Visiting Artist: Wendell Pierce

“Let’s get this out of our heads right now. They are not doing you a favor at an audition, you are sharing what you can do. It is your audition,” alumnus Wendell Pierce emphasized to drama and musical theatre students heading to the Chicago Unified Auditions in February. “If you are nervous, that is exactly where you need to be. It is a step of courage that you are making. Don’t let anyone rush your audition.”

The Chicago Unified Auditions are a phenomenal opportunity for drama students from around the country to audition for up to 25 college and conservatory programs all in one place. In-person auditions are required for most programs, particularly for students applying for scholarships.

Wendell’s schedule as an actor (HBO’s Treme) and as a community leader (revitalizing his boyhood neighborhood of Pontchartrain Park devastated when the levees broke following Hurricane Katrina) is challenging to say the least. Yet he spent extensive time – as technician, tactician and inspirational voice – with every NOCCA senior making the trip to Chicago.

“There’s the craft and there’s the business and the two rarely meet. Employment doesn’t define you. Nor does it mean you are good. You have to be able to know your own inadequacies and when your work is hurting. You have to stay grounded because no matter how successful you are there’s always rejection. Your relationship is always with your craft. Some of my greatest performances were in auditions.”

As he gave them insight into the audition process, he also worked to help students know how to refine their craft. “What do I do with a broken metered line and just one word to start a speech?”, he asked one student to consider. At the same time he congratulated her, “Clarity and action ride on the verb. You are great at hitting the verbs.”

His dominant theme, however, was inspiring students to be investigative. “Research is about trying to find something that’s hot for you. It may or may not take hold, but sometimes it might surprise you. Craft is creating a world so strong that it induces behavior.”

So, to Level III drama student Anamarys who was performing a monologue from Hatful of Rain, Wendell asked, “You have chosen to tell him something important at this time. Why? Your character’s husband is addicted. Are you imagining him sober now or strung out? What is the hotter choice for you? That is feeding fuel to the fire.”

To Level I drama student Curtis who was performing a monologue from Jitney Wendell asked, “Do you know how long your character has been incarcerated? Otherwise you’re leaving fuel on the table.”

To Level III drama student Peyton who was performing a monologue from Phaedra, Wendell asked, “You’re saying to the man you love, ‘Kill me. ‘That is not a light thing. Why? What are the ramifications of a woman who is willing to die and leave her children. That’s fuel to the fire.”

“Investigate,” Wendell urged students. “What is more interesting to you? Where’s the fire? Have you done your speech in the opposite way of how you think it should go? You might discover something you can add to the mix. It might give you more to play. If you have been working for this, be there in full.”

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