UPTAs: A Review


Alright. It took me almost a week to finally process and decompress from everything that has happened, but here it is--as promised--a summary of what happened at UPTAs this weekend.

For those of you who don't know, UPTAs are the United Professional Theatre Auditions hosted every year here in Memphis at Playhouse On The Square. This year 92 companies from all over the country sent representatives to watch the auditions of over 850 actors and interview production staff in 4 days. The actors are also from all over the country--flying, driving, bus-ing, train-ing to get to Memphis--and are the lucky few (yes, 850 is a few) who were able to snag an audition slot this weekend. The audition slots are 90 seconds each, and they are your chance to show these companies your strengths as an actor/singer, and hope you catch their eyes and get a callback or two. The callbacks are when the company representatives get to talk to you more about their theatre/amusement park/touring company/etc. and find out more about you as a person. From there they will either offer or not offer you a contract, and then the whole process starts over again next year.

Basically it's like an exclusive, selective job fair for actors/techies.

It is also simultaneously super fun and stressful.

And so much happened...I'll try and keep it brief.

Friday: Heather Nicholas (amazing actress and best friend) drives in to town. We go to the theatre at 9:45pm to tour the audition space. Lots of pre-professionals there. They are adorable.

Note: Pre-professionals are actors who have never worked professionally, or are still attending school. They have to go through a screening process and submit a video audition before they can even be considered for UPTAs, and those who are considered good enough by a panel of judges are then given one of 250 coveted slots set aside for Saturday's auditions. My friend Heather, is one of those talented people :)

Saturday: 8am actor's meeting. Zach Williams (talented actor and boyfriend), Heather, and I go. It's a sea of pre-professional people. They are super fidgety and nervous. There's an Elvis impersonator, lots of red bull and candy, singing, people dashing up and down the halls, more singing, people loudly and quietly reciting monologues, chaos. Heather checks in, and Zach and I get our packets early (we will check in the next day since our audition slots are on Sunday). Heather auditions that day. Zach and I prep. I meet up with some of my amazing friends from the Ren Faire who have come in to town for UPTAs and it's amazing.

Sunday: Zach and I go to check in around 9am. It's like a completely different theatre. All is calm in the world. The people auditioning today, Monday, and Tuesday are considered "professionals" because they have either worked in a professional theatre or have attended UPTAs previously. The atmosphere is more of a, "You know, I was in town and decided to show up because what the hell." People are quietly drinking coffee and chit chatting. Very different from the day before. I actually laughed out loud.

I am #457, and Zach is #469, so we figured we won't be seen till after lunch since they are starting with #251. So we wait and try to distract ourselves with errands and lunch and stuff. Meanwhile I am neurotically calling the hotline the theatre has set up to find out what audition number they are on just to make sure they haven't jumped from #328 to #450 since the last time I called seven minutes ago.

Finally it comes time for us to audition. We go to the theatre and sit down with Patrick Croce, Jennifer Brunker, Ali Foley, and Jules Schrader (my Ren Faire comrades). Patrick, Jen, and I are all called with the final group of singers for the day. There are 26 of us and they lead through the maze of rooms and hallways into a green holding room. We then play a sort of game of musical chairs. You start sitting in the green room. You then move to one of three "holding" chairs set up outside the door leading to the stage. You move down a chair each time a person enters the theatre, until you are in the final chair. You are then directed inside the door down the hall to another chair that is set up at the back of the stage. From this chair you can see ANOTHER chair set up next to the stage manager in the wings, just offstage. You go to this chair, and the lovely stage manager talks to you quietly and reassures you everything is going to be fine while you watch the next person on-stage killing their audition. As soon as they are done you move to the FINAL chair which is positioned directly next to Jose, the brilliant and talented accompanist, and you sit their patiently while the person in front of you performs. You quietly explain to Jose how you want your song played and details concerning that part of your audition, and finally it is your turn.

You walk center stage. You say your name and number. You open your mouth to speak, and then...you black out.

Ok, not literally black out. But mentally it's like you're brain shuts down and you come off stage thinking, "What just happened?" and you go back to your friends and try to recount if it went well or not and usually all you can say is, "I hope it did, because I really don't remember." It is both bizarre and comforting to know your mind can selectively keep memories of stressful and potentially traumatic situations.

Anyways! I finished my audition, I think it went well, I think I remember people laughing, I'm really not sure, and then I dash to the bathroom to change into my dance clothes just in case I get asked by one of the companies to do the dance audition. The dance audition begins promptly at 6pm. I finish my audition at 4:48pm. I still have to wait on Zach before we can drive downtown to the Sheraton where all of the callbacks and dance audition are taking place. He gets done and we hop in the car and zip down to the hotel.

At the hotel in one of the ballrooms on the main level all of the callbacks are posted. Names and numbers of auditionees that companies would like to see are listed on sheets under the company names. To my delight 13 companies have asked me for a callback and one of them wanted to see me at the dance audition.

Now it becomes a literal race against the clock. Each company has a different room on a different floor of the 16 floors of this hotel. You can only use the elevators because the doors of the stairs are locked from the outside, and once inside the stairwell, you have to go all the way to the first floor to get out. So Zach kindly takes all of my bags as I take my list of companies and sprint through the hallways to their doors to sign up for one of the last remaining time slots. I get signed up for five of them and then I sprint to the dance callback.

The dance callback....OH MY GOD IT WAS SO MUCH FUN!!! There are three combinations that are taught: the Mover routine, the Jazz/Ballet combo, and the Tap combo. You can only do two, but you can do any two you want. I decided I'd do the mover routine (which is designed for people with little to no dance experience) and I'd give the jazz/ballet combo a try. For the first routine, we got to do a part of the dance for Thriller. And it was AWESOME! The jazz/ballet combo was much faster, extremely technical, and very difficult. If I'd had a couple hours to work on it non-stop, I could have done it. But 20 minutes left me feeling unprepared, so I gracefully bowed out of that one. But I fucking killed the Thriller dance. It was just so much fun! And Jen was in my group and we both made zombie noises while we were doing it (even though the music was too loud for anyone to hear us). And I've never smiled so much after an audition as I did for the dance callback.

I ended up getting a 14th callback after a company watched me dance, and in the hour before my first callback, I was able to sign up for slots for four more companies. The rest I had to leave headshots and thank you/sorry I couldn't make it notes because of time constraints.

Then from 8pm--11pm it was non-stop running from callback to callback as I met with the company representatives and did cold reads and sang songs and improv-ed street character interactions and heard about their companies and watched the super bowl (for reals).

I finished my final callback, trudged back downstairs to the hotel bar where Zach was waiting for me, and we drove back home. He had received three callbacks and was telling me all about the companies and which ones he was most excited about. I was exhausted, elated, and enormously grateful for that entire day.

Now we just wait and see if any contract offers come our way...

#PlayhouseOnTheSquare #HeatherNicholas #UPTA #Auditions #Callbacks #Theatre #ZachWilliams #PatrickCroce #JenniferBrunker #AliFoley #JulesSchrader #AngieFennel

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