by Paul Russell
How Actors Must Read Casting’s & Auditioning Actors’ Reactions
Overheard in a cramped and cobwebbed audition corridor:
“The casting director is a dick.”
“The pianist sucks.”
“My English lit teacher was a better reader.”
“I think the director’s doing bath salts.”
“They hate actors.”
“You really don’t want to go in there.”
Actors at auditions spewing audition studio scuttlebutt to other actors: The most insidious and uninformed observation one actor can share with their peers. Even if the actor bounded out of the audition studio on a Disney-esque high with, “They loved me! They asked me to read twice and share my recipe for vegan crab dip.”
Planted—long before The Globe’s foundation was dug—was the actor gossip vine. It still thrives and snarls its sinews around audition sites destroying fellow actors’ auditions with actors relaying their impression of auditor behavior. Often the poorly-plucked fruit is seeded with false information, an assumptive impression or a prejudiced opinion. Unless the actor is amazingly telepathic, their insights on the auditors’ reactions should be regarded with as much credibility as anonymous berating bears on RateMyProfessors.com.
A more popular eye-rolling actor observation on auditors: “They didn’t smile.”
Auditors are often intensely focused on analyzing an actor’s skill and appropriateness to the casting. They’re not a wedding party receiving line. Often (and sadly) at auditions you’ll be before more Gordon Ramsays than Paula Abduls. Yes, it would be grand if all auditors glowed with heavily medicated grins but the creases incurred from constant smiling are deeper than is our cash stash for collagen and Botox repair. Don’t focus on us. Focus on you. You’ll live happier.
“They laughed, so they must have loved me.”
The auditors may have loved you. But they also may have loved that you presented an inspired, fresh perspective to the audition material. The laughter you garnered was genuine appreciation for the much needed levity during a hemorrhoid endurance test that is sitting motionless during an 8-hour casting session. As to whether or not you’re appropriate for the casting depends on many factors beyond several guffaws. Pocket the laughs and move on to the next audition.
“The director barely spoke.”
Possibly, the director is not a party animal. Maybe, the director was in deep contemplation of your sterling talents. Perhaps, his/her sullenness is mired in having just received word from the vet that time has come to put down the beloved pet Fluffernutter. Or simply, the onion rings from lunch left the director with dragon’s breath and he/she doesn’t want to scorch your sensitivity. Don’t focus on the director’s reaction. Focus on your actions.
“The reader was a corpse.”
“The pianist was cold.”
The pianist hasn’t been hired as a nightclub act. Good readers are a hard find.
Unlike my auditions (where I must trust the reader more than I do the actors coming into the room) most readers work for free and are pulled from an available actor pool of who’s breathing.
With pianists, the good ones are few and very expensive. (I strive to find the best…and it’s costly.)
But good or bad, both the reader and the pianist are mentally and physically taxed during a grueling assembly line of actors for eight hours; sometimes longer. Auditors and their staff are not allotted much, if any, rest while seeing hundreds of actors in a single session. Working an audition is a mental and physical calisthenic that runs continuously for hours.
Am I excusing poor auditor behavior? (Those who recall my scathing and very public response to Twittergate, know better.) The affable audition-room manner many of my clients present to actors should spread like a happy virus. Unfortunately, that congenial contagion hasn’t carried to some casting colleagues.
If the auditor’s manners are truly foul that’s their life’s problem, not your immediate worry. I’ve heard tragic tales from actors telling of allegedly rude auditors. But without my having been an eyewitness to the interaction I cannot comment nor place an opinion on the allegations. I’m receiving a stranger’s reaction to an event that didn’t go as they had hoped. And I leave the telling as their personal observation—not an edict etched in stone. As well should you when you encounter an actor bitching or praising the auditors they just met as you’re about to exchange an entrance for your peer’s exit.
When I was an actor I rarely spoke or listened to my audition hallway neighbors. I didn’t want my work compromised by the insecurities of others—I have enough of my own doubts, thank you very much. I don’t lug other people’s baggage. And neither should you.
When at an audition, focus on you. Avoid the actor gossip grapevine and don’t harvest sour pickings yourself. Actors who share auditor behavior (good or poor) have a reason for doing so. Ask yourself, “Why?” Are their disparaging barbs (or gushing gloats) about the director to embolden your endeavor or to weaken your resolve to profiting a job opportunity? No one person passes an opinion without having an agenda.
The enemy is not the auditor. We want you to succeed (our job is then made easier). The enemy is often a competing peer seeding doubt in your garden of anxieties. Or the enemy is your doubts manifesting assumed truths via your reaction to casting’s reactions to you. Don’t let those weeds strangle your blooms. Move on to the next audition with a freed sense of purpose.
Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher, and former actor has spanned thirty years. He’s worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul’s taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU, and speaks at universities including Elon, Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.