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CENTER STAGE - Professionalism Every Step of the Way


Being talented, making the right contacts, being in the right place at the right time, having persistence and self-confidence--these are all key ingredients to a successful career in the performing arts industry.

Another key ingredient to success is conducting yourself in a professional manner with regard to everything that you do--from making contacts, to going on interviews, auditions, and callbacks, to performing on stage or in front of the camera.

I can easily encounter professional behavior from my perspective as Back Stage editor. Those who bring or send their casting notices in on time, making sure the items have all the right and necessary information in an orderly way, are presenting themselves professionally. So, too, are those that send me press releases and/or review requests that are readable, with all the pertinent data up front, and sent in a timely fashion. Telephone requests for review coverage can also be done in a professional way--not too often (once a week is fine), and keeping the conversation brief. I also expect that professional courtesy be extended to my--or any--reviewers when they arrive at the theatre. (Press kits and a reserved seat will do.)

Unfortunately, professionalism can often be overlooked, not only from my perspective, but others' as well. I recently received a letter from someone who works as an office assistant at what was described in the note as a highly respected acting school in the city--whose program is through invitation only--and which has a large waiting list of potential students. It is this person's job to contact them to set up interviews in order to fill slots that may have opened up during the year. This person is not an actor and expressed amazement at the "lack of serious attitude and professional conduct" that's encountered when contacting these individuals. "I have left messages for people who never return the call, and I've spoken to actors who want to consult their schedules, yet never get back to me. I've even scheduled interviews at which actors do not appear " The letter-writer wonders how these people "who cannot behave seriously in regards to the all-important area of their training" can believe that they will "prepare for an audition 'when they really want the part' or put the effort into a role 'when it's a professional job.' "

This issue of professionalism has been raised by casting directors and agents that have participated in several of the panels that I've produced and/or moderated in the past, and it was a major point of the panel discussions that were held as part of Back Stage's Actorfest last fall.

Being professional from a casting director's or agent's perspective means being prepared, arriving on time, and having the right attitude--being ready and able to take direction.

On being prepared: Agent Steven Unger of The Gage Group mentioned how someone had recently come to his office with a musical audition piece and then apologized for his performance, admitting that it was the first time he had ever sung it. Unger noted, "We all went, 'Why are you coming in to show us how talented you are with something that you're not comfortable or familiar with?' Big mistake!" The afternoon panel's moderator, casting director Tara Rubin of Johnson-Liff Casting wisely pointed out, "How can Steve trust that if he persuades a casting director or director to see you--and you know there's an enormous preparation that might be required for your audition--that you'll do what's required, if you didn't do it for him?"

Casting director and morning panel moderator Stuart Howard stated, "Saying 'be prepared' sounds so easy, it can just fly right over your head. It's the first thing that I tell anybody. You have no idea how many actors are unprepared for an audition and had the chance to be prepared--not reading published scripts, choosing to do it cold instead." He later cited examples of musical auditions where performers--at noon or one in the afternoon--will apologize, saying that it's too early to sing. And the casting director's response? "So, then, get up at 5 am and vocalize!"

On being late: Performer B. D. Wong stated that, though it seems like a small thing, "It's really incredibly important not to be late. Learn how not to be late. I'm a very late-oriented kind of person. It's really easy for me to be late. And what I've learned over the years is that there's a low tolerance for that behavior--particularly in a Broadway show. When you're talking about money and all that stuff, it's just a good thing to try to fix if you have a problem with that."

Casting director Geoffrey Johnson of Johnson-Liff Casting noted the high number of actors who show up late at auditions, and director Scott Ellis stressed how frustrating it is for him if actors don't show up when scheduled. Not only does it waste his time, but he could have seen someone else during the same time slot.

Performers who don't act professionally in situations run the risks of getting bad reputations for themselves. Tara Rubin mentioned the fact that it's the stage managers, dance captains, and musical directors who sit in at auditions with the casting directors. "And I can't tell you how often reputation comes up eight performances a week in a theatre and they're the people who really speak up about the experiences that they've had on previous shows. So how you conduct yourself--or your level of professionalism--when you take a job is extremely important a bad reputation, no matter how talented you are, is very difficult to erase."

Steven Unger related how a reputation affects his agency's decision on whether to take on a new client or not. He noted that producers and casting directors are consulted before a decision is made.

Director-choreographer Rob Marshall said that he'll even consult with the pianist at the audition regarding a particular performer's reputation.

Tara stated, "With a huge number of people who are capable of doing the job, why would Scott or Rob choose the people with problematic personalities when there's a long list of other personalities that are going to be more cooperative and more professional in the circumstances?" And Steven Unger stressed that, as an agent, why would he send someone who's problematical to a casting director or director? "It only hurts our reputation with a casting director and in the community."

On attitude: Performers need to be flexible enough at an audition to be able to take direction.

Performer Debra Monk emphasized how important it is at an audition to be able to make a strong choice. "But when the director asks you to do something totally different, you have to let it go because these are the people that are hiring you. They know more about the play than you do you just have to let go and go with the flow and have fun with it. It's important to get the job, but if you don't, it's just as important knowing that you took a step forward, were prepared, did what the director told you to do, and know that perhaps the next time you'll get it."

Musical director-conductor Michael Rafter also spoke about the importance of reading a scene in a different way if that's what the director wants, or singing in a different key. "I've asked that for a specific reason. I'll give you some leeway, but give us some credit as well. I just may want to hear a different sound in your voice, or have you try something a little differently."

Stuart Howard related a story about an opera singer who was trying out for a character role when the conductor asked her to sing the lead role instead. Although she wasn't physically right for that role, her ability to sight-read the role and impress the conductor won her the character role as well as other roles in other operas he was conducting.

William Morris agent David Kalodner quickly pointed out, "That's being the kind of person people want to work with again and again "


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