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Interview of the Month with Director/Choreographer Weslee Swain Lauder

MUST READ for all artists!

One of the best things about the South African entertainment industry is its size. The Broadway community is in itself a small “country”, with literally thousands of artists from all over the world trying to get that “one singular sensation.” But here in South Africa we are only hundreds and the person on stage with you has a good chance of being that same person you performed with in your 3rd year showcase, all those years way back when. We are witnesses to each other’s growth, successes and failures, and it’s fantastic! It’s what makes our industry so very unique.

In 2007 I was given my first writing and directing opportunity for the university that I had just graduated from. The brief was to write a show from scratch and cast as many people from the course as possible. The auditions were chaotic, and disorganised, mainly because I had no idea what I was doing, and because the show I had written…well…it wasn’t a “one hit wonder.” What was cool about the show is that we were the first show at the university to allow first years to audition.

During the auditions, a young “bubbly” first year walked into the MT Room. He was immediately unique and no one could stop watching him. I had written some terrible melancholic monologue and this first year made it sound awesome. He was funny. Very funny. And he could dance and sing. And it became apparent after 5 minutes into his audition that this first year was to be cast as a lead in the show, a first for the department.

9 years on and that “bubbly” first year is now one of the most exciting directors, choreographers and performers in our industry. He’s talented, his work is celebrated and he is still very funny!

Weslee Lauder has been described as a “theatrical blue blood”. And the list of critical acclaim can back this up. As a director and choreographer, Weslee’s works include "Aspoestertjie" (Emperor’s Palace), "Stage by Stage" (Pieter Toerien Theatre), "From the Footlights" (Teatro, Monte Casino) and he is choreographer to the soon to be staged "Saturday Night Fever" at the Pretoria State Theatre produced by Bernard Jay.

As a vocal coach part of my job is helping an artist prepare for an audition. But as every audition has different requirements, so does each individual auditioner. Weslee has been on numerous audition panels, and so I sat down with him to ask him some of his opinions on auditions.


Cathrine: When you are on an audition panel and you are going to see hundreds of people; when people say, ”enter the room with confidence”, what does that mean to you?


Weslee: Confidence is a difficult thing. There’s no workbook or “confidence 101 for dummies”. Leave everything at the door, come in and do what you are there to do. Say to yourself ‘this is my time and I’m going to show you why you should choose me’… And strut!


Cathrine: But not be arrogant…


Weslee: Right, unless the role asks for it…but that’s another discussion. I was told by a well known casting director about 6 years ago; ‘When you walk into an audition room and you have a slot, those 5 minutes are yours. It’s not the creative teams, it’s yours. YOU’VE been assigned 5 minutes, use them and make them count!” Come in, go to the MD if it’s a musical theatre audition, pop your rep file up, AND GO THROUGH IT WITH THEM to make sure they are comfortable with your audition song. This way you can showcase what you’ve got in those 5 minutes. There might be an interview, as some panels like having them, just to see if there is a report, and then thank them and leave. Don’t forget your rep file… treat it like business.


Cathrine: How do you feel when an auditionee says, “I’m nervous” or when you can physically see that a performer is freaked out?


Weslee: I’m also a performer and I know that nerves can really affect your audition. But if they are so nervous that the audition becomes painful, and you can just see this person is messing up , I usually say to them, ‘stop, go outside, pull yourself together, and come back in three peoples time’.


Cathrine: Can that damage their chances of getting the role?


Weslee: For me personally, no. Some people can give amazing auditions and be crap on stage, and then there are people who give really bad auditions but are mind-blowing performers on stage so I believe in giving the candidate the benefit of the doubt. I recently cast a show where an auditionee kept messing the lyrics up in her song. She had just stepped out of varsity and just needed to get over that initial moment of, ‘oh my, this is actually happening.’ I told her to go outside and pull herself together and when she came back in, she nailed it.


Cathrine : And then in terms of presentation? I have a big thing about people going in wearing jeans to an audition, for me it’s a big no. Wear a great outfit with full hair and makeup. How you present yourself and perform is everything.


Weslee: When going into a dance audition: look presentable. Make sure the choreographer taking the audition can see what your body does and what looks like when it moves. Dress up for the singing audition. If I take an audition I want to see performance and ability, depending on what the show needs. Always interpret. Always perform. Use every single opportunity to perform.


Cathrine: And that doesn’t necessarily mean plant a smile on your face…


Weslee: No. Invest; If you are invested it tells a panel, ‘OK, this person wants to be there, this person wants the job’.


Cathrine: Any advice that you have for performer CV’s?


Weslee: UPDATE THEM!


Cathrine: It’s your product.


Weslee: Exactly. Update your CV! With a recent head shot and please make sure your format is easy to read and that your most recent work is listed first!


Cathrine: When call backs come, what type of prep do you expect? If you give me a scene and a song and you want to see me the next day, do you want me off book?


Weslee: No, personally I’d prefer it if the candidate is incredibly familiar with the material, but I don’t expect you to be off book especially if there isn’t much turn around prep time.


Cathrine: If someone is off book, does that impress you?


Weslee: Of course. Being off book helps any actor commit to their convictions.


Cathrine: What are your personal big “no-no’s” when auditioning?


Weslee: Apologies! That’s the biggest one. Don’t apologise.


Cathrine: Looking specifically at "Saturday Night Fever", it requires great dancing as it’s a “dance musical.” There are many new professionals who have recently graduated, who are looking for just audition experience. And some of them are going to this audition, as not great dancers, but as great singers. I know that when I graduated I auditioned for anything and everything, even if I wasn’t suited for the show. As someone on the panel, how do you feel about this?


Weslee: I am going to contradict myself now. Go for it and get the experience. You never know what could happen in the audition. But also, know what your limitations are. If they ask you to do flick flacks and you know you can’t, please don’t be stupid. But I think that comes with experience.


Cathrine: Does it not irritate you though as you have 800 people to see with limited time?


Weslee: To see people who can’t dance?


Cathrine: Yes, but arrive for the singing. You can see they have no dance training, but their singing is great.


Weslee: I know directors that are more than happy to see artists straight out of varsity, with little professional experience and let them gain experience.


Cathrine: That’s awesome!


Weslee: It’s really cool.


Cathrine: So what has been your worst audition?


Weslee: It was for TV. It was for an insurance company…and I was insistent that they see me because I can do comedy.…I ate humble pie with a bit of whipped-embarrasment-cream. Don’t think that just because you CAN do comedy that you can DO comedy. Musical theatre wise, I’ve been to so many auditions where they went, without hesitation, “NO!”.


Cathrine: When you walk in to an audition, do you prefer the singer to look at you whilst he/she performs or above you?


Weslee: I can’t remember who it was, that said you should imagine someone’s head next to the face of your auditioner or audience member.


Cathrine: I know that with some MD’s they have said that they actually prefer to be sung to and be engaged. I suppose it’s really personal preference?


Weslee: I don’t know, I quite like the actor to sing to me, and engage with me. Some people say it makes them uncomfortable. But I also think it has to do with the style. If the piece breaks the 4th wall, use the opportunity to engage. When I auditioned for The Cameron Mackintosh group on the Teatro stage. I pretended to be Mama Rose and took it ALL in. If you are in moment it doesn’t really matter, does it? But like any audition come well prepared. Come warmed up.


Cathrine: And do you find that people come not warmed up? I find that that happens quite a lot vocally…”I’m just going to wing it, and let Adrenalin do its thing…”


Weslee: Reckless. It’s dangerous and you have no control over what happens. You could hurt yourself either physically or vocally which could hurt your career. Warming up brings you towards yourself and focuses your nerves and energy.


Cathrine: Do you use any nerve aids: beta blockers or rescue remedy etc?


Weslee: No. As both performer and creative, I try and channel the nerves into the audition. If I don’t get nervous then it is a problem. I just breathe a lot. Because people forget to do that. As a creative I also get nervous. And maybe it’s abrasive, but no excuses and no apologies, just do the job. Just do the job.


Weslee can be seen next in Cape Town in Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, playing at the Theatre on The Bay from FRIDAY 19 FEBRUARY TO SATURDAY 09 APRIL 2016