By Sammy Schofield, YPT Drama School Volunteer

What are life’s greatest – and even scariest – challenges? Maybe it’s conquering your fear of heights and riding the tallest rollercoaster, or maybe it’s being in the same room as a giant spider! Actors in theatre face many challenges in their work. But before an actor performs in a play they must face the first epic challenge: the audition!

Hi, my name is Sammy and I’m a volunteer with Young People’s Theatre. I spent the Fall term supporting Grade 7-8’s in their Audition Technique classes. Working alongside Tanisha Taitt, an experienced director and teacher, and Melissa, another volunteer and professional actor, we facilitated workshops to prepare young actors for auditions and future performances. Each young actor was assigned a monologue that suited their style and connected well with their personality. They worked incredibly hard on their pieces and by the last session they were entirely comfortable with audition practice and performed to an audience of family and friends. So, what happened on this journey?

The young actors were not only given monologues to read, but were introduced to tools that help support their audition technique. Every week, Tanisha introduced new concepts to the group, including re-directs, characterization, entrances and exits into an audition room, and how to prepare to face audition nerves. The young actors had the opportunity every week to perform solo in front of their peers, receive feedback from others, and practice in smaller groups.

Themes that carried throughout the term included character, dictation, and urgency. As supporters of these young actors, we challenged their work with these three tasks in mind, while maintaining the balance of the feedback sandwich: Two slices of bread were compliments to their work, and the sandwich filling was the constructive criticism – yum! Some of the most common feedback we gave was to explore the meaning behind each line they spoke, to find elements of themselves and apply it to their characters, and make sure their audience could hear every word that was spoken.

Watching the students grow throughout the term was my biggest highlight! There was a real mixture of abilities in the class, and some young actors found it hard to break habits such as rushing their lines or going off-script. Whatever the challenge each young actor faced, they always took feedback very professionally! Along with Tanisha and Melissa, we were able to connect well with the group and give them insight into our own experiences too.

From a volunteer’s perspective, I gained further insight into the world of auditions for young people. My practice typically involves creating fun environments for play and improvisation in order to gain self-confidence in community and participatory settings. For these classes, we had to prepare young actors for more direct criticism in order for them to succeed in pursuing drama at a specialized arts high school or when being cast in a play. This was indeed a challenge as I’m a big softie at heart! I soon learned that giving feedback that was honest and using kind words was crucial to their development as aspiring actors.

Are auditions more challenging than facing a scary fear like heights or spiders? Maybe for a performer, but perhaps not! We hope our students took away the tools they need to step into an audition room and blow away the people potentially casting them. After all, isn’t it better to try something than to never try it at all?

Sammy is a participatory and community arts fanatic. She graduated from The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama with an MA in Applied Theatre (Theatre in Education and Community Settings). Sammy has worked with UK companies such as The Ovalhouse (We are London – refugee and asylum youth project), Unicorn Theatre (After School Drama Program), Spare Tyre (Inclusive arts for adults with disabilities), and Sprouts theatre (Drama Sessions for children aged 3-14). Since moving to Toronto, Sammy has worked as a Drama Instructor for Camp Kirk, volunteered for Tangled Art + Disability and now volunteers for Young Peoples Theatre.