THE CHALLENGE: So you wanna be an actor. Or maybe you already are an actor but you've yet to really jump-start your career. Or perhaps you're in a bit of a lull. Whatever the case, acting is a difficult vocation. Even obtaining an audition can prove elusive--if your theatre community is a small one, it may be hard to tap into a tightly woven network. If you live in a metropolis like New York or Chicago, there may seem to be no shortage of opportunities, but showing up to an Equity audition without your Equity card can be a dehumanizing, cattle-herding kind of experience. Bret Jaspers and Emily Clare Zempel were about to graduate from Brooklyn College in May '07 and their horizons as actors with MFAs seemed grim. Instead of entering the real world with high hopes of snagging auditions but with no real plan of action, the two thespians decided to turn the system on its head by creating auditions that did not pre-exist. They picked up and traveled to regional theatres instead of having the theatres come to them.
THE PLAN: Mary Beth Easley, who teaches "Audition Techniques and the Business of Acting" at Brooklyn College, had been mentioning to her students for years that small-scale day trips could be useful for making connections, and Zempel took the idea and ran with it. "Coming from the Midwest, I have so much respect for regional theatre, and I just wanted to work," she says. "In New York, you can't even get an appointment." Zempel's wanderlust, combined with an industry showcase kerfuffle (it coincided with a nor'easter), propelled Zempel and her classmate Jaspers to seriously consider hitting the road post-graduation. They bought some regional theatre directories and began researching. In short order, one thing became clear: "If we were going to go, we had to go all the way," Zempel says with a laugh. Jaspers had a car sitting in his dad's driveway in Rochester, N.Y., and both have friends and family scattered across the nation. "You'd be surprised how large your network is when you put out the call," Japsers notes. While preparing for the trip, the two sent out a letter to various artistic directors stating who they were and expressing interest in presenting their work. They then followed up with phone calls. "That was one of the most terrifying things I'd ever done," Zempel admits. Nevertheless, they saw results. In their 5 weeks on the road, Zempel and Jaspers managed to arrange 27 auditions and 3 meetings--not bad for two recent MFA grads.
KEY PLAYERS: Easley had put the travel bee in their acting bonnets, but friends and families of Jaspers and Zempel were indispensable for enabling the trip's logistics. Theatre staffs--such as the artistic directors, casting directors and artistic associates who met with the actors--gave the excursion its practical focus. Some of the biggest key players turned out to be strangers. "Someone we met in Minneapolis put us in touch with a friend in Seattle," Jaspers shares. And when they didn't have a place to stay, the two recent grads used a site called Couchsurfing.com, which provided interesting insights into the flavor of various cities. The price of fuel was also auspicious: "Gas was still under $3 a gallon when we went in October '07," Jaspers recalls. "I don't know if we could make that same trip now. …