Gretna Theatre series part two: Just another day for a New York actor
Editor's note: This is part two in a three-part series. You can read part one here
Welcome to New York
It was a cold March day, showing New Yorkers that while spring was near, winter was not quite ready to leave. At 6 a.m., sounds of taxi cabs up and down Broadway could be heard, while the line to get into Starbucks was around the block. It's just a typical day in New York.
Also at 6 a.m. on March 23, Collier Cobb, of New York City, stood outside of Nola Studios at 250 W. 54th St. She was the first in line for the Gretna Theatre auditions that day, but she was just one of more than 200 hopefuls who were lined up around the block in the blistering cold.
It was time to audition to show Larry Frenock and Christian Saint-Girard what they had to bring to the table, but to the actors, it was just another day in the life.
Take Amy Alvino for example. Alvino lives in the city and is a full-time actor, while doing consultant work for a skin care business on the side. Depending on the time of year, Gretna could be just one of the places she auditions in a single day.
"It sort of varies for what's out there. There are some weeks where you'll audition seven or eight times. There are some weeks where you'll audition once," Alvino said. "It all depends on which non-equity and equity calls they have. It depends on what's available."
"I'd say at the most, it's about three per day. In a week, the most is around 10. I'll usually bring as many headshots and resumes as I can," TJ Newton said of a typical day for him. "I'll have one audition that I know I really want to go to. If there are others in the same building, I'll sign up for those, as well."
Aside from being aspiring actors, the people in line for the open-call session with Gretna Theatre had one thing in common.
"Pretty much everyone wants 'The Little Mermaid,' it seems," said Brooke Bauersfeld, of New York City.
And it's true. They all wanted to go under the sea as a part of the cast of "The Little Mermaid." From Ariel, to Prince Eric, to Flounder; they just wanted to be a part of the movie they watched growing up.
The actors lined up and signed up for a spot to audition for 3 minutes. Times varied from 9:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. that day, which made for a long day for the staff of Gretna Theatre, but also a long day of waiting for those auditioning.
Some waited in the holding room, which was placed beside the audition room on floor 11 of Nola Studios. Others, though, didn't have the luxury of signing up right away, so they had to kill time their own way.
"I'll probably go to a deli café, grab a banana and sit there for two hours, and I'll go over my song," Sarah Mermer said with a laugh when talking about her 10:14 time slot. "It's a typical day. If the only slot was 4:30, I probably wouldn't hang out with my banana in the deli then. I might have gone home at that point because I live in the city, but I know a lot of people don't always do that."
One actor followed the lead of Mermer, but took her free time to the next level. After signing up for her 10:32 time slot, Rebecca Kostell went down the block to a café on the corner to wait for the doors to the studio to open at 9 a.m. After grabbing a breakfast sandwich and her morning coffee, Kostell sat in the corner booth of the café, and she proceeded to pull out her makeup bag.
"Ideally, I'd go do my hair and makeup there. Since I'm killing time, I might as well do it here in this booth," Kostell said over the tune of John Legend's "All of Me" in the loud café. "It's a typical day. After this, I'll go to Pearl Studios on 34th street for another audition."
To no surprise, Kostell was getting prepared for her audition for "The Little Mermaid," a part she felt she was a good fit for.
"The one I think I'm most type-wise right for is 'The Little Mermaid.' That's what I'm looking for," she said. "Would I love to be Ariel? Sure. What girl wouldn't, but in general, I just think I'm a perfect type for the show. That's why I woke up at 6:15 a.m. to come down here."
A majority of the girls want to be the Disney princess, but they aren't the only ones.
"Well part of it is we all want to be Disney princesses," twin brothers Zach and Jared Green said, with a laugh.
Whether it's Kostell, Mermer or the twins, there were going to be rejections from the week, as more than 1,500 actors auditioned – both equity and non-equity – for the roles in Gretna that summer. Being that the majority of them had experience auditioning before – not counting first-year college student at Wagner University, Julia Adams, from California – they are used to rejections.
"We're realistic. We know that neither of us or one of us could get a contract while the other one won't," said Sarah Beth White of auditioning for the roles of Ariel and Prince Eric with her boyfriend, Shawn Smith. "We'd love to do a show together, but we're supportive of each other's careers. It's fun."
"I don't sweat anymore. It's just my routine," Newton added.
For Kostell, it's a process that she's used to, as once you land a gig, you take a semi-vacation to wherever the job is located.
"I probably started auditioning my sophomore year of college. But now that I graduated, it's just part of the job," Kostell said. "You audition, hope you land a job, go for your work and vacation and then doing it all over again."
But has the thought of rejection changed her approach to the audition at all?
"I don't know if it's changed, necessarily," Kostell said after a long pause. "I've always gone in with the idea that this is part of the job. You do your work for the people and forget about it. It was something I was taught in school. It's kept me in a healthy mindset. I don't think everyone can get up and do what we do in the morning."
Standing in the spotlight
Once the actors made it into the building, they were greeted by associate artistic director Renee Krizan. Krizan was constantly moving throughout the three-day audition period in New York. Frantically ushering in actors, only to pull them out the second their time was up. It's a period of chaos, but one that Krizan seemed to enjoy.
Clipboard in hand, Krizan would call the names of the actors auditioning, to let them know when they were coming up. Once it was an actor's turn, they would enter through the door, flash the required smile while greeting Frenock and Saint-Girard in the audition room. Frenock and Saint-Girard would bring their eyes up to the performer, while Saint-Girard would give his customary "Hello, darling. What are you performing for us today" before looking back down at his notebook.
Songs, monologues, dances and even stuffed animals ruled the days, as the performers only had a brief time to make an impression on the duo.
For most, Saint-Girard would offer either a "thank you, we'd like to ask you back for a callback on Thursday," or a "thank you, but I don't think we have anything for your type."
"Type," in acting terms, refers to a plethora of things, two of which are the body type or acting style of an actor.
One actor, Alize Rozsnyai, had naturally bright red hair, which resembled that of character Ariel in "The Little Mermaid." To her surprise – and dismay – Saint-Girard told her she wasn't the type they were looking for.
"I don't know what it means, to be honest. I figured I would be the type for Ariel. I'm a 5-foot 2-inch female, so I really don't know," the 120-pound Rozsnyai said. "Sure, yeah. I've heard it before. I was just confused. I wanted to know what the type was, because I saw myself as that type. I'm wondering if he wanted someone who was really, really skinny. Or maybe a blonde girl? I have the red hair, so I don't know."
The staff at Gretna Theatre actually did like a blonde girl that auditioned to play Ariel, as Samantha Souza "was beautiful and blew me away," according to Saint-Girard.
"I've never experienced that before. If only they knew what a big nerd I am," Souza said with a laugh. "Oh my god, I have wanted to play this part since I was 5-years old."
Had Souza been offered the role of Ariel, it's one she would have taken, without a doubt.
"You have to see if it's a role that will serve you for the rest of your career or not. You don't want to age out of a role or anything. To me, it's a great resume builder to have an iconic role like that. That's also factored into it," Souza said. "For me, with this piece, I've been wanting to do it forever, so regardless if someone offered me more money or anything, I'd probably still take it because I've always wanted it. They say when you're trying to pick a part, you have to see if it's enough money and if it's a dream role. If it's a dream role, you take it no matter the other factors. This is a dream role."
Souza mentioned growing out of a role, which in this case would be a Disney princess. For Morgan Kirner, it's a type that she's used to being cast as, but she embraces it.
"I mean, it's all about the work you do in the room. If that's how people see me, it's not a terrible thing," Kirner said with a smile.
During her audition, Saint-Girard said that he got goosebumps afterward.
"It's lovely. You don't often hear that after an audition. It's very kind and it made me feel very nice about the work I did," Kirner said. "I covered the role at Papermill and I swung it the following year at Theatre Under the Stars in Texas and Georgia I love the role. I could do it for the rest of my life."
Despite her performance and experience playing the part, the brunette Kirner also didn't get the part. Instead, it went to a performer who is known by a title instead of a name – Miss Pennsylvania.
Amanda Smith, a student at Carnegie Mellon, earned the part of Ariel in "The Little Mermaid" after she attended the local audition in Lebanon.
"'The Little Mermaid' has been a dream show for a long time. I grew up watching it, and wanted to be a princess," Smith said with a laugh. "I knew Lebanon wasn't far away, so I knew I could get in my car and drive there for the audition."
Smith, a brunette, is another actor that has the Disney type-cast, but she's OK with it, too.
"My whole life I have been type-casted as a Disney cast. It's my voice and my look. You have to be realistic when you audition," she said. "I knew if I were to walk in and said I wanted to play Ursula, I wouldn't be cast as her. That's just the fact of the matter. I'll stay in this image for as long as I can. The Disney types are my natural niche, I guess I would say."
Smith received word of the role after the New York auditions ended, but she went back for her callback two days before the open call in the Big Apple. For anyone auditioning, hearing that you have a callback is the most important thing you can be told early on.
"A callback is something you want to move toward, but you don't want to go into it thinking you need the callback. It's the first hurdle, though, definitely," said Gina Ventura, of New Jersey.
The aforementioned twins, who were auditioning for the roles of Flotsam and Jetsam, the two eels in "The Little Mermaid," received a callback on Thursday, March 25, after they made Frenock and Saint-Girard laugh with their rendition.
"It went really well. That was the first time we were actually in an audition room together. We were nervous because we didn't ask that when we signed up at first. We took a chance, and it was a lot of fun," Jared Green said.
Not everyone was that lucky, though, as the majority of the people who auditioned would leave their resume and headshot, but wouldn't receive a callback from Gretna Theatre for a second look.
"At the end of the day, I just have to do me. If they like that, great. If they don't, that's OK, too," Rozsnyai said. "Someone else will. I'm on to the next audition now."
Pick up a copy of the Lebanon Daily News next Sunday for part three of the three-part Gretna Theatre series.