By Abby Lass
February break is one of the most well-deserved rest periods of the year, but for many of us this period of supposed relaxation is marred by the intense anticipation of fast-approaching tryouts.
Whether you’re fighting for a spot on the softball team or in one of the final South Stage productions of the year, these last few days before the official examination process begins can be highly stressful and can cause you to question things you thought you were sure of.
So let’s take a moment and make sure that you feel like you can get through this process and achieve the results you’re hoping for without sacrificing your sanity.
It might be a little late to be giving this advice, particularly if you’re looking at this because you’re stressed for spring season auditions, but I cannot underscore enough the importance of feeling confident in your material. At the end of the day, feeling competent and assured while you’re in the spotlight is far more important than trying to pick something flashy, so spend less time picking a monologue and more time making strong, interested choices.
Even beyond the realm of theater, make sure that you know how the tryout process is going to work. If the organization is even mildly professional, they’ll probably have posted a list of dates, times, and room numbers that you should be aware of, as well as any forms and other information that they need you to provide. It may be the least interesting part of the process, but being organized in these respects genuinely can be the factor that sets you over the edge or holds you back. After all, they can’t put you on the team if you never turn in your waiver.
Ask questions beforehand, understand the expectations, and then go in and execute them as only someone who is calm and confident can. These situations are daunting enough, so do everything you can to make sure that it all goes smoothly.
Maybe you’ve worked with this coach or director throughout the entirety of your high school career, but that does not make it appropriate to act in an unprofessional way towards them. Having a great relationship with the person who is deciding whether or not they want to work with you is an undeniable advantage, but you need to respect the fact that they are trying to piece together a picture that is much larger than just you as an individual, and, because of this, they might need to set any personal feelings aside.
It might seem like a personal slight if you are put in an undesirable position by someone you consider a close friend, but it’s vital to remember that the way you comport yourself towards that authority figure after the fact says a lot more about you as a person than your actions before the lists came out. Take the time to process your emotions, but make sure that you are also conscious and aware of what must have been going through their head. It’s okay to ask questions if you genuinely want to understand what someone’s thought process was, but in the end it is on you to be mature enough to accept their decision.
And a special word about student directors and leaders— their job is doubly hard because they are trying to function while everyone around them is secretly assuming that they will probably screw up and make decisions with their roots in nepotism. Be careful the jokes you make to them about wanting a specific part or deserving a specific position just because they’re your friend, as it might reflect more poorly on them than you realize.
Make waiting productive.
Everyone handles stress differently, which is why it’s important to find a personalized way to keep yourself calm and in the zone, especially if your tryouts involve a lot of waiting.
If you love an intense group warm up, go for it. If you’d rather sit in the corner alone and work on homework, that’s fine too. The only thing you should really avoid doing is spending the hours leading up to your big moment fixating and second-guessing your preparation.
Maybe your form isn’t perfect and maybe your blocking choices aren’t as strong as they could be, but please let me be the voice of reason that tells you it is too late to worry about that. Trust yourself and the hard work that has gotten you this far and don’t sabotage yourself by switching your monologue or reworking your spike with minutes left before your chance to prove yourself. You know what you’re doing, and even if you don’t, last minute risks are not going to get you where you want to be.
It’s obviously stressful to be the one under evaluation, but being in the position of the evaluator is often more difficult than people realize. Your coach, your choreographer, and whoever else is observing you has been given a very limited amount of time to look at dozens of different people. Worst of all, the only way they can do this is to have every single one of those people do the same thing over and over again. Having been in that position, let me tell you, it’s pretty exhausting.
It may not feel like there’s much you can do to lift those burdens— and honestly, just doing what they ask of you is probably the most helpful you can be— but a simple “thank you” goes a long way. It doesn’t cost you anything to be polite, and people definitely notice when you are. So thank your pianist, your captains, and anyone else who is working ridiculously hard to make this process happen.
This might be a foreign concept to some of you theater kids out there, but no matter the scenario, it’s always a good idea to show the people in charge that you know that their time is valuable.
You can demonstrate this understanding in a variety of ways, from making sure that you aren’t wandering the halls when your slot begins to moving from drill to drill efficiently to simply avoiding asking unnecessary questions because you’ve taken the time to figure out the answers yourself.
Regardless of what the tryout is for, the people in charge will always, always be more likely to bring on someone who is conscientious and helpful than someone who is oblivious and obstructive. Because of this, it’s important that everything you do gets the same point across: that you are an attentive team player who is going to make everyone’s life easier, not harder.
Know your strengths (and your weaknesses).
A lot of the frustration that occurs during these processes comes from the fact that people have unrealistic expectations of where they can get based on their personal set of skills. If you’re five feet tall, you’re probably not going to be the starting center on your basketball team; if you specialize in sketch comedy, you’re probably not going to get cast as Lady Macbeth.
Of course that’s not to say that you don’t deserve the opportunity to expand and improve your capabilities in whatever field you’re interested in, but being aware of what you’re best at and what you might need to work on can help you not only set yourself up for success but also better understand the results after the fact.
Don’t be afraid to ask directors and coaches what they’re looking for, both from you as an individual and from the ensemble as a whole. It’s also perfectly acceptable to ask for advice if you’re looking to broaden your horizons— asking “what can I do if I want to play older, more serious characters?” is much more likely to get a positive reaction out of a director than “I’m sick of playing the ditzy teenage girl.” The question makes you look like a self-aware performer, whereas the statement makes you come across as more immature and whiny. Even if you don’t get the part, you’ll still have gotten valuable advice that you can apply to different auditions going forward.
As always, it’s important to try to acknowledge that this evaluation of your skills is not an evaluation of you as a person. Being able to understand where you fell short takes practice, but it’s one of the best ways to ensure that you’re growing and developing as a member of your community. And don’t forget that not being pitcher material doesn’t make you a bad player, nor does not being Rosalind material make you an incapable actor. Every group, in theater, sports, and beyond, requires a huge variety of skills, so keep searching for a position in which your abilities will be recognized and appreciated to the fullest extent.