Tag Archives: TBA

Young Audience Members: NOT UNICORNS

Impact Theatre's production of Romeo and Juliet. Pictured: Joseph Mason, Mike Delaney, Reggie White, Jonah McClellan, and Seth Thygesen. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs.

Impact Theatre’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Pictured: Joseph Mason, Mike Delaney, Reggie White, Jonah McClellan, and Seth Thygesen. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs.

“THEATRE IS DYING. No young people are going to the theatre! There won’t be ANY AUDIENCE LEFT in a few years when they ALL DIE OUT.”

I hear this all the time, and it’s pharmaceutical grade nonsense.  Young people come to the theatre all the damn time. I wrote this article for Theatre Bay Area in 2011. Click here to see it in its original setting.

(I just got back from my theatre company’s annual season planning retreat, so I’m doing the lazy reblogging dance instead of serving you up a fine handcrafted cold-filtered brand new blog post.  One coming soon.)


“How do you get so many young people into your theatre? How can we do that?”

I’ve been asked these questions over and over and over. And over. The real answer is: I’m not sure. All I can tell you is what we’ve done, how we’ve done it and what I think you can do to better your chances of attracting the 18-35 audience. Will it work for you? I don’t know. Did it work for us? Yes, indeed.

Bear in mind that you need to do all of these things, all at the same time. This isn’t a pick-and-choose situation.

1. Do the kinds of plays young people want to see.
I am astounded by the fact that some larger theatres seem to believe young people should *always* be willing to translate, and blame self-centeredness, lack of interest in culture, lack of education and general boorishness when the 18-40 crowd don’t turn out in droves for a production of Dinner with Friends or Love Letters. Yet these very same theatres won’t slot a new play by an emerging playwright for fear of their subscribers’ reactions. They expect young people to translate, and heap condemnation upon them when they don’t, but they see older audience members’ potential lack of interest as their due. (P.S. Believe me when I tell you that 65 is the new 35. Many older Bay Area theatergoers are more adventurous than you think. TRUST. Moving on.)

While it’s always a good thing to have an active interest in the stories of people not in your age group (or ethnic group, or regional group, or religious group, etc), everyone longs to see their own stories, hopes, dreams, fears, realities and fantasies reflected in honest ways. Young people are no different. The key phrase here is “in honest ways.” A play by an older playwright with roles for young actors may or may not speak honestly to your desired potential younger audience members. Some older writers write very well for younger characters. Many do not. Large numbers of young people are not going to spring for tickets to a show that portrays them as mindless, boorish assholes. Find plays that speak honestly about the lives of young people in some way.

But how do I do that, Melissa?

I’m so glad you asked.

There are over 400 theatre companies in the nine-county Bay Area. We do more world premiere plays than almost any other region in the country—last I checked we ranked third. Yet it’s very common that staff from theatres who purport to want young audiences don’t come to world premiere productions at small theatre companies. How many emerging playwrights have you read this year? If the number is under 10, you’re slacking. Impact Theatre, my company, has produced a world premiere by, and/or entirely introduced to the Bay Area, these playwrights: Sheila Callaghan, Steve Yockey, Prince Gomolvilas, Enrique Urueta, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Liz Meriwether, Lauren Yee, Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, Joshua Conkel, Trevor Allen, Jon Tracy. This is a partial list—I stuck to people you’ve probably heard of. Most importantly, we’re a tiny dog on a very, very big block. There are a wagonload of companies doing precisely what we do. Find them. See their shows. Spy on the playwrights they use. Companies like mine are your R&D department.

Find directors who can make classic plays relevant and interesting—because they are. There are directors all over the country who draw loads of younger audience members into theatres to see Shakespeare, and a bunch of them are directing at these aforementioned smaller theatres.

2. Be realistic about your pricing.
It’s always annoying to hear people say, “But they’ll spend $60 on a concert ticket! Why won’t they spend $60 on theatre?” It’s like wondering why someone would drive all the way across country to be with her beloved but not drive just as long in the hope that she will meet a hot stranger in a bar. People drop bucks on concert tickets because they already know and love the artist and have every expectation of seeing a great show and having a great experience. Condemning those people for refusing to drop a similar amount of money on a show they may know little about that will, let’s be honest, likely bore them because it’s aimed entirely at someone else, is a bit much, yes? If you’re going to condemn the under-40 crowd for not dropping $60 on your play about middle-class, middle-aged white people and their midlife crises, you should also condemn Grandma because she’s not stocking her DVD collection with $60 of Robot Chicken.

So keep your ticket prices accessible. Some companies do an under-30 rate, which, quite frankly, I’m not wild about. That 30-40 crowd is young enough to need enticing into your theatre but old enough to be on the brink of having enough money to become donors and subscribers. You want them. They’re routinely ignored and that’s not going to pay off in the long run for your audience building. Make an under-40 rate if you must. Make some performances pay-what-you-will. Make your less attractive seating areas $20 for the first few weekends. Whatever you need to do, do it.

3. Market to young people.
If you’re not active on Facebook and Twitter, you need to be right now. Learn how to use these powerful tools properly. This isn’t a social media marketing post, so I’ll assume you can figure out where to get this info and move on. The blog on your website is going nowhere unless you’re pushing it with Facebook and Twitter, by the way.

Find ways to make your outreach to young people honest and, most importantly, unpretentious. One of the main things keeping young people out of the theatre is that they’re afraid they won’t fit in—they’ll feel awkward and out of place. As my friend’s dad was fond of saying, they’re afraid they’ll “stand out like a sheep turd in a bowl of cream.” You want to make them as comfortable as possible. A big step towards that is to use your marketing to make them feel welcome. Not pretend welcome, as in, “We want to sell you tickets,” but truly welcome, like “Come over and play with us! We just got a new toy!”

Theatre is not medicine. We don’t go because it’s good for us. We go because we think it’ll be awesome. Make sure you’re approaching your marketing properly. “It’ll be awesome” + “You’re totally welcome and will be comfortable” + “We’re not stuffy and pretentious” will go a long way. Make sure you’re delivering those goods onsite as well. Nothing drives someone away from your company forever as efficiently as an undelivered promise.

And that’s pretty much it. This is what I believe has worked for us over the past 15 years. I hope it’s successful for you as well. We all need to work together to build audiences for our future as an artistic community. There’s not a single one of us that exists on an island. We’re all in this together.

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General Auditions Dos and Don’ts

My Lisa Keating headshot.  She's amazing!

My Lisa Keating “I’m a fancy grown-up Artistic Director” headshot. She’s amazing!

This is an article I originally wrote for Theatre Bay Area Magazine about the TBA General Auditions. While it was written specifically for these annual Bay Area-wide general auditions, 99.997% (shut up, I did the math) of the article is applicable to any audition. 

Theatre Bay Area General Auditions are right around the corner, and many of you are preparing for what will be the most important audition you’ll have all year. As someone who’s watched thousands of actors audition over the years, I’ve seen a lot of great auditions and a lot of truly awful ones, and despite the number of audition workshops going on in the world, lots and lots and lots of actors make the same, easily avoided mistakes. Here are my top 10 audition tips to help make your Generals audition—and all your auditions throughout the year—look professional and polished.

Before we begin, let me start by saying that, for the auditor, every audition is a set of problems that needs to be solved. If you’re casting, say, “Measure for Measure,” you have a minimum of 13 problems that need to be solved—13 parts that need filling. Each and every person who walks through that door is a potential solution to one of your problems, and trust me, all casting directors are rooting for you because of that. There’s no adversarial relationship—quite the opposite! We want you to do well.

1. Be polite to every single human you see. This seems like a no-brainer, and yet I saw an actress flip off Berkeley Rep casting director Amy Potozkin in an ill-advised bit of road rage on my way into the Generals last year. This is the sort of thing my businessman brother likes to call “career-limiting behavior.”

2. Dress appropriately. By this I mean that you should wear something clean, comfortable and reasonably professional. You don’t have to wear something uber-dressy, but you should look presentable. You should not look like you just tumbled out of some strange bed in the SFSU dorms and barely managed to get on BART in time. You should wear something that makes you feel confident and that you don’t have to fuss with. You don’t want to be futzing with your sleeves or pulling the Picard maneuver every few seconds, because then we’ll start to watch that instead of watching you. For this same reason, you shouldn’t dress provocatively. When you dress like Jenna Jameson on the red carpet at the AVN Awards, pretty much all anyone will notice is your outfit. That finely tuned Rosalind goes right out the window. Also, please do not wear something “costumey.” I know many of you have used this kind of thing successfully for commercial auditions, but I do not recommend it for the Generals. While an audition is indeed a type of performance, it is first and foremost a job interview. A special note for the TBA Generals: Please avoid anything shiny or reflective, such as sequins. The last few times I’ve seen this at the Generals, the light bounce made the audition almost unwatchable.

3. Do a well-rehearsed monologue. Under-rehearsed monologues always look terrible, as they are without fail filled with bland choices, blank spots where you’re hunting for lines, and unmotivated pauses. I know you think you can totally pull it off, and maybe you can, but you’d be in the tiny minority. Be mindful of the difference between doing it in front of the bathroom mirror and the pressure of doing it in front of all of the Generals auditors.

4. Face forward so everyone in the room can see you. No, you can’t do your audition to an empty chair stage left or in complete profile stage right. Whoever told you that’s okay is wrong. Also, please never “use” us. Don’t look directly at the auditors. It makes us uncomfortable, and that’s the last thing you want. We stop thinking about you and your monologue and become fully absorbed in the fact that you’re staring at us. We do not wish to be part of your scene; we want to watch you and take notes. Place your mark over the auditors’ heads.

5. Make bold, interesting, motivated choices. Some early-career actors make bland, boring choices in audition monologues, fearing that bold choices will lock them into one “type” or another. However, all they’ve shown me is that they’re bland and boring. Make bold and interesting choices! Show me your chops! On the flip side, don’t make wild, unmotivated choices in the mistaken attempt to show virtuosity. Unmotivated screaming, weeping, maniacal laughter, or randomly chosen physicalizations, for example, are not showing you to the best of your ability. Also, please don’t bring props. Again, I know some of you have had success with this for TV auditions, but it’s not done in the theatre. I actually saw someone whip out a prop gun during the Generals one year. Not a good idea.

6. Choose your audition pieces wisely. Choose pieces that focus on your desired area of specialization, whether that’s period-specific, type-specific or what have you. In addition, when you choose your audition pieces, bear this in mind: many of the Generals auditors will have never met you before, and our only real taste of you will be your audition. Try to avoid choosing pieces that, while potentially awesome in a performance situation, could be unsettling in a monologue situation. I understand that this sounds unfair, but life is unfair, bubbeleh.

Avoid monologues that are creepy or insane unless you have a sharply contrasting companion piece. Exceptions are very well-known monologues, particularly Shakespeare.

Beware of monologues with lots of overt sexual talk and/or swearing. Many auditors, including myself, don’t mind that at all, but many do, and who they are would surprise you.

Avoid monologues that are insulting, racist or otherwise controversial. Yes, I understand that the character doesn’t necessarily reflect your personal opinions, but again, you want to avoid making a roomful of auditors who have never met you before uncomfortable. A great example of this is Carter’s monologue about his mother from Neil LaBute’s “Fat Pig.” While some people love this piece, enough people are put off by its hateful content to make it an extremely poor choice for Generals, or any audition where you’re not absolutely sure it will be well received.

7. Beware the classic pitfalls everyone warns you about:

Avoid accents unless you’re truly expert. Nothing pulls an auditor out of a monologue faster than a poorly done accent. Additionally, many auditors talk about how they sigh wearily to themselves whenever someone busts out a Southern accent (unless the play calls for it), because they are astonishingly overused in audition situations.

Avoid the monologues that are ludicrously overdone. I realize that this is subjective to the individual auditor, but by and large, all your standard lists are generally applicable: No Durang tuna fish monologue, Laundry and Bourbon, Spike Heels, Cowboy Mouth, Shadow Box, Popo Martin. I exempt classic pieces from this, because there are only so many from which to choose. If you want to do Julia or Launce, be my guest. Just be the best damn Julia or Launce you can be.

Never do a self-written monologue. Even if you’re the next Marga Gomez, a self-written monologue tells me exactly nothing about how you would handle standard material. It’s simply beside the point of most auditions.

8. Know what you’re talking about. Please don’t come in pronouncing words—or even the name of the playwright—incorrectly. Read the entire play if at all possible. If the play is unpublished, you can bet there is something about it somewhere online, and Google is your friend. Even a brief review from six years ago can tell you valuable information about the play’s tone, about the characters, etc. Once I judged a high school Shakespeare competition where two girls did the willow scene from “Othello” as slapstick comedy. Painful.

9. Make sure your headshot and résumé are professional. A great headshot is worth the money. While you may look gorgeous in the DIY headshot your boyfriend took of you in the backyard in front of a bush (why is it always in front of a bush?) it simply doesn’t look professional. And that shot from ten years ago is no longer usable, no matter how much you spent on Botox. There are many fantastic headshot photographers in the Bay Area. In my opinion, Lisa Keating is one of the finest in the country. Check out her work at http://lisakeatingphotography.com.

Poorly formatted résumés are a rampant (and distressing) problem. Many actors have excellently formatted résumés posted online that you can use as examples. Check out http://cindyim.com, http://valerieweak.com, and http://reggiedwhite.com for properly formatted résumés. Too many actors leave off their most recent email address, the names of directors, or the names of the theatre companies. Please also make sure that you have the name of the producing company, not the venue. La Val’s Subterranean Theatre and Exit Theatre are venues, not theatre companies. Finally, make sure that everything on your résumé is spelled correctly. An actor once auditioned for me with my name misspelled on his résumé. If you’re not good at spelling and grammar, find someone who is.

10. Exude confidence. Don’t apologize for being there, either verbally or by the way you present yourself. We know it’s nerve-wracking, but do your best to feel confident and enjoy performing for us. We’re all rooting for you, truly.

All right, kids: Now go kick some ass. I’ll be in the audience at TBAs this weekend sending you ass-kicking vibes.

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