Entering the room to the smiles and waves of a few friends, a newcomer is thrown into the life of theatre majors. The electricity was undeniable, as everyone was milling about, seeing friends, and saying hello.
It felt like one was tossed into a waiting room for auditions, everyone nervous but excited, emotions running high; bursts of laughter not totally genuine drifted out of the crowd like smoke signals, signs of unease and attempts to cover them up. At that point a woman stepped forward and instantly the room took on a very different feeling of rapt attention.
A small woman, she commanded an air about her that would rival a queen. PeggyRae Johnson, a big part of KSC theatre, gave a very modest introduction to the evening.
Breaking into a warm smile, she said, “Welcome to this installment of ‘Acting on Camera.’ We have a lot of work for tonight and I’m sure all of you have heard my voice enough today, so let me introduce Elaine Bromka.”
To applause, a tall woman stepped forward from behind Johnson, simply beaming up at the audience. An Emmy award-winning actress, she was a regular on both L.A. Law and Law & Order, and currently is starring in a one-woman play called “Tea for Three: Lady Bird, Pat & Betty,” a play about three first ladies.
“Welcome,” she said. “You are some of the luckiest people in the world, because you have passion.”
She continued on, praising the entire audience for knowing and loving what they do. “Find something you love to do,” she said, quoting Harvey MacKay, “You’ll never work a day in your life.”
However, it was in the Wright Theatre on a Monday night that she told the group a few disheartening facts.
“85% of actors and actresses don’t make a living,” she said with practiced poise and deliverance. “That means I,” she looked around, “am in the top 15% of the field.”
“But don’t worry,” she said, “even if you don’t make it, acting is applicable everywhere.” It was a slight comfort to those with shattered hopes.
She listed job applications, interviews, and many other places where traditional theatre training could help.
After the preamble, the work started, broken up by anecdotes about acting and shows Bromka had been on. To those who were there to participate, Bromka passed out two cards with words on them such as “subdued” or “bashful.”
From there each actor got up in front of the camera and read a line, first in the style of the first adjective, then in the style of the second. Before each reading Bromka critiqued, sometimes brutally, the actors clothing choice.
With each person she suggested “light colors, like a light green or teal would really pop!” And she would pick up a sheet of paint chips and point to the grey green area.
A young man stepped up with “Aeropostle” plastered all over his chest, to which Bromka reacted as a parent would to a full-face tattoo on her 11-year-old.
A very important lesson was learned: never wear a shirt or a dress or a coat to an audition that takes over you. “It’s too loud,” she said. “It completely stole the audition; we were too busy looking at your shirt.”
After the wardrobe evisceration, the actor would step into frame, and deliver the line, “Where can I find the umbrellas?”
Upon receiving a response she or he would say “Thank you” and walk off.
After each actor, Bromka would either have them repeat a certain part, or try it in a different way.
Each actor had her or his own one-on-one time with Bromka, or, as one-on-one he or she could get with an audience staring at them from behind the camera.
Throughout the night she kept laughing and telling everyone that they’d never have an audition like this, with an audience and in such a big open room.
By the end of the night everyone had a book full of notes and tips.
“You need to be bright,” she said. “Proactive! You want them to see your name and think about how great you were to work with.”
Augustus Stahl can be contacted at email@example.com