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The Working Actor

How to Handle an Unprofessional Scene Partner During an Audition

How to Handle an Unprofessional Scene Partner During an Audition
Photo Source: Thomas Pitilli

Dear Michael:
I recently had two unfortunate auditions “happen” to me. One was for a commercial, the other was for a play, but both had the same annoying characteristic: My “partner” was unprepared.

First, I was paired with an unusually pretty girl for this commercial who apparently wasn’t aware of the script that was available not only in the casting office but also via email. There were two roles: mom and mom’s friend, and the director verbally stated that we’d be switching roles after the first read. She was rude about being called in for “mom” and proceeded to improvise the audition with no reference to any sequence or even subject matter!

Then, last week I had an audition for a delicious play at which I was paired with another misfit match. It was worse than reading with an illiterate blind man.

I worked diligently and intensively on these auditions and still got screwed out of consideration. I know this is part of the business, but how do we handle these situations?

—Partner Problems

Dear Partner Problems:
I’ve had similar experiences and, like you, didn’t know quite how to react in the moment, then afterward felt robbed of my opportunity.

I think most actors don’t carry enough dignity and authority about their work. We subserviently accept whatever comes our way, never objecting for fear of offending, and sometimes we tolerate the unacceptable. I say it falls to us to protect our own dignity, because unless we’re well known, this profession won’t do it for us.

Here’s what I’d do now: “Uh, no. I need to audition with someone else.” Note that I didn’t say, “I’m sorry.” There’s nothing to apologize for. You worked to be prepared and deserve to audition with someone who did the same. I also didn’t ask permission. Be gracious and even-tempered about it, and don’t go out of your way to insult the other actor, but do insist. And if the other actor’s feelings are hurt, so be it; it’s a very valuable lesson. The casting director probably already sees what’s happening and may understand your stance. If not, remain graciously firm about what you need. It’s nervy, I know, but it will say a lot about the kind of actor you are. We need to think enough of our own work not to allow it to be negated by an unprepared or unprofessional partner.

However, this advice comes with a crucial caveat, and I warn you, do not miss this part of my message: You don’t get to play casting director and evaluate another actor’s talent, choices, or suitability. You can’t demand another partner because you dislike someone’s interpretation or don’t think the chemistry is right. You can only do what I’ve suggested when your fellow auditioner is clearly and undeniably incapable of executing the basic audition requirements, to the extent that everyone in the room can see it. Otherwise, you’re the one who’s being unprofessional. 

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