I was sitting in my musical theater class the other day, taking notes while listening to my talented classmates. We not only practice the art of storytelling through song, but also examine what is needed to deliver a truly electrifying audition. This day was like every other Tuesday, with each student more talented than the next, and encouragement abound. But something struck me suddenly and deeply as I looked at the talent around me:
To survive in this business, we need to be experts.
One of the men in my class had a big callback for the Broadway tour of “Million Dollar Quartet.” For the callback, he was asked to prepare a Jerry Lee Lewis piano tune and an Elvis guitar tune, and be prepared to sing from his book. This actor is a fabulous singer with some mad piano playing skills, but there was one problem: He had never picked up a guitar in his life.
When the actor came into class that day, with the callback the next morning, we noticed that his fingers were taped up. Turns out, in the 3 weeks between the initial audition and his callback, this actor taught himself to play the guitar. And playing the guitar for three weeks straight can cut your fingers up pretty good. He did what experts do. He said to himself, “They need someone to play guitar? Well, I’m going to dedicate myself to the guitar so I can nail this audition.” In class, our teacher constructed a “mock audition” so he could do all of his callback material in one chunk.
He was, in a word, remarkable. I, and my fellow students around me, sat mouths agape, with a mix of awe and envy as we watched. It was exciting to witness someone put everything he had into an audition. Even more remarkably, this would be an audition where, if he did his job right, the auditors wouldn’t have any idea how hard he’d worked. It would appear effortless. And that is what being an expert is all about.
Now, you might be thinking, “Erin, are you suggesting that to be an actor, I have to become an expert in every special skill, in case I’m asked to do it?” In short, no. What I am suggesting is that you become an expert in auditioning. Become an expert in bringing your full self to the table, and doing whatever it takes to deliver in the room.
Or, maybe you're thinking, “I am already an expert! I have done hundreds of auditions, and I bring my A game, every time.” OK, but consider these questions:
- Have you ever walked into the audition room without your sides prepared/memorized, hoping your cold reading skills would be “enough”?
- Did you ever have an audition where a dialect was required, but skip the time to brush up on the accent?
- Have you ever changed your audition song right before walking in the room?
- Did you ever go to an audition in whatever clothing you were wearing earlier in the day, because you felt too comfortable to change?
- Have you ever thought to yourself, “I would have done much better if the reader had been a better actor!”
- Did you ever neglect to read the full play before a callback, or opt against familiarizing yourself with the full score before a musical callback?
I think that every actor has said yes to at least one of these (and most of us can admit to more than one). As actors, we all have days where were don’t show up as an expert, hoping that our natural talent will save the day. But consider that your competition—the folks who do this for a living and take it seriously—are doing what experts do: They consider their auditions to be mini performances and do whatever it takes to be reading for their “opening” in that audition room. Imagine if you had newspaper critics in the room: Would you allow yourself to be reviewed without polishing your performance?
A while ago I read a casting director’s blog, and he was talking about how much sense it makes to book a coach (be it dialect, vocal, or acting) before any big audition. He reasoned that you would be spending a little bit of money for the chance at making a lot of money, and he could not understand why actors refuse to look at auditions in this fashion. To be fair, actors need to be smart about where they spend their money, but this idea made a lot of sense to me. When I have a specific job on the line, why wouldn’t I do everything I could to ensure I nailed it?
I tell you, I am so inspired by this actor in my class. The idea that auditions are a chance to present polished work to the industry is so exciting, and liberating. I could really get used to being an expert—how about you?
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