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!
Some good news! Based on the success of the introductory eLearning voiceover sessions I offered at two eLearning Guild conferences in 2010, I’ve been asked to offer a full-day certificate program on the topic as part of the guild’s Learning Solutions 2011 conference. I’ll be offering my workshop on Tuesday, March 22nd, from 8:30am-4:30pm at the Walt Disney World Hilton in Orlando, Florida.
My hands-on workshop will offer participants practice in:
- Preparing Your Script for Speaking
- Editing the text for impact
- Preparing Your Voice
- Diction exercises from the Pros
- Preparing to Record
- Setting up your “studio”
- Noise filtering
- Recording Your Voiceovers
- Practice with different content types: orientation, compliance, sales
- Editing and Enhancing
- Removing silences & sounds
- Adjusting levels
- Altering pitch & timing
- Saving the final file
- Working with the Pros
To learn more and to register, click the conference logo on this post. Because I want to have all participants actively involved and working throughout the day, and so that I can give each participant personalized feedback, I’ve told the eLearning Guild that I am only accepting a maximum of 15 students. I encourage you to register ASAP to reserve your place in this workshop. If you have been given the responsibility of recording voiceovers for your company’s internal eLearning projects, I can give you the confidence and skills to take the quality of your work to a whole new level. I’ll be posting more information between now and the workshop, and I will also be communicating directly with all those who register. If you have any questions in the meantime, feel free to post a comment, or e-mail me directly. Sign up today and join me on March 22nd. And if you know someone else who should be taking this certificate program, spread the word! Reservations will be first-come, first-served.
I had a great time presenting my seminar about proper use of voiceovers in eLearning at the eLearning Guild’s Learning Solutions Conference in Orlando, Florida. My audience was attentive and appreciative, and we had a great discussion. Word of mouth and written feedback afterward was terrific–great to know my talk “hit the spot” with attendees! My thanks to all who attended and participated. I look forward to presenting my talk again at other venues.
I’m delighted that I’ve been selected to give a seminar about voiceovers at the upcoming eLearning Guild Learning Solutions conference at the Disney Hilton in Orland, FL, 3/24-26. My session, Giving Voice to Your eLearning is 10:45am on Thursday, 3/25. It should be a lot of fun!