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Audition Like You Mean It: Advice from Chandra Lee Schwartz

26 August, 2015 - Alumni, Educational Advice, Featured, Magazine

AMDA’s illustrious alumna Chandra Lee Schwartz has landed a starring role in a world premiere...again.

A veteran of Broadway, Chandra now takes the L.A. stage to lead in Café Society, a satirical glimpse at urban Los Angeles and the all-too-real characters who inhabit it. Written by Emmy Award winner Peter Lefcourt, Café Society premieres at the Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles from August 22–October 11. Chandra plays Kari Shaw, a fame-hungry aspiring actress from the Midwest looking to make it big in Los Angeles—no matter what.

Chandra Lee Schwartz instructing young performers

“I’m playing an actress who lives in L.A. who’s trying to get work on television…so it’s a real stretch. (laughs) I don’t want to say she’s a caricature, but it definitely exploits the stereotypes that actors and actresses have. It’s a really, really fun role.”

Chandra’s most renowned for her performance as one of Broadway’s most “popular” roles: Glinda, the quirky lead in Wicked. Yet, as she pointed out, Chandra’s role in Café Society bears a striking resemblance to Glinda’s “blonde” demeanor and megalomania. “She’s very ambitious, and will stop at nothing to get what she wants from her career. That’s very dissimilar to me—I’m very dedicated, I’m very professional, but I’m much more go with the flow with my career.”

That may be why Kari initially posed such a problem for Chandra to embrace as a character. “As an actress playing an actress … it’s a little bit hard for me, because I’m not like Kari, and I don’t want to be like Kari—it’s my worst nightmare to be someone like that.” Chandra noted that in her professional experience, actors who stop at nothing to land their career regardless of the cost tend to receive stigma rather than fame: “I’ve seen it, let’s just put it that way. At auditions you can feel it, that desperation.”

Premieres vs. Revivals: No Contest

So what’s the difference between starring in a world premiere versus an already famous production? According to Chandra, not a thing.

Chandra revealed that, prior to being cast as Glinda in Wicked, she had only seen the show once—the night before her final audition. “Whenever I go into a show—Hairspray, Wicked, with these iconic characters—I am very mindful on my end as an actor to kind of protect [myself] from too much exposure to the role. … I don’t listen to the soundtrack, I don’t listen to cast albums, because I don’t want to be influenced by [them].”

In short, Chandra approaches a world premiere in the same way she would a revival or replacement role: free as possible from the influence of that character’s history and expectations, making each role unique to her. Kari Shaw in Café Society proved no exception: “I had no blueprints for Kari…but I think that’s because I protected myself as an actor by not overexposing myself.”

Chandra in Cafe Society

As an instructor at AMDA Los Angeles, Chandra ingrains in her students those values of honesty and integrity as an artist. Chandra emphasizes that her students fight the urge to tailor their audition to what they think a casting agent is looking for: “Walking into an audition thinking ‘okay what do they want to see… [you’re] never going to accomplish good work. You don’t know what they want, and sometimes they don’t know what they want. If you can approach the material honestly from a real place… then you can have a successful audition and feel good about it, no matter if you book the job or not.”

Speaking the day before opening night of Café Society, we couldn’t help but ask if Chandra still got nervous. Her response? Not a chance.

“There’s this moment that happens when you get on stage with an audience. For me, that is the moment when I feel at home. That is the moment when I feel completely comfortable. I walk out on stage, the lights come up, and I’m like: cool. I got this.”

*Café Society premieres at the Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles from August 22–October 11, 2015. Reserve your tickets at plays411.net/cafe.