Tricks of trying out: Child actors learn auditioning's fine points

It was time for round two of auditions at a rehearsal space in a Huntington Beach office complex, and Jolyn Turner gave her granddaughter a decree: "Make it a little rough on them."

Emily Turner, seated at the director's table, proceeded to grill the participants as they came up and announced themselves. She asked the first boy if he would settle for a part other than the lead and if he could put up with long dance rehearsals on Saturdays. Would the second boy be willing to dye his hair? Would school or gymnastics pose a scheduling problem?

The five children present answered her questions gamely, but a part in a production wasn't at stake. Instead, the weeklong class, sponsored by the Huntington Beach Playhouse, aimed to teach aspiring actors the tricks of trying out for a show, from posture to vocal projection to selecting the right song and knowing which part to sing.

The class, which started Monday, will conclude Friday with a mock audition. Jolyn Turner, the president of the playhouse, came up with the idea for the class after watching a group of girls try out for "Fiddler on the Roof" last year.

"What happened is they didn't have a song," she said. "The director was very sweet. He said, 'Do you know "Happy Birthday"?'"

On Monday, then, the Turners and the students — three boys, two girls — began learning the audition process from the ground up. At the start of the two-hour class, Jolyn gathered the students around and started them with a question.

"What if 25 people come in and there are only five parts?" she asked.

"They're going to choose the five best," 12-year-old Dallas Johnson of Orange replied.

In a narrow room with chairs, stools, water bottles, a pile of beach balls and other sundry items lying about, the elder Turner gave the students a piece of sheet music to bring to the accompanist — her — and had them tell her what part of it they would sing and how fast. No singing or playing took place Monday, though; the performance part would come later in the week.

Instead, the children faced Emily, who sat in the director's chair, announced their names and took questions. Along the way, the teachers gave advice on body language: Relax the hands, make eye contact, don't rock the feet back and forth.

Not all the children in attendance were new to auditioning. Dallas, Olivia Foye and Cole Hazard had done it last year, at least, for "Aesop's Musical Foibles" in the playhouse's summer youth program. For that production, everyone who auditioned got a part, since the play had multiple speaking roles.

This year, though, Jolyn conceived of the audition class to prepare young actors for tougher audiences. Caroline Hayden, 10, said she auditioned this year for "Gypsy" at the Gem Theater in Garden Grove but didn't get the part.

"There was a whole bunch of girls and people who knew how to audition," the resident of Orange and San Juan Capistrano said. "They had been through auditions, and I hadn't."

Cole, 11, of Huntington Beach, said auditioning was a matter of overcoming nerves.

"It's really embarrassing — speaking in front of people and trying to resemble the part," he said.

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