Audition Tips

Because so many auditions are coming up in the next few weekends, I wanted to post some tips to help you make the best of your audition. Here are a few items that always worked well for me when I was auditioning, and some things that I look for when auditioning prospective members for one of my ensembles.

Bring a good attitude! I love when someone comes to an audition and brings a positive ray of sunshine with them! If you present yourself as a hard worker, a team player, and as someone who can contribute an encouraging vibe to the whole ensemble, chances are I want you on my team!

Stand in front when you can. For many performers, standing in front of the block (especially at an audition), can be terrifying. You don't have to be the perfect example of every exercise or every count of choreography to stand in front, but it does mean the staff can see you more easily.  If they can see you, they are more likely to notice you being attentive, making mistakes, learning from those mistakes, and improving. At an audition, those are the people I remember.  If they remember you (yes, even for blowing up, performing through your mistakes, and recovering), you are far more likely to get a callback!

Ask smart questions. I'm not suggesting that you ask non-stop questions about every count you learn, but if you want to know "are we standing in first of third position here?" ask! I always remember the performers that ask good questions. It suggests that you are attentive and hard-working during rehearsal, that you're going to remember your checkpoints, and that you care enough to hit them. 

Perform. Everything. Performance is difficult to teach. I know plenty of instructors that would gladly take someone who can perform fabulously and teach them to spin. Prove that you can perform with your face and body all the time. Tell me a story with your body during dance basics and I will watch you the rest of the day! Show me some fierceness during rifle spins and werk that flag choreography! Perform through your mistakes and chances are you'll make a very good impression!

Those are my top 4 tips for a good audition. Good luck, and I hope to see some of you performing (maybe in one of my ensembles) in the coming year!

What are your tips for auditioning? Comment below! 

 

Finding Performance Quality (Part 1) - Ezra Campbell

This week and next, guest blogger, Ezra Campbell talks about performance quality. 

 

On a recent trip to New York City, I had the privilege of being able to see Finding Neveland from the 18th row (yay rush tickets!). The show is inspired by the 2004 film of the same title and premiered in 2012. It has been on Broadway for 17 months and is expected to close in August, so I feel very lucky to have seen it during it’s run. It is an imagination of the story of J.M. Barrie, the author behind the classic Peter Pan. Matthew Morrison, from Glee, playing J.M. Barrie and Kelsey Grammer playing Charles Frohman/James Hook in the Original Cast. And Yes, I did play the Hamilton lottery every day while in the city but to no avail. Although it was my second choice of show to see, Finding Neverland did not disappoint and certainly left me with happy thoughts.

But you’re not here for a Broadway review, so firstly, I must admit that if I took a BuzzFeed quiz to find out my Colorguard judge personality type that I would absolutely be Ensemble Analysis. Sure, I love those downstairs judges but I enjoy Ensemble Analysis because, for me, it is elevated General Effect. It’s what comes after you’ve learned the choreography that really excites me as a performer, an instructor, and as an audience member. I often find challenging when sitting so close to a stage for a production that I am unable to use my more typical wide angle viewing lens and must swap it out to my more isolated sampling lens. So as the curtain rose and the visual onslaught began, I had to decide if I was going to be judging Individual Analysis or Ensemble Analysis based on which would make the show more enjoyable. The learned visual acumen of a trained performer could possibly rob you from every having a peaceful theater going experience. I’m sorry, really I am. On one hand it will allow you to absorb details missed by the average audience member. You will be able to look into places that are not the created focal point. I was able to enjoy the choreography from the secondary focus on many occasions during the show. You’ll be able to notice how transitions are utilized to create a general effect, before the effect takes place. Like noticing that the pirates were going to climb on the netting deployed downstage long before it actually occurred. (See if you can notice the transition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fevDew-8oSo) Or like the zippers, the boys all had plastic zippers on their boots which were not period accurate. (See, robbing me of a peaceful experience since I spent half of the first song starring at them) But this insider vision that you gain will allow you to examine your own performance style and to then integrate new performance techniques to expand your own repertoire.

By the third number, after the big opening statement, I had settled into enjoying the overall general effect of the show. Mia Michaels, from So You Think You Can Dance, choreographed the show and more recently she has immersed herself into the world of colorguard-teaching a master class at World Championships in 2011. She did incorporate colorguard into the show, using poles to create the illusion of a carousel. Although, the vocabulary of the equipment work was not difficult and based on basic exercises the ensemble struggled to display proficiency to a trained eye. This goes back to angles and checkpoints, those basics that you hate to do on flag are what could have saved a Broadway production! Also the 6’ poles were black and taped spirally with large gold tape-this only further exemplified the lack of clarity in the checkpoints. It is so important to choose the right equipment to allow your performers the greatest level of achievement.

The show is definitely easily recognizable as her style of movement with the level of achievement of the individual performers varying. I felt like some the more nuanced muscular articulations were challenging for the younger performers due to lack of training and at times resulting in timing discrepancies. I was ruminating on these ideas when the Servant entered the stage. I do not know what else was occurring onstage at that moment because I developed tunnel vision. Finding a performer that captivates all of my attention is similar unlocking a magical, glittering, glowing treasure. There’s an equally regal theme that would make John Williams ache to have created in my head that swells to crescendo when this moment rarely occurs. This actor, who was playing a minor role, upstaged the main characters on many occasions. I tracked him in various costume changes, even one in which his face was obscured. As the park and blow of the final number in Act I ended, although my disbelief was not yet suspended, I felt satisfied to be able to experience such performance quality. In talking later to my fellow theatergoers they too expressed a fascination with the actor playing the Servant but not being able to articulate exactly why.

This lead me to question-What is performance quality really? Can it be taught or learned? Why don’t all performers have it, are we born with it?

Tune in next week, for all the fairy dust secrets behind how take your performance quality to the second star on the right & beyond.

Teaching Movement Quality - The Basics

I find that many colorguard instructors don't feel adequately prepared to teach movement quality to their ensembles.  At the mention of teaching movement in general, many equipment-inclined instructors will freeze with panic.  Likewise, many students will creep towards the back of the basics block when it comes time to dance.  

First of all, relax! Dance block does not require the seriousness of curing cancer; it's just movement!  Its ok to do something wrong, as long as you are willing to go back and try it again until you get it right (this goes for students and instructors!).  Students who simply tolerate this part of the training regime as a means to spin flag, rifle, or sabre later, are not going to get the full benefit of dance block.  I like to encourage my students to think of dance training as the building blocks of equipment training.  For example, performers who acquire a better understanding of where their arms are, will subsequently develop more consistent release points.  Learning to stretch through the length of the leg line (rather than just "pointing the toes") can make the lines of equipment work appear longer, thus improving overall performance quality.  I could provide infinite examples, but let's get to the meat of it. 

As I often say, when learning something new, start with what you already know.  This exercise starts with walking.  The rules of the exercise are this: 1) don't make noise 2) don't touch another person 3) stay within the boundaries (ie on the floor tarp or within the basketball court lines) 4) move into open spaces 5) don't do anything that might injure yourself or others.  

Then I turn on music and just let the kids walk. 

Now let's use this exercise to talk about movement quality.  

Movement quality refers to the way in which you are moving.  How might the way you are moving be described? I break it down into 4 categories with sliding scales.  These terms come straight from WGI movement judges; these are the terms they are trained to use when talking about an ensemble or individual's movement.  You've probably heard them on judges tapes. 

1) SPACE - are you taking up a large amount of space or a small amount of space?

2) TIME - are you moving quickly or slowly?

3) WEIGHT - does your movement look like gravity has increased or as if you are floating on the moon?

4) FLOW - are you moving in sharp, short, punctuated movements or in one fluid, continuous motion?

After describing each of the four categories, I revisit the walking exercise.  Turn on the music, and then call out instructions so that students might experience the two extremes of each category through their walk.  It might go something like this:

"Take up a large amount of space......now take up a small amount of space....walk quickly.....now walk slowly... etc"

As students become comfortable with this, I will call out two descriptions at once. "Move slowly with increased gravity!" "Be small and fluid!" 

I find this is a great warm-up exercise that helps prime my students to apply variations of movement quality during dance block.  I can now describe the quality I am seeking (for a particular exercise or for choreography) in a way that my kids can immediately understand and apply.  For example, I might describe an across-the-floor exercise this way:

SPACE   Big -----X------------------------------ Small

TIME    Fast  ----X------------------------------- Slow

WEIGHT    Heavy ----------------------------X------- Light

FLOW    Punctuated ------------------------X----------- Fluid

Using this continuum helps my students understand what movement quality I'm seeking, and immediately helps to clean up the exercise by creating a more consistent look from performer to performer.  Of course, the same continuum might be applied to describing equipment work as well! 

With more advanced students, this exercise can be modified to include variations in levels, to move into and out of the floor, and to foster an understanding of an individual's default movement styles and to help them explore outside of that comfort zone.  

I hope this approach to movement can help instructors and their ensembles relax and feel more confident in their movement training while exploring the fun side to dance block. :D