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The Working Actor

Audition Questions

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Audition Questions
Dear Jackie:

I resent directors and other auditors who make you audition in front of, or even with, other actors auditioning for a production. The competitiveness and judgment in the air are unbearable, yet you can't complain, for obvious reasons. Is this a tactic they use to discern your qualities as an actor? If so, it's unkind. What can I do to protest this growing trend in audition settings?

—Gilbert, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Dear Gilbert:

I understand your frustration at being asked to audition in front of other actors. It is usually far better for an actor to have an individual audition slot and a waiting room in which to prepare and focus. In my experience, a professional auditor deviates from this norm only when there is some extenuating circumstance that makes the ideal arrangement impossible—a problematic space, a severe time crunch, etc. When you're auditioning for inexperienced (or just plain unprofessional) directors or producers, however, all bets are off. In my early, naive years, I went to what turned out to be a group audition in a director's living room, which—luckily for me—was just lame as opposed to dangerous. I've heard of a director who holds auditions at his desert home, where callbacks consist of horseback riding. Go figure.

Group auditions can be a pain, but I don't know that they are worth protesting. If the production in question is covered by an Actors' Equity contract, you could file a complaint with the union—even anonymously—about the audition environment. But some auditions actually benefit from a group setting. Improvisational auditions and some commercial auditions, when done in groups, can save the auditor time and give the actors someone to "play" with besides a distracted casting assistant. In some cases—say, for a nonspeaking commercial role—the casting director just needs to see what you look like interacting with others. A group in that case can be helpful.

If you encounter this situation again, see if you can take the judgment you perceive from other actors and channel it into positive energy for your audition. See if you can turn "All those people want me to fail" into "All those people are just as nervous as I am." Better yet, try: "I'm going to do my best to help all those nervous people feel more comfortable. We're actually a team, even if they don't know it." This takes your focus off yourself and puts it on your fellow actors, where it should be.

As for this being a growing trend, I haven't encountered it. Readers, please write to me at theworkingactor@gmail.com if you have stories to share on this topic.

Dear Jackie:

I have always been told to engage in a conversation while in an audition. This is because it will help them see your personality and can help you stand out as different from everyone else. However, I was recently told to keep the small talk to a minimum. Any ideas on what I should do? I have an audition for a guest-star role and was wondering if I should engage in conversation or just smile and perform the sides.

—Talker (via the BackStage.com message board)

Dear Talker:

Auditioning, even with prepared sides, is an art of improvisation. You have to be open to whatever comes your way. If you walk into the room and a very friendly, chatty casting associate strikes up a conversation, by all means have a nice talk. Sometimes a candid moment, on or off camera, can help to personalize you and make you stand out. Some auditions are set up to maximize this personal aspect, with casting directors asking you seemingly random questions after your slate and before you read the sides. If that's the case, relax and enjoy the chance to share a friendly chat.

If, however, you are greeted by silence—or a quick and formal hello—from the person behind the casting desk, get to the point. Say hello, introduce yourself, and read the sides as directed. It never hurts to greet someone in a friendly manner, but trying to force a busy casting director into a conversation about the weather may backfire. Remember, you are there to get the job and the casting people are there to do a job. Look at it like any other interview and you'll do fine.

Dear Jackie:

Recently I went to an audition for a short film. The assistant director took my headshot and walked me into the office where the director was sitting. I sat down right across from him, about two feet away. Right when the A.D. gave my headshot to the director, he chuckled, turned his head toward the A.D., and said loudly and sarcastically (like I'm not sitting right there), " 'Twilight' much?" I awkwardly laughed, but they didn't laugh along with me. There was just silence. So of course I was totally out of it during my monologue, and I'm pretty sure it's safe to say I did not get the part.

It's been hard to shake the dehumanization right in front of my face. I was very tempted to just stand up and say, "Actually, I'm sorry; I have a vampire audition I should go to. Thanks!" But I held it in. I didn't want to possibly burn any bridges, even though he was young and probably didn't know anybody. What should I have done? Why do people have to behave this way?

—Not Robert (via the BackStage.com message board)

Dear Not:

That sounds really uncomfortable, and I am sorry you were treated that way.

I too have seen casting people, directors, agents, managers, and producers behaving badly in these kinds of circumstances. Usually it's behind the actor's back, maybe while viewing the audition tape. But occasionally, as you experienced, it's right in front of the actor's face. Something about sitting in such obvious judgment of others seems to allow for some really rotten behavior. It's clearly wrong, but it almost seems unavoidable in a profession in which human beings themselves are the products to be judged. Take heart in knowing that most professional casting and production personnel don't lower themselves to this kind of commentary.

I think you showed restraint and poise in going ahead with your monologue after being greeted that way. Give yourself credit for rising above the petty comment and getting through your audition. You even attempted to laugh it off! I admire you for that. I hope you can shake off the lingering slight and remember that you were professional and polite in the face of insult. Thank goodness you didn't get the part. Can you imagine working with those jerks?

And although this probably isn't the best of advice, I honestly wish you had gone ahead with your vampire audition comment. That's priceless.

Attention, readers: Inspired by Not Robert's letter above, I'm working on a piece about poor treatment by audition auditors. I'd love to hear your audition horror stories. Send them to me at theworkingactor@gmail.com.

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