‘We show up differently now’: New York Showcase seniors reach casting directors online
Remote theatre courses prepare students to pursue careers after graduation
The 29 Northwestern University seniors selected for this year’s New York Showcase had spent winter quarter choosing and preparing their material to present to agents and industry professionals during spring break.
When the COVID-19 pandemic grounded spring break travel plans, School of Communication staff and industry leaders doubled down on efforts to help launch graduating theatre majors digitally. The show must go on, and seniors found a way, capitalizing on a trend toward more digital approaches in auditions.
Their mentors had prepared them well. School of Communication theatre faculty members Cindy Gold and Amanda Dehnert taught the winter quarter showcase course with assistance from Northwestern alumnus and director Scott Weinstein.
“Over the past decade more audition content has been moving online, and happily the School of Communication had been accustomed to putting senior audition materials on its website as a helpful tool for our graduates,” said Dehnert, associate professor of theatre.
Student audition materials also were shared with BroadwayWorld’s nationwide platform for college showcase participants.
“We’ve had requests for contact details from Broadway, touring and TV cast, agents, managers and major film studios,” said Alan Henry, regional and digital media manager at BroadwayWorld. As of May 4, the outlet reports receiving more than 250,000 unique visits to the College Showcase page.
Additional industry exposure opportunities arose from online platforms Get Acceptd and EcoCast. “It’s been wonderful to see the extra effort made by the industry to adapt their platforms to promote students transitioning to the professional world,” Dehnert said.
Theatre faculty and staff also reached out to casting and talent agencies, to virtually visit classes. Representatives from CBS New York spent two hours with students to advise them on making a good digital representation of their audition online.
Dehnert believes one of the most valuable things she can teach students on the way to becoming professionals is who they are as people. “We work to help them discover what they can do that no one else does,” she said. “It helps them find a place in a very large, very competitive industry.”
Gold enjoys teaching students from all backgrounds and with disparate interests and believes getting a degree in communication is the most valuable degree for the world of acting.
“Although ours is intentionally not a theatre conservatory program, one of the main things we hear from agents and people in the industry is that Northwestern ranks up there with the best MFA programs they see in New York,” Gold said.
Ross Turkington will graduate with a double major in theatre and linguistics. He is finishing out the spring quarter from his home in Essex Fells, New Jersey. He feels lucky to have been able to be part of the showcase course and to work with his fellow classmates. “You learn a lot from each other and by helping each other,” he said.
Turkington was invited by a network to send in a couple of self-tapes, a task he was well prepared for after the course.
“Cindy did a great job of preparing us for this transition,” he said. “Not only did we learn how to take a good headshot, pick a good audition piece and look good online, but we also learned the nitty gritty of writing thank you notes and discussing contracts, and, if you’re lucky enough to have an agent interested, how to ensure the best mutual outcome.”
Turkington also credits his Northwestern syntax professor Masaya Yoshida for encouraging him to pursue a second major in linguistics and voice teacher Linda Gates for taking him under her wing as a dialect coach on productions at the Wirtz Center.
Rekhia Adams will graduate with a double major in theatre and international studies and with a certificate in music theatre. She is sheltering at home in Trinidad and Tobago, where she is finishing up the rest of her spring quarter courses remotely.
Adams is disappointed the long-anticipated showcase will not happen but says Gold and other faculty have made it clear they are still there to support them. She is putting to use the lessons learned in the winter quarter showcase class to pursue work opportunities.
“We got hands-on experience putting ourselves out there,” Adams said. “I am adapting a cover letter I worked on in class to send the casting director of ‘Once on This Island’ and a talent agent.”
Another useful tip came from Northwestern alum Harry Lennix, who visited Gold’s Business for the Artist class.
“It was useful to hear Harry talk about his transition from school to stage to film. And to be reminded to stay grounded in our art and use the downtime to find something we can improve at,” Adams said.
As a result of the online audition materials, an agency representative reached out to Adams with a request to send a self-tape.
“It was great to put into practice what I’d learned. This is what I’ve been training for every day for four years,” she said.
Student coursework covered valuable mental preparation as well as job-seeking techniques.
“My training helped me put the audition in perspective and to remember not to think about it as ‘I want to get this job or I have to get this job’ because then it becomes about getting booked rather than living my life as an actor,” Adams said.
Dehnert hopes graduates will keep in mind the need to keep showing up and moving forward.
“My advice is to stay present and not be afraid to go along with the changes,” she said. “This goes for life and career. We don’t know when the theatres will open again, but we know there will be theatre again…. and there will certainly be Netflix.
“Human beings will always need storytelling and entertainment. It’s our job as artists to figure out how to show up and make that happen -- because the world is different now,” Dehnert said.
“We are not on pause. It is just different.”
Related: Read Northwestern alumnus and director Ryan Cunningham’s story “The Show Must Go Online” about the 89th annual Waa Mu Show, a full book musical written entirely by Northwestern undergraduates.