I sat in on an audition session this past week. Over ten hours of auditions, twenty roles to cast, six short plays, two directors, and dozens of actors.
We were casting our holiday benefit show that we do each year at the Actors Workout Studio for Toys for Tots. Each director was casting for 3 plays. Most of the actors are members of our studio, yet there were a number of outside actors who came in as well. Those were actors who have worked with us before. There was a lot of mixing and matching, actors came in to read a role or maybe more, then the directors having a discussion and asking the actors to come back and read for another role. They would often pair certain actors together, looking for chemistry. As Artistic Director of the theater, I sat in on all the auditions and listened to the director’s comments and choices. It was quite an experience, one that I have often, yet each time I learn something new.
I am going to share my observations and notes from this arduous 10-hour session over two days. My personal notes and thoughts are in italics, as I mostly listened to the directors and watched the participants.
My notes and observations
- Attitude was everything. When an actor came in and was professional, courteous, and professional, the directors were leaning forward and listening. They then would give a note and might have them do it again. They took them as seriously as they presented themselves. (I noticed they were not interested or had time to listen to people’s “baggage” even though they might have an outside relationship with the person. We were mostly behind and trying to stay on schedule, cut the small talk)
- When asked if they would read for another part after reading – actors reacted differently. I could tell that some actors when asked that question took it that they weren’t good enough for that part or didn’t do a good job. (They wouldn’t have asked you to read another role if they didn’t like you!!!). The directors noticed that as well and commented the way an actor responded to that request. As actors left the room several times the directors noted, “they didn’t seem like they wanted to read for that part”.
- When the passion wasn’t there, the directors lost interest and wanted to move on. One actor said they weren’t that interested in that particular role but would read it for them. (You just shot yourself in the foot!!!) Even though this actor did a good job, the director was turned off. (YOU BLEW IT!)
- Another actor came in and said it was his first audition ever. (What are you thinking, you’ll never get this part, you fool!) I was humbled, he was so honest and sincere that the directors let him read, gave him plenty time. His audition was not that strong, they thanked him and wished him luck. (I was embarrassed and waited after he left for them to yell at me and tell me not to waste their time) I was amazed, one director said, “nice guy, keep an eye on him, he’s got something going”. The other director said, “that was impressive for a first audition”. (wow, I learned something – thank you actor)
- The actors that got cast made strong choices. When the stakes were high, the tension and energy were good, and that is what they were looking for. A casual conversation just didn’t cut it. (Acting needs to be bigger than life without looking like it)
- The lines were not that important – there were many actors, and they were all reading the same lines. The directors (and myself) were not paying attention to that, they were looking for qualities in each actor that had the right relationships to the character, the situation, and the other actor they were reading with. ( Choices, objective, moment before, moment to moment, specifics, working off the other actor, - it was so obvious when present, and when missing!)
- Props were not necessary, miming was fine. The commitment to the choice is what worked. (If you’re going to mime drinking a drink, knocking on the door, or opening a bottle of wine, go for it and commit to it. They will go on the ride with you, they want to!)
- Keep in mind these were theater auditions, so voice, posture and stage presence were considered.
Overall I was impressed. No one gave a bad audition. There were no terrible actors. Each actor was different and unique. When it came time to cast, there was a lot of negotiation. “If I want so and so for this role who could we cast in that role? Well, that will affect who plays this other part, then, yes? If we cast this way then this other combination won’t work”, etc, etc..
Bottom line. Did the best actor for the role get each part? Not necessarily. One guy read brilliantly, but the director already had someone in mind that he wanted that he worked with before. His comment, “That guy was great, if so and so isn’t available, I’d love to work with him. And definitely in the future, I would see him”. Another situation - they wanted this one actor for a role desperately but the chemistry and age didn’t match with the other actor who was cast. This happened quite often.
Final thought. There are so many factors happening. You are a piece of a puzzle, and you simply have to fit into that place.
You don’t have control of all the circumstances of the puzzle. One person didn’t get cast because of the age of that character’s partner, one because they couldn’t find someone right to be opposite them, so many factors that are out of your hands. Don’t take it personally. Do your best, and let it go. The good news is that everyone did a great job, it was a strong pool of actors, and the directors said they would be willing to see every one of them again, (even the new guy). But then, most of them studied at the Actors Workout Studio.
Till next time.