By Sherry Eaker
Last week's issue of Back Stage carried 140 casting notices, half of which announced specific dates, times, and places of the audition calls (mostly recognizable rental spaces). The other 70 or so casting items asked performers to submit picture/resumes for consideration.
There's nothing unusual about this. But, what I would like to find out is where the producers and directors collecting the p/r's are meeting with the performers they've selected? At rented rehearsal spaces? In a school classroom or studio (if they're film students)? Or elsewhere? If it's elsewhere (apartment, home, hotel room, etc.), do you, the auditionee, have second thoughts before showing up at the appointed time? Have you ever decided not to show up at all? Or do you take extra precautions if you do decide to attend? And what are these precautions?
Fortunately, nothing serious has happened to prompt me to take up this concern in my column, but it's a concern that all performers face at some time or another.
I received a letter from a reader not too long ago who had such an experience. She writes:
"I am increasingly alarmed by the number of times I am invited into a stranger's home for an audition. Usually, I have never met the person before, and sometimes I have never even spoken to them on the telephone. Often, an address and time is left on the answering service, and only upon arrival do I realize it is a private residence. Also, I am a woman, and many auditors are male.
"I am surprised by the lack of consideration. I am also relieved nothing has ever happened to me or any of my friends, although I am sure things have happened before. If someone cannot afford to secure a neutral space, or a public place for an audition, the least the auditor can do is alert an actress that it is a private residence, and maybe even suggest that they bring a friend ."
Lenore DeKoven is an assistant professor of the Graduate Film Division at Columbia University. Many of Columbia's students hold auditions for performers for their films. Lenore told me that auditions are very often held in Columbia's classrooms and other spaces that students are free to use. She also noted, "A graduate film student who can't find a suitable space to audition if he can't do that much, how is he going to be able to do all the other more difficult things required of him in order to create a successful film?"
Tony Nicosia, Actors' Equity's Audition Director, advises performers to never go on an audition in a private house or apartment. (That would never be the case for any Equity audition since they must be held in audition or rehearsal spaces that meet Equity's safe and sanitary standards. These audition rules do not apply to Equity showcases, but if showcase producers get out of line, they'll be reported, making it difficult for them to produce under Equity's jurisdiction again.) "Actors should never feel that desperate to make them go out on these calls," Tony asserts. "If you have any feeling of doubt, don't go."
The writer of the letter specifically described the situation that she found herself in:
"I was invited to an audition after submitting myself via mail, from an ad in Back Stage. When I arrived in the dark, after business hours in the financial district which was relatively deserted because of the hour, I realized I was at a private residence. I was not informed. There was no doorman and no sign-in. I was afraid. I should have left, but I wanted a job, so I rang. The door was answered by two men, neither of whom I knew. I identified myself and was invited in. When I told them, very tactfully and politely that I preferred to wait until another actress arrived, they brought me a chair outside. Finally, another actress did come, and she said she felt the same way I did. I rang again and said I was ready to read. They let me read once. There was no discussion, and I was given all but the 'heave-ho' so to speak ."
Our writer handled herself perfectly in this situation. The two fellows who auditioned her may have been perfectly legitimate and harmless, but they were completely naive to her, or any other auditionee's, feelings and to the audition experience itself. The writer certainly didn't deserve the negative attitude they gave her.
I spoke to this young woman after receiving her letter and she told me that she learned a lot from her experience. In the first place, she now does her homework. She likes to make contact with the person who leaves a message responding to her p/r. She asks if the address they left is an apartment. If it is, she will either bring someone with her to the audition, or at least let people know exactly where she's heading, if she decides to go at all.
Personally, I don't feel very comfortable about auditions taking place in someone's private residence. Yes, I understand that rehearsal space costs money, but I have to agree with Lenore DeKoven: If you're professional enough to produce a play or film, then you should be professional enough to come up with audition space that's not going to completely eat up your budget (there are some reasonable rates offered by spaces around town; you just have to find them), and show your professional respect to your potential cast and crew.
And as Tony Nicosia mentioned, performers shouldn't feel desperate about going out on auditions. If you feel the least suspicious about a situation, do a little investigating: make calls and check references. Aside from your colleagues, you can call the Better Business Bureau, the Department of Consumer Frauds, Actors' Equity, Screen Actors' Guild, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, or myself here at Back Stage. If the person who's interested in auditioning you isn't willing to answer any of your questions, he or she probably isn't worth auditioning for in the first place. Most of all, trust your gut. If it doesn't feel good, it probably isn't. Remember, there's lots of other opportunities out there.