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SOLVING THE MYSTERIES OF CALLBACKS

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You've just auditioned for a part in an upcoming project-an "under-five" role for a TV show that could be your first big break, a place in the chorus of a splashy new musical, a funny bit in a national commercial, a quirky supporting character in an independent film, or the lead in a play that would really make your career. You feel confident about the reading, the song, the dance combination, the witty pre-audition banter. Everything is going great-that is, until you leave the room. As you walk down the hallway, the second-guessing begins, then the anguish builds, and suddenly the self-doubt sets in as you wonder... "Was I good enough to get a callback?"

Being called back for a role can be both exhilarating and exasperating. You're one step closer to getting the job, but you also have more pressure on you to make any necessary adjustments, deliver a solid performance, and ultimately win over the casting team. Just what is the best way to prepare for a callback? What can you expect? What should you avoid? Each situation is invariably different, and everyone has his or her own perspective on the topic. So Back Stage asked for feedback and advice from industry professionals and seasoned performers pertaining to each stage of the callback process. The comments may seem contradictory at times, but that reflects the disparate people and situations you will be dealing with as you get closer to being cast. We hope this special issue will help shed some light on this very shadowy subject.

Insights From the Experts

The group of people you read for in a callback situation varies from project to project, and may include casting directors, producers, directors, writers, artistic directors, even the stars of the project themselves. Each of them may have input as to whether you book the part or not. Of course, agents and managers are also an integral part of the casting process, and can help you give each callback your best effort. Back Stage spoke to the following New York-based industry experts:

Filmmaker Lauren Berger wrote and directed the upcoming independent film "All in Theory," a psycho thriller produced by Berger and Matthew Oliver for Untitled Films production company.

Casting director Michelle Carroll is a casting associate working with Julie Tucker on the new NBC series "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," and also casts theatre and film projects.

Producer and performer Michael Criscuolo is company director, along with Don Jordan, of Pilot House Theatre Company, which is presenting "Three by Tennessee" Off-Off-Broadway, at Nada 45, through Nov. 7.

Director-producer Seth Gordon serves as associate artistic director-producer for Off-Broadway's Primary Stages, where he recently produced "Barefoot Boy With Shoes On," and has worked at such venues as Ensemble Studio Theatre and Theatre for the New City.

Eileen Haves is a talent agent at Acme Talent & Literary, where she represents performers for commercials, industrials, and voiceovers.

Casting director Stephanie Klapper's credits include "Dinner With Friends" at Variety Arts Theatre and "It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues" at the Ambassador, as well as PBS Television's "Millenium Minutes" and the independent feature film "Roberta."

Manager Sue Schachter of Suzelle Management has represented talent for films, TV, and theatre for 30 years, and has also worked in Los Angeles and Mexico City.

Answers to Callback Questions

Why callbacks?

Gordon: Callbacks take place for a variety of different reasons. Sometimes performers are called back because a person in the casting room asked for them-everyone else is certainly willing to see if the actor can bring something new to his reading, but they didn't necessarily need to see him again. Sometimes we're calling actors back to see if they can make a specific adjustment. Sometimes we'll call them back because they weren't feeling well and we know they can do better at the callback three days later. Sometimes you're calling people back because you want to see two actors read the same material back to back. Sometimes we truly want to see something else, to see if something new happens, to see if there's more that you can learn about that actor in the role.

Who gets called back?

Carroll: It is usually obvious who should get a callback. A lot of times it comes down to a matter of type-is someone the type that they are looking for? They usually need a special type, depending on the role.

Klapper: It depends on the project, but in many cases it's very clear who is most right for the role and who fits the vision.

Criscuolo: Aside from the obvious points of being talented and skilled and good and hard-working, the actors we call back have to be really easy to get along with-no high-maintenance actors. I used to be a high-maintenance actor, and I learned the error of my ways.

How many get called back?

Klapper: There's no limit. Usually you want to have a good selection and a few choices, but you don't want to cloud the issue.

Carroll: Usually three to five actors out of 20 to 25 people who audition.

Berger: We were casting five lead characters for our independent film. We saw close to 50 actors, and called back three people for each role.

Gordon: Sometimes it's just two or three actors per role, and sometimes it's a lot. Usually we call back anywhere from two to five.

Why are they calling you back?

Berger: It was an all-over presence I was looking for. I needed to see that the actors had an idea of where these characters I created were coming from. And I could see an understanding of what was going on. Just watching them, I knew which actors could be which character.

Gordon: Usually what makes me want to call a person back is that what they've done captures the material in the way that I envisioned it, and the way the playwright envisioned it. There's no way anybody can know in advance, which I guess is part of the magic of it and part of the vagary of it.

Who will call you back?

Carroll: The casting directors make the offers for the parts. We call the agent, and say, "We want to offer the part to your client."

Schachter: The casting director tells the agent or manager, both of whom should work in concert to further the career of the actor or actress.

Haves: Actors should not call in; they should wait until the agent knows if they are going to be called back.

When will you get called back?

Schachter: Usually it's within two or three days. On rare occasions you can hear back a week later or even longer.

Criscuolo: For our productions, we will usually schedule the callback right away.

Carroll: Depends on how quick it has to happen. Sometimes we'll tell the actor on the spot, in their initial audition. If the callback is for that afternoon, we'll tell them immediately. Other times, if it's maybe for the next day, or if we don't make the decision on the spot, we'll call the agent. If the actor didn't come in through the agent, we'll call him directly.

Haves: It depends on when they plan to shoot or record the project. Sometimes it could be the next day; sometimes it could be two days. Occasionally they will specify the date of the callbacks ahead of time.

Klapper: If we know we have callbacks the next day, I try to encourage the directors to make the decision on the spot so the actor has as much time as possible to prepare for the callbacks.

What distinguishes screen and stage callbacks?

Carroll: The biggest difference is the time involved. You usually spend three to six months casting a film, whereas we're casting a TV episode in eight days. You can give a lot more lead time on film appointments, and you see them more times. For major roles in films, it's not unusual to have a second callback. Theatre has a longer turnaround time-usually you have about two to three weeks to cast a theatre project.

Schachter: Every project is different. Theatre sometimes requires the casting directors to go on talent searches for weeks or months at a time, so you won't know until sometimes six months or a year later.

Who will be at the callback?

Klapper: For the play "Dinner With Friends," the producers were at every single audition I held-the actors joked that it was like going to network!

Carroll: The callbacks for "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" are attended by the producer and the director. Writers come in occasionally, but not very often.

Gordon: I sit in on callbacks for all the shows at Primary Stages. As a producer, I play more of a passive role, because the director actually runs the callback. I just greet people and shake their hands warmly as they come and go, then discuss their readings later. As a director, I'm actually up there and I'm working with the actors.

What should you wear to callbacks?

Gordon: Doesn't matter what they wear; it's the reading that matters.

Criscuolo: It only matters if they glaringly dress incorrectly, like if we're having auditions for Shakespeare and they come in with the knee-high leather boots and miniskirt.

How can you prepare for callbacks?

Klapper: I'm looking for actors to be even more prepared than they were in the first round. Hopefully they have read the completed script, and perhaps they can develop a little more depth about what they are doing-that's always exciting.

Gordon: We prefer they don't try to memorize-that doesn't show them in their best light. They shouldn't try to be off book; they should focus on the text and their performance.

Criscuolo: When I'm directing a play, the only thing I'm concerned about when actors read again at the callback is a tiny bit of progression or growth from the last time I saw them, whether it was an hour ago or a day ago or a week ago. Just something that indicates to me that since I saw them last, they looked over the script or the sides and maybe found a couple of new things.

What should you expect at callbacks?

Carroll: For "Special Victims Unit," the actors read the same material from the audition, unless the script has been rewritten. The casting director reads with them-rarely will they be teamed up with other actors. Usually the actors are videotaped, so we can keep people in mind for future roles.

Gordon: We don't have actors read with each other; they read with readers.

Berger: At the callback, we had them read different scenes from the audition, and we had them read together in different combinations. We did screen tests as well; seeing how characters look together on screen was very helpful.

How are musical callbacks different?

Gordon: They are much tougher-everyone has to be satisfied. If it's a chorus call, we just have a single audition, and we only have a callback if absolutely necessary. If it's a call for people with speaking roles, we usually have them sing and dance if they need to, and if that all looks like it's working out, we have them read right away. I guess you can call that an immediate callback. We give them 10 minutes to look at the scene, and then we have them read it, and from there we'll schedule a callback if there are two or three people whom we can't decide between.

How can you relax at callbacks?

Criscuolo: We do whatever we can to diffuse their nerves-talk, chat, bullshit with them-so they smile and feel comfortable and aren't nervous about trying to impress us.

Schachter: When the anxiety builds, it's like the finals in a beauty pageant. If you make it to the final cut, you get a little more nervous. But you must be good if you got a callback, so try not to worry.

How can you make the most of callbacks?

Gordon: Sometimes actors will ask if there is anything else we want to see. We may say no, because we just need to see them for comparative purposes. Or we may give them an adjustment, to see if they can they do it and how they are to work with. Usually we ask for a color that we didn't see that we know we're going to have to see during the play. I would say if you're being given the same material for a callback, and you haven't been told anything else, asking if they need to see anything else would be a good question to ask.

What adjustments should you make at callbacks?

Schachter: If there are special instructions, they will tell us, and we pass the information on to the actor.

Carroll: If there's an adjustment needed, we usually give the information to the agent, or give it to the actors directly when we call them with the callback appointment. Also, if the casting director sees an actor make a wrong choice or go in a different direction than the director wants, the actor will be told.

Haves: For commercials and voiceovers, sometimes if they are very interested in a performer, they call the agent or manager and say, "We would like to see this person back, and please have them do this or that." Or they might tell the actor then and there.

When does an actor find out if he aced the callback and got the job?

Haves: For commercials and voiceovers, we usually find out the next day, but it depends on when they plan to shoot it. If they are interested, they may also put actors on first refusal, so the actors will hold the date open.

Schachter: Usually if it's a TV series or a film, you'll find out way ahead of the shoot date. If it's a commercial, you usually find out a day or two before. But they give you as much notice as they possibly can.

Any final advice for actors regarding callbacks?

Carroll: The biggest piece of advice that we usually like to give out is: Be prepared, be on time, and be pleasant. It's a high-pressure environment, and it's in the actor's best interest not to add to that pressure in any way.

Berger: Just be confident. Whatever happens, happens.

Haves: Just go in and do the same thing they did in the audition, be polite, say, "Thank you," and hope for the best.

Gordon: The best advice I've ever heard given an actor before they come in is, "Don't try to psyche the casting people out." There's no reason to try and anticipate what they're looking for. Just give them what you have and your interpretation of what's happening. Show them your strengths and let them decide whether you are right for a role or not.

Schachter: If you don't get it, don't be disheartened. Because the fact is, if you got a callback, you're on your way. After you get a series of callbacks, you are usually just around the corner from securing something wonderful.

The Performers' Point of View

J. Dolan Byrnes has performed in regional productions of "Jekyll & Hyde," "My Fair Lady," "Music Man," and the original musical "Eleanor." He has also done several television projects, including appearances on the Learning Channel and Animal Planet. The actor is currently on tour with the national company of "1776" for Big League Theatricals, which will next be stopping at the Playhouse Theatre in Wilmington, Dela., Dec. 3-12.

"I got called back after my audition for "1776,' but I didn't know for what part. I sang a number at the audition, and the casting director asked me to do a different take on it, so I did. Then they asked me to come back a few days later, and gave me some sides to read. I didn't hear anything for almost two months after the callback. Actually, I was in Russia when they called me."

Richard Caine is a veteran of countless television commercials and voiceovers, as well as feature films and theatre productions. His diverse resume includes TV roles on "Kung Fu" and "Law & Order," a high-profile tour of "Butterflies Are Free," and the daytime dramas "Loving" and "General Hospital."

"The callback process is definitely different for each medium. For many of the TV shows I did, I rarely got called back more than once. You are either right or you're not. And once you are a known product, they start to ask for you. Now of course, that is not true for a film or TV pilot-there's quite an extensive callback process in those situations."

Christina Casa is an actress and stand-up comedienne who has performed in films, television, and theatre projects, including her one-woman show "Hail This!" The performer recalls one particularly memorable callback:

"It was for a commercial for an Internet company. During the callback, I was supposed to yell, and they gave me a cup to throw-and I hit one of the casting directors! But that's not why I didn't get the job. In fact, they said, "You did a great job, but we booked someone else.' " Casa recently had a starring role in the independent feature film "All in Theory." Once cast in the latter project, Casa had the opportunity to read with many actors during the callbacks and see them from the other side. "I found that actors really do much better when they are relaxed. The ones who were relaxed stood out. I would recommend that actors try to take positions as readers so they can learn more about the callback process."

Sheila Corrigan has worked on several projects in the past year, including a production of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," Off-Off-Broadway, at the Flatiron Theatre earlier this year. She recently performed in a showcase production for I 2 Actors (Ideas Into Action) at New York University. "They had my headshot from an audition I went on two months ago. I never heard anything from them until one day recently when I got a call. I read for them again, and they invited me to a callback two nights later. The next day I started rehearsals."

The actress is currently a cast member of a multicultural soap opera produced by the Caribbean Media Association. "For the callback, I read sides from the script. Actually, it was very brief-it took less than five minutes. I didn't get any positive or negative feedback, and the casting people didn't seem that impressed. But then they called me a week later to offer me the role. I was very excited."

Don Sheehan turned to acting after a successful career in aviation. His first job was on "All My Children," which he got from his initial mailing. Sheehan has starred onstage in plays including "Deathtrap," "The Father," and "Death of a Salesman." He has garnered lead roles in independent films such as "The Back Nine" and guest-starred on many television shows including "Law & Order," "Up All Night," and "Late Night With Conan O'Brien."

"I was called in for "Saturday Night Live,' to audition for a segment called "Schiller-Vision.' I didn't get the part, but I was called back two years later for "Bernie, the Man Who Wouldn't Cross the Street.' I was amazed that I was still on file; I didn't believe it."

Geff Zames has pursued an acting career for the past 10 years. The actor appeared in episodes of "Spin City" and "New York Undercover," and has performed in Off-Broadway plays including "Caligula" at Primary Stages and "George Bernard and Stella" at the Vineyard Theatre. He is featured in the soon-to-be-released "Woody Allen Fall Project '98." Zames also worked for a year on the daytime drama "Another World."

"For "Another World,' I had a recurring role as a psychiatric patient. During the callback, I read with a reader and the casting director. The casting director called me a few days after the callback, along with my agent. I started working on the show about two weeks later. I think the process for the contract players is much longer than that: They get an audition, a callback, another callback, a screen test, then they hear sometimes weeks later."

Advice From Actors to Actors

Casa: Make the strongest choices possible. The more specific, the better. If you get a callback, obviously they like you, so be extra confident. Your type is appropriate, so you could very conceivably book the job. But try not to do it for the outcome; do it for the enjoyment of the experience. Also, remember that the casting directors want you to get the part-they don't want to have to call anyone else. So take your time. When you are in there, that's your time, so use it.

Byrnes: If you have sides that you know you will be reading, and you are able to, you may want to go to a coach to get some feedback for the callback. That will give you a practice run with the material. If you are called back for a musical, you may want to get with a vocal coach as well and work the number you're going to sing. Also, I would suggest studying the material as best as you can, so that you are a little bit freer and you're not just dealing with a piece of paper the entire time.

Caine: If you've gotten to the callback, always go back and basically do what you did before. But always be willing to listen, because if the director or producer or casting director has insisted on having you back, but there's a little bit of in-fighting going on among the three of them, you want to listen to what is being said. Someone may have gone to bat for you, and you might have to make an adjustment in order to prove them right. So you do want to listen, and not just go back in with a preconceived formula.

Zames: Unless you've been told otherwise, try to keep your reading at the callback similar to your audition. If they called you back, you must have done something right or looked right, or a combination of the two. If you are given any direction during the audition, and go back to a callback, remember some of those adjustments and apply them to the callback. If you can get hold of the sides in advance, that's helpful. And if they want adjustments, then be ready to make adjustments. Be very flexible and fluid about the whole thing.

Corrigan: Just go into callbacks with a positive attitude. They must have seen something that they liked about you the first time, so go in and be yourself. Also, stay calm and stay focused. If acting is truly your dream and your goal, then this is an opportunity for you, this might be a break, so give it all you got.

Sheehan: Every time you get called back, show them something quirky about yourself-make it different. When you come in for the first audition, it's like they want Christmas butter cookies. So the actors are all the same butter cookies. Then you're called back, but now you are definedthey don't want the square butter cookies, they don't want the round ones; they want the star-shaped ones. So they bring all the star-shaped guys back. Now, am I going to have a cherry in my navel, an almond in my navel, a walnut, or a chocolate chip? This is where you bring in the quirkiness of your personality, by showing another side of yourself. You may not get the role, but they'll remember you!

The Bottom Line

There are so many types of callback situations for each of the various media that making a general statement about how to prepare and what to expect from them is nearly impossible. However, it does seem to be the consensus that, no matter what project you are being called back for, the first rule of thumb is to relax and enjoy the experience, and hopefully learn from it.

Fern Wakneen, who is the assistant executive administrator of TV/Theatricals Contracts in the Screen Actors Guild New York office, encourages performers to view the callback process as a positive experience, even if they are not ultimately hired for the job: "It gives casting directors the opportunity to become more familiar with the performer's work." And with a little bit of luck, that initial meeting will lead to a successful callback-and a paying acting job-soon afterward.

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