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April 26, 2004

DC's Equity Auditions Hit Their Mark

By Gregory Gorton

The Washington/Baltimore/Northern Virginia Equity Liaison Committee sponsored two days of Equity only auditions on March 1 and 2, 2004, marking the third consecutive year of this local event.

The auditions were rescheduled from their traditional end of January date due to Washington's famously fickle weather. Although many actors and auditors braved the snow and ice on the morning of January 26, Olney Theatre wisely decided to cancel Monday afternoon's session and the entire next day. Said Liaison Chairperson Emeritus, Ilona Dulaski, "The incredible commitment of the Liaison Committee made it happen again. We were able to reschedule the auditions due to the generosity of Brad Watkins, the Associate Producing Director of The Olney Theatre Center."

Nearly 200 actors from as far north as Philadelphia and New York, as far south as Roanoke and Richmond, and as far west as Chicago, performed their finest three minutes for 30 area and regional theatres.

Thomasin Saviaino, who traveled from Winchester, Virginia for her audition, found the trip extremely worthwhile. "As a performer in the DC, Baltimore and Virginia area, these are the most important auditions of the year for Equity members, as it gives them exposure to many casting representatives. Even if you do not get a call from a theatre right away, it is important to remember that every audition is an investment in your future."

Marni Penning was impressed by the auditors who came to watch the performances. "The 'heavy hitters' show up to see us, which is great. You can tell the DC folks really want you to do well, that they are actually there to potentially cast you. I've done DC's AEA open call auditions all three years, and all three have resulted in call backs—each from different theatres. The last two years have resulted in actual bookings in shows."

Fellow New Yorker Nina Negri shared her enthusiasm. "My experience at the DC AEA auditions was so great. I was running a little late, but no one there (the Liaison volunteers) made me feel pressured or stressed. They even helped me staple my headshots and resumes together."

Indeed, that feeling of cooperation and professionalism combined with as relaxed an atmosphere as possible, has been one of the goals and standards set by the Liaison Committee, and an enormous amount of work goes into maintaining that feeling. Since the inception of these auditions three years ago, this ambiance has been paramount. Aside from offering unprecedented access to artistic and casting professionals, the Committee attempts to provide the actor with a friendly environment, where the performer is encouraged to have fun and enjoy the audition process, and the attending auditors really want to see the auditionees excel. "Everyone was gracious about giving each other positive vibes, making the transition to the theatre space a venue to be at our best," said Erik Onate, "and it gives the actors the freedom to express themselves in front of respected theatre professionals."

Mary Jayne Raleigh, who divides her time between New York and Washington, was struck by the professionalism of the volunteers working the auditions: "I am continually impressed with the competence of those who organize these auditions. Each year gets smoother," she added. "This is a wonderful opportunity to let theatres see your progress and growth year to year. Many thanks to the volunteers and the Liaison Committee.

Nanette Savard, one of Washington's busiest musical theatre performers, is another veteran. "The Equity auditions at the Olney Theatre have always been wonderfully organized and relaxing. For the 2004 round, it was easy to schedule a time; the setting was very comfortable and the organizers ran the audition efficiently without being overbearing. I actually look forward to these auditions. And that's saying something."

Another local actress, Colleen Delaney, who is constantly in demand, was also happy to participate. "I'm very pleased that the Washington/Baltimore/Northern Virginia Liaison Committee has put together such a successful event. These days, I no longer know the inspiration for the calls I get to audition, but I am certain that the Equity Only auditions go a long way in keeping me in the minds of casting directors.'

Local Equity actor Joe Peck noted, "There was an impressive list of auditors from many local and regional theatres. When I arrived, the waiting room was brimming with actors of all types—from new-to-the-area Equity Membership Candidates to seasoned professionals."

Year by year, the DC area Equity auditions have grown in stature as well as attendance. Auditionees from as far away from the area as Settle have flown in, and, of course, the number of actors from New York and Philadelphia rises each year. Along with the Washington, Baltimore and Northern Virginia theatres, other theatres participated as well—from Richmond and Winchester, western Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Even with the rescheduling, the auditions hit the mark. "Our third year of setting up the Equity only auditions at Olney Theatre Center was an unqualified success—twice," said Ilona Dulaski. "I am so proud not only of the entire committee, but also of the incredible professionalism of every member who auditioned."

Two hundred actors and 30 theatres and their representatives took part, and the auditions were preceded by months of preparation, negotiation and planning.

And the payoff?
Actors are getting work. They have been given the sometimes elusive access to the professionals who cast the various seasons.

In the words of the newly elected co-chairman of the Equity Liaison Committee, Ray Ficca, "As the auditions have become an annual event, casting and artistic directors are getting to know the talent in the region beyond their resumes. The actors who have participated all three years have been able to show the casting people the wide range of their talent. Many actors are getting work as a direct result of these auditions. Many thanks to what are, in my opinion, the best liaisons in the country—the gang in the DC/Baltimore/Northern Virginia region."

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