Mass Audition Means Massive Opportunities for NJ Actors

By Maddie Orton
Arts Correspondent

Two hundred forty actors with butterflies in their bellies. Their essence boiled down to a single sheet of paper — headshot on one side, resume on the other — sandwiched in a great big book with so many others. The New Jersey Theatre Alliance’s annual combined auditions mean being seen by professional theater companies from across the state.

David Meyers is back for his second year. “I had a great time. I got a really nice response, and I got a job from it and a few callbacks, so it was a pretty great experience,” he says.

These 240 actors have to give ‘em all they’ve got in just two and a half minutes. Sixteen theater companies are each given a big book of headshots and resumes to follow along. At the end of two days of auditions, performers are notified which theaters want to see them again — this time for specific parts.

Laura Ekstrand is artistic director of Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre. “All I want to know today is who you are. So I’m not — maybe in superficial terms I’m trying to think of who I need: age, type a little bit — but I just want to meet you,” she says. “So that’s why it’s so important just to pick something that showcases yourself.”

So how do you make an impression in about the time it takes to make a sandwich? “The hardest thing was what monologues do I pick?” explains actress Brooke Hoover. “Do I stay true to myself or do I pick it specifically for a theater’s season? So I picked monologues that were true to me, but also that maybe could possibly work at certain theaters.”

It may be a challenge for performers like Hoover and fellow auditioner Mitchell Vargas, but the potential rewards are plentiful for participants on both sides of the table. “I was making a spreadsheet the other day of all the theaters from NJTA — there’re a ton — and I said, ‘Well if there’re at least five that maybe do work that you’re really interested and compelled by, then that’s great. That’s a lot of theaters,’” Vargas says.

For many New Jersey theaters, there are a lot of benefits to drawing from the talent pool in their own backyard. “Commuting is easier,” explains Ekstrand. “They kind of know our audience, which is very different from a New York audience, and I think, for us especially, that it’s important to have a long-term relationship with the actors that we work with. We’ve found a lot of great actors here.”

Above all though, Theatre Alliance Program Director Robert Carr says it’s about strengthening the network, connecting theaters with roles to fill and the artists who want to fill them.

“They get to come once, they get seen. You could fill your year potentially with being hired by a couple of theaters just by coming to one audition,” says Carr. “I think the more opportunities that we can give to New Jersey artists, I think it’s better for everybody.”

Most of the theaters’ seasons begin next month, and actors will anxiously await their opportunity to go from headshot to headliner.