I first met the stunningly beautiful (inside AND out) Marisa Merliss while working on a production of “Fiddler on the Roof” with the Village Light Opera Group. She was brought in as an assistant choreographer. From the moment she stepped into the rehearsal room, she brought nothing but sunshine and happiness. We had a huge cast which was comprised of performers ranging from six to eighty-six years old, most of non-dancers. All needed to meet the challenge of executing the original Jerome Robbins choreography at a professional level, and yes this included the infamous bottle dance! (Our brilliant director demanded nothing less than the best!) Marisa was a true gift. She attended every rehearsal, drilling the choreography with the cast and individually helping each performer with their technique, style, and emotional connection to the material. Thanks to her hard work and expertise, the audience left the show saying that they couldn’t have seen better on Broadway. She was asked to come in and do the same for the company’s production of “Carousel” this past spring. While I was unable to attend, my friends who did all praised Marisa’s work above all compare. In addition to her choreography/dance captain skills, Marisa is a gorgeous dancer and captivating performer. Because of this, I thought sharing her insight would be a beautiful way to start off the “Audition Advice” series of this blog. So without further ado – here is MARISA MERLISS!
I’ve been dancing since I was 3 and trained at the Hartford Conservatory, Atlanta Ballet, and currently take class at Steps, BDC and Peridance . Since graduation I’ve danced in several musicals, a few casino shows, and tons of dance industrials, concerts, and photoshoots. I’m currently the fit model for Capezio dancewear and am in the Off-Broadway Cabaret Show Erotic Broadway-Vintage Variety. I don’t really have a primary style at this point though theatre dance and tap are what I’m enjoying most these days.
How has your approach to auditions changed over the years?
I used to get so nervous and worked up at auditions. I would get hyperfocused on what the people behind the table where thinking and if I fit into their idea of what they were looking for, etc, etc. Now I tend to look at it as an opportunity to dance and perform, I walk in and have a good time. And if I get a job great, if not at least I had a fun day!
Where do you like to stand during auditions and why?
In the front close to the middle of the room. That way I’m seen, I can easily see what the choreographer is teaching and when it comes time to switch lines I can work out the choreography and screw it up, if need be, in a place where less people can see me.
Do you have any advice on picking up choreography quickly in auditions?
Stay IN THE ZONE and focus Focus FOCUS!!!!! Forget about the train delay that almost made you late for the audition, the fight you had with your boyfriend/girlfriend the night before, if you’ll be able to sublet your apt. if you get this job, blablablaaaaa…..keep what ever is weighing on your mind out of the audition room and out of your head. If there are a few steps you can’t get, even after you’ve asked the choreographer for help just focus on what you’re good at and figure out a way to get through it without drawing extra attention to your weaknesses. Don’t apologize in words or expression. Smile and perform with confidence, a lot of times choreographers really want to see if someone can pick up a style and perform rather than perfect every little step they threw at you in 10 minutes. Don’t sweat it, just go for it!
What do you do if you are having trouble picking up a combination or style? Would you suggest asking the choreographer questions if you are having trouble in an audition? If so, what kind?
If it’s a style issue I’ll pay close attention to the choreographers assistant since they are typically someone they have hired multiple times and who gets their style. Definitely ask a question if you need to, I wait for an appropriate moment and ask the choreographer or preferably the choreographer’s assistant. I also pay attention to the answers of the questions other people are asking. If the choreographer gives specific direction on a step, esp. one you asked a question about, do your best to execute that movement the way they directed you. Choreographers, just like directors, want to know that you are directable.
What was your most challenging audition and how did you conquer it?
Hmmm…..I’ve had so many different kinds of challenging auditions it’s hard to choose. The first “challenging” audition that comes to mind was a dance agency audition about 4 years ago. I had been out of commission for 5 years due to severe injuries and multiple surgeries I had after having a terrible accident in a show I did. I was #622 on the sign in list and wanted to leave from the time I walked in the door. There were some really talented looking people covering every inch of the holding room and I remember feeling more intimidated than I was comfortable with. They brought us in the audition room in groups of 60 and taught the choreography so fast and I could barely see what was being taught through the sea of people. Then it was time to go and I thought to myself “ok, I can stress over getting half the steps and look like a fool or just go for it with the steps I’ve got, smile and enjoy the fact that I’m dancing again and hopefully look like a little less of a fool”. I did the latter and a week later I had a dance agent!
Are there any classes you would recommend a non-dancer take to work on audition skills?
YES!!! Jim Cooney’s Beginner Theatre Dance Class at BDC is fantastic. If you want to focus in on Fosse Technique or learn choreography from shows Diana Laurenson at BDC/Steps is great. Jeff Shade has a great Beginner Theatre Dance Class at Steps which is so fun and creative, it helps you get out of your head and really enjoy “the dance” as he calls it! Find a good ballet class to work on your strength and I would recommend find a dancer friend and do a trade. Rent a studio, practice basic dance moves across the floor and work on specific choreography you may need to know for your auditions, then you help them on their audition songs or monologues. It’s a great free way for you both to boost your audition skills!
Lastly, you are an incredibly fit person, what sort of cross-training do you do to stay in shape? Is there anything you would especially suggest to singers?
Well first off, thank you! And secondly the best thing I think you can do is to find a couple or more workout that you enjoy or semi-enjoy doing. The best way to lose inches, tone, or if your at your optimal weight/size the best way to maintain it is to confuse your muscles. Change it up, don’t do the same thing every time you workout. I run a couple times a month but I can’t stand the treadmill or the eliptical so I picked up rollerblading and biking. Both of these activities are easier on your joints and less counterproductive to dancing. I also do pilates, occasionally yoga and I stretch every day. If you are into non-dance workout videos I really enjoy Rev Abs and Brazilian Butt Lift by Beachbody. I do a lot of workout video shoots and these programs were the ones I found to be most effective and fun.
Any other words of wisdom?
Don’t offer to do anything in an audition that you don’t want to do 8 shows a week. If you’re worried about injuring yourself in an audition don’t be afraid to say no or walk out, jeopardizing your health is not worth it.
Find a way to enjoy the audition process and surround yourself with supportive positive people at auditions and more importantly in life!