Why Going To Local Auditions Is The New Black


I’m aged enough to remember when scores of regional theatre companies came to New York every year, sometimes twice to multiple times a year, to audition actors for their season and even on a show-by -show basis. Those were great days; a bevy of hungry hopeful performers would religiously congregate at a table in a diner somewhere in Manhattan (you could afford to live here then) around a (hard copy…believe it or not) of BACKSTAGE and plan their auditions for the coming weeks. They’d take out their calendars (we called them “planners” then) and scribble down the theatres and shows they would audition for and often navigate how they’d get from one studio to the next on the same day to be seen at as many auditions as possible. This sometimes took a great leap of logistical ingenuity but by God where there was a will…they made it happen.

It was also a time when, by way of example, it seemed that every strip mall in Florida housed a theatre (not many will remember “Musicana” or the “Broadway Baby Grand” but some will. I cut my teeth as a musical director at both. It was rough-and tacky- but I learned a lot.) Smaller cities than New York didn’t necessarily have a large pool of local talent to pull from in those days so they would come to NYC to cast their shows. Even the cities that did have a large amount of local talent would come to New York because, well, it was the thing to do. There was nowhere like New York.

And then 2008 happened.

Theatre corporate funding dried up as the financial crisis hit us deeper than many ever imagined it could. Private donors stopped giving as much to keep theatres aloft and reserves dwindled. Federal and state government agencies, along with steadfast local officials, long a mainstay of staving off theatrical insolvency, pulled from back to out altogether. Patrons didn’t have as much expendable income and “destination” spots where theatres thrived as nightlife became much more localized, exclusive, and harder to come by. Many theatres closed citing “no money, no shows.” Communities suffered. Performing artists suffered. We all did.

The theatres that kept on keeping on, whether by the grace of God or a healthy subscription base that didn’t wane, did so (in many cases) with larger local talent bases. Performers began to leave New York, opting instead to live in more affordable (and sensible) living environments. Many of the “bigger” theatres were never in jeopardy, but many (mid-size, underfunded, start up, destination, and so on) theatres disappeared into the night in nary more than a puff of smoke during the months and years following the impact of the crisis. Many theatres stopped coming to New York to audition more than once a year. Many stopped coming at all, relying on the local talent aplenty and the “they’ll come to us” philosophy.

So where does that leave actors now? It’s a daily occurrence in my studio for my pro actors to arrive gloomy-eyed, citing the lack of New York auditions for them to attend. A reading I’m doing next year drew close to 1000 submissions. For a reading! 1000 submissions! Even in the Spring when things ostensively “pick up” it’s been a slow few years.

What to do? How to survive?

Go to the local auditions. Most theatres have them. What are the advantages of doing this? Let me count the ways:

You’re much more likely to be seen.

You’ll probably get to sing more than the dreaded 8 or 16 bars.

You’re more likely to be seen and heard as a human being and not a number.

You’ll not have to deal with a phalanx of bodies at Pearl Studios, (let alone the elevators or…for God’s sakes someone please fix this..the overly friendly security guards there.)

When it’s 13 degrees outside someone will let you on. Love those volunteers!

How to do this?

Go to the theatre websites and ascertain when the local auditions are and what the requirements are. Know the theatres within driving distance from NYC. There are PLENTY of them.

God invented Zip car for a reason. Join.

Oh…let us not forget: it’s ALL a TAX WRITE OFF! Win win. All that equals a victory lap in my book.

Stephen Purdy is the author of MUSICAL THEATRE SONG: A COMPREHENSIVE COURSE and two forthcoming books on Musical Theatre published by Bloomsbury. He is a vocal and audition coach for New York performers and is on musical theatre faculty at Marymount Manhattan College and Rider University. He regularly presents masterclasses around the globe.

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