“Auditions are weird anyway,” says Zach Morris, co-artistic director of Third Rail Projects. “So let’s double down on the weirdness.”
It’s mid-October, and Then She Fell, the company’s wildly successful
immersive theater production riffing on Victorian hospital wards and
Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, is looking for one male performer to fill a
very specific role. (The directors never state exactly which one—“No
spoilers!” they joke.) They’ve whittled down the pile of applications to
the 12 men currently warming up in the rooms of the Kingsland Ward,
a century-old building at St. John’s Church in Brooklyn, New York.
“We look for certain experiences that are translatable: That they’ve been
working at this craft professionally, that they’re looking for the next
thing that they’re hungry for,” says Julia Kelly, a current cast member
and the rehearsal director.
Solid technique and the ability to pick up movement quickly are
the bare minimum of what’s expected from potential performers. In immersive theater, the cast might also have to act, guide audience members
through nontraditional spaces and improvise in-character reactions to
an unpredictable audience every show. In today’s audition, the dancers
are being assessed on much more than their dancing abilities.
As 10 am rolls around, the men are handed name tags instead of
numbers and are asked to circle up and introduce themselves briefly.
“If we’re doing our jobs right, everyone is comfortable,” Morris says,
explaining that they prefer to think of these auditions as workshops.
For Then She Fell, they want to take the performance out of perform-
ing, focusing instead on completing a series of tasks that define each
character—a necessary skill when your audience is merely a foot away.
“It really comes down to, How simple can you be? How completely
present can you be? Because then you can dial up to these other
things,” co-artistic director Tom Pearson says later.
They begin with core phrasework, Morris demonstrating a gesture series pulled from the Doctor character that mimes the handling
of medical equipment—precise, efficient, upright. Halfway through,
Marissa Nielsen-Pincus, an original Alice in the show and current assistant director, takes over, shifting the phrase into something that sways,
flows and initiates from the core. The character is meant to be watching
her own reflection, but Nielsen-Pincus encourages the dancers not to
be too focused on making the correct shapes.
They break into groups of four to show the Doctor/Alice phrase,
and it’s clear when a dancer has missed a detail, and, more importantly,
if they’re actually touching or seeing what they’re directed to. Adding
At an audition for the immersive theater production Then She Fell,
strangeness is only to be expected. BY COURTNEY ESCOYNE
Down the Rabbit Hole
The audition requires
dancers to interact
with set pieces. Here,
improvises with a chair.