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The Working Actor

For Me! For Me?

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For Me! For Me?
Dear Michael:


I am a founder and co–artistic director of a new theater company in New York City. Thankfully, we've had a very successful first season and are now moving into casting and planning for our second season. We're grateful to always have a wonderful turnout of actors at our auditions, and we're especially happy when people we've worked with in the past return.

We recently held auditions for a reading we're doing this summer. Because of the number of submissions we get and the time we can afford to rent audition space, it's impossible to see everyone, and I always feel bad turning people away. We always let the actors know ahead of time the performance dates and rehearsal schedule. It's in the breakdown, we email it to them in their audition confirmation, and it's posted at the audition.

During the last round of auditions, about eight actors (in the span of three hours) came in saying, "I'm not available for any of the rehearsal or performance dates. I just wanted to be seen by you guys for future projects." After casting the show, we found a handful of actors saying the same thing.

I find this very frustrating, both from a casting/directing perspective and out of respect for the actors we couldn't see due to time restraints. I know actors are taught to attend auditions as much as they can, but it's frustrating to have actor after actor come in with no intention of doing the project and wanting us to keep them on file for the future. What is the proper etiquette for this situation?

Frustrated Director
New York

Dear Frustrated:

I don't know that there's an established etiquette, but there are certainly steps you can take. Let's assess.

I believe the problem you've described happens for two reasons. 1) It probably never occurs to us actors that time and/or funds might be limited for smaller companies like yours. Not being on the producing end, maybe we just never thought of it from your perspective. So you may need to do a bit of educating. 2) No matter what you do, there will always be some actors who ignore your instructions and character breakdowns and attend even if there's no role for them, because "you never know."

Try putting your request in big, bold, capital letters at the top of your audition notice. Something like: "Because we have limited funds, we can only set aside enough studio time to see those who are right for these specific roles and available for this specific project. If you're not both right and available, do not attend 'just to be seen.' We do not keep actors on file who disregard this request."

That might at least reduce the number of inappropriate auditioners. And since you're confirming appointments by email, you can repeat your strongly worded request there. Actors tend to share information: "Whatever you do, don't go in for the wrong show with these guys. They'll never consider you again."

I also suggest having actors email their pictures and résumés and request audition appointments using a downloadable form that includes a production calendar and an availability statement for them to sign off on.

Finally, maybe this will help: Hey, actors! Read the above and take note! When dealing with a smaller company, be sensitive to time and budget restraints and leave appointments available for fellow actors who can fill the casting needs.

Dear Michael:


I wanted to ask for your advice on researching and joining theater companies. I feel silly asking this question, because it feels like I should know the answer, being from New York. But for all the positive things I hear about joining a theater company (camaraderie, common goals), I've also heard about scams and dues, and honestly, I don't know where to start. Any advice for an unrepresented actor looking for a theater company and how to join?

Frances
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Dear Frances:

As with so many things in our profession, quizzing colleagues you respect is the very best place to start. Our network is pretty amazing, and I find it usually doesn't take much more than three degrees of separation before you track down just the source or recommendation you're seeking. It's pretty difficult to evaluate a theater company based on just an ad or a website, but someone acquainted with it firsthand can really lay out its assets and deficits for you.

Failing that, there are other ways to check out your potential theater family. I recommend looking up the company's reviews online. Consistent pans or raves can tell you a lot. Go see a show or two. If possible, speak with the artistic director or a current member. Ask about the membership requirements and benefits. Dues aren't uncommon, but you certainly want to find out whether they're affordable before growing too attached. And if there's some sort of scam being perpetrated, it won't be hard to find out. Just ask around and do some online searching.

It comes down to this: You have to do your homework. Not only does the company need to be legit, affordable, and penetrable—some of them are locked up tight and it's nearly impossible to get in—but it has to be a match in terms of style. Some companies emphasize the classics; some focus on being socially conscious; some tend to do original plays; some like the more-experimental, abstract stuff. Do you like the company's productions? Its level of talent? Its performance space? Its mission statement? It may take a bit of work, but this research can be fun.

Once you find a company or companies you like, you have to see whether they like you. There's usually an audition involved, and you may need to volunteer for a while (ushering or working in the box office, for example) before becoming eligible to join. This is a good way to get to know the company and see if it's a match. Often your best way in is by recommendation, which also means you'll have at least one friend in the group.

There are pros and cons to joining a theater company. On the one hand, you pay dues and can pretty much be assured you'll never get paid. On the other, you potentially get to do great work with great actors, be seen, and feel like part of a family. Sometimes there are other perks, such as access to rehearsal space, opportunities to write, direct, or produce, and so forth. Happy hunting.

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