Tony Award-winner Faith Prince deconstructs auditioning for ONU students
For acclaimed Broadway actress Faith Prince, the word audition is just industry jargon for what it really is: a performance. At a master class at Ohio Northern University last semester, Prince worked with musical theatre students on the art of performing for casting directors. Her approach was simultaneously exciting and unexpected.
Typically, actors are asked to read lines of dialogue from a scene or perform a song in an audition. The choice of song is very important. It needs to showcase the actors’ technical abilities and emotionally win over everyone in the room. To that end, actors rehearse their songs until they become second nature. That, Prince will tell you, is the problem.
After I’d been in New York about three years and had to audition and audition and audition, I thought, ‘I’m just going to find another way of going about this,’” she says. “I just came in and said, ‘I’ve got a little something for you. This is me.’ It gave me a lot of empowerment.
When working with young actors, Prince looks to empower. She works with them until they realize that they, not the casting director, control the situation. As each student in her master class took to the stage to perform his or her audition piece, Prince rattled off a series of questions intended to take them out of an audition and place them into a performance.
Do you know where you are? Are you inside or outside? Who you are singing to? What time of year is it? What are the smells in the air? What just happened that makes you say the first line of the song, which is…?
It took some getting used to. More than one student had to stop and consider what she had asked them to do. After all, they had rehearsed it one way for so long. Suddenly, someone wanted them to consider why the character would say those words. To Prince, a song is more than a melody. It is a story. Each verse is like an act of a play. Each chorus is an opportunity to grow within the character.
Sometimes, Prince would first ask a student to recite the song as a monologue. Suddenly the song’s lyrics take on increased significance. Before senior musical theatre major Riley Alexander performed the song “I Think I Like Her” from the musical Summer of ’42, Prince asked him to deliver the eponymous line five different ways, each time conveying a different emotion. Without missing a beat, Alexander revealed a secret, asked a question, expressed doubt, exalted joy and nervously convinced himself of his character’s intentions.
I’m looking for [students] to dig through the scene, not just present the work the way someone else has done it on a recording,” says Prince. “If they approach an audition as ‘This is what I have to share,’ as opposed to ‘This is what I have to prove,’ they’ll gain the trust of casting directors because it’s authentic.
Prince was eager to share her wealth of experience with the students. Faith-isms, she calls them, little tips and tricks she’s collected over a stage and screen career that has included a Tony Award for best actress for her role in Guys and Dolls, and three more nominations. One of her standbys is to bring a simple prop to an audition that she can interact with during a scene. She recommends pashminas, or scarves, because they don’t appear “proppy” yet can be utilized in so many ways. Another Faith-ism is to find something in the room to work with that will help transform a song into a scene, a melody into a monologue. A piano, for example, can become a tree to lean against.
“Do anything,” she says, “but just standing and singing.”