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TBA Online: News & Features: October 2018

Seeking a More Diverse Applicant Pool, TBA Makes Changes to General Auditions

Wednesday, October 17, 2018   (2 Comments)
Posted by: Rotimi Agabiaka
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by Emily Wilson

The Theatre Bay Area General Auditions have been around almost as long as TBA has—about four decades.  Over all those years, much of the basic format has remained unchanged. Over the course of three days, auditors from sixty or more theatre companies come to watch up to 340 actors audition—with members of Actors’ Equity receiving three-minute slots and non-Equity actors getting two minutes. Some things have, of course, changed over the years. For instance, hopefuls once had to dial TBA’s line at exactly 8:59 AM on one specific day, in hopes of getting slot. Now things are a lot calmer, with actors appling online months in advance.

For the upcoming 2019 Generals, to be held February 9 to 11, TBA is making more changes in response to community feedback. The most frequent thing the staff hears from the auditors attending the annual auditions is that they want more diversity in the pool, says Dale Albright, TBA deputy director.

Dale Albright.

In response, TBA is significantly changing the application requirements.

“In years past, eligibility was rather complicated,” Albright noted. “To be eligible, you needed to have as many as 12 shows outside a school setting or the equivalent of a full year of training. Now, just having a year-long [TBA] membership lets you apply.”

The membership requirement has raised some concern about some actors not being able to afford the annual dues—concerns Theatre Bay Area is addressing by giving 10 scholarships for TBA memberships. (Applications are due October 22 and more information can be found at

According to Albright, these changes are aimed at widening the pool of applicants, bringing more actors of color, differently abled performers, and actors under 18 and over 50 into the fold. These underrepresented groups receive greater priority in the weighted lottery that determines which applicants will be selected to participate in the Generals. Other important factors include stage experience and formal training.

Bryan Munar.

Bryan Munar, who works as a programs coordinator in member services for TBA, says he’s glad the organization is opening up the application requirements.

“It’s taking away one of the barriers to the screening process,” Munar observed. “It’s still a little in flux how we separate the pool based on experience and their resume and we’re playing with different weighted factors like being of color and different age ranges.”

Theatre Bay Area is actively recruiting a diverse group of actors to audition. Munar has been speaking at schools to let students know about the Generals, which start accepting applications in November. He’s gone to theatre departments at the University of California, both at Berkeley and Santa Cruz, as well as to the Oakland School for the Arts, a high school.  


Karen Altree Piemme. Photo courtesy Red Latter Theatre Company.

More diversity—in all aspects—would be extremely helpful to the people on the other side of the auditions, says Karen Altree Piemme, who has attended the Generals as an auditor for over a dozen years, first with the San Jose Repertory Theatre, and now as director of the Red Ladder Theatre Company.

“For me, the expansion in terms of diversity is super helpful, particularly in the work we’re doing,” Piemme explained. “We’re a social justice theater doing work in the prison system and the foster care system, and a pretty broad range of people who are not always your typical theatre goers.  I need my company to be reflective of that.”

Cassidy Brown. Photo by Jeff Martz.

Actor Cassidy Brown, who has been the emcee at the Generals for years—serving as host and acting as a liaison between the actors, auditors, and volunteers–-welcomes the changes to the application process which will no longer require a particular number of shows on an actor’s resume.

“That makes sense,” Brown remarked. “It’s a self-fulfilling problem—you can’t get shows if you can’t get seen, and you can’t get seen if you don’t have the shows.”

Another change, adds Albright, involves recruiting theatre companies and agents from outside the Bay Area. Albright hopes more out of town auditors will attend this year, but notes that sometimes it can take a while for people to catch up to the changes. For example, Albright explains, some actors still think applicants are barred from participating two years in a row, and that hasn’t been true for a number of years.  

Albright reminds prospective participants that if they apply, there is a 50 percent chance they won’t be selected. And that’s OK.

“People put a lot of weight on applying for Generals and they can get very discouraged and offended if they’re not selected,” he said. “It’s one audition and we think it’s a big deal, but it’s not the end all and be all, and it does not mean you can’t audition throughout the year.”

Brown, currently in We Mean to Do You Harm at the San Francisco Playhouse, confesses he’s aware he receives more opportunities as a white male actor. Brown believes it’s important that TBA do what it can to make the casting process more equitable.

“I encourage people to look at the ways in which they’ve been given access and note ways they can step aside to make room for someone else,” Brown said. “At Theatre Bay Area, we’re filtering access and any time you can take steps to change the filter, we should. You’re going to get it wrong sometimes, but it’s better than never making a step.”

Emily Wilson writes for print, the web and radio. She also teaches at City College of San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter: @ehw415


Jay Krohnengold says...
Posted Thursday, December 6, 2018
Trying to understand... I received this email today, Wednesday, December 5, 2018. In this announcement you mention awarding ten scholarships, with an application deadline of October 22nd. I have to assume this is a typo—or am I missing something? Thanks for checking. -Jay Krohnengold
Emily Keyishian says...
Posted Thursday, October 18, 2018
Hi, I'd love to add on the actor's side, understanding the budgets of the theater companies that do attend would be helpful. There are many companies that are operating on a shoestring and expect actors to work for free or close to free, which should be noted, but I'm not sure how. The tier system kind of addresses that. I guess it's another question of is it fair to start a theater company if you can't pay your actors, or assemble a team around those actors that are qualified? A different debate, perhaps.. Thanks for all you do! I appreciated reading these articles.