Casting director Richard Evans offers invaluable advice on how to maximise your impact and success before, during and after participating in a showcase
“Let me know when I can see you in something” is the phrase that performers dread hearing from prospective agents or casting personnel – especially if they have no appearances coming up, or hope of anything in the foreseeable future. A solution may be at hand, however, in the form of the showcase.A showcase, of course, is a short presentation of monologues, duologues, scenes, songs and/or dances, to enable you and the other participants to show off your talents to those who could employ or represent you in the future.
You may have already appeared in one near the end of your training, or if you are one of the 5,000 or so people who will be graduating from a drama, musical theatre or other performing arts course this year, you may well be preparing for yours at the moment, which will be the first time you will be seen by many in the industry. If you have already graduated and are still unrepresented or looking to change agents, you may be considering taking a second bite of the cherry and signing up for one of the increasing number of actors showcases for which a fee is payable.
As a casting director, I have seen thousands of showcases of both varieties over the last 22 years, so here are some ideas on how to maximise your impact and success before, during and after any showcase in which you are participating.
The first thing to do, in consultation with your director, is decide what piece (or pieces) you will perform. Be original in your choices. There are some monologues, duologues, scenes and songs that are so commonly used, they sometimes appear in several showcases in the same week – so be adventurous.
It is also essential to show the audience what you are and could play now. You may be versatile with accents, and indeed be able to play 20 years older than your actual age, but doing either of these at a showcase will do you no favours – dare to be you. Shorter pieces will leave the audience wanting more, and something upbeat and humorous, which stands a chance of getting laughs, may create more of an impact than a speech that is serious and tragic.
If you are performing a duologue or as part of a scene, it is essential to make sure the characters are easily distinguishable from each other, as the audience’s attention should be focused on your performance, rather than on the programme, trying to work out which actor is playing what part. Once you have decided what you are going to do, make sure it is thoroughly rehearsed, running lines with friends, or the other person or people with whom you are working, to ensure they are in your head and flow naturally.
The numbers of industry professionals attending a showcase can vary dramatically, but there are ways to encourage people to come. Ask to see the list of those invited and don’t be afraid to send personal invitations to anyone whose work especially interests you and people you have met previously. While a bombardment of invitations can be irritating, a few can sometimes inspire people to attend.
The timing of invitations is also crucial – people will invariably forget if you contact them months ahead, and be booked up if you give them too little notice. About two weeks before the date is a happy medium. If you are going to follow up by phone (which is an excellent idea), make sure only one person does this as, again, several calls in quick succession on the same day can be infuriating and offputting.
Ask to see the proofs of the programme and the running order before they go to print to make sure your name is spelt correctly and displayed, and to check that the names of your piece(s) and author(s) or composer(s) are also correct. These mistakes are common and often noticed.
The two questions I am most frequently asked are what makes me go to see a particular showcase and what I look for in the participants. The first factor that determines whether or not I get to a showcase is timing. There are weeks where several showcases are planned (the record is nine in a week, with five on a single day), yet sometimes there are weeks on end with none – so do your research and check on the calendar at www.spotlight.com and the availability of established venues for clashes before committing.
As a freelance, if I don’t work, I don’t earn – so that has to come first and, unfortunately, I cannot accept every invitation. Sometimes I have every intention of going, but if something that needs immediate action crops up as I am about to leave my office, it takes priority and my plans have to change.
This is a universal problem and there will always be some people who say yes and then don’t turn up – accept this gracefully and don’t give them guilt trips about it afterwards. The starting time is also an important consideration. It’s far easier for me to justify an hour or so (plus travelling time) out of the office at lunchtime, when I may well take some time off anyway. The best start time for a showcase is 1pm- any earlier or later cuts into the working day and will reduce the numbers attending.Evening showcases starting at around 7pm can be effective, too, and guests may well be more inclined to stay and chat afterwards over refreshments. Venues should be central and easy to get to, close to the nearest station and have easy access for latecomers – there is nothing as irritating as being slightly delayed and refused entry.
I try to see every school in action once a year – although the sheer volume of schools and courses sometimes prevents this. I feel more loyalty if someone I know or have met before is appearing or if I have been to the college or group concerned to give a workshop, as I will have already met the participants, can chat to them afterwards and introduce them to other industry professionals who have stayed. As for what I look for, unlike agents, who are seeking long-term potential in prospective clients, I focus on performers who I could get in for a casting tomorrow, alongside actors with far more experience, and who would stand an equal chance of getting the job.
The day of the showcase will doubtless be fraught, so make sure you have made necessary preparations beforehand, when you will have more time and be calmer. Dress for the part – wear something distinctive that will make you stand out. Be clear about the staging of your pieces, entrances and exits and take time to go through your lines before you go onstage. When it is your turn to go on, take a deep breath and make the stage your own. Enjoy the experience – if you don’t, the audience won’t either.
After the showcase comes the most nerve-racking part – schmoozing the audience. Go straight into the bar wearing exactly what you wore on stage, to maximise recognition (so avoid doing pieces that involve wearing next to nothing), smile and be prepared to chat. Instead of putting people on the spot by asking if they enjoyed the show, or for feedback, which could elicit a negative and demoralising response, simply say, “Thank you for coming”, which should then open up a conversation.
It is easier for people to approach you if you are chatting to one or two of your colleagues, rather than in a large group. And if nobody is talking to you, pick up a plate of food and offer it around, which makes conversations easier to start. Lastly, remember that showcases are a great point of reference for the future and nobody is going to sign you up there and then, so be yourself and enjoy.
* Auditions: A Practical Guide contains extensive lists of often overlooked playwrights and composers as well as advice on handling social situations. There is also a wealth of tips, advice and resources at www.auditionsapracticalguide.com 
* Richard Evans is one of The Stage Events experts. He will be presenting ‘How to nail your audition’ on March 12 at the Dominion Theatre. Book a ticket for any ‘How to’ session and you can claim a £3 discount, plus free p&p, on Richard’s book Auditions: A Practical Guide. For more information and the full calendar of ‘How to’ sessions visit www.thestage.co.uk/events