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Secret Agent Man

How To Understand What an Audition Means for the Big Picture

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How To Understand What an Audition Means for the Big Picture
Photo Source: Steve Weigl

“Because it’s there.”

Those famous words were spoken in 1924 by British mountain climber George Mallory when a reporter asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest. A few months later, poor George disappeared on his way to the summit. So much for being glib.

“Because it’s there” is also the reason most actors go on auditions. Why not, right? An audition is a good thing. There’s no need to over-think it. 

Well, I would argue that it makes more sense to understand what you might gain from an audition, both in the short and the long term. Look at it this way: Every audition is a golden brick in the road that leads to Oz. Each one serves a purpose. Smart actors understand this because they have a big-picture view of their careers. So let’s break these gains down into a few categories.

Experience When you’re starting out, this is the most common reason to go on an audition. At this point, your résumé has a lot of white space. So every audition is an opportunity to book work that will fill that vast emptiness—which in turn will make you more attractive to the next casting director.

In addition to credits, every job you book, even a small one, will give you more on-set experience. That’s extremely valuable. I’ve had young clients call me from their first job, confused because they didn’t know how to fill out their paperwork. 

Contacts Let’s say you already have plenty of experience, and your agent calls with an audition for a role that you’re not especially interested in playing. Should you pass? Saying no is always an option, but then again there might be a big-picture reason for going in. For example, maybe the casting director is someone you’ve never met. Or maybe it’s someone you haven’t seen in a long time. In those cases, it makes sense to go in and create (or renew) a relationship that could pay off down the road.

I work with a Latino actor who’s always playing bad guys. So at the start of episodic season, we decided to avoid those roles. That’s why he was shocked when I called with an audition to play yet another drug dealer. Had I forgotten our agreement? Of course not, but I noticed the director of this particular show was a feature film guy who doesn’t normally work in television. Long story short, my client went in, booked the job, and now I’m keeping an eye out for that director’s next movie.

Challenge Every now and then, an actor with an extensive résumé will go in for a small role that doesn’t pay much because the part will provide him with a creative challenge.

Let’s say you’re an actor in your 40s who always plays doctors and lawyers and businessmen. That can get old real fast. Now imagine how much fun it would be for you to play a drunken barfly or a crazed killer.

Money Sometimes an experienced actor gets an audition that won’t create new relationships or provide a creative challenge. Actually, most auditions fall under that category. The reason they still go in is simple. They need to make a living.

Yes, acting is an art form, but it’s also a business, and you need to pay your bills. Making money under union contracts also provides you with health insurance and a pension. So never lose sight of that reality. Acting is a job, just like any other.

Remember, if you want to succeed, you have to understand where your choices might lead. Walking into an audition with a mental shrug will never be as effective as understanding what you hope to gain.

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