First and foremost, I feel the need to congratulate myself for finding an excuse to use the word ubiquitous. Even if it's not quite a perfect fit....I'm running with it.
Then I’m walking in Memphis!
..No. No I’m not.
I advise against that actually. It’s relatively dangerous.
This weekend I attended the Unified Professional Theatre Auditions in Memphis, TN. For any non-theatre folks, this is a yearly audition conference in which theatres from all over the states gather at the Sheraton Memphis Downtown and The Playhouse on the Square in search of (primarily) actors (but there are production interviews as well).
There’s much more to it than what I am about to write below, but this can at least serve as the “Sparknotes” version of UPTAs.
1. The actors apply (through a fairly thorough vetting process) around September/October (there is an exact date but I can’t actually remember what that is) and if you are accepted you are given a number and an audition day.
2. You audition on the stage of the Playhouse on the Square Theatre for an audience of representatives from all the theatres in attendance. Theatres that are interested in you will write down your number on a specific “callback” piece of paper.
3. After each group of 25 auditioners (1000 people perform in total. 250 each day.), there is a 5-10 minute break. In this time the representatives go use the restroom, get coffee from the lobby, etc. Someone comes around and collects all the “callback papers” from the theatre reps. These papers are then taken back to the Sheraton to a ballroom on the main floor.
4. Taped along the walls of this ballroom are 8.5x11 sheets of paper printed with the name and room number of each theatre in attendance alphabetically. Under each theatre’s name is the callback paper collected earlier with the name and number of the actors called back for that theatre. Whew--mouthful.
5. The actors then take the shuttle from the theatre (where they just auditioned) to the hotel to walk along the walls of this ballroom and denote what callbacks they’ve received, what each theatre wants from them (dance call, drop off headshot/resume, improv, singing more, interviews, etc), and what room of the hotel the representatives of those theatres can be found in.
6. Then each actor starts running around the hotel signing up for callback
time slots that are posted on the doors of each theatre’s respective hotel room. Once the actor has scheduled out what theatres they’re visiting when, they begin the callbacks. This continues until the dance call at 6.
7. The dance call includes a “Mover” piece, a “Jazz/Ballet” combo piece, and a “Tap” piece. You learn the pieces and go out into the hall. They then call people in in groups of 5-7 to dance for the theatres.
Sometimes the dance call can lead to further callbacks—but it doesn’t always. After the dance call, the actors continue doing callbacks until either they’ve finished, or the remaining theatres have closed shop for the night (usually around midnight). Once a theatre decides that they are done seeing callbacks, you (the actor) are out of luck. So it’s important to prioritize which gigs you want most and work your way down from there.
Then everyone does one of three things.
Fully clothed-on top of the covers-asleep before hitting the pillow-crash.
Goes to the hotel restaurant/bar to drink and eat all of the things
(you really don’t eat on these days. The past two years I’ve lived off of trail mix and Clif Bars during UPTA). So once your callbacks are done, the adrenaline subsides and you realize that there is nothing in the world that would be better than fries and beer.
Orders a pizza
to be delivered to the hotel and eats with roommates while discussing everyone’s callbacks.
It’s an exhausting day. I’m writing this the day after and my body hurts, I’m very tired, I want to eat everything, and sleep for four days.
To anyone outside the world of theatre, this sounds insane. You don’t eat, you schmooze with strangers, you get up onstage in front of 100+ potential employers to sing, dance, talk to a wall and call it your “other” and be analyzed on how connected you were with it. *cough* Oh, I mean, “do a monologue.” (Did I mention that your audition has to be under 90 seconds? Hard stop.) You wake up at 5am and go to bed after 1am and drink a lot of Throat Coat tea.
But you also meet some of the most incredible, passionate people in the world. You’ll play improv games with strangers under the direction of people who’ve written books, directed movies, revolutionized interactive theatre. You’ll be asked to pretend you’re a frog, speak in dialects, belt your face off. You’ll see old friends and reconnect in an elevator between floors. You’ll meet up with them again later and chat over drinks after midnight. You’ll laugh. You’ll play. You’ll lose your inhibitions. You’ll get off on the wrong floor and knock on the door of a stranger thinking they’re a representative of a theatre that called you back and even hand them your headshot and resume only to be repaid with looks of utter confusion….no? Just me? Oh. Cool. Nevermind.
My point is, yes. It’s nuts.
But in a world full of predictability and mediocrity, a day spent fully submerged in your craft, your passion: it’s incredibly good for the soul.
And also your wallet since all the actors in attendance are there to get a job.
I’ve only been out of school about 9 months. So I’m by no means an expert in the “how to be an actor” department. But I’ve found thus far that I’ve learned the most through “doing.” I booked my current gig at GLT at last year's UPTAs and walked away with 5 other offers besides--we’ll see what happens this year.
I’m gonna sit down and write my “follow up” emails tomorrow but tonight I’m gonna drink some tea and maybe make soup and watch Gilmore Girls until I fall asleep before 10. And I’m unreasonably excited about that.
Bonne Nuit Bears,