Open Auditions: A Necessary Evil?

WRITTEN BY ALYS DAVIES (exclusively for Audition Quest)

A cramped room full of dancers warming up: hope, and depressing realism.

This is a scene that all dancers can recall, whether they wish to or not- an open company audition. Held usually by major companies, these auditions profess to provide an even playing field. They offer a chance for anyone with a passion for dance and a willingness to fill in an online form to show the best of themselves, without the constraints of a short video or a one-page CV. 

However, what purpose do they truly serve- are they actually worth attending?

If you’re a freelancer without a solid stream of work, any audition opportunity is golden- given that the vast majority of them (in the contemporary world at least) are invitation-only. If you’re presented with the opportunity to attend an audition without previously selling an image of yourself to a company, the idea of dancing with a clean slate is massively appealing. 

This is even more so for young dancers fresh out of school, who have not yet the relevant experience to even apply for such dance companies. I personally have benefitted from this and have been privileged enough to audition for companies I could only ever dream of applying for- all thanks to the opportunity of open auditions. 

Given the nature of these auditions, the number of attendees is exorbitant, allowing auditionees to see the true scale of talent in their industry- an important reminder to keep your foot on the pedal and remain working hard. These auditions offer invaluable lessons in audition technique- teaching you the notion of keeping your cool and doing your best, even when the pressure is turned up. 

Clearly, in terms of gaining experience and exposure, open auditions can prove to be highly beneficial for opportunities, but what are your odds of actually getting hired?

Out of my experience with such auditions, the number of dancers attending is often extremely overwhelming. The hundreds of dancers massively outrank the sparse handful of jobs. 

This is where the depressing realism comes in. Will you be unsuccessful, yet again? 

But there is still a solid glimmer of hope: Out of the hundreds of auditionees, how many do not have the right level of technique? How many don’t fit the company’s physical aesthetic? How many are phenomenal but don’t have the specific movement style? And perhaps most importantly, how many are not physically visible enough to the panel to even be considered, taking into account the sea of dancers crammed into the studio?

If we imagine that these auditions were invitation based (as opposed to open for anyone to apply), the companies could filter their applicants into those that have the best chance of being employed, ultimately giving each applicant more time to show their strengths in the audition. A fatal flaw of open auditions, perhaps? 

Attending open auditions is not solely a time commitment, but also often a financial one. The nature of auditioning means travelling, often internationally, which places a financial strain on all of us. Why then, should we have to invest further by paying a registration fee to audition for a large company that already has the capacity to hold a large open audition in the first place? I understand the cost of running an artistic organisation, but it is hard not to question the motives at play in this scenario.

In some cases, the money is used as a deposit, which is refunded once the dancer attends the audition. This is somewhat understandable, yet considering that this is an open audition for a major company, the reimbursement of the audition fee is hardly a dancer’s key incentive to attend. 

In my personal experience, the atmosphere at these auditions is also often similar to that of a cattle market: hundreds of young artists herded into a stuffy studio and unaware of their fate until the last minute. Whilst some may say this is ‘character building’, I feel it is not the most productive for art or for a positive audition experience.

Open auditions are a common feature of the dance world, and will remain so. They can be appealing for both attendees and companies and will attract dancers from around the globe- no matter how minuscule the chance of success. They can be fantastic learning experiences, both in terms of learning to cope with audition pressure and gaining audition technique, as well as presenting an opportunity to take class with a prestigious company for less than a traditional workshop would cost.

I feel companies should only hold open auditions if there are genuine job opportunities for the attendees and should never add pressure to dancers’ already precarious financial positions by charging an attendance fee. Within the dance world, personal and professional connections are hugely useful in landing jobs, hence open auditions do not always deliver the level playing field they claim to. 

For me, being invited to auditions is always preferable, however, if I am looking for experience, or a cheaper albeit more crowded workshop with a great company, I will attend an open audition. 

Are these auditions a necessary evil? Perhaps, in terms of audition practice and so called ‘character building’. Are they invaluable job opportunities? Not particularly. 

But remember, there’s always next year.

About the Author:

ALYS DAVIES

I undertook my professional training initially at Tring Park School for the Performing Arts, where I specialised in classical ballet. Following on from this I took part in Art Factory International: Dance Start Up Vll, an international contemporary dance programme in Bologna, Italy, during which I participated in workshops with artists such as Brigel Gjoka, David Zambrano and Erion Kruja. During this time I also undertook work experience with Artemis Danza in Parma, Italy. Upon returning to the UK I worked on a film project with Watkins Dance Company, in collaboration with Film Oxford. I am currently an understudy with Compagnia Zappalà Danza 2 (CDZ2) in Catania, Italy. 

I have taken part in numerous workshops with a wide variety of companies and choreographers, such as Ohad Naharin, Hofesh Shechter Company, 2Faced Dance Company, National Dance Company Wales and James Cousins Company. In addition I have had multiple professional development opportunities, including several workshops and master classes with Kerry Nicholls Dance. Furthermore I have done some outreach work, including being an assistant teacher at a local dance summer school for children and teenagers, and assisting at a gymnastics class for young children. 

Outside of the dance world I am a qualified TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) teacher.

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