Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dennis Schebetta -Playwright - Guest Blogger

I am SO Lucky - which means you are SO LUCKY! Thank you Dennis. These are words to live by my friends!

Dennis Schebetta is an actor/director and award-winning playwright whose monologues can be found in the series Audition Arsenal published by Smith & Kraus.  He writes about the creative life on 

Without further ado (drumroll please) - Mr. Dennis Schebetta

5 Tips for the Auditioning Actor (from a playwright)

As a playwright and actor, I’m honored to have had many talented performers elevate my writing to new heights (like say, Detta, for example). Actors are inspiring, courageous and interesting people. They work damn hard and deserve every curtain call they get.


There’s nothing worse for a playwright than to spend three hours agonizing over getting a certain phrase just right only to hear an actor butcher the words in three seconds.

Don’t get us wrong.  We love actors and we love to write for them.  We want you to be brilliant which is we try to help you even when you don’t know it.  Shakespeare was a master at giving acting help via his lines.  A line like, “Out, damned spot, out I say!” only gives one good option for physicality and delivery.  Okay, obvious example, but he did have other subversive methods.  And he isn’t the only one.  All playwrights, Shakespeare or not, give hints that can help guide your choices.  Great actors find them.  Do you?

To help you, here are five useful tips from a playwright to keep in mind when you’re looking at your audition monologue or scene:

1)     Use the words.  First off--Get thee to a voice & speech teacher! One thing playwrights hate (and directors, too) are mumbling actors that can’t project without screaming and don’t know how to use the words effectively.  Playwrights love the sound of words and so should you.  Find a vocal coach (not just for singing), and work that muscle every day.  The audience comes to HEAR theatre as much as see it and good playwrights know this.  (And yes, we can tell if you’ve had training or not; literally, once you open your mouth.) With training, you can really use the consonants and vowels.  Play the language as much at the intention.  If your character says “I’m leaving”, then don’t rush through it with “I’mleavin…”.  Take your time (just like Detta said with your introduction of your own name).  Think of the text like poetry.  Use any alliteration, especially if you’re working with comedy, as well as any repetition. Find any words that are simply fun and luxurious to say.
2)     Find the beat. Poetry is as much about rhythm as it is about content (“iambic pentamer” is really just musical notation).  Playwrights use words as musical notes and are always conscious of rhythm.  Think David Mamet or Sarah Ruhl.  In some ways it defines the writer’s voice, but playwrights also use rhythm to indicate emotional states. Short and choppy can mean someone in a hurry, or angry—its quick and to the point.  Long sentences may indicate something more contemplative or that the character has more power or status than the other.  Or, we may alternate the rhythm.  If you were to set your monologue to a beat, what would it be?  Snap your fingers and play around.  Also, pay attention if suddenly your character switches rhythm mid-stream—something revelatory might be happening.
3)     Use the location. Location will often inform the situation (aka “given circumstances”).  A break up scene in an apartment is different than at a big birthday party.  Let us see how the given circumstances affect you in the scene. People are territorial and we will use different words depending on where we are—the playwright chose those words based on that location, not because it’s a neutral state (like the audition room).  Also, playwrights love to set things in public places (at least I do) because it raises the stakes.  Do you know how many times I’ve seen Edward Albee’s Zoo Story and not once ever saw behavior that reflected the setting of Central Park?  So, how does the environment & setting affect your character’s choices?  How does it affect what your character wants?
4)    Find the arc.  Playwrights focus on three areas when writing and rewriting and that’s the beginning of a play, the middle scene (usually the juiciest or toughest), and the ending.  In everything we write, long or short, we strive for a beautiful arc (yes, even with sentences).  The first priority for us is the ending—we want to make the audience gasp (mentally or literally).  Same for a scene or monologue—that last beat or moment maybe won’t make an audience gasp, but should have impact.  What’s the importance of the last line and how does it move the story forward?  This does not mean play the ending at the top of your scene, because the next thing playwrights focus on is the beginning.  That should be as dramatically different from the ending as possible.  This creates an arc, taking our characters on a journey from A to B.  If your character isn’t going from A to B, why are we watching you?  We also like to get the audience’s attention with something that might startle them.  We don’t ease into things and neither should you.  After that, we find some good stuff for the middle.  In your monologue, you might find a funny joke or meaty revelation that creates a 180-degree turn.  You might even find the rhythm changing.  Take a look at your monologue—it’s likely these moments are already in the text.  This arc idea also applies to sentence structure.  Maybe not all writers are so anal, but I’ll rewrite a sentence several times, jostling the same words around to see the difference of affect and power in word order.  Ask yourself why the playwright starts or ends the line with that word.  Playwrights tend to put words with the most impact at the end of a line. This is why directors often give the note, “take the end of the line up.” 
5)     Find the love.  Michael Shurtleff’s book AUDITION has the best piece of advice for actors ever and that’s to look for what the characters love.  Before you do that, think of what the playwright loves. Rarely do playwrights devote months or years of our life writing a character we hate.  We may be in love with their wit, their ambition, their flaws, or just because they are reflections of our own self (or completely different).  If you figure out why the playwright loves them, you might love them, too.  And directors have a knack for knowing when actors love what they’re working on.

Of course, each playwright has different strengths and weaknesses (we’re not all Shakespeare) and so I have one additional tip: Ignore everything I’ve just told you. 

No, seriously.  Playwrights have large egos because they spend a lot of time alone imagining entire worlds that they control.  Commit to your choices, even if it seems to contradict the playwright.  Playwrights can be wrong even about their own work and the smart ones will admit when an actor has made a unique discovery.

So surprise us.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Callback-Part 2- Bold Choices

Sometimes you only have one shot. One chance to read, one chance to sing, one chance to dance. Make the most of of it. How do you do that?
  • First - What is your objective? Always first and foremost what do you want?
  • How are you going to get it? Tactics! These will lead you to bold choices.
  • MAKE A BOLD CHOICE - go for it!
  • Has the director given you any direction? Told you what she's going for?
    • If yes - do it - try to give her/him what they want
    • If no- it's up to you. They want to see you interpret the role. If you've done your research this is easier - because you have already thought of choices, maybe even tried them out. At home, while you prepping. Read previous blog posts. Just saying.
  • Listen to your scene partner
  • React to your scene partner
  • Give to your scene partner
  • Take from your scene partner - what they are giving you.
  • Remember when it's not just about you, the scene is better.
  • When you are pursing an objective, the scene is better.
  • Don't push
  • Have fun.
Have you made a strong, definitive, bold choice rooted in emotional honesty? Then no matter what the outcome - you just had a good callback!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Callback-Part 1- You get to perform today!

The Callback - Part 1

I thought this was appropriate today since - I have a call back today! I'll be Dancing, Singing and Reading for Matron Mama Mortan in Chicago. So - I'll share with you what I did between my original audition and today.
  • Listened to Chicago once all the way through. I know the show - or I would have listened a lot more
  • Listened to Mama's songs
  • Sang through Mama's songs
  • Read the script.  Read through all Mama's scenes a couple of times, a couple of different ways with different objectives. OUTLOUD!
  • Read scenes with somone else, got their feedback, tried it on for size, kept some ideas, threw other's away.
  • Came up with questions - if given the opportunity - to ask at the callback
This morning - I got up early, Drank water, started warming up, ate a good breakfast with some protein, drank coffee - drank more water to make up for the coffee, stretched out, practiced the few dance moves I know, warmed up my voice a little more. Petted the dog.

Now - I will hop into the shower, get dressed for the dance call, take a change of clothes for after the dance call, make sure I have water - lots of it! Pack some protien and BREATH.

The most important thing I can do today and that anyone can do at a callback - after you've done your research of course - is to have fun. Even if I never get to perform the role for an audience with this company - I do today. TODAY I am Mama Morton - TODAY I have a captive audience. TODAY I get to have fun - act, sing, dance PLAY, try different things with different people. TODAY I get to do what I love - Perform. That was true with my original audition and it is true today. If one starts looking at auditions as performance opportunities - the audition process becomes a lot easier. 

HAVE FUN! You get to perform today!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Know Your Material-Beyond Memorization

Know your Material!

Do not memorize your monologue the night before the audition. Know your monologue backwards and forwards. Now - this does not mean - know-your-monologue-so-you-can-do- it- the-exact-same-way- every -time-therefore-I-can't-do-it-any-other-way. Refer to Hedda Example.

If the director has time they may ask you to try something new - Hedda as a cheerleader. Or they may ask you to start from a particular section and do it again. Maybe with no change. Focus on your objective and your tactic. However if you've only ever done the monologue from the beginning AND if you've only ever done it one way - this request will not be easy - even if that haven't given you a direction.

So - when memorizing a piece:
  • don't always start from the beginning
  • try singing it
  • do it with different "voices"
  • Say it out loud - not just in your head
  • have people talk to you while you are trying to do the monologue
  • do it in a park where there are distractions (um - if it is appropriate...)
  • have friends try to distract you
  • Say it out loud
  • do it with t.v., radio, dog in the room, playing with the cat
  • Move your body while you speak out loud
  • Did I mention SPEAK OUT LOUD - not just in your head!
 Let the words live in your body. In other words really KNOW the piece. Don't just memorize it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Don't be rude

A friend of mine who is a Producer/Director was recently holding auditions. He was producing this particular show but decided to hang around the auditions, not in the audition room. A guy came in who had changed his appointment but showed up at his "original" time. The producer tried to engage this actor in conversation saying - "Have I seen you somewhere before?" The actor replied -"I don't know, have you?" When the guy came out of the audition room he said "she wanted a character analysis" and stormed out. Producer found out the director had asked "who is your character talking to? He answered "I don't know, I don't have time for this shit" - and left.

2 morals of this story:
1st- know your character, know who you are talking to and be ready to answer questions!
 I tell my Hedda Gabler example in every audition class I teach.
         In an audition if a director ask you to play Hedda Gabler like a cheerleader - DO IT. They are just trying to see if you can take direction. 99.9 % of them do not believe Hedda is a cheerleader!

2nd - Don't be rude. Answer questions politely, make conversation if someone engages you, and as long as it is a reasonable request -  do what your asked! (Not resonable -don't jump off buildings or take your clothes off in front of a camera in some "producer's" basement!  )

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


If you had ONE audition you could do over what would it be and why?
Was it wonderful, horrible, one small thing you would change or would you change everything - GO!

Prepare for the Unexpected.

The Smart Thing is to Prepare for the Unexpected
Sometimes – it’s the little things that throw you. Don’t let them.
Let’s pretend shall we?
So you have your monologues – Musical theatre – even though we haven’t gone over song choice- let’s say you have a song
You’ve done all the work you need to do on your pieces. You’ve practiced your slate. Everyone knows you are” Judy ­­_Peters” not “Juiceypotter”
Practice your pieces in different orders.
·         Song first – then monologue
·          Monologue then song.
·         Doing three pieces – there are a variety of orders – do that.
·         Practice your transitions
·         Take into account that you have to communicate with your accompanist during your time on stage.
You may get to your audition and in your head you have planned – song first then monologue. Let’s say the accompanist says – Why don’t you do your monologue first – that will give me time to look over the – Key Changes, Your Marks, I don’t know this song – whatever. What do you say? YES of course! Why – because in your head you are ready for this scenario. It doesn’t throw you – because you are
Prepared and Expect the Unexpected!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Off The Grid

Off the gird for a couple of days. While I'm gone - check out the amazing Dennis Schebetta. Truly one of my favorite playwrights. I love his writing. Read just the first couple lines of one blog entry you'll be hooked - and inspired! See you Monday!

Practice Your Slate

Practice your Slate

Although we are not “In The Room” yet – we will be soon – it’s never too early to start practicing your slate.

What’s a Slate? Glad you asked.

Greeting, Your Name, Your pieces

Greeting – take your pick – Good morning, hello, good afternoon – etc

Your name. It’s your name. You know it really well. But they DON’T – Slow down.


Put a space between your first and your last name. Don’t run it together like it’s one word.

Bradetta Vines not Bradettavines

Start practicing now.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Vacaction is Over!

Vacation is over!

Well -almost! Posting starts again on Tuesday. Have you started following publically yet? If not - you should. This month - Guest Blogger Dennis Schebetta, Interviews with local directors and input from many music directors! See you on the boards!

Also - local actor Shanga Parker was just in Leverage - check it out!