Diary of a Drama School Graduate: New York Edition

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

The road to the 2016 New York Showcase started way back in March 2016. Our group met from all over the UK to team up with Doug Hall, our brilliant director, and began the week long process of finding material and preparing for our showcase. Now, it’s finally September and the showcase is among us! Most of the showcase group has been in the city for a few days, but I flew straight from London after a very exciting audition, hopped into a taxi, and rushed to our first panel of the week. 

Drama graduates at their New York showcase

Our first panel was comprised of casting director Michael Cassara, Chad Pisetsky from Henderson-Hogan, and Jim Daly from blocNYC. These workshops are a chance for us to meet industry professionals in a less stressful and pressured setting, and for them to really see us instead of being another headshot in a stack of hundreds. We each performed a monologue for the panel, and followed with a Q&A session. 

They offered great tips, like becoming a reader for a casting director, taking classes, and keeping track of who you audition for, what they’re doing, etc. It reiterated that, just like London, this is a very cutthroat industry. Agents and casting directors know that you’re good from your training, but they want to see your personality, and who can bring something unique to their performance to surpass their expectations. At the end of the day, they are looking for performers who are going to walk into the audition room and be the solution to their problem. 

Wednesday, 7 September 2016 

What a time to be alive! And what a city to be alive in! We’ve starting digging into the rehearsal process now. When we aren’t rehearsing with scene partners in various coffee shops or parks, we are exploring this incredible city! There are tons of museums, shopping, sightseeing, and of course Broadway. My scene partner, Jackson Simmons, and I have been meeting in Bryant Park to rehearse and relax. It’s so nice finding quiet peaceful spots in the city. 

Our workshop tonight was with Elizabeth Berra from Marc Hirschfeld Casting. She works heavily in the TV and film industry for companies like Starz and AMC, and her most recent project is Kevin Can Wait. During our pieces, we were really able to work with her and get one on one feedback on our performances. I performed a piece from the HBO show ‘Girls’, and although I felt it was a decent performance, Elizabeth Berra knew I could take it further. Her advice was to make my monologue more conversational, to imagine the world of the show and to live in it. After that the piece felt much better, and made it seem like I was already apart of the show. It was also interesting to watch the adjustments each person made to make their performance for television or film rather than theatre. She also gave us really great advice on self-tapes and submissions such as ensuring a great quality, sound, lighting, and to follow the instructions the casting directors have specified. 

Thursday, 8 September 2016 

I showed up at CAP 21 studios ready to rehearse my scene with Jackson Simmons from ‘Bananas’ by Woody Allen. It’s a really fun scene, but extremely technical so we’ve been working hard all summer to knock it out of the park. Doug Hall is so wonderful to have in the rehearsal room! He can bring out the very best of us with the slightest suggestions.

New York

In the evening we met Eric Woodall from Tara Rubin Casting. Eric regularly casts musical theatre on Broadway, and straight plays for repertory theatres around the U.S.. From the start he said he was going to watch our pieces from the eyes of a casting director, and make some adjustments that would help push our pieces to what casting directors would be expecting. He was very straightforward. Who are you talking to? What is your action or intention? What are you trying to achieve? Why did you pick this piece? Before we began performing he mentioned that he didn't want us to perform what we’re doing for the actual showcase. So instead of singing, I performed a piece from the ‘Comedy of Errors.’ Eric’s biggest note was to know the distinction between the actor’s brain and the character’s brain.  The actor needs to know more than the character, but once you get up to perform you have to forget everything else. Monologues are extremely difficult because they can sound like memorized texts. The most important thing is to find the truth. You’ve got yourself into the audition room, so take your time, own the space, and connect to the text as truthfully as you can.

Friday, 9 September 2016 

I was back at CAP 21 today to rehearse my song with Doug Hall and our incredible pianist Joe Kinosian. I wouldn’t classify myself as a musical theatre actor, however I have a musical background and enjoy singing, so by singing in the showcase I do exactly what a monologue would but simultaneously prove that I’ve got other skills. I’m singing a piece called ‘Since You Stayed Here’ from Brownstone and got some really great feedback. For the longest time there was a distinction for me between singing and acting. But they’re actually one and the same; when you sing you’re only speaking on pitch. It was fun to play with the phrasing and changes in volume to change the intention and subtext of the song. It brought out much more in the text, clarified the circumstances, and developed the character. 

Monday, 12 September 2016 

Today is the day! We all arrived at Theatre Row Studios at 11.00am to put the industry packets together and to get a feel for the space. We top and tailed our scenes, and did a dress run as well. Usually before a show, everyone is buzzing around with nervous energy but this was very different. It felt like our group was really centered, energized, and working as a unit. We had two showcases, one at 3.30pm and one at 6pm, which both went extremely well. I haven’t heard from everyone in the group, but it sounds like most of our 18 performers got some sort of agent interest or feedback, which is incredible! We also had a friends and family performance in the evening so they could see what we have been working so long and hard to achieve. Everyone performed really well, and I am so proud of every one of them. 

I was apart of the MA Acting program at East 15 in 2015 and was fortunate enough to be able to see how their showcase ran. There were 46 people in their group who each had about a minute and a half in a West End theatre to impress industry professionals. I was shocked: how can an artist achieve anything in that amount of time? Wouldn’t industry professionals get bored after seeing an hour of two-handers? It felt extremely monotonous for agents and unfair to the performers. Our experience with Drama UK was anything but! From the first week in March, working with Douglas Hall has been a dream. He really paid attention to who we are as performers, and how to best show ourselves off. Emma Dyson and Jude Tisdall were there every step of the way to make sure the process was running smoothly and that every one was satisfied with their experience. Not only that, but we had three minutes on stage at a theatre on 42nd street! I was able to show really important people in the industry that I’ve got a good hand for comedy, and that I can sing as well as act. It has been a wonderful week between our rehearsals, panels, and the showcase itself. We may have trained in London, but the 18 of us are fully prepared to, as Kelly Balze’s catchy song says, ‘run this f****** town’. I just hope New York City is ready for us.

Steffanie Freedoff is an American actor who trained at East15.