Sunday, July 2, 2017

Kimberly Vaughn, Tony Award Nominated Producer and Renowned Performance Coach, Shares Her Advice on the Audition Process

By Shelby Tansil

What images come to mind when you hear the word, “audition”? I see sweaty armpits, broken folding chairs, people mumbling under their breath and bespectacled eyes staring at me over a worn copy of Hamlet. My stomach turns just thinking about it. For many people—including actors—the word, “audition,” conjures up negative feelings like anxiety and dread. But what if, instead of fear, we could focus on the joy and excitement of the audition process? What if we could celebrate that opportunity to grow, connect and play?

Kimberly Vaughn, performance coach and founder of the Kimberly Vaughn Performance Studio, approaches the audition process with this kind of positivity and playfulness. Several days ago, I had the chance to speak with her about theatre, auditioning and the upcoming workshops she is teaching with the Riant Theatre’s Strawberry One-Act Festival:    

ST: For more than 40 years, you have been involved with the creative arts. From acting to producing to performance coaching, it seems like you’ve done a bit of everything. What is it that keeps you coming back to the creative process?

KV: It’s really my life’s blood. It’s a very sacred space and opportunity to work with people to develop their skills as story tellers and simultaneously develop their sense of themselves as human beings. The work has always been extremely transformational. Over the years, I have had many students who out of the goodness of their hearts have said, “You know, you’ve changed my life.” And I always say, “Well, I’m honored to have participated in that process with you.” What keeps me coming back is that opportunity—the opportunity to serve the individual’s development as a performer, and also as a human being. Because excelling in your craft and excelling as an individual on the planet are inextricably linked.

ST: That’s beautifully put. As a seasoned performance coach, you must hear many of the same monologues and songs time after time. What can actors do to make sure their interpretation feels fresh?  

KV: The main component for every casting director and agent who lives and breathes in New York City and beyond is the humanity of the actor. Top priority. Main component. It’s imperative that the actor be working their craft consistently to establish a working relationship with themselves. Because it doesn’t matter, ultimately, how great the voice sounds, how terrific the actor looks that day in their new wardrobe, or whatever, if the person inside that shell walking in is not at home. It’s the human factor that matters most. It’s not elocution, it’s not body language. All of that is part of the whole. But all of that is nothing more than a shell without the inner goods, which is the humanity of the person.

If I am preparing for an audition, I’m going to offer you something in which I feel most Kimberly, most available to myself. And therefore, “the monologue” and “the song” become a conduit for my truth and my humanity as a person.

ST: I like the idea of choosing a monologue or song not just for the role but also for who you are as a human being.

KV: If I’m going in for—the role that’s leaping to mind is Rosemary in Picnic—the director might ask me to sing a song. I’d sing something from Fun Home (“Days and Days”) or “He Wanted a Girl” from the musical, Giant. These are songs that would speak to Rosemary in Picnic, songs which could live in the context of that story. I also have to think strategically, “Okay, what are my five favorite songs and which one of those songs most embodies the role for which I am going in?” The same applies when choosing monologues.

ST: Are there any monologues or songs you recommend people not use in audition?

KV: Yes. If it’s an iconic song that one of the Broadway divas has made famous, why are you doing it? [Laughs.] Because everybody is going to be thinking, “Wow, Christine Ebersole killed that. I loved seeing her do that song.” And they’ve left your audition. So, I would stay away from material that is diva-esque.

Another aspect of it is the self-attention that the actor must provide to him or herself in order to choose material that is iconic and fresh. It will be as good as “Popular,” as good as “This Is the Moment,” as good as “New York, New York,” as good as…and the list goes on and on. It’s iconic, but it’s not a signature song.     

ST: In 1993, you opened the Kimberly Vaughn Performance Studio (KVPS), which has helped many actors book their first jobs on Broadway and in national tours. Can you tell us more about some of the services your school offers?

KV: I certainly can. I started teaching adult classes back in the mid-70’s at the Warren Robertson Studio. Warren was the premiere acting coach of the 70’s and 80’s. He was right up there with Strasberg and Meisner and Adler, and in a way, he eclipsed all of them because he was an amalgamation of all three. My classmates included Madeline Kahn, Christopher Walken and Diane Keaton. Robertson’s work was quite seminal at the time. One day, I approached him about teaching a new musical performance class at his studio and asked if he would allow me to do that. And he did. After that, I was away working and came back to teaching in the early 90’s.  

I teach three adult classes weekly. And I consider an adult to be anyone from 20 to death. As long as you have a desire to work and develop your craft and you have been in the arena studying and training, I welcome you. That’s not to say I don’t take what you would affectionately call, “newbies,” because that’s also a great opportunity as well. That leads me to the new class that I’ve started, which is a youth musical theatre class, ages 12-19. I’ve decided to dedicate a specific class to that age range to help our younger actors and performers to improve their craft. It goes beyond Theatre 101. They will get whatever the adults get. The wonderful part about coaching younger students is that together we’ll be able to prevent bad habits. I’m also beginning my first online class, which I’m thrilled about. Capture the Callback will augment what we accomplish in actual in-person classes. It will involve honing and refining video submissions, as well as working material that the students have taken into their initial calls and are refining for their callback.

ST: In addition to your classes, the KVPS also offers some recurring workshops. Do you have any of those coming up?

KV: Oh my gosh, yes! KVPS just started one on May 24th. It’s a 4-week agent/casting director workshop. I’ve hired a different agent for each of the first three weeks. I want my students to have a cross-section of feedback from agents who have clients working in all areas: Broadway, national tours, regional theatre, television, film and commercials. Then in the fourth week, they will have the opportunity to work with and get additional feedback from a seasoned casting director.

I do want to add that there is no promise of work by participating in any of these industry workshops. They are educationally based because I am invested in supporting my students’ growing their storytelling and their business acumen by working with these industry professionals.   

ST: Would you please describe the two upcoming workshops that you are putting on as part of the Strawberry One-Act Festival?

KV: I’d be happy too. The first workshop is a two-hour rendition of my Musical Performance Audition Technique class. This is a seminal opportunity for someone new to Kimberly Vaughn Performance Studio. It’s an opportunity for us to work together on any song cut they want and to use me as their guide, support person and coach for that session. It would be wise if the song was a “go-to” song that they usually use in auditions. My goal is to offer them tools to lift the song higher up and make it more viable by encouraging them to show up more fully inside of the material. It’s going to be very hands-on, very interactive and very performance process oriented. It’s all about process.

ST: How many people can attend that class?

KV: As many as desire can audit the class, but I can work with about seven people. I promise you, as sure as we’re breathing, if people come and audit, they will walk away with a banquet of information about how to show up inside of their storytelling. In other words, it’s a very visceral class and you get it by osmosis. For those who are theatre-based, i.e. not musical-based, and who need to do a monologue…whatever is offered in this class regarding how to un-pack the song cut and how to inhabit someone else’s story, the same information applies to monologues. I would encourage the non-musical theatre actor to audit the class.

ST: Is your second workshop the same structure?

KV: It’s very different. The second workshop is my Audition Essentials class. It’s how to get in and out of the room in one piece, how to feel in command of your audition, how to feel at home in the room. It’s a wonderful tool kit that is simple, that you can put on like your wardrobe and take in with you to every audition from here to eternity. You will feel an incredible transformation in how you are perceived in the room and how private and dropped in your audition performance will be. Audition Essentials is designed to insure you succeed in your auditions by laying the foundation both technically and interpretively for getting the callbacks and booking the jobs.

ST: You have a book coming out soon. Can you tell me about that and when we can expect to see it released?

KV: It’s a Herculean task, writing a book. I have reams of notes. So, I’m now in the process of turning those into chapters. I am hopeful of having a working draft by early 2018. My goal is that it will be manna from Heaven, water in the desert, and really a one-of-a-kind toolkit that will support the creative person—dancer, singer, actor, writer, director, painter, sculptor—in more deeply understanding why it’s imperative to trust your inner life, to trust the truth of who you are. Because when you do, there is no competition. When you do, you’re in a class by yourself. When you do, there is only one, and it’s you.

I think one of the main tenants of the book is, “To thine own self be true.” Know thyself. There will be tools in the book to help the actor dig in and become comfortable with their interior landscape, which has all of the magic that he or she could ever want. And all of that magic is what the casting directors, the agents, the directors, the musical directors and the producers are looking for.

ST: Finally, who is one of your favorite characters from the theatre world?

KV: Oh my goodness. Wow…Willy Lohman in Death of a Salesman…Sally Bowles in Cabaret…Regina in The Little Foxes…Auntie Mame in Mame Higgins and Eliza in My Fair Lady…all the characters in Fun Home and Spring Awakening…it’s a long list.

Kimberly Vaughn is a New York City-based performance coach with extensive experience in acting, directing, producing, dramaturgy, writing and teaching. She founded the Kimberly Vaughn Performance Studio in 1993, where she offers a variety of classes and workshops. She has also taught at the Warren Robertson Studio, Circle in the Square Theatre School, Pace University and at various musical theatre departments throughout the U.S. Many actors who work with Kimberly have gone on to book roles on Broadway and in national tours and regional theatre productions.   


Workshop #1: Musical Theatre Song Interpretation & Audition Prep Class

Date:               Saturday, July 22, 2017

Time:              10:00 am – 12:00 pm  

Location:       The Theatre at St. Clement’s
    423 West 46th St, New York, New York, 10036

Fee:   Class: $40    Audit: $25  To Register Click Here

Workshop #2: Audition Essentials

Date:               Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Time:              12:00 pm – 4:00 pm 

Location:       The Theatre at St. Clement’s (Parish Hall)
    423 West 46th St, New York, New York, 10036

Fee:   Class: $75  Audit: $35  To Register Click Here



1 comment:

  1. Very interesting and helpful insights from Ms. Vaughn. Please note a typo: First line of second paragraph in her answer to penultimate question should read: "I think one of the major tenets...." (I.e., not tenants).