show in New York, which was really fun. I didn't get it but it was my favourite audition because I felt like I couldn't have done anything different or better. Nothing. I mean, I went in and did exactly what I wanted to do. I remember the creator cried and I was like, "Okay well, I did a good job to make that person feel something." So that was worth the trip.
C: And what made you feel like you nailed? I find it's so cliche, but I believe preparation is our only defence in that crazy room. You must have been extremely prepared.
D: Exactly that. I had all the songs memorized - even though I still held my papers. Even if I don't need them, I hold the papers. Actually Mike Jackson taught me that. Just so that the team knows that you're open to suggestion, and you're not already a finished product.
C: Love that...to remind them you’re in process.
D: Yeah. So that and also, I remembered that those people on the other side of the table are on my team. They want you to be the answer to their problem.
C: That is so true. I find that there is a myth out there that auditions are a contest. That people think that there's win and lose, and that you're actually going into some battle. That is the opposite of what's my experience. I say, it's just a meeting to find out what you've been up to, like, who are you today?
Speaking of which, what's in your audition binder?
D: It's full of songs I love singing. I think that’s important. They just want to hear you sing well in a song that you connect to. You’ll make a much better impression singing a song you love to sing than a song you think is what they're looking for.
C: Yes! Another huge myth, another stumbling block… that people spend so much time trying to figure out what they want, as opposed to just being true to themselves, and exposing all of the goodness in a way that says, “here’s who I am, today!” As opposed to, "Oh, I've heard this and I read that and I went online and…" It’s so not going to serve you, and even if it does get you the job, you're gonna be miserable 'cause you're gonna have to be this version of you that was invented it for them, right? There's no one more authentic than you.
OK let’s get to some viewer questions. “I’ve got a video audition today. What’s your advice?”
D: Well, I done many, many a self-tape. I think the biggest thing with self-tapes is really basic but often overlooked. You need really good light, clear sound and a clear background. Then, I give myself a cap on self-tapes. I only do the scene or song two or three times, 'cause you could go on all day and all night. We have this idea that it’s possible to be perfect but usually the first or second one is what I end up using because it’s not overthought.
D: Love that. Okay next question, how do you deal with nerves?
D: How do I deal with nerves? This it sounds lame... but you gotta just use them. They’re always going to be there. If you're nervous, it means you're excited and you care about what you're doing.
C: I think that's scientifically proven. That the same chemical release happens in your body if you’re nervous or excited. And so you need to channel that energy into the text.
OK I'm gonna segue into this book. Sheri Sanders has this empire called Rock the Audition. I'm highly recommending it to anybody wants to know more about pop/ rock musical audition excerpts. This book is gonna tell you all about the different genres of music. And they’re all available on musicnotes.com/audition. They have long cuts and short cuts for hundreds of titles. We currently have no excuse not to learn new audition material. We have nothing else to do.
C: Next question: What do you like to see when someone comes in the room, when you enter the audition room? Do you like to shake hands?
D: That’s a you.
C: Well, when someone comes in, I like to see that they’re in their body and it's so clear when they're not. I just like to see someone who's a human, who's in for a human interaction. How you doin? How you doin? “I've got these stories I wanna tell you in this book called an audition binder, and I can't wait to share these stories with you.” Unfortunately, instead of putting their energy and the stakes in the material, many people put the stakes into the experience of auditioning. Hopefully you've picked material with super high-stakes and you can get all the energy out there. But until that point, just relax.
D: And as far as shaking hands, I think that was something they taught us in school but I don’t think I’ve ever done it.
C: Trust that you'll connect in the material. If you've prepared your material to the extent that you should, then it's going do all the talking for you. It’s gonna show us who you are.
Okay, next question, Danielle what's a dream show you haven't been in?
D: I really want to do Beautiful at some point. Classic, follow in Chilina Kennedy’s footsteps. There's a bunch of new shows that are coming out, that I would really like to be a part of.
D: Like I can’t say.
C: OK, but you’ll do The Prom right?
D: I would love to be in The Prom!
C: OK, next question... I’m waiting for a letter from a performing arts high school. Do you have any tips about how to be patient?
D: Dude, welcome to the business. Patience is your best friend. You drive yourself crazy thinking maybe I haven't heard because it's a good thing or I haven't heard, 'cause it’s a bad thing. It takes practice to understand that it's gonna take the amount of time it takes, and that once the work it’s over it’s out of your control. I also like to think of the worst case scenario. Like, if you don’t get accepted, you’re still gonna keep going, you're still gonna keep doing it because you love it so much.
Which is not to say it doesn’t suck. It sucks to wait, but half of the time in the business is waiting. You audition for 15 minutes, and you don't hear for a week or a month, or you hear in 30 minutes. The only thing constant is change.
C: I think the state of the world is showing us clearly that there are things we can’t control right now. But we can control learning a new audition piece, we can control whatever brings us joy. And in an audition you can't control anything, but that performance. Just those 32 bars, so prepare. Prepare for both the material/ the binder, but also be prepared for the room. We don't really get to practice auditioning. We don’t really get practice what it means to open the door to the twilight zone, right? There might be two people, there might be a million…
What's your most surprising audition story, where the door opened and you're like, wait a minute.
D: Okay, so I went to an audition and knew who the writers were but I didn't expect to see them there. I went to the bathroom, opened the door and there she was, the writer - right there and there was a sign in the hallway of the casting office that said, "No warming up in the hallway.”
And I jokingly said, 'cause it was freezing, I said, “I guess they mean that literally.” And she laughed and talked about how cold it was. I didn’t get the job but I made her laugh and I thought that was a win.
C: A total win. Every audition is collateral in your bank account.
D: You have to come to terms with the fact that you’re not gonna get every job.
C: Some people think of an audition as a one off, as a finite experience that ends when it’s over, when in fact you’re investing in the future of your relationships with everybody you meet inside and outside that room.
D: Yes, anyone can remember you and recommend you to something… the accompanist, the casting director, even people you’re auditioning with. People always worry about whether they should go. “Oh, I don’t think I’m this or that type… that’s not really me.” But that’s not your decision to make. Just Go! Who cares? You’re not wasting your time because you are guaranteed to learn something and if you end up not being right for something, you might be right for something else.
C: Okay, question about vocal health while on a demanding contract.
D: I’ve been very fortunate in my career as far as getting to play some crazy singing vocal track roles. But it’s hard guys. You really have to treat yourself like this is your whole life right here, in your throat. I'm on tour right now and Cady Herron is one of the hardest tracks out there. There are only two songs in Act 1 that I’m not on stage for. I’m always on stage either singing or listening to someone else sing. So I eat really healthy, really clean vegan, trying to fuel myself with as many good things as I can. I don’t drink, I go to bed early. It's all about the show.
C: Okay advice to calm down after an audition that didn't go as well as you would have liked it to...
D: But that’s always. You’re always going to overthink everything, right? It’s so hard to let it go. I’m the queen of “if only I had done this or that differently.”
C: Yes, and to realize that you're projecting. You’re not psychic you have no idea what those people might have thought of you. I think people need to build these defence mechanisms against the possible rejection. When in fact you could have done something that lit a spark.
D: I would love to sit in on auditions. I think it would be informative.
C: It is an honour to be on the other side of the table and see the vulnerability of how strong and brave people are. Especially seeing that it’s really all about humanity. I think especially once we get through the other side of this time, people need to recognize that it's going to impact their work. That it’s going to impact that audition binder, and so have a look. Like start now, why not, and go through and see what still resonates. And how you as a human now differs from you as a human then and what do you value? Do you have different values? Do you have different priorities? Do you have different feelings about this work? And if you do and your material doesn't serve you - toss it and find new stuff.
D: People are constantly making things and we have the internet.
C: Everyone's very lucky in this age. You have exposure to material that represents who you are and what you believe. I think that's a huge part of this audition game is you need to let us know what you believe in through your material choices.
Someone said your body goes through the same kind of chemical reaction as though you were in a plane crash. So, be easy on yourself and remember that all of these teams have different tastes that you can't control.
D: Here’s a question: Is the American audition room different than the Canadian one. No.
C: Yeah, yeah, that's the short answer. The American audition room will usually have more people it because it’s a bigger playing field, so sometimes the time you have the room is shorter, but a musical director is going to know what they need to know in 15 seconds. Which isn't good or bad. it doesn’t mean that they weren’t talented. You get to keep your Tony and your voice, it’s just not right for this musical director. It's just an opinion.
Okay, what style of dance do you recommend taking?
D: All of them. Anything that let’s you move… just move, move, move, keep moving. I always say I’m a mover lacking flare. You’re the only person who ever made me dance. Move Mighty Moblees!
C: OK - post secondary education question. Do you need one? Go!
D: Every person has their own journey and for some people it is incredibly important that they went to school and they built their foundation there, and for others, it isn’t. So I think it's a case by case, person by person, but be careful - don't look at someone differently because they went to school or because they didn’t. It doesn't matter, as long as the person is truthful in their story-telling - whether you learn it at school or in the community theatre, it's just a matter of telling the truth. That's all that people are looking for.
C: I totally agree with that. You can’t underestimate the apprenticeship side of this craft. So whether you're getting that apprenticeship training at school or somewhere else, you need to be in environments and rooms, and having experiences where you're learning from people who have gone before you.
Okay, who do you look up to?
D: Oh my gosh, so many people. Laura Osnes and I became friends after our television contests. I really look up to Jesse Meuller. I don't know her, but she lived in Chicago and was doing shows in Chicago, and then auditioned in New York one time and they were like, "Who are you and where did you come from?” She wasn't going to that audition to be famous, she was going 'cause she liked the part and she thought she could do a good job and she was perfectly content to stay in Chicago. I just think everybody's journey is so different. Chilina Kennedy I look up to 'cause she's this beautiful, Canadian person. I idolize her but she’s also a human, she's so normal.
I think we should like people because their human, not because they’re good at things.
C: Part of what I'm loving about this time is that we're getting to see the human side of so many Broadway people. Seth Rudetsky’s show and Chris Wilson is doing a Canadian version of it, where you get to see people's living rooms and they get to talk to you without any make-up on... and let you know that they’re scared too… And here's my baby... And here's my Tony, and Audra McDonald's Buddha and Patti LuPone’s cassette tape rack.
Okay, cool, let's see.. David, as a director, how much of the casting decision, is based on skill and how much is based on look or type? Interesting question B for both/ all of the above. It's always an indescribable kind of stew. A smorgasbord. And sometimes you'll have an idea before those auditions start and you'll just be wrong. Someone will come in and just be like... No, you're wrong about what’s in your head.
You can change someone's mind, you absolutely can.I tell a story about Chad MacNamara who came into a Doodblebops audition. His role was meant to be someone very very tall, and thin with a very thin face. They just had that in their minds. They had these cartoons drawn out of what they wanted the characters to be, and he was supposed to be very kind of Ray Bolger... And then, Chad, the movie star, walked in and just give us no choice. He changed the whole trajectory of that entire series. So yes, you have the capability of changing people's minds.
D: Even if the breakdown says one thing but you feel passionately, then go anyway. If they’ll let you in the room, go.
C: Can you talk about being a Canadian trying to get into the American market?
D: Well there are logistical aspects you have to overcome. For me, I got my green card. So I'm technically a permanent resident of America. I had to compile this giant stack of papers and articles and all these things that proved... It sounds really gross when you say it, but you had to prove your an exceptional artists and that they need you. But there are other ways to do it. You can get a visa, or you can do a show, or the director and the writers like is so much they help you get it.
C: You were very patient in that process. I remember. You just stayed so calm.
D: Well I just had to wait and believe when it's supposed to happen, it's gonna happen.
C: Is there difference between community theatre, your high school show and Broadway?
D: Truthfully? No. Guys, it's the same. Everyone puts Broadway on this big pedestal, and it sounds weird to say out loud but it's just another show, just very conveniently located. You still do the same exact work, it's not easier, it's not any harder. You’re working just as hard. You have rehearsal and a costume fitting and you go home and learn your lines and you come back and do it again the next day. It's all the same. And it’s the same people.
C: Someone said on Seth’s show last night that it just means better wigs.
David, do you have advice for actors looking to move from the ensemble to lead roles? Great question. If your practice is to share your heart, especially now in this climate where everyone's turning to art and artists and entertainment to have a cathartic, empathetic experience, if that's your focus, then, then just keep doing that and you will land wherever you're meant to be to achieve that goal which is to make the world a better place. I hope. I think that that's your mission Daniel, from what I know of you. So if you can just keep it pure like that, keep the energy of open hearts and open minds and not really be attached to leads or ensemble… just ‘where can I serve?’ ‘Where do I best serve this huge puzzle trying to make the world better." And then you’ll land where you’re meant to land.
D: That’s it. You need to lead with your heart, even when it’s hard, ‘cause sometimes it's really hard. Every other part of you wants to take control and steer you but if you are genuinely giving yourself to the craft and your forms of art, whatever that is…the cello or acting or painting, it’s going to lead you to where you're supposed to be.
C: Yeah, keep going, going… the challenge is to learn a new audition piece, and post it and hashtag “Matineetoz”, then we can all talk about how much joy it brought us to find a new story to tell in the world that needs us to keep telling stories needs, us to keep finding material that gives hope and optimism - that’s The New Audition Song Challenge!