Patti LuPone is Having All the Fun


Broadway legend Patti LuPone chats with Justin about the shittiest audition she’s ever given, how the industry has changed over the course of her incredible career, and why she didn’t really want to play Evita.

Patti LuPone is a two-time Tony, Grammy, and Olivier Award-winning actor and singer revered for her work on the international stage in iconic roles like Mama Rose, Reno Sweeney, Eva Perón, Fantine, and Joanne. Connect with Patti on Twitter @PattiLuPone and at www.pattilupone.com.

Welcome to the very first episode of Audition Secrets!

Give 'em love and what does it get you?
Patti and Justin reminisce over their time together on Broadway in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown nine years ago. Despite an all-star cast and Patti’s Tony Award-nomination for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, the show was not commercially successful and it closed early. Patti talks about how this happened again during War Paint and how there’s nothing you can do but chalk it up to a “flop.” But the two remember how much the audiences absolutely loved Women on the Verge, and that counts for a lot.

Let’s get critical
Justin chats with Patti about the review process and the idea that critics may have too much power over the life (and success) of a show. They agree that a performance is never quite as good or bad as they say it is. They also wonder what it would be like if all shows had a month to breathe and let word of mouth do the work.

Cash flow
Patti and Justin know firsthand how much money matters in getting a show to Broadway. Patti observes that many of today’s producers love profit more than theatre; they’re looking for the next Wicked or Hamilton, but those things are only “twice in a lifetime.” Justin agrees that one’s odds are better at a casino than investing in a show (which he has).

Patti schools Justin
In their very first rehearsal together during Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Justin and Patti ran a scene in front of everyone. This was Justin’s first Broadway show, and he was acting opposite a legend, so he was understandably nervous. After the scene, Patti unfurled the large folding fan she was holding and, in a Blanche DuBois sort of way, said “Justin, you could drive a truck through this scene.”

What Patti taught Justin that day is to get to the end of the line, a lesson she learned from actor Jonathan Pryce. Don’t dawdle! Find the point, then make it. A sense of urgency drives the momentum of the story. Storytellers must never let the audience get ahead: don’t be indulgent, keep them on the edge of their seats, and keep the ball in the air.

A way to accomplish that? Patti says, “Live in it. Don’t put your spin on it, comment on it, impose at it… ‘Let the script do the work, you have the fun.’”

How Patti got her start
Patti was tap dancing at four years old, and when she looked out at audience, she fell in love with them because she thought they were all in love with her. She never looked back.

Fast forward to The Juilliard School where Patti spent four years as a member of the very first class of the Drama Division. Founding Director Jon Houseman handed Patti a career, she says, when he formed The Acting Company with Patti and her graduating class. This quickly led to frequent work in David Mamet’s plays and eventually, a little show called Evita. Although Patti didn’t do a ton of auditioning, she shares that she went through the ups and downs of not getting hired.

The shittiest audition Patti ever gave
Richard Rodger’s last musical, Rex, concerned the life of King Henry VIII, and Patti’s agent set up an audition for her: from the wings, she remembers listening to the audition preceding hers and hearing this woman absolutely blow it out of the water. When Patti went next, she walked onstage, observed the bald head of Richard Rodgers, and gave the shittiest audition of her life. The response she got from the casting team? “Less than nothing.” Patti says she felt humiliated but recognizes that she isn’t (as most of us aren’t) especially good in or fond of audition situations.

Don’t audition for me, Argentina
One of Patti’s star-making roles was Eva Perón in Evita, but she didn’t even want to play the part. She grew up on the music of Jule Style and Richard Rodgers, so when she listened to the concept album of this rock opera, she hated the music. Eventually, director Paul Gemignani and others convinced Patti to audition, but at first she was “so not into it.”

Don’t give a Lil’ Shit
Justin shares his origin story for becoming Lil’ Sweet, the Diet Dr. Pepper guy. After nine months on Broadway playing Fiyero in Wicked, his agent badgered him into auditioning for the small, strange rock god. Because he didn’t really give a shit, he was freed up to simply play, and it ended up being one of the best auditions of Justin’s life. Patti agrees that not giving a shit gets the fear out of the way and allows you to show more of your true self.

“Strong Unflinching Woman”
Patti doesn’t know how she got the reputation for being a strong, unflinching woman, but she assumes it’s probably because of her turn in Evita. Patti acknowledges being outspoken, but she’s always been that way, and that’s just who she is. If she sees an injustice or doesn’t understand something, she asks a question and speaks up.

Patti and Justin briefly discuss the business at large, particularly for women, and how, if at all, it’s changed. Fundamentally, Patti says, it hasn’t. There’s a long way to go. She loves how empowered women are and demands that more female-identifying directors, composers, and playwrights get a shot from the industry gatekeepers. There’s a long way to go.

Theatre is vital because theatre is dangerous
Patti believes theatre is vital because it’s live! In a rapidly changing world, the live component is less and less at play. When it is, it’s an electric, dangerous place. When you go into a theatre and suspend your disbelief, anything can happen.

Ready, set, fall!
During a production of Love's Labour's Lost with The Acting Company, Patti recalls the time when a 20-foot flat, meant to evoke the page of an open fairytale book, came crashing onto the stage, barely missing the ensemble. As one of the actors onstage put it: “Trouble in Navarre!”

Going into the white room
When Patti was 18-years old, she was playing Kate in All My Sons and totally blanked on her lines. She describes it as a “blackout” during which she left the stage and her body.

She and Justin agree that it’s harder to recover from forgotten lines in a play; musicals move so fast and offer more places to hide. As terrifying as these moments can be, they are thrilling, too, and they show an actor what they’re really made of.

Study buddy
When asked if she could give a piece of advice to her younger self, Patti says, “Pay more attention. Study harder.” She believes that discipline helps craft, and she wishes she understood vocal and acting technique sooner.

Someone get this guy a bumper sticker
For today’s listener question, Kevin asks, “What advice would you give for overcoming nerves and thinking the character’s thoughts while performing vs. thinking your own thoughts (like what the people in the room are thinking about the performance)?”


He acknowledges that it may sound a little bumper stickery, but Justin believes that overcoming nerves starts with believing you are enough. You can’t get rid of nerves completely, but you can minimize them by reframing your approach to the audition.

You do you, boo
Remember that you are unique and bringing your own perspective to your audition material. There isn’t any competition when you realize that no one can do exactly what you do. No one can deliver the kind of performance that you can.

Align yourselves with the vibration of the character so that you become the instrument the character plays. Find the bits and pieces of the character that resonate with your own experiences. And remember: allow the script to do the work.

People, Places & Things mentioned in this episode:
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
War Paint
Pedro Almodóvar
Jonathan Pryce
Rex
Edwin Sherin
Evita
Paul Gemignani
Pose

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Justin Guarini