Aurora workshop aims to give aspiring actors direction
BY DENISE LINKE For Sun-Times Media August 24, 2013 3:46PM
Mike Leonardi of Aurora and Elizabeth Yeske of Batavia take direction from Victor Hawks during a scene from Guys and Dolls. | Denise Linke ~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 27, 2013 6:21AM
AURORA – Many drama coaches have advised their students to “be themselves” on stage and in auditions. Three professional actors recently explained just what that means.
“Honesty is something only you can bring to the table,” Aurora native Victor Hawks told about 30 aspiring actors and singers at a workshop Thursday on breaking into show business. “Other people might act, sing or dance as well, but no one else can be you. That’s your strength as a performer.”
Hawks, fellow Broadway star Angie Canuel and Hollywood actor/director Malcolm Goodwin presented the free workshop before a charity screening of their latest film, “Pass the Light,” at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Aurora. The three produced the movie, which Hawks wrote and Goodwin directed.
How do actors bring honesty to their auditions? By presenting their interpretations of the audition songs and readings instead of guessing what the casting directors want to see, Goodwin said.
“A lot of people play the idea of a character,” he noted. “I play a character like I would be if I were that person. I think about where that character is and what he does, and I imagine myself in that place and how I would handle it.”
The personalized approach helps make a character portrayal more real, Hawks said.
“If you’re presenting how you really feel about the part and the character, I’m going to believe it because you’re emoting, not just acting,” he explained.
That level of honesty requires a lot of preparation, Goodwin added.
“I know so many talented people who don’t get parts because they didn’t prepare enough for their auditions,” he said. “I don’t tell myself I have an audition: I say I have a show to perform. That makes me prepare better because I’m performing and not holding back because it’s just an audition.”
Goodwin credits that attitude with winning him a role in Spike Lee’s movie “Miracle at St. Anna,” about soldiers fighting in Italy during World War II.
“Most people go to auditions in nice street clothes, no matter what part they’re reading for,” he said. “I walked in there in fatigues, like I’d just come from the front, and everyone just reacted to that like, ‘Whoa! A soldier just walked into the room!’ I got the job by selling the character to the director.”
Hawks, Goodwin and Canuel brought several workshop participants on stage at the 82-year-old theater to coach them through mock auditions. Singers “seeking” Broadway musical roles learned ways to “act out” their audition songs, while actors got tips on how to add details to their characters in readings to personalize them.
“They opened my eyes to how to take apart a song and look deep into it and into myself to give it meaning,” said 15-year-old Kate Jarecki of Aurora after developing a song performance on stage with Hawks’ help.
“I’ll remember the whole thing about honesty, because I’ve never thought of it that way before,” added fellow “auditioner” Elizabeth Yeske of Batavia. “I’m so lucky I had this experience, because it’s really going to change how I approach acting and singing.”
Even local professionals benefited from the workshop.
“It’s so nice of them to donate their time and energy to the Aurora acting community,” said Aurora resident Mike Leonardi, who’s landed roles in the TV series “Chicago Fire” and the movie “Dilemma,” as well as Chicago-area theater productions. “The way they look at characters really helps you add the details that set you apart.”
The pros also offered general advice about the audition process.
“When you’re in an audition, you’re scared, but you’ve got to be ready to take risks,” said Canuel, a dancer who expanded her performance “toolbox” to include singing, acting and producing, among other skills. “At the audition for my first job, they asked me to do a front walkover. I didn’t know how, but I said OK and I just did one. It wasn’t graceful, but I did it. That showed that I was a team player who was willing to put it on the line and learn new skills for the role.”
Their most important piece of advice? “As technical as your preparation gets, don’t forget that it’s fun.” Goodwin said. “Don’t focus on the result, because you have no control over that. The only result you can control is the quality of your own performance, so go out and have fun with it. Even if you don’t get that part, you’ll impress the directors so that they’ll think of you for other parts down the road.”