FIRST HAND ADVICE FROM A PROFESSIONAL CHOREOGRAPHER/DIRECTOR
In the last post I published of “Tips & Tricks” edition 1, you read a little bit about my story in order to understand the director’s opinion that I hold when it comes to casting. I shared with you my ‘break through’ audition experience with the Walt Disney Company that resulted in my being cast professionally by the age of 19. If you haven’t read that post, I highly recommend that you read that article. I go into great detail explaining that performance beats out technique any day. However, what you need to keep in mind is the type of audition it is. If the audition is for a dance ensemble or chorus, we- the directors- are going to lean towards technique, because that is all that we will be needing from you. Also, if the audition is for a Talent Agency, they are going to want to see all the tricks you can do, so that they can work for you and get you a job.
Please note: I worked as a free agent the entire length of my career. You do NOT need an agent to make it as a professional performer! (AND- I got to keep all my money) BEWARE the “modeling” agencies…
With each one of these articles, I am going to explore different components that directors look for when casting their shows and productions. Obviously, Edition 1 detailed, probably what I feel is the most important component I look for when casting: PERFORMANCE. Your performance will make or break you. I am watching you to see if you are going to give me everything you’ve got! Are you “unzipping” your soul and pouring it all over the floor for me, or are you “hiding behind the dance”? More often than not, I come across dancers who hide behind the dance because they feel they can. You can NOT. You can’t execute a lyrical infusion technically with no soul. You’ve LOST your audience and you certainly have lost me. You won’t be cast and you will be left to wonder why. Do not hold back and “hide”. Be inspired! Be challenged! Be motivated! …which leads me right into my next component.
How hungry are you?
“What?!” you say, “Hungry?? Like, do I like to eat lots of sandwiches???”. No silly- how HUNGRY are you? Are you motivated to succeed and if you are, HOW MUCH? And, once you succeed, are you still hungry? It’s also important to note what exactly defines success for you- is it nailing that triple pirouette that has been eluding you or is it that dream job that you finally land? At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what you define as personal success, it matters what you do with it once you get it.
Countless times I have encountered that entitled, lazy performer who simply just shows off on stage expecting that their performance has secured their spot in my cast. I am sorry to say that these types of performers are usually the last ones to be cast in my book, if they are even cast at all. I have a real hard time connecting with a performer when they are simply showing off to me. It’s cocky and, quite frankly- it’s insulting. I want some heart and I want some hunger. I want a performer that is auditioning for me, because of the learning experience they will get from me by being in my cast because they have the humility to recognize that they don’t know everything yet.
I divert back again to my personal story, because honestly, my lessons and experiences can greatly benefit your future and I want to help.
When I first landed my job at Disneyland, I was beyond ecstatic about my accomplishment. I had literally landed my dream job at “The Happiest Place on Earth”, and I knew there was no way I could be even happier. I was so thankful for the opportunity to show these directors what I had to give, I couldn’t WAIT to get started. They took my measurements to plan out costume design! We had meetings backstage (behind Disneyland) in the illustriously reclusive rehearsal hall where known choreographers/directors in the industry were waiting to talk to us – US – these meager, amateur dancers who knew nothing or no one.
You have to understand something- the choreographers/directors I was PRIVILEGED to work with and for at Disneyland weren’t just ‘anybody’s’ that had “done their time”. These people- these icons- were recognized industry professionals and legends. Each coast of our country KNEW THEIR NAME – some even choreographed and danced for Michael Jackson! Their resumes were legendary, and here they selected me to be one of their dancers-some new kid who they knew nothing about- and they brought me in. They trusted me to give them a quality performance, because they knew with me they would get quality product. I was trained. I was strong, and I was hungry. My directors saw that, and they casted me for it.
A couple of months into my employment with the Walt Disney Company, I began to evaluate and observe other performers. Why had they been given a certain part? What were they doing differently? Why were they invited to do special VIP events in the park with celebrities? I needed to know, because I was hungry. Now, don’t mistake this- I loved my job. I LOVED my job- but I wanted more. I wanted more because I knew I could be more. So I studied those dancer/performers closely, and I took myself BACK to class.
My days were very long days: rehearsal from 7pm-3am (tech week, till 7am), get home between 5-9am, school/dance training from 10am-1pm, nap from 2-4pm, drive to work to do it all over again. Mind you, I was 19 years old, so my body could withstand this kind of wear and tear. I was built for it and I loved it…why? I was HUNGRY. In addition, this was just one Disney show I was performing in, when I had just started. My scheduled continued to become more and more complex as my status continued to change at Disney.
The reason my schedule continued to grow and become more and more complex was because of one thing: my directors could see how hungry I was. I wanted to learn everything and I wanted to do as many tasks as they would trust to me. I wanted them to pick me to do special events. I wanted them to put me in the front when they were shooting a National Commercial, but I had to earn it. These opportunities weren’t just handed to me on a silver platter- they were earned through many sleepless nights of sweat, blood, and happiness. I know you thought I was going to say tears, but, let’s be honest, I had my dream job...what could I possibly be crying about??
My hunger was limitless and my motivation was at a highly scrutinized level. I was incredibly ambitious, and still am to this day. I know I still get criticized for it, but honestly, I’m okay with it. My path has been made very clear to me, and I will always do everything I can to improve and build my craft. At the end of the day, when you get to the heart of any performers ambition, you will find a raw, debilitating hunger. A purpose, a point to their being here on this planet. No one could get in the way of my destiny, and I still won’t let any person on this planet get in my way. My God is bigger and stronger, and what He gives to me, no one can take away.
In my hours away from work, I would train, I would dance, I audition for other opportunities (including Broadway musicals and tour groups). I would network. I would build relationships and make connections. I would continue to climb the ladder as each opportunity was given to me. My directors at Disney taught me a lot about myself, including how very special I was. They believed in me- more than I ever did in myself– and mentored me, and I won’t ever forget that. I never took their mentorship for granted, and I am still thankful for it, even unto this day. They taught me how to be the professional’s professional.
Before I knew it, I was given the leading role of the Snow White Queen in the show. Still my hunger didn’t die. My directors then started pulling me into rehearsals for other roles in the show. Everything from the pirates to the dancing monkeys to the Twain characters and other various face character roles. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that there wasn’t a buzz going around the cast about how the directors were teaching me more roles. There was a lot of “How come her??” and “I’ve been here longer!” statements, and I did notice that some people started to distance themselves from me, but I didn’t mind. I was following my destiny and giving it everything that I had. My true friends stuck by my side, and were encouraging and uplifting me the entire way, and these people are in my life to this very day (some of which that were affected by the mass layoff from Disney last week).
Finally, one evening, I was at my Nana’s house in San Diego and it was around 5pm at night, the phone began to ring. I picked it up and it was my sweet friend Ruben from Disney who was in charge of all the casting business in the front office. “Hi Kasey, it’s Ruben from Disney! I have to tell you that I had to tell the directors that I wanted to be the one to call you, because I just love you so much and can’t wait to tell you the news! The directors have decided to give you the 5 day Standby position for ‘Fantasmic!” and wanted to know if you were interested, hee hee..” Yes, he giggled on the phone with me. And with that, my career had taken on a completely different trajectory. It was a game changer, and it was now time to take me seriously as a working professional performer.
You may be wondering what the big deal is about the 5 day Standby position. Well, several things.
- There are 54 roles in the show, and I had to memorize every single one.
- I was trusted to manage myself- I would report in for the evening and they would tell me the part I had to do. From there, I would check out my costume pieces, review my choreography with my castmates, and execute a flawless performance for the evening.
- There are two casts: 2 day (Sat/Sun) and 5 day (Mon-Fri). It was known that the 5 day cast were the seasoned professionals and director favorites.
- When new dancers would be hired in, I was asked to teach them the choreography they needed to know for their part, because I knew them all.
- Every night was an adventure. Sometimes I would be pulled into a role in the middle of the show, and make it appear as if it was planned out decision, when in actuality-someone got hurt or sick.
This is just one example of how my hunger paid off at Disney. I learned to bring my performance to the table, and then I made sure to never become entitled or ‘full’. Entitlement is a terrible sickness a lot of our performers suffer from to this day, and the sad thing is that they don’t see how it is a detriment to their career. Directors see it and avoid casting them, because they don’t want to deal with the ‘Tude’. And audiences will simply check out and find a more vulnerable and giving performer to watch instead on stage. Viewership goes down to zero when a performer walks on the stage lazy and entitled.
The audience didn’t buy a ticket for the show to stop at the snack counter to buy a bag of chips to then sit down and watch an artist perform with a very large Dorito on their shoulder. No one is interested in that, especially directors.
So stay hungry. Stay motivated. You are your only limit- so get out of your own way and embrace your destiny.