What do the Broadway shows “Annie,” “Mary Poppins,” and “Newsies” have in common? They take place in another era. Period pieces are fun projects for kids. Being plopped into a different time with unusual clothing under interesting circumstances makes the experience rich with fantasy and compelling to master for young actors.
Despite the allure, it can be difficult for a young actor to audition well for these kinds of roles because we are all products of our own time and place. Casting directors want to see the “real” you while easily imagining a child of a different era. You can do this by making a few adjustments to your audition preparation process. Follow these tips when auditioning for period roles to travel to another time!
1. Dress neutrally, with a hint of yesterday. Start with the audition uniform. I recommend that boys dress in khakis and a button down shirt and girls dress in a classic skirt and neutral blouse. Don’t worry that your 19th century character may have worn knickers. The point is to not get in the way of the casting director envisioning you in the appropriate dress, and 21st century clothing, makeup, hair and shoes have a way of doing that. However, a hint of history in your appearance can often be memorable. Hair pinned up in a proper manner, for instance, can be just the thing to express your 19th century persona.
2. Act the part. “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.” Pretending to be from another era may require the child actor to soften an attitude. Hands on hips, tongue out, and a bratty attitude may not work in another time. For example, it wouldn’t be credible for Michael Banks, the character in “Mary Poppins,” to have run a nanny out of the household with that kind of behavior.
3. We’re all the same. It is a mistake to treat characters from a different era as wholly different from people today. Connect to them emotionally the same way you would connect to a contemporary character. Stiff, unyielding clothing doesn’t make a character have a stiff personality. Play the emotional connection with honesty, and you are sure to make an impression.
4. Follow the rules. So if characters from different eras are just like us, then what’s the difference? The difference lies in the rules and expectations of society and what a character would have understood about the world in that time. Here’s where a little research helps. But don’t get bogged down in transforming your personality. Again, a little hint of the time is all you need. The observance of a small detail of period etiquette, for example, can help make your portrayal of a character believable.
Playing a character from a bygone era is fun and challenging. Casting directors, however, do not expect you to master the entire period in the audition. They are looking for a young actor who embodies the spirit of the character and who they trust to master the additional details to successfully play the part. Prepare to accomplish that, and you may find yourself living in some very interesting times.
Master your craft, empower yourself, and enjoy the journey.
Denise Simon is a New York-based acting coach and career consultant who has been involved in the entertainment industry for more than 25 years as an actor, teacher, director, and personal talent manager. For 10 years, she was an associate with Fox Albert Management, one of the leading talent management companies in New York, where she managed such clients as Scarlett Johansson, Academy Award winner Mira Sorvino, Lacey Chabert (“Party of Five”), and Judy Reyes (NBC’s “Scrubs”). Denise has coached hundreds of children and young adults appearing regularly on Broadway and in television and film, as well as educating parents on the business of show business.