I recently had a 10-year-old child come to my studio to prepare for an upcoming audition. The scene takes place in the late 1800s, and she’s meant to jump on the back of a dead man and scalp him. She then opened her “acting bag”—a lovely wheelie backpack with flowers and ponies embroidered on it—and pulled out a 12-inch knife! Oh, it had a cover over the blade, so lucky me. She and her mother had practiced the scene using said knife, so she thought she should use the prop. But I said no, and that we could always mime that action. Bringing a knife into an audition room is always a bad idea.
In my auditions, we usually have a “no props” request. We feel you don’t need props to prop you up. That said, a cellphone is fine if it is an absolutely necessary part of the scene. Sometimes, a little bit of business with a prop is crucial to the timing of how the scene is written, but unless the action is the whole point of the scene, you don’t need to do it. For instance, don’t grip the pretend steering wheel and pretend to drive and shift the car’s gears. No need to pretend to smoke, either, unless the scene is actually about you smoking.
I asked my colleagues what they think about actors using props in their auditions and got a surprising divide of those for it and those against. The one consistent request was “No weapons. Ever.”And everyone thinks that you’ve got to be a skilled enough actor to not make the whole audition about the prop. Here are some of their mixed-bag responses:
• “If I want an actor to have a prop, we will provide it.” This one is true. I was casting a film about kids at a magic camp, and we provided a deck of playing cards and told them to be prepared to use them.
• “A cell phone, pen, and a rolled-up script used as a gun or knife is fine.”
• “I’m sure we all have nightmare stories about props. One of mine involved a gun. Not funny. Another was an actor throwing real $100 bills across the desk while chewing Aspirin that made him choke. That one was pretty funny.”
• “No food! I once had someone eat a bologna sandwich in the studio in the middle of a 12-hour casting day. I put the story in my book!”
• “The worst was in the casting of ‘Holy New York.’ [For] the famous dart scene in a bar, an actor brought in a dart [and] threw it right at the director’s head. The director ducked, but needless to say, the audition [came] to an abrupt end.”
• “It’s the actor’s audition. Not mine to say whether or not they should use a prop. If they want to bring a prop, fine by me! [It’s] up to the actor how they deal with it.”
• “I have no problem with props. The only way the scene becomes about the prop is if the actor lets it, and that tells me a lot about the actor! A pair of glasses can take over a scene if the actor isn’t skilled.”
• “My rule of thumb is [you can use] anything you carry with you on a normal day: cellphone, water bottle, coats, scarves, purse; once you’ve had to think about it and put it in your bag, it can be distracting. I love behavior, and using things can help with that, but if I need something more specific than what you normally carry around with you, I will provide it.”
• “I had a role of someone delivering a puppy. An actor brought a very large live dog and did the scene handing the dog to the reader. It was kind of crazy. No animals! (However, one person brought a toy stuffed puppy to deliver to the reader, and I thought that was cute.)”
This story originally appeared in the May 9 issue of Backstage Magazine. Subscribe here!
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