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UAlbany prepares actors for life in the Biz

UAlbany Theatre students rehearse for final exam
  UAlbany Theatre students rehearse for final exam

Imagine that you’re a young actor on an airplane. You’re seated next to Steven Spielberg’s personal assistant, and you’re offered the opportunity to audition for a role in his next film immediately after the plane lands. Are you prepared?

You would be if you were one of the students in Department of Theatre Chair J. Kevin Doolen’s Auditioning and the Business of Show Business (A THR 449) class.

“The whole focus of the class,” says Doolen, reflects show business as “a huge business. Entertainment is America’s No. 1 export; I wanted to acquaint students with that. One of the things I discovered in my work at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in Washington was that students were lacking an awareness of the industry they were entering.”

To address that situation, Doolen instituted the first-ever-auditioning class at UAlbany. For it, he took a “West Coast/East Coast” approach to make the young actors comfortable with camera work, including screen tests, as well as with the stage. The course, notes Kristin Cappon, who graduated in May and is interested in film and in theatre, “introduced different performance work that we could do besides the stage: voiceovers, commercials, television.”

The class workshops were “great,” observes senior Chris Rickett. “Kevin brought in all these people with professional credits, like [television actress] Jackie Roberts, to work with us.”

Chris adds that another important aspect of the class was “building audition material,” with each student enhancing his or her repertoire of monologues, which showcase the actor’s range. Monologues stress “the importance of the first impression,” says junior Bryen Link, and reflect the actor’s personality, according to Rachel Kroner, a member of the Class of 2004. “That’s the most important thing - not coming off as a fake.”

The students are grateful to Doolen for suggesting characters they should (or shouldn’t) portray - the art of “finding characters that suit you,” as Chris describes it. “Kevin has such a knowledge of so many different plays,” adds Nahal Navidar, a junior who enjoys the classics. “A lot of people do the same things all the time, but he’ll suggest that we explore other 16th-century playwrights, in addition to Shakespeare.”

For their “final”, each of the students presented two contrasting monologues, limited to a total of three minutes, in the Performing Arts Center’s Studio Theatre, which seats 153; a classroom; and the 500-seat Main Theatre. Aside from having to adjust voice projections and movements to the spaces, the students were asked to respond to another challenge: imagining that they were to have the unexpected opportunity to audition on the spot for the famous film maker’s assistant. Jurors for the five-hour session - actress Yvonne Perry; Professor Peggy Rae Johnson of New Hampshire’s Keene State College; Wil Kilroy, a professor at the University of Southern Maine; UAlbany Assistant Professor of Theatre Mark Dalton; and Doolen - offered the thespians feedback and criticism.

The experience “gave the students a taste of what entry-level professional auditions can be like,” Dalton says. “The more quickly actors can adjust to the unknowns, the more likely they are to be comfortable, and hence successful.

“Thanks to the class,” said student Justin Tracy, “I really feel much more prepared to audition for professional gigs. I was ‘good enough’ before, but now I feel really confident, and I am proud to present my work.”

Harold Gould
  Harold Gould, '47

Harold Gould,’47 studied at the New York State College for Teaching, now the University at Albany, with longtime drama teacher Agnes Futterer. Known for his roles in such popular television series as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, and The Golden Girls, the versatile actor has also worked on the stage (Old Business, The House of Blue Leaves) and on screen (The Sting, Freaky Friday), winning the OBIE and several drama awards, and earning a number of Emmy nominations.

For him, acting is “a creative enterprise which comes from the development of one’s experience and background.” He sees Doolen’s auditioning class as useful in helping to prepare actors for the different venues in which auditions are held because “relaxation is very important for an actor. It allows him to give free range to his impulses as he works through the material.”

Ultimately, “casting people are looking for the actor’s personality, creativity, energy, and uniqueness” to shine through, notes Gould. “It’s nice to see a good producer encouraging actors and delving into their special creative resources.”

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