The start of October is the best time to be a drama kid. Fall play rehearsals are underway, and musical auditions are right around the corner. Rain may be falling outside, but the drama office is nice, cozy, and always full of snacks.
Visit the theater a few weeks later, and you’ll find complete and utter pandemonium. For all those auditioning for the musical—the entire drama population plus other assorted students who’ve been coerced into participating by the aforesaid drama population—it’s crunch time. Song memorization, impressive runs, and frantic monologuing abound. Determined to reduce the stress for these kiddos, I thought I’d get the inside scoop on what the directors are looking for in a lead by interviewing Alban Dennis, drama teacher and director.
I’ll start off by debunking some common myths. Contrary to popular belief, shows at Lakeside aren’t precast. Main characters haven’t been decided until after the audition process is over, which may come as a shock to the many who, in September, take great pleasure in determining who will get which role. Directors also don’t have a preconceived “look” for a main character; if race or gender isn’t specified, the role is fair game. Additionally, there is no favoritism based on seniority. Freshmen are just as likely to get leads as seniors; directors are just looking for the best fit. And your busy schedule doesn’t automatically mean that you won’t get the part: allowances can and have been made so that students can participate in plays (keep in mind, however, that if your schedule is so full that you can’t rehearse often, your chances of a lead will be impacted).
In the end, Alban said that it all boils down to three things: “If you are after a certain part, then you have to show it. Then you have to do work to get it. You have to be prepared; you have to be available, flexible, and a good person.” In auditions, directors will often listen to a student’s audition piece, then ask them to redo it with a change of intention or objective. This evaluates their ability to respond to input. Acting is all about adapting, both to a scene partner’s choices and to a director’s wishes, so a star actor must be willing and quick to change. As well, auditionees must show that they didn’t just wake up that morning and decide to audition. “If you’re not fully prepared,” Alban said, “you’re not giving the director a chance to see you. I spend a lot of time on the text: I beat it out. Most cases, I memorize it.” Finally (a no-brainer), you’ve got to be someone that directors want to work with.
Alban was quick to point out that this is educational theater, not the harsh working world. Shows are specifically chosen for their large cast size and collaborative environment. You don’t have to be Beyoncé to take part. Besides, getting the lead role isn’t the most important thing in the world. I mean, not gonna lie, it’d be nice. But even if you don’t get the part you wanted, there’s merit in hanging out with your friends, singing songs, and taking your bows in front of a cheering audience. If you are willing to work for it, there’s a place for you in Mamma Mia! no matter who you are.