Lights, Camera, Audition!
It’s a fair distance from my home to The Prospect Studios in LA. In fact, it’s clear on the other side of town. On the drive over, I couldn’t help but put myself in the shoes of the hundreds of aspiring actors who were coming out to audition for the opportunity of a lifetime -- a stint on a reality television show with the piece d’resistance being a 13-week contract on All My Children. I had butterflies in my stomach as I arrived at the studio gate, parked and witnessed the lines of hopefuls winding around the stage building. Wow, I thought. I wanted to say “break a leg” to each and every one of them. Cold call auditions are never easy, and when you’ve only got two minutes or less to impress producers who are seeing hundreds of actors a day, that’s gotta feel overwhelming daunting.
The auditions took place on a sound stage right next to the SoapTalk set. SoapTalk also tapes on the weekend, and Melissa Archer (Natalie, OLTL) was sitting in the make-up chair getting ready for her appearance with Lisa Rinna and Ty Treadway. Lucky for her, I thought. She already IS a soap star!
I Wanna Be a Soap Star posters sprinkled all the walls, and a number of camera men and photographers from LMNO Productions, the producers of the show, capatured every second on film. Footage from this audition will make it in to Episode One.
Three audition “stations” were set up, separated by nothing more than curtains on stanchions. After waiting in line, presenting the necessary documentation (actors had to pre-register at iwannabeasoapstar.com), the hopefuls were escorted to one of the three audition stations and given a scenario and told to improvise a scene. The scenario’s could have been things like “you just got fired.” “I found out you’re sleeping with my brother.” “We have to put your cat to sleep.” It was then up to the actor to create a moment that would capture the attention of the casting directors and producers.
“We’re looking for someone who has daytime star written all over them,” said I Wanna Be a Soap Star casting director, Andy Strauser. “Someone who can really pop and can really become the next soap star. We’re looking for the Cameron Mathison’s and the Susan Lucci’s of the world. We really want someone to (stand out) – to extend beyond what we’re giving them. We’re here today at our LA open call going through hundreds of people to see if we can find the one!”
One actor flew in from Chicago just for the audition. There were many local’s – LA area residents, but most of them had relocated to Los Angeles over the past few years to pursue their acting careers.
Actors might audition one at a time or in groups of twos or threes. This strategy was simply to make it more interesting and fun for the producers, and to get through the 800 hopefuls who showed up that day.
For the group auditions, one scenario was – “you just won the lottery.” These were great fun to watch. Three actors at a time, who were perfect strangers, did their best to first show a long-time camaraderie, then utter disbelieve, exuberance, and finally joy -- all in the span of about 2 minutes. Basically, there was a lot of happy screaming going on in the room. One group got so immersed in the improv they even discussed who actually bought the ticket! Meantime, just a mere fabric curtain away, another actor was balling their eyes out because they just learned their dog died. And on it went until all 800 hopefuls auditioned.
If producers liked what they saw, they invited the actor to return later in the day for a second audition. If they made it through the second audition on Saturday, they were called back for a third audition on Sunday. I spoke with four actors that made it through to the second round. One of them made it through the whole weekend. Can you guess which one? (Answer at the end of the article).
Christina Fandino was able to cry on cue. “I am so happy. It’s just awesome. They gave me a scenario and I had to improv. I had to be totally aware of my senses and everything as I was doing it. I am just glad I hit the emotional places I wanted to hit. So after she told me I got a call back I was so excited, meanwhile, I was still crying! The set up they gave me was this: The casting director played as my mom and she told me that I was adopted. And I felt betrayed. It was like after all these years, you’re just telling me this now? And I felt very, very hurt. So I just went with it.” A working actor, Fandino heard about the audition through a casting service. Is she a soap fan? “My grandma is! I watch soaps once in a while, but my TV broke so I can’t watch much of anything right now.”
Chris King is from Torrance, CA. Is he a working actor? “I used to do it when I was a kid. My whole family is in the industry so I used to do it when I was like 12 or 13, stopped when I went to college, but decided to get back into it. I’ve been studying really hard for the last two to three years and I’m giving it a shot now. I heard about this audition while watching channel 7 (KABC) and they mentioned something about it and I said, hey, I’m not doing anything tomorrow! I am actually running the LA Marathon on Sunday, and I needed this day to relax, so I figured, why not stand in line for an hour. It would such a dream to be on a soap. It’s such a great job. It just looks like a lot of fun. I am very excited about my call back. I feel really good and confident and ready to come back and kick a little butt.”
“I’ve lived all over the world. Currently, my parents live in northern France.” When I asked what brought him to LA his answer was short and sweet: “I want to be a soap star!” He was in the right place. “I heard about the audition from a friend who wanted me to come today. I’ve been told I have a very soap look. I used to watch a lot of soap operas with my mom when I was a kid - a lot of British and Australian soaps. I got into the American soaps a little bit, particularly Sunset Beach, which is sadly missed. I am also familiar with All My Children, although -- I probably shouldn’t say this -- but it wasn’t always my favorite, but I have always enjoyed that show. Getting called back for tonight makes me feel pretty good.”
Originally from Durand, WI, Jessica Bauer made her way to Los Angeles four years ago to pursue an acting career. She’s a working actor and heard about the audition through an LA-based casting service. Bauer also impressed producers with her ability to immediately conjure up tears. How did she do that? “It’s emotional preparation. I usually take time to emotionally prepare before I come (to an audition). I feel really great about the call back,” she said, jumping into the air and clapping her hands with joy. Was she happy about the prospect of perhaps working on AMC? “Yes,” she screamed mid jump. “I like All My Children.”
I also stopped a few hopefuls out on the line, even before they had the chance to audition. Two were not only actors, but big fans of ABC Daytime. One was not an actor at all, but was named after Erica Kane!
Erica from Fullerton, CA:
“I came out today because I saw an ad for this and I thought it would be really fun. I’ve grown up watching All My Children. And I was thinking it would be great to be on a show where I know everyone on the show. I was born in the late seventies and Erica Kane was really big at the time. She was sleeping with the pool boy, I believe. My grandmother, she loved All My Children, so I was named after Erica.” But was Erica from Fullerton an actor? “No,” she admitted. But she thought she’d give it a shot anyway!
A working actress, Effie Seymour’s been living in LA for the past ten years. She heard about the audition through LA casting services. “My hopes for today are of course to get on this show and to actually win the 13-week contract for All My Children. That’s my hope. But I just want to get in to audition for the casting directors and producers. Even if I don’t get on the show, that would be great exposure.”
Patrice and Latrice Lyons:
They could play twins. “But not evil twins, said Patrice. “Well one of us would have to be evil,” echoed Latrice. How did they hear of the audition? “Backstage West,” said Patrice. “No it was BackStage.com,” corrected Latrice. You could see the conflict already! “We are lifetime soap fans,” said Patrice. “ABC Daytime fans” said Latrice. Their hopes for today? “I just want to audition for it,” said Patrice. “Yes, audition,” said Latrice. “It’s an opportunity and we are here to take it.”
Casting director, Andy Strauser, also did the first season. Now he’s back for season two. I was curious as to how may call backs would be granted today. “It’s hard to say. We could see maybe 40 or 50 people at a call back situation. Then, we go to NY next week and do the same thing, and ultimately pick 12 for the show.”
Will acting experience come in to it, or are you looking for complete newcomers?
“Acting ability comes into it whether they’re new or not,” Straser said. “We’re looking for someone that has a great look and a lot of talent. Whether that someone is a newbie or that someone has been around for 10 years doesn’t matter to me as long as they show up and get the job done. We’ll see what we get today. We’re keeping our fingers crossed and hoping we get some good stuff.”
Eric Schotz, co-executive producer of I Wanna Be a Soap Star, really believes in the premise of this show. “It seems like reality TV is at its best when it’s trying to find a talent in a star,” he said. “And there’s no better organization than SOAPnet, because they have a prize you can’t buy. So, our first season was General Hospital. The second season is a 13-week contract role on All My Children. The writers are going to create a role that means something.”
Plus, Schotz gave us the inside scoop. “They’re not looking for someone for 13-weeks, they’re looking for someone for the next 20 years. They’re looking for someone like Ryan. They’re looking for the next big star.”
Soapdom wants to know, who pitched the idea for the show to whom?
“SOAPnet had the idea that this was something they wanted to do. We got together and developed it together,” revealed Schotz. And he’s enjoying the affiliation. “It’s been a really good collaborative effort. Networks are usually not this open or generous. They came to us and said what do you want to do? And we said we want them to live on the set, and they said great! It’s a really good relationship.”
I Wanna Be A Soap Star is Schotz’s first show with SOAPnet, but he is no stranger to reality TV. To his credit are shows like Wickedly Perfect, Behind Closed Doors with Joan Lunden, Final Justice with Erin Brockovich, Guinness World Records: Primetime, Boot Camp, Race to the Altar and Kids Say the Darndest Things hosted by Bill Cosby. “We were here before the trend, we’ll be here after the trend,” he said.
Far as the contestants from the first season, did Schotz see any improvement in their acting skill over the course of the competition? “I think that just by being on the show they’ve grown so much as actors, and as people. It stresses you out. It’s not an easy thing. There’s a million people in line and we only need 12. And we’re going to go to NY, so we probably only need six from here. And it gets smaller and smaller and you gotta be good, you gotta cut through it, you gotta have that special something. Part of it is luck, part of it is charisma and part of it is timing and it all has to line up perfectly – like the planets.”
“Here’s to finding the next big soap star this season,” I said. “I hope so,” replied Schotz without skipping a beat. “I want to send my kids to college.”
In November 2004, one lucky actor, Mykel Shannon Jenkins, won I Wanna Be a Soap Star’s 13-week contract role on General Hospital. His character is Officer Byron Murphy. This season, the prize is a 13 weeks on contract on All My Children. Who will be the next “soap star?” Keep your eyes peeled to SOAPnet this spring to find out!
Of the four hopefuls with second round call backs I interviewed, Christina Fandino made it all the way through the weekend. Will we see Fandino on season two of I Wanna Be a Soap Star? Stay tuned. I Wanna Be a Soap Star is a production of LMNO Cable Group for SOAPnet. Eric Schotz and Lisa Bourgoujian serve as executive producers. Mary Ellen DiPrisco, VP, Original Programming, is spearheading the project for SOAPnet. For more info on I Wanna Be a Soap Star, visit http://www.soapnet.com and http://www.iwannabeasoapstar.com
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