What it takes to do stage auditions

Photo by Tim Brown
Cast hopefuls gather for auditions for “When You Comin’ Back Red Rider?” (Photo by Tim Brown)

Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou … what was the line again?

It may sound easy, but landing a role in one of UAA’s Theater shows isn’t a cakewalk, even if it is a university production.

The audition process for stage productions vary from company to company and director to director. There is no specific formula to follow that renders the perfect cast, so how are actors chosen for UAA productions?

Auditions are open to the public, not just UAA students.

“We are, at once, a community theater and an educational theater,” David Edgecombe, a professor in the Department of Theater and Dance said. “Frequently, we have over 20 percent of the cast be community people.”

Edgecombe is the director UAA’s April production “When You Comin’ Back Red Ryder?”

Auditions for the show were held Sunday in the Fine Arts Building.

- Advertisement -

Edgecombe’s process for finding the “Red Ryder” cast and the casts for his previous shows, is pretty straightforward. It all starts with an application.

“(Actors) generally fill out paperwork so that we get an idea of their experience,” he said. “Sometimes, rarely, you can get someone who’s never done anything before, and he’s a genius. But that is very rare. You want someone who has a significant amount of comfort on stage, who knows how to approach creating a character, and can, quite honestly, memorize the lines.”

Rebecca Deisher, an English senior focusing in education, recalls filling out an application to audition for the Fall 2010 production “Singin’ in the Rain.”

“It was a lot like a job application,” she said.

When she auditioned with production director Fran Lautenberger, Deisher and other hopefuls were separated into groups after they filled out the applications. Each group took turns going before the casting committee to sing. The candidates in each group then performed one at a time in front of the casting committee and each other.

“I was so, so scared, but it turned out OK,” she said, despite not being cast.

Deisher was nervous about unexpectedly singing in front of so many people during the audition, but she acknowledges the necessity of the process.

“Just for me, as a person, if I couldn’t sing in front of them, how was I going to sing in front of an entire audience in an actual show,” she said.

Edgecombe wasn’t looking for singers in “Red Ryder” auditions. During auditions for stage plays, like “Red Ryder,” he gives candidates the opportunity to perform a monologue of their choosing.

“I don’t require a monologue, but anyone who’d like to perform something is welcome to perform it for us,” he said. “I’d like to say that I don’t (give preference) but it’s very hard not to look positively on someone who is very prepared.”

After that, Edgecombe hands out portions of the scripts, speeches and monologues called “sides.”

“People who want to read a specific character then will usually go off to the side, or into the hall and look it over so that they’re familiar with it,” he said. “That way, I get more than just a cold reading from people. They know about the play, they’ve rehearsed a speech and they can give a performance.”

Once auditions are over, Edgecombe typically doesn’t utilize callbacks unless he is torn between auditioners for a particular role. If callbacks are not required, Edgecombe usually has his cast chosen and posted by the next day.

For a musical, such as “Singin’ in the Rain,” the audition process isn’t as simple. The stage director of a production has to work with the music director and the choreographer to select the cast, and oftentimes their choice cast lists are very different.

“Sometimes it’s frustrating for a stage director, because they want someone who can really act the part, and a musical director wants someone who can sing the part,” Edgecombe said. “The (stage) director does have final say. You try to compromise, but if they aren’t willing to compromise, then the director has to pull rank.”

The time between casting and opening night is usually about six weeks, and sometimes emergencies arise that cause actors to discontinue their part in the production during this time. There isn’t any official protocol for recasting a role when this happens, and there are no understudies in UAA productions, according to Edgecombe. Either someone (including Edgecombe himself) will sit in and read the missing role, or someone else familiar with the production will take over.

But even though emergencies do happen, Edgecombe rarely replaces or stands in for an actor.

“We had an actor that I worked with in graduate school whose father died. He missed one dress rehearsal and was back for opening night … he just felt very strongly that his father would have wanted him to get back into the project again,” he said. “The show must go on, no matter what.”


Edgecombe’s production of “When You Comin’ Back Red Ryder?” will be showing in the Harper Studio in the Fine Arts Building from Friday, April 5 to Sunday, April 21. Friday and Saturday showing are at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.