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The Working Actor

Disney Dilemma, Forgoing Feedback

Disney Dilemma, Forgoing Feedback
Dear Michael:
First, I'd like to thank you. I'm a walking ad for Back Stage, and since I have a pretty big mouth, you sure get a lot of free advertising!

I'd also like to say that I am a big fan of Disney and the Disney Channel. The first project I worked on was a Disney movie ("When in Rome"), and I have a 4-year-old, and I do enjoy all the shows: "The Suite Life," "Hannah Montana," and, of course, "Sonny With a Chance."

Here's my question: I would love to work on a Disney show. And I'm sure my 4-year-old would love it too. Though I live in New York, I would do whatever it took to go to California for work as well. Can you suggest someone I can email my info to? I would so appreciate anything you can do.

As always, I appreciate your concern and commitment to our profession.
—Camera Action
New York

Hey, Camera Action:
Thanks for the kind words. I'm delighted that our work in Back Stage has such a positive impact.

In answer to your question, while I recognize how willing you'd be to come to California for a gig on a Disney show, the reality is this: Generally speaking, the only way to work in California is to live in California, unless you're a recognizable name. As I'm sure you'll understand, it would be almost unheard of for a job to come up in L.A. (on the Disney Channel or otherwise) that would require inviting someone unknown from New York to fly out. With so many actors already in town, it just doesn't happen.

You could mail your stuff to the various producers and casting directors (there are many), but I'm almost 100 percent certain they'd dismiss the idea of scheduling an audition and having you fly in. I'm sorry to be the bearer of such disappointing news, but as you know from the column, I try to always tell the truth, even if it's not particularly pleasant.

Now, if you wanted to relocate, get an L.A. agent, and pursue this goal here, that would be another story. Naturally, there's still no guarantee, but I believe that if this were your primary goal, you'd be able to find a way in eventually, at least to meet someone in a position to hire you. But you know how our business is: That could take a while. You'd have to really want to live in L.A. and have a way to support yourself while you wait.

I encourage you to pursue the opportunities around you in my wonderful, thriving hometown of New York City and follow the path before you.

Hello, Michael:
I'm a beginning actor in New York City, and I have a question regarding feedback. Is it ever appropriate to ask for it from a casting director when you find out that you have not gotten the part? I'm nonunion, so I don't have an agent I can turn to. Or should feedback only be limited to the classroom setting?
—A Beginner in Brooklyn
New York

Hi, B in B:
I think it's a mistake to ask for feedback after an audition, and I'll give you several reasons why I hold that opinion. First, it marks you as an amateur who needs reassurance. The professionals come in, do their thing, and leave the rest to the casting people. Beginners are hoping for audition experiences that make them feel more confident about their work. But the savvy beginner knows not to ask for that reassurance. It's never too early to look for ways to exude confidence and professionalism. The fact is, the purpose of an audition is for casting directors, directors, and producers to find actors for roles, not for them to assist in actors' education or improve their self-esteem. It really helps us to keep that in mind.

Second, asking for feedback puts casting directors in kind of an awkward position: What if their opinion isn't very positive? Not everyone is Simon Cowell. Many aren't comfortable offering honest negative criticism. Asking for feedback puts casting directors on the spot, and they may feel inclined to say something positive, even if it isn't their true opinion. So you're not necessarily getting any real information. It's different when you have an agent. Casting people feel more comfortable being honest with an actor's representative than with an actor. What's more, they could potentially resent actors who put them in that position, and that's certainly not something you want.

But another reason not to ask for feedback is this: Getting feedback may not be as valuable as you think. After years of doing this, I've come to the conclusion that feedback doesn't matter all that much at all. You either get a role or you don't—feedback doesn't change that. And it's only one person's opinion, so it really doesn't represent anything concrete, unless you're getting identical responses again and again. If you think about it that way, what's it really worth?

My philosophy—in fact, my "golden rule of auditioning" (you may want to write this down)—is this: "Take care of them. Never ask them to take care of you." It's radically different from the way most actors approach this stuff, I think. But it makes a big difference in how you're perceived. When you come in with an attitude of putting the casting people at ease—taking care of them—you'll be surprised to see how quickly they relax. And then they're free to just watch what you're doing and not worry about how you're doing. Trust me on this one: It's gold.

I think of it this way: We're the doctors. They're the patients. We're the consultants. They're the ones in need of expertise. We should conduct ourselves like carpet salespeople paying visits to office managers who have been directed to get their offices re-carpeted. Come in and show the carpet samples. Help them by presenting at least one great choice. Then leave and go on to your next appointment. No one wants to buy carpet from the insecure salesperson who asks, "What did you think of the way I presented those carpet samples? Was that okay?" And if they don't happen to go with your company, no one wants to get a call asking, "Can you tell me how I can improve my pitch?" See what I mean?

Happy carpet peddling.

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