Celebrities prepare students with 'audition from hell'

“Hey, Tom Hanks again,” Kat Arenella ’10 heard across the Drama Lab Jan. 15, as Tom Hanks called her phone. “I saw you at the audition, and I thought you were really great. My friends and I are getting together for a party, so if you want to come…”

Arenella has three more phony messages from Hanks (Chet ’09), who played the role of an inappropriate producer during the Actor and the Stage I workshop, “The Audition from Hell.”

The students performed their scene night monologues in front of a panel of surprise celebrities and teachers who tried to simulate the worst audition scenario possible for each student.

The “directors” and “producers” interrupted students mid-monologue and gave them crazy directions and rude commentary in order to prepare students for future strange auditions and for their January scene night later that day.

Before Arenella performed her monologue in front of an 11-person panel that included actors Peter Gallagher (James ’08, Kathryn ’11) and Rita Wilson (Chet Hanks ’09), Head of Performing Arts Rees Pugh asked Arenella for her phone number.

Unaware that this was an audition taboo, Arenella complied and Hanks phoned her during and after her audition, telling her she was “doing great” and “don’t cut your hair.”

“Make sure to wear your hair parted down the middle,” he advised jokingly.

“The goal was to put the student actors in the worst possible audition situation, so that they could gain experience auditioning before a group of strangers who were not the quiet, attentive, parental audience they had faced before,” drama teacher Christopher Moore said.

The panel also included drama teacher Michelle Spears, English teacher Jocelyn Medawar, actor and dancer Paula Gallagher (James ’08, Kathryn ’11), actor Dave Bushnell, actor/writer/director Mark D. Kaufmann (who often directs one-acts in the Playwrights Festival) and actor and voice-over artist Clancy Brown.

Rebecca Contreras ’09 stood atop a chair, pronouncing the words of Joan of Arc in a Brooklyn accent while in another audition Ester Khachatryan ’10 was asked to perform her English monologue in her fluent Russian.

“I had to do my audition into a mirror,” Eli Petzold ’10 recounted. “Except they didn’t have a mirror, and Tom Hanks just stood right in front of me with a video camera.”

Peter Gallagher often walked onstage mid-audition to readjust a chair, saying, “Don’t mind me. You are doing fine, keep going.”

“These folks, none of whom had children in these classes, volunteered their time and had such a blast,” Moore said. “The same students had a scene night presentation at 7 p.m. the same night and at 6:20 p.m. the panel was still yakking away with the kids.”

Though students were completely surprised by the celebrity panel and even more frightened once they entered the room, many look on it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“We are extraordinarily lucky to have people like this basically come and play with us,” Cate Barsky ’10 said.

Moore said, “When I asked the next day if anyone was nervous during scene night presentation, the standard reply was, ‘Are you kidding? After the audition from hell, I won’t ever be nervous again!’”

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