You walk into a room. People who have never met you instantly analyse and judge your every move. You’re instructed to stand on a mark and sing with a pianist you’ve never rehearsed with, all the while projecting a sense that you’re alone on stage in a packed theatre instead of exposed in the middle of a fluorescently lit dance studio.
Sound daunting? This is literally what actors go through every audition, and amazingly, learn to enjoy.
This week, I shared a delicious inter-state coffee with Kaleigh Wilkie- Smith, a multi- talented Sydney based actor who studied the art of auditioning at the Making it on Broadway audition prep intensive during her time living in New York in late 2015.
If your facebook feed is as #theatredork as mine, chances are you’ve already seen that this workshop is coming to Sydney in July, and bringing the talented Michael James Scott (Genie in Australia’s Aladdin – The Musical), Shoshana Bean (Elphaba in WICKED The Musical), Arielle Jacobs (Jasmine in Aladdin – The Musical), Jodie Langel (Cosette in Broadway’s Les Miserables – Musical), Natalie Weiss (YouTube Sensation), Matt Ward (Matt Ward Vocal Studios), and featuring Australia’s Simone Sallé (Clown, Choreographer and dance extraordinaire on The Original Grease).
I’ve been intrigued by the Making it on Broadway workshop ever since getting shivers at the thought of breaking down a riff with the goddess in person. So I decided to find out more, and who better to shed some light on the course than Kaleigh Wilkie Smith, the very person responsible for bringing it down- under.
“I finished a class and I was talking to Miles and Jodie (MIOB Associates), and as sort of an off- hand comment I said ‘You guys can’t imagine how well you would do in Australia.’ And they said ‘oh really? Ok, talk to us about it.’ And we spent literally 7 hours nutting out the details of what is already here and what isn’t being offered. Within those 7 hours, they said ‘We’re coming.’”
Kaleigh was studying acting in New York and, tempted by the masterclasses of Annaleigh Ashford, Seirra Boggess and Laurence O’ Keefe, decided to use her 2- week Christmas break to squeeze in the Making it on Broadway course.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect. I went in and it was incredibly intense. Supportive, but intense. You show up with no idea what’s going on, then have to audition again and they sit you down and split you into 2 classes and explain you are to audition for the panel which will give you feedback you will then work on for the week. So we did a singing audition then a dance call. They pull in a whole bunch of casting directors, directors, MD’s, actors, agents etc. So you go in and audition for them like you’re auditioning for a show, and they give you feedback right there and then. You can’t do that anywhere else.”
Individual audition feedback with industry professionals is an invaluable process that I’ve only experienced twice in my life: during workshops at the Talent Development Project, and in audition prac assessments at WAAPA. The chance to receive feedback from a US creative team is of particular relevance, with the increasing number of Broadway productions playing in Australia, and US creatives on audition panels.
After working with the faculty of Making it on Broadway (all of which are active artists in the US industry), Kaleigh found she was comparing what is offered to Broadway performers and Australian actors.
“This is such an amazing opportunity to see the difference in what they have industry wise, because we know it’s not the talent. But industry wise, what do Broadway performers have over us?
“I guess the difference is just a sense of self- confidence and self- assuredness. It’s the difference between that and the tall poppy syndrome we seem to bow to here. In the US, they try and lift people up as much as possible – which is such a general comment, but I really think it’s a problem in the arts here. I mean, if you’re waiting in line for an audition here, there’s a sense of competition and that you are doing something bad to the other people by being there, and they’re doing something bad to you. It really gets to you, it’s uncomfortable. On top of the fact that you’ve then got to actually audition in that bizarre environment.
“In my experience working in the US, you get the job because you got the job, not because you’re better, smarter, thinner, prettier – you just got the job. That’s it. End of story. The Australian mentality is not anyone’s fault. It’s not what we intend to breed, but we have less to compete for here, and I think it is just that the US has a longer culture of theatre in general , and maybe that’s why they feel they deserve to be there.”
The one week intensive course involves workshops on vocal technique, acting your song, business class, building your book, masterclass, acting and dance.
“Jodie (who wrote the book “Making it on Broadway”), started the course and runs the Build your Book class. She sat everyone down and asked what roles we think we could play right now- and that was a huge thing for me. I’d never thought ‘today, what can I step on stage and play?’ When the answers came out of my mouth it was strange- I was assessing where I was at, where my abilities and strengths were. Then she (Jodie) said, ‘ok, well why don’t you have those songs in your book?’ And I thought, ‘that would make a lot of sense!’ Then she gave me a song and told me to prepare it for the following morning; which was intense because the classes ended after 6pm that night! And we had to sing it for Sierra Boggess, and ‘Larry’ OKeefe with less than 24 hours preparation!”
All this occurred while Hamilton was auditioning in the room next- door.
“It was one of the most intense weeks of my life, and I’ve done a two- and- a- half year music theatre degree. It revitalised for me the thing that I really want to do.”
Making it on Broadway is currently accepting applicants for the Sydney Audition Prep Intensive. Submissions close on Monday 13th June.
Apply online: https://app.getacceptd.com/makingitonbroadway