Thank You, 10 is an interview series brought to you by Audition Cat, an upcoming app with career management tools for the professional auditioning performer. Each article interviews an industry professional with a different experience and opinion about what the future of auditioning looks like. Through these conversations, we hope an image will appear about what’s next for the industry, and what it aspires to be. Have someone you’d like to be considered for an interview? Reach out to us Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
Artistic Producer, New York Stage and Film
Personal occupation descriptor: Creative Producer and Director for plays and musicals in-development
Links to Liz’s Work:
Personal website: www.elizabethjcarlson.com
NYSAF website: www.newyorkstageandfilm.org
Selected artists supported as Creative Producer: Keelay Gipson, Jessica Huang, Monet Hurst-Mendoza, Brian Quijada, Nygel D Robinson
Selected artists supported as Director: Jahna Ferron-Smith, The Lobbyists, Catya McMullen, Don Nguyen, Max Vernon
Getting to Know You
Who are you? What’s your artistic background / what started your journey into the arts?
I am Liz Carlson (she/her). I am currently the Artistic Producer for New York Stage and Film. I’ve been on an artistic journey for as long as I can remember, with music being my main foundation. My siblings and I were taught to sing and play piano from a very young age. Visual art was my first true love, though. My great-grandmother was a painter and she lived across the street from me until I was 15, so I took lessons from her. I even studied Art History in undergrad and my job throughout college was painting the sets for the theater department. The performing arts were just a hobby at first — never an intended career path. Until I discovered directing, and then the alignment of visual, verbal, musical, and physical expression clicked for me and I knew I found my path.
When did you set out on your current career path?
I didn’t realize I wanted to pursue a career in directing for the stage until the beginning of my senior year in college. And I didn’t know a damn thing about it — I didn’t have the vocabulary, the training, the sense of how one pursues it professionally… So I decided to apply to some graduate schools and attended The New School for the Performing Arts’ MFA in Directing program. During my two summers between classes, I interned at New York Stage and Film and Signature Theatre (NYC), which helped me determine that I wanted to be in proximity to new and developing plays and musicals. Those internships also introduced me to creative producing, which is what I do now full-time. After graduate school, I was a freelance director and producer for about 3.5 years. And then I was the Artistic Director for Naked Angels for 3 years. And then I returned to New York Stage and Film where I’ve been since 2016! (phew!)
What is your “mission statement” as an arts professional? What drives you to continue in this industry?
My guiding principle as an arts professional is very similar to how I try to be a parent: It is not my job to tell you how to create; it’s not my job to tell you what your voice is. It’s my job to see you as you are / to hear your voice and create an environment in which you and your voice thrive. I want to help you be most authentically you in this moment and for this project. My drive persists as long as there are stories to tell — as long as there is the need to examine and express questions about the human condition.
Within your artistic profession, what other industry roles do you work with most closely?
As a creative producer, I am in proximity to many other practitioners and artists: playwrights, directors, actors, choreographers, designers, stage managers, technicians, literary agents, casting agents, technicians, fellow producers…
What do you wish was more widely understood about your profession?
I find producing — especially for new and developing work — to be incredibly creative and inspiring. And I’ve also earned an appreciation for how mindful one needs to be in that position. It’s a privilege to be in a position to help artists and their projects along their trajectories — one the comes with responsibilities that must be respected: creating space where process can happen effectively; thinking about communication and what it means to give “notes”; what are the avenues of access?; in what way are we creating harmful restrictions?; how do we create opportunity?; are our structures and resources equitable?
Auditioning and You
In your experience, what is the most common pitfall that actors make with auditions?
I’m hesitant to place any kind of “blame” on actors when it comes to auditions. I believe it is an organizations’/the producers’ responsibility to be transparent about needs and expectations. Though I do understand that that’s not always the case. So perhaps I’ll offer the thought that if anything about a role/project/organization/opportunity is unclear going into an audition, do what you can to request information up front. And if there’s any hesitancy about being transparent about anything, be mindful of what you’re potentially getting into.
Let’s talk about self tapes! Self tapes have become more and more common for auditioning actors, even more so during the pandemic. What do you like about self tapes? What do you dislike about them?
I think self tapes can offer a lot of advantages: they don’t require a commute or an uncomfortable wait in a lobby for a process that’s probably running behind schedule; they allow actors to be comfortable in their own space and shoot the tape when they’re ready; and they might help humanize this community even more–much in the same way as Zoom has. On the other hand, not everyone has private, comfortable space accessible to them, and self-tapes require a level of technical proficiency/wi-fi access, which not everyone has, so there is an inherent level of inequity.
As self tapes become more and more prevalent in the industry, for your profession, what are the main differences between in-person and virtual auditions? What advice do you have for actors who have less experience with virtual auditions?
A virtual audition doesn’t allow for the in-real-time human interaction that allows you to personalize one another (on both sides “of the table”). In any audition, I’m interested in what makes the actor more comfortable/authentic. For a self-tape, if that means letting me see a bit of your real life, great. Neutral background? Okay! A little banter at the top to say hello, sure! (Granted: this is just me!)
If there was one piece of advice you’d give to any actor right before an audition or recording a self tape, what would it be?
Auditions have always been an odd concept to me because they feel like the antithesis of what we’re often trying to do in theater — it’s such a singularly focused process for an artform that is meant to be collaborative. So maybe that’s just a preface to say: I may not be the best person to ask about this. BUT. I think you should always remember to breathe. And take whatever steps you need to feel grounded and connected. And ultimately remember that it’s okay if it feels artificial…because it is!
How do you expand your “network”? When you interact with a performer for the first time, what inspires you, and what are you looking for in this initial interaction/audition to convince you to bring them back?
I am in the fortunate position that my network is constantly expanding by way of script submissions, artist introductions, and multiple developmental processes that NYSAF supports on an annual basis. In an audition setting, I love getting to meet new artists and to get “reintroduced” to artists I know by watching them interpret new work. I am inspired by curiosity, point of view, and an ability to acknowledge what is vulnerable/not fully formed yet.
Looking to the Future
What excites you about the future of the arts and auditioning in particular? What are your concerns?
The past year has been devastating for our community — between personal loss, job loss, financial hardship, trauma, the persistence of racism, anti-Blackness, and white supremist systems despite the global and industry reckoning, the unfathomable narrative of whether artists are “essential” or not, etc…so it’s hard to feel “excited” per se. But I do want to feel hopeful about some things: I think it’s a good thing that we literally are unable to go back to “before” — we will not be able to simply forget the past year that we had, and I am hopeful that there are enough individuals working during this pause to restructure before work actually begins in earnest. I am hopeful that because we learned that theater can be made more accessible by way of digital mediums, we hold onto those avenues — for meetings, auditions, performances, audience engagement, etc. However, I do believe that there will still be people and institutions that just want to pick up where we left off, and that will be a painful process to get through.
Post-Pandemic, how prevalent do you think virtual auditions will be / what role will they play in the day-to-day casting process? Are there aspects of virtual auditions you’ve found that you prefer?
I suspect that virtual auditions will definitely remain for at least part of the process. They offer access regardless of geography, which can ease financial burdens and reduce travel emissions. They may allow for initial screenings to be done in a more efficient way that’s less burdensome to the actors. But again, there are technical requirements of virtual auditions, so we have to ask ourselves if we’re going to offer alternative audition opportunities for individuals who do not have access to the technical resources, and/or will we provide them?
Self Tape setups are a financial and technical obstacle for many in our industry. For those who either can’t afford or don’t feel confident in the technical knowledge to use self-tape equipment, what advice can you offer to give them the best audition?
If someone is not confident in their own technical knowledge, I would encourage them to reach out to their community of fellow artists and see if someone will offer a lesson or support — there are so many artists who have intersected with technology now, I’m hopefully that a friend/colleague would be willing to help. If it’s a financial matter, my hope is that the artist could express a transparent concern to the organization/producer and that they would receive the proper support.
If you could rebuild the audition process however you’d want, what would it look like?
My preference would be to always host group round-robin auditions, so actors have the opportunity to work in collaboration with other actors. And they would be framed as working sessions, in which actors are encouraged to make different choices, ask questions, be vulnerable. I would want them to resemble a rehearsal day, really. And I believe actors should receive a financial stipend for auditioning, since they are technically working.
The arts industry has inherent barriers to entry including but not exclusively race, socioeconomic status/background, gender, disability, and more. How do you think the industry should evolve to make it a more accessible, equitable, and intersectional space for all? Especially how can we apply this to the audition process?
Yes, it does. This is a huge question that needs to be considered in every single facet of art-making: education, “apprenticeship”, leadership, administration, curation, budgeting, fundraising, community engagement, communications, etc etc etc… I believe there are a number of ways the industry can evolve, and that those efforts need to have similar things in mind: the process must be truthful and authentic to the institution, and not driven by any version of virtue signaling; the process must be iterative and one that can accept challenge and growth; the process — especially by PWIs/cis-centered/heteronormative/etc spaces — must be cognizant of the labor that has been done already and be able to recognize and acknowledge that without taking away from others. In terms of how we apply this to the audition process, I think we need to always be asking ourselves evolving questions, such as: who has access to this audition and who does not? Why are certain people restricted? How do we open it up? Who is hosting the audition? Who is “in the room”? Might this be a harmful/triggering space for anyone? How do we build in support structures? Is there anything about the communication process that might discourage anyone from bringing their full, authentic self? … These questions are by no means definitive. With every process, we must be willing to listen, rethink and adapt so we may be on a constant journey towards progress.