Here’s another installment of my tips for aspiring actors series:
Anytime you’re asked to perform a scene for an audition, the casting director or producer will provide a person to act as the Reader opposite you. The Reader may turn out to be an excellent actor, or in some unfortunate instances, a casting admin drafted at the last moment who stumbles over the words. It may be a love scene and the Reader may not be the designated sex, or age, or type, or whatever. It’s your job as auditioner to make the Reader whatever you need him or her to be to kick the scene into orbit. Granted, sometimes the substitution is a big one!
Smart casting directors know it’s in their best interest to provide a top-quality actor as Reader, to bring out the very best from each auditioner. After all, a scene should be about the back and forth, the little bursts of spontaneous, honest discovery that performers bring out of each other. Having a deadwood Reader in the room makes your job a lot harder. But if it happens, continue to play the truth of the scene and work to engage the Reader as much as possible with strong actions. The casting folks will be aware that the Reader isn’t giving you much, and one of the things they’ll look for is how you well you stay honest in the face of that challenge.
Always make sure you greet the Reader pleasantly when you’re introduced. If casting neglects to introduce the Reader, whenever possible, take that quick moment to say to the Reader discreetly: “Hi, I’m __________, nice to meet you.” And give them a genuine, confident smile to encourage a connection before you read. At the end of the audition, as much as possible, make a connection visually with everyone in the room one last time as you thank them. And always thank the Reader sincerely, whether they supported you beautifully or gave you nothing.
If you haven’t been a Reader, you should do it a few times; it’s an invaluable learning experience. You will see how well (or poorly) others audition. And you will hear incredibly helpful things from the brief conversation in the room after the auditioner leaves. You’ll hear frank discussion of what the casting folks liked. What they didn’t. Who earns a callback and who doesn’t–and why. On very rare occasions, the casting folks may even ask for your feedback on a particular auditioner. If this happens, be gracious and brief. Never volunteer your views.
You will also hear the casting team discuss pros and cons about what that actor is like to work with, if the casting director or anyone else in the room is party to that information from prior jobs. If the actor is getting a reputation as difficult onstage or off, or even just habitually late, or habitually unprepared for auditions, it’ll come out during the brief discussion. Trust me; I’ve seen it many times. If the actor is known as a real pro and a joy to work with, the producers and director will literally breathe a sigh of relief to hear that, and that audition will be viewed in a much better light.
And of course, keep in mind that when you act as a Reader, you are not secretly there to try to land a role in that show. You are not there to dazzle the casting folks; you are there to act as support for each and every actor who walks into the room. Whenever possible, make sure you are extremely familiar with the script sides, so that you can focus on the auditioner and play the scene freely. If you give quality support to the auditioners in the room that day, rest assured that the entire casting team will notice, and will file that away mentally for another time–when it’s your turn to audition again!
I remember one instance when I was asked to be the Reader for a theatre I had worked with many times. They were casting the role of Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie, and I read the role of Tom, the unhappy son. Some of the actors who came in didn’t acknowledge me at all, they just started the scene and aimed their performance exclusively at “the house.” They didn’t engage with me on any meaningful level; they just trotted out what they had worked up outside the audition room. Others did engage with me to some degree when they were speaking, but still didn’t listen and allow themselves to respond spontaneously to whatever I might have given them on a particular line.
Then one actor came in, did an excellent job of connecting with everyone in the room, including me, and proceeded to play the scene with me as if we were the only two people present. She surprised me, I surprised her, we were Amanda and Tom for those three minutes, and the scene soared right there in that little 8’x10′ audition room. The effect on the casting team was immediate and palpable. While there were a couple of other very good auditions that day, this actor stood out. I was not at all surprised to learn later that she had landed the plum role. And what was the last thing that actor did before leaving the audition room? She looked me in the eye and said quietly: “Thank you for really playing the scene with me. That made all the difference.” It does.
I was at an appointment-only commercial audition recently where I was reminded that there are still plenty of actors out there who are getting in their own way even before they set foot into the audition room. The audition was running late, and the monitor checking people in and collecting headshots had her hands full. As I sat waiting for my audition, I witnessed the following:
One guy arrived with a large piece of luggage and announced to the audition monitor that he had a flight to catch, and really needed to get into the audition room as soon as possible so he didn’t miss his flight. Honestly: that’s not the monitor’s problem. Next time, ask for an earlier appointment, arrive earlier, and assume there will be delays. The monitor did finally take pity on him and let him cut in front of a number of actors who had been waiting quite a while (including yours truly). But the fellow didn’t endear himself to anyone that day.
Another man (this call was only for men) kept trying to monopolize the monitor’s time. She was an attractive young woman, and apparently the actor felt that applying his charms to the monitor incessantly would somehow improve his chances of getting the gig. His behavior was just shy of hitting on her. Having worked at a number of auditions, I can tell you that the monitor isn’t looking for a date or a friend, just to do his/her job, and just wants to be left to do that job. The monitor at this audition tolerated it about as well as anyone could be expected to, but she finally had to let him know she was busy. The actor shouldn’t have put her in that position.
Yet another fellow arrived asking to go in ahead of others who had been waiting. And then to top it off, he produced two poor-quality headshots from his bag, and asked the monitor in all seriousness: “Which do you think I should use?” Again, he may have been trying to engage the monitor and make himself memorable to her by enlisting her help. But the monitor was understandably nonplused. She looked at the guy, looked at the two sad pictures fleetingly, and then said “Um…I guess that one.” The guy went to his seat happy, but he didn’t see the pained expression that flashed on the monitor’s face as he walked away.
Another man showed up, and made it clear that he hadn’t prepared the materials sent to the actors ahead of time (the audition sides, and viewing a sample video for the dialect they wanted). He asked the monitor what he should focus on and if he could watch the video repeatedly now (which she let him do). I’m not making this stuff up.
Remember, folks: the audition starts when you accept the appointment. Do your homework. By all means, always be cordial with the monitor, hopefully because you are a gracious, professional person and you treat everyone well. And yes, the impression you make may indeed get back to the person holding the auditions. But the monitor isn’t your date, your buddy, your coach, or your caretaker. The monitor has a job to do. Respect that. Respect your fellow actors. Respect yourself enough to realize you don’t need any of that behavior. And chances are, they’ll remember you–in a good way!
I’m very excited. This has been a very good week. I landed a neat role in a short animated film, and now I’ve been cast in the plum role of Gidger in the first New York revival of Richard Greenberg’s fascinating play, The Violet Hour! It’s being produced by the Active Theater here in NYC this March. I play a publisher’s assistant, an extremely well-educated man who is having a midlife crisis of epic proportions. He is emotionally on the edge, terrified he will live and die without making his mark on the world. Gidger is outspoken, sometimes shockingly so, and also extremely funny. He’s one of those people who holds nothing back, and has an impressive vocabulary with which to express his intense emotions. The play is slightly fantastical, and full of surprises–including a printing machine that outputs potentially life-changing information!
I had a great time at the auditions held by casting director Cindi Rush and Artistic Director/Director Nathaniel Shaw. My thanks to them both for creating such a great audition atmosphere, and for inviting me to audition in the first place. And of course my thanks to my agent, Reneé Glicker at About Artists, for submitting me. I learned after the auditions that Nathaniel has an impressive resumé, including three years as a featured dancer with the magnificent Paul Taylor Dance Company. PTDC happens to be my favorite dance company in the world, so I took this as a great bit of serendipity. I know how hard the PTDC dancers work, and the remarkable quality of their performances. One of the best directors I’ve worked with to date, Sara Lampert Hoover, was also a modern dancer. Nathaniel was gracious, insightful, and a lot of fun at the auditions, so I can’t wait to start rehearsals on February 13th!
The Active Theater’s production of The Violet Hour will play March 9-25 in NYC. I will post more information as soon as I have it. You can also click the logo on this post to visit their web site and see a full calendar of performance dates. If you’re going to be in NYC, I hope you’ll come to one of our performances and say hello afterwards. This is a very funny and thought-provoking play that deserves a big audience. And in fact, the March 9th performance is already sold out! Stay tuned for more information.
After two rounds of audio auditions, I’m happy to say I landed a cool role in an animated short film called Majnun’s Dream Theater Shadow Show which is being created by talented filmmaker Alexandra Huzsvai. I’m very excited about this piece because the script is beautifully written, and it takes a fascinating and fantastical approach to the very serious issue of leaving an abusive relationship. The script doesn’t preach, it just subliminally teaches the lead character Layla by example. I play a mysterious, Cheshire Cat-like creature called the Living Skeleton, who opens Layla’s eyes to the possibility of another life. We record next Monday, and I can’t wait!
Okay. I’m super excited. First The Smurfs and now this! My agent Renée and her associate Joe called from About Artists this afternoon to tell me I’ve landed one of the two Clown roles in the Maltz Jupiter Theatre’s upcoming production of the hit Hitchcock spy spoof, The 39 Steps! I’ve been dying to do this show since I saw the NY production (which coincidentally included acting buddy Arnie Burton in a brilliant turn as one of the Clowns). I love playing multiple characters, and I’ll be playing plenty of ’em in this show. I also love Florida! So this all works out nicely.
My thanks to Director Peter Amster, Artistic Director Andrew Kato, Casting Director Bob Cline, and the two wonderful readers who were there both for Monday’s initial audition and Tuesday’s callbacks. My thanks also to Renée and Joe for ongoing enthusiasm and support. Given how much fun I had at the auditions, I can’t wait to start rehearsals. My partner Tim is already looking at the calendar to plan some Florida time with me. It turns out Renée also represents one of the other performers who was selected, which means she represents half of the four-person cast!
The show starts rehearsals on October 11th, and runs from November 1-13 (closing on my birthday, which is kind of cool). For more information about the production, click the image on this post to visit the theatre’s web site. I hope I’ll see some of you there! I’ll be one of the two guys in the hats. And wigs. And pants. And dresses. And phony moustaches. And funny accents. You get the idea…. 😉
Every once in a while, I have an audition experience that’s just a hoot. And sometimes all that fun leads to a great gig! My agent recently scheduled me for a print ad audition for Minute Maid. The instructions were to show up looking like a particularly geeky and dull accountant type, mismatched shirt & tie, pocket protector, the whole nine yards. My inner nerd always loves to come out for an airing, so off I went the next day.
When I arrived at the audition studio, I opened the door, and was met with a classic sight: fellow nerds were lining the benches on all three walls. It’s hard to find the words to do it justice, but it was the classic audition visual: a variety of middle-aged guys decked out in intentionally unfortunate blazers, shirts & ties, thick glasses, with a clutch of pens sticking out of their breast pockets. To make it even more sublime, each guy’s face was covered with peel-and-stick red and pink kisses. The orange juice product in question was evidently a real life changer!
A very pleasant young woman came up to me, signed me in, and dutifully applied a healthy amount of plastic kisses to my face. As I was waiting for my turn to go in, I addressed the other guys in the room in general and said “This is a photo moment. We really should get a picture of this.” To my delight, three other guys took me seriously, and we decided to ask one of the other people there auditioning to take a few pictures of us with my cell phone’s camera. The casting director, Donna Grossman, came out to call in her next actor, looked around at her room full of kiss-covered nerds, and laughed out loud. I had never met Donna before, but already I liked her.
When it was my turn to audition, Donna welcomed me into the room where she and her assistant were recording the images. I slated my name, and then provided a left and right profile for Donna’s video camera. We were all having a good time, joking as we went. Then Donna told me that we were going to be doing a little improv, and she would interview me in character. Donna made a great interviewer, and I just winged it, responding to her questions in my role as bland accountant turned love object. Donna and her assistant were smiling and cracking up at my responses, and they were such a great audience that I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience.
Two weeks afterwards, I finally found a minute to e-mail the cell phone photos to the other three actors, and received nice notes back. I had mentioned that while the photos weren’t art, they did capture the giddy silliness of the experience. One of the gents said in his reply “”Silliness” is a good word; “hired” would have been even better.” I wrote back to say I could only agree.
The next day, Joe from my agent’s office called to say that I was on hold for the Minute Maid ad. I had thought the selection process was long over and that one of the many other worthy hopefuls had landed the gig. I was delighted to be mistaken. The next afternoon, Joe called back to say “Congrats! You booked Minute Maid!” I was thrilled. More on the shoot itself in another post.
I was going to post one of the silly pictures that four of us took at the audition, but now that I’ve booked the job, I won’t post it until after the ad campaign has launched. So if you see me out there anywhere looking even more geeky than usual, covered with kisses, and clutching a container of Minute Maid orange juice, let me know!!