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Backstage Experts

How To Turn the Table on the Audition Process

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How To Turn the Table on the Audition Process

As I record video auditions for actors and watch them do several takes, it’s apparent that what many of them are agonizing over are things that are not at the top of the list of things the casting director is evaluating at the audition.  My concern is that these actors are spending focus and energy on things that ultimately don’t matter, at the cost of the things that do. Actors can save themselves needless aggravation, while increasing their “cast-ability,” by doing the following, very simple, exercise.

Most actors I work with will admit that they are mystified by the casting process. They don’t understand why they are not cast, and they often don’t understand why they are. They attribute both results to some sort of dark magic working behind the curtain. It reveals a basic misunderstanding of what’s going on in the audition process. So let’s take on the role of a casting director and figure it out.

No, I’m not suggesting you actually change gears in your career and join the ranks of those famously “busiest people in the world.” (Then you’d have to charge yourself $45 to watch yourself do your monologue.) No, the world has more than enough casting directors already.

What I am suggesting is to seriously take on the role of a casting director who is casting a play or film, as if you’d been cast to play such a character. Do the character and scene work as you would for any other role. Give yourself the circumstances—the project, the roles that have to be filled, the deadline, etc.—and work through the logistics. You’re seeing 40 actors to fill a role, and you want to call back five.  What criterion governs your decisions?

Well, above all, you must honor your commitment to your boss to provide several candidates that meet the breakdown description of the characters. You don’t want to take the risk of calling back someone who does not fit the description simply because you think they’re a good actor. Conversely, you might call someone back who doesn’t seem like a great actor simply because they do fit the description. It should become obvious to you, as a casting director, that gathering a small group for callbacks that all fit the breakdown is the goal.

And that’s what almost always happens. Casting directors are risk averse. To put their job on the line trying to advance the career of an actor who’s not famous and not the type being cast, is…well, very rare. And to disqualify someone who’s exactly the right type because she flubbed a line…well, again, it doesn’t happen.

OK, now back to you, the auditioning actor. Given what the casting directors needs are, the most important thing for you to do is present the most unimpeded, obvious, and powerful performance you can. It’s really the only product you have to sell.

And yet, I frequently see actors who stress over the placement of the off-screen characters, whether to pantomime a telephone, whether they should stand or sit, whether a hair was out of place, or whether they slightly paraphrased a line of dialogue.

Auditioning and presentation skills like these do count, of course, but not nearly as much as the impression you give with your mere physical presence and the vivacity of your personality as it is put through the prism of the character you’re playing. Casting directors and directors frequently say they know when the actor walks in the room whether that actor will get called back. When that instant response is “Yes! This guy is coming back” it means that the first impression you’ve given (your look) can only be enhanced or sabotaged by how clearly you continue to project it in the audition. 

When the instant response is “No, not the right type, let’s get this over with quickly,” there is very little you can do to change that. But you still want to clearly establish your type because it might lead to a role you’re more suited for down the road.

This perspective on the process is not only based on reality, it’s very liberating. If you can channel 99 percent of your focus and energy into being present as yourself within the circumstances of the character, and one percent into fretting over whether your necklace is crooked, your chances of making the kind of impression that will work for you go way up.

Remember back in the dark days when you had to be a casting director (thirty seconds ago)? All you wanted was for every actor to be a clear, strong version of something you could identify easily, without having to think too hard. Give them what they want!

Brad Holbrook is the founder, chief cook, and bottle washer of www.ActorIntro.com, a Manhattan studio that creates video marketing tools for actors. He also trains and coaches actors in the skills required for performing on camera, privately and in group classes.  He can be reached at brad@actorintro.com. Brad has spent his entire adult life in front of the camera.  After getting degrees in theater arts and journalism, he first worked as a reporter in a small Midwestern TV station. That led to a 20+ year career as a reporter, anchor, and host at stations across the country. For the past several years, he has had the chance to scratch that acting itch again, and has worked as an actor on NYC stages, as well as in network TV shows and studio films.  Currently he plays a TV host in The Onion News Network’s continuing parody series “Today NOW!”

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