The so-called Absolvent_innen-Vorspiel (or AVO for short) is an annual event where students of the current year’s graduating class at the Max Reinhardt Seminar present themselves in scenes and monologues before an audience of theatre professionals. Like so much else, 2020’s AVO had to be transferred to the digital sphere. Annett Matzke, deputy department head at the Max Reinhardt Seminar, spoke with mdw Magazine about how that went, why a digital audience simply cannot replace one that’s physically present in the theatre, and just what challenges are posed by an acting audition.
It used to be that acting schools arranged auditions for their final-year students directly with theatres. But a few years ago, in view of the exorbitant amounts of time and (above all) money that this was costing, the Ständige Konferenz Schauspielausbildung (SKS [Standing Conference on Actors’ Training]) had the idea of organising central auditions for acting school students in the German-speaking region. “There was a desire to do these graduate auditions in a more equitable and efficient way. So the SKS now organises centralised auditions in Berlin, Neuss, and Munich during the 46th calendar week of each year that are open to a total of 19 state-run acting schools,” explains Annett Matzke, a professor of lead speech and voice at the Max Reinhardt Seminar since 2004. For this, the SKS—supported by the German Theatre and Orchestra Association (Deutscher Bühnenverein)—performs the logistical feat of renting the necessary rehearsal stages and theatrical venues and compiling a tight schedule. The resulting week-long event is used by artistic directors and dramaturges who have vacancies to fill and are looking for new ensemble members, with the students who do well being invited to further auditions at their respective theatres.
As we all know, 2020 was a year when lots of things didn’t go according to plan. “Due to COVID-19, the SKS decided in late September of last year to present this year’s Absolvent_innen-Vorspiel performances online. For all participants, the rules were: 10 minutes per student and pre-filmed.” For the presentation, the SKS made available the platform SPECTYOU. “Over 400 theatres were written to, and it was only via a specific link that the theatres received access to the material—which was essential in order to protect the students,” says Matzke on the AVO’s digital variant. While E-casting (i.e. auditioning by video) is a common and frequently employed practice in the film industry, the conventions in theatre remain different. “A video can show you lots of things that are relevant to a preliminary decision. But if theatres take an interest in certain graduates, they’ll still invite them to come and audition personally. An essential element of theatre is, after all, its actual working conditions—and in this respect, a video can’t be a (full) replacement,” says Matzke.
The materials selected for the AVO include scenes, monologues, and sometimes even songs that have been worked on in class over the past few semesters. The teachers’ chief concern here is to help select that material with which the students can best present themselves, material that brings out their talents most clearly. “We also make sure that a wide variety of different figures and characters can be seen, with each student presenting a relatively broad range,” says Matzke on the process of selecting material for the audition. 2020, for its part, subjected the students to a special challenge: “For the students, the overall situation has been and remains difficult. Their scenes were rehearsed for the theatre. These aren’t film scenes, and even filmed theatre entails its own special considerations: How do I deal with space? Should I speak into the camera? Where are the transitions? And is at least some of the onstage atmosphere coming across?” It’s with these kinds of challenges, says Matzke, that COVID-19 has confronted students. “Theatre without an audience just isn’t theatre. Stage actors play for an audience. And this requires theatres, which unite actors and audience in the same place in order to have an experience together where direct reactions can occur. That can’t happen in the same way online,” says Annett Matzke with conviction. And regardless of 2020’s special nature, an audition situation always brings with it something very special. “Unfortunately, the only way to practice this is by actually submitting oneself to the process itself,” says Matzke. “Actors definitely do have to deal with extreme nervousness at their first auditions. And the theatre heads in attendance seldom give rise to an atmosphere that allows actors to feel at ease.” Auditions therefore end up being all about concentration and letting go. “One knows what the character has to contend with, what they want—which is what determines their actions. So being at one with yourself, with the figure you’re playing, and with the overall situation is important because it lets your acting become very personal and authentic,” Matzke concludes.
It remains for us to hope that this autumn, the Absolvent_innen-Vorspiel—complete with its public presentation in Vienna and subsequent tour—will once again be able to take place and run as usual.
You can watch 2020’s AVO at vimeo.com/maxreinhardtseminar