How to Be a Great Stage Mom
It happens every semester at kidsActing. Your child starts a performing arts class and is faced with auditions. Let’s be honest, auditions can be stressful and even a bit frightening to actors of ALL ages! This is a time where an actor puts everything he or she has on the line and knows that the people sitting at the other side of the table are quite literally judging them.
It's a difficult process for everyone in the room, including the director, the assistant director, the music director and all the other actors. You may wonder why we go through the process if it’s so difficult. The answer lies, quite simply, in the end result. It’s the director’s task to take the group of students he or she has and place them in a cast that will create the best possible show.
Some people think the director is looking for only a couple of lead actors and then randomly places the rest of the cast in whatever roles are left. That couldn’t be farther from the truth! The director’s difficult task is to make sure each and every role is cast with the best person possible. It’s like putting together a complex jigsaw puzzle, each piece of the puzzle has to be a good fit.
A director looks at several things when casting:
Was the actor comfortable in front of others and able to give a good performance?
If a musical, is the actor able to sing the required music loudly and clearly?
Was the actor prepared for the audition?
How did the actor behave while sitting in the room and waiting?
Did the actor stand confidently and speak clearly?
We’ve just been through another audition/casting process with our Spring shows here at kidsActing. It’s possible that your child didn’t get one of the roles he or she desired, but we need to remember that they are in a show and the part they were assigned is vitally important to the success of the overall production.
A kidsActing teacher wrote this about an audition experience as a child: When I was young, I auditioned for my very first play. I desperately wanted to be Mrs. Claus, and I practiced so hard for the audition. I was devastated when I was cast as an elf, and went home crying. When I told my mom I was an elf, she jumped up and down, clapped her hands, and told me I would be the best elf ever! I had a wonderful time doing the play, and fell in love with theatre from that moment, even though I didn't have a single line. It is important to allow your child to feel successful with their participation and support them in their efforts no matter the outcome. It takes courage to audition. You can support them by cheering them on because they have the guts to put themselves out there.
A script is written to tell a story, so characters have the number of lines necessary to tell the story. The number of lines your child’s character is assigned has very little to do with the ultimate enjoyment he or she will have in the production. True success happens when a child moves past the number of lines and develops a complete character, one who engages the audience.
If, in spite of your best efforts, your child is still disappointed in the casting, there are ways you can be supportive and positive to help work through those feelings. First, let’s look at the audition process so you and your child can be better prepared the next time.
THE AUDITION PROCESS
Once you have signed your child up for a class, you should expect an email from the teacher/director several days before the first class. This email will give you detailed information about what is expected from your child throughout the audition process.
If it’s a musical, your child will be asked to come to the first class with a prepared song. For a non-musical, your child will be given short scenes to read. In both groups, the director will lead the kids in theatre games and “getting-to-know-you” exercises. By the end of the first class, the director has formed some general ideas about the personalities of the children and is ready to go to the next step.
For the second class, your child will most likely be handed short scenes or monologues from the show, as well as short versions of songs (if the show is a musical). They are usually asked to pick one of each and prepare them the best they can. They may also be asked several other questions to help with the director’s casting decisions.
During the first two weeks, after discussing the show and characters, the director may ask the students to write a list of 3-5 roles he or she would like to play. The teacher will explain to the students that what they write doesn’t mean they will be cast in one of the roles on the list, but it’s a helpful tool for the director to know more about each student. It’s best for parents to let their children make their own choices.
In the second class, important casting decisions are made and the director will look at several things, some of which may surprise you!
Did the child memorize the material they chose (while this is not a requirement for some directors, it often makes quite an impression when a child has prepared to this extent).
Did the child pay attention to and support the other children auditioning or did the child talk while he or she was not performing? Behavior throughout the class may carry as much weight in the audition process as raw talent and ability.
Did the child stand and perform with confidence? Could he or she be heard?
There are a few audition techniques that will help your child make a positive impression on the director:
Be Prepared: Memorize the lyrics and melody to the song cutting and the words to the reading that the director handed out the previous week.
Smile and Enjoy the Audition Process: remember, the director and the rest of the audition team want your child to do well!
Show Good Behavior: Directors are often as concerned with how your child behaves as how well he or she acts, sings, or dances.
Trust the Process: Your child should do their best at whatever they are asked to do, even if they are reading for a role that they may find challenging or awkward.
MAKING THE BEST OF CASTING DECISIONS
Once the casting decisions have been made, it’s important for the child and the parents to trust the director’s judgment. Remember, the director is casting an ensemble, not just one or two “lead” roles. It’s important for everyone to remember the importance of working together as a team and to see the production as a whole – not as individual parts that seem less or more important than others.
No matter what role has been assigned to your child, remind him or her that everyone’s contribution is important and valued. As the famous Russian director and acting teacher Konstantin Stanislavski always told his students, “There are no small parts, only small actors.”
Once your child finds out what role he or she is going to play, sit together and brainstorm ideas for characteristics of the role. Is she peppy or indifferent? Is he confident or awkward? Ultimately, the director might have specific character qualities in mind, but this exercise will introduce your child to the basics of acting.
You can help your child take the role to another level by encouraging him or her to create a “back story” for the character. Where is the character from? Why is the character in the show? Half the fun is that the audience never needs know the character’s back story, but this exploration by your child will round out the character even more. Again, have fun, but create a story that works realistically within the director’s vision for the show.
Now that the cast is set, it’s time to get to work. Here are some ways you can help your child through this part of the process:
Place a copy of the rehearsal schedule on the refrigerator or family bulletin board.
Make sure your child arrives at rehearsal/class on time, is dressed appropriately and prepared for the rehearsal.
As you are driving your child home, ask about what they did, how it went, and (most importantly) if there is anything you can do to help them.
Help your child memorize their lines as soon as possible. You don’t want to let them wait until a few days before the “off-book” date on the schedule. Keep in mind the fact that your child needs to memorize not only his or her lines, but also the lines that other actors say before their line is spoken!
Usually, children are able to memorize songs and lines much easier than adults. However, if they seem to be struggling, here are some tips and solutions to help them out:
Encourage your child to review songs, dances, and scenes outside of rehearsal/class and in front of a small, supportive group. You can even do it at dinner time and create your own family dinner theatre!
Some children learn visually, so going over their script works. Some learn through their ears. Going over with them out loud is great. Also, recording their scenes, you doing the other lines, your child speaking his/her lines so they can listen to the scenes can be very helpful.
Some need their bodies to be involved. When you run lines with your child, have them act out the character, walk, move as the character would while doing the lines.
It may help to have him or her break down the point of the scene: what is it about? What’s the most important information presented or action taking place? Answering these questions will help your child better understand the scene and improvise if something goes awry!
Have your child review the scenes each night and first thing in the morning. This is a great way to help memorize lines. Ten minutes each time is all they need.
Don’t always start on page one. Each time they review, open the script part way through the show, a different place each time, and start there.
You director/teacher will send you mp3’s (for songs) and video files (for dances) either directly or via internet links. These are great tools that will help your child learn their songs and dances.
Regardless of the role your child has been assigned, we have found that they all have a great time and by the end of the semester, they have formed friendships that can last a lifetime! (We have former students in their forties who are still friends. Two of them are married and just had their first child!) Also, you can be sure participation will improve their communication skills, teamwork abilities, and further develop their social skills.
Your child will also learn the importance of listening to each other speak and waiting one’s turn. They will take positive risks and conquer fears while building self-confidence.
But the best part? Musicals and plays are just a lot of fun for every kid involved… no matter the role, no matter the number of songs, or whether or not he or she sings a solo or is in the chorus. If you have participated in a kidsActing show in the past, you’ve seen the sheer joy on the kids’ faces after the show when they are joined by friends and family on the stage.