Fame's Professor Shorofsky Has Blunt Words for Would-Be Actors: Be Good or Be Gone
Albert Hague teaches actors how to audition, but ironically, he has never auditioned for an acting job himself. In fact, when he was asked to try out for the part of Professor Shorofsky in the 1980 movie version of Fame, he refused. Instead, Hague, 64, laid down some ground rules: He would talk informally with the director, would leave if he was kept waiting, and didn't want to see any other actors who might be up for the same role. It worked, and he got the part. A couple of years later, when the movie was made into a television series, the producers again wanted Hague to audition, and again he refused. Again he got the part.
When it comes to acting, "I will not audition," Hague says flatly. "I tell my agent to tell them that I'm too damned temperamental. I will meet with people, I will talk to them and discuss what they think I should do, but I will not audition. Auditioning implies that I'm a trained actor, and I'm not. And I'm not going to say I am."
What Hague is is a trained musician, a composer, arranger and pianist who won a Tony in 1959 for scoring the Broadway show Redhead. For music jobs, he will audition, as he has been doing since he arrived in the U.S. as a German-Jewish refugee in 1939. Since then, as an accompanist or composer, he has watched an estimated 35,000 auditions, and in the '60s he began teaching a class in auditioning that is now held at the Corner Loft Theater in New York City. Currently some 75 students a year pay $100 an hour for private counseling or $30 per session for group instruction to take Hague's course, which he teaches during breaks from Fame. What students get, Hague readily—even gleefully—admits, is not always pleasant.
"Am I honest? I'm devastating," says Hague. "I have probably talked more people out of show business than anyone. I am gentle but very blunt. I use expressions like 'unemployable.' " He grins. "I never say never, but I feel that dreams have price tags, and I am here to stipulate that the price tag is a four-letter word called 'work.' I was at the piano for 10,11 hours a day for years. Paying dues is two things: boredom and pain." And that's assuming, says Hague, that you have talent.
When a student doesn't—and, in addition, adds pretension to inability—Hague can be withering. "You are not particularly attractive," he told one aspiring singer. "You move like a klutz. You don't sound so hot. So what makes you think anybody is ever going to pay money to hear you sing?" Says Hague, "That's not cruel. Cruel would be if you weren't honest."
Along with criticism, students get unorthodox advice. Some samples:
•Never appear too eager. "If you can demonstrate that you have what they need, they'll throw money at you. If you can't, you won't get the job anyway."
•Lie if it will help and you can get away with it. "Don't say you can tap-dance if you can't. But if you're asked about something you know you can do, given the chance, then simulate experience. No one wants to hear a doctor say, 'Aha! My first operation!' "
•Don't tolerate rudeness. "When I audition music, I never get upset if people don't like my song. They're entitled. But answering the phone while I'm playing—that is unforgivable."
Does it all work? Hague claims it does. He names some former students who've gone on to work in road companies of Applause, Cats and other plays. "They became the leads in shows like A Chorus Line and Pippin," he says. "That doesn't sound like much, but it's like being a coach who has people in the Olympics. It means that they beat out at least a hundred other professionals for the job." Says actress Janice (One Life to Live) Lynde, a former student: "He tells you what the problem is and how to fix it. He turned my career around."
Hague's newfound Fame has also put him on the lecture circuit, where his message is typically blunt. "One of the major reasons show business is so misunderstood by the kids I meet on college campuses is television talk shows," says Hague. "I've been on all of them. The purpose of a talk show is to entertain. It's not entertaining to talk about how hard you've worked to get where you are. That's depressing. It's also boring."
The rewards, both emotional and financial, can be enticing. Hague and his wife of 33 years, Renee Orin, live in L.A. when he is taping Fame and in New York when he teaches. Although Fame may come and go (it almost went a year ago when the show was canceled by NBC, but it continues to be produced for independent stations), Hague plans to go on teaching as long as he can. "I love it," he says. "But that is predicated on the fact that you must have people who are totally dedicated to what they want to do. I will never give it up. The odds of making it on Broadway are about as slim as becoming a professional football or basketball player. I straighten out a lot of people. The kids pay me in order to get information, and part of what they pay for is to get the truth."
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