“The First Fatal Audition Mistake”

Never, Never, Never?

 For some reason, the Mother of All Audition Mistakes named all of her children “Never.”  Granted, they have different middle names, but “Never” is most often heard in Mother’s house of mistakes.  Before we meet her ten children, let’s talk about the word “Never.”  Does “Never” mean “Never?” No, surprisingly, it does not.  I don’t suspect that anything could or should “never” happen, never not happen, or never change.  The world could end tomorrow, for instance, and that would pretty much cancel out quite a few current “never” rules for … well, quite awhile.  So, in this book, what does “Never” mean?  It means you shouldn’t do it and expect a good result.  It doesn’t mean you can’t do it and get a good result but the chances of good things happening are way down on the probability scale.  The chances of something working out well if you do something you should “never” do are so low it catapults the choice into the “extremely high risk” category.  The goal of Audition by Subtraction is to help actors remove actions that are extremely high risks.

People have lived from jumping out of airplanes without a parachute – something everyone should never do.   When you think about it though, it’s not much different from sky diving, right?  If you can eliminate the screaming all the way down and the final few feet of the fall, it’s pretty close.  It’s also an extremely high risk and likely fatal.  Most of the “fatal mistakes” listed in this book don’t really approach the airplane example for risk but “risk” is a sliding scale – a scale you want to stay fairly low on in an audition.  In callbacks and the rehearsal hall you can push the envelope as much as you and the Director desire – but you have to get called back first.  If you are DOA in the audition hall, that won’t happen.

The Ten Children of the Mother of All Fatal Audition Mistakes

If you followed the advice in Part 1 and have visualized a perfect audition day and it didn’t work out that way, then there are only two things which could have happened: either you didn’t visualize correctly or you didn’t do what you were supposed to do.  It’s pretty simple, isn’t it?  If only that were true; it isn’t simple at all; if it was, every actor reading this would always get cast.  The truth is, some actors come home after a perfect audition never knowing they took a fatal bullet.  They’re not delusional (probably), they’re unaware – ignorant of how they ruined their audition (or how they never had a chance).  So, they’re happy!  They know, or will know soon, that they didn’t get called back, but they “had a great audition.”  They know it’s only a numbers game and soon they’ll be called back and soon they’ll get cast and soon…  Well, maybe some of that will happen but it will never happen if they keep making the same fatal audition mistake – and they probably will make that mistake if they don’t know what it is.

Assuming they haven’t made the Mother of all Fatal Audition Mistakes (“Never Piss Anyone Off”), they’ve probably been playing with one of her Fatal Children.

Fatal Child One – Never Be Late

How many minutes before your audition time should you arrive?  I don’t have a clue.  I know actors who have shown up an hour before their audition time and they were late.  I believe there are actors who could show up days before their time and they would be late.  What is late?  As a Casting Director, I don’t care when you get to the theatre but I can tell if you are late because you tell me in the first ten seconds of your audition.  The actions of a Late Actor are obvious to Directors and generally fatal.

First of all, you could be Late In Time.  You could simply not get to the audition hall or stage at the time you were supposed to.  You could be “ten minutes late” or ten seconds late.  In this case, “Late is Late.”  I’ve known actors – and I might have done this myself (the past is an ever-growing fog for me) – who had the wrong day written down for the audition and arrived more than a day late; clearly, that’s fatal.

Even being “just a little late” is generally fatal as well.  If you arrive late for check-in at the audition table, you probably cause trouble for the Monitor.  You have to move up to the front of the line skipping ahead the actors who are on time or early for check-in – this counts as pissing off people (actors are people). “Who is she to jump to the front of the line?  I worked my butt of to get here on time and I’ve been standing in this line for half an hour.”  Now, the Monitor will have to deal with the pissed off actors, “Why did she get special treatment?”  When you actually get to speak to the Monitor, you will naturally be in a hurry because you’re “a little late.”  You need to know “right away” where the bathroom is and where you can warm up and where you can put your coat and bag so no one will steal it.  All those questions and a dozen more would probably have been answered if you had arrived early and stood in line for a half an hour and watched how everything was organized and proceeding.  You’re just a little late but you’ve got the Monitor “just a lot” pissed off at you, so he “cops an attitude” and talks to you like you were “some kind of child.”  Now you’re just a little late and pissed off as well.  This is not a story that ends well without divine intervention, which never happens.

You could also be Late In Your Head.  Usually, if you are Late in Time, you will be Late In Your Head – and rightfully so because you are indeed…late.  But you could also have gotten to the audition hall “later than you wanted to be.”  You are actually early – you could be hours early – but you are behind your schedule.  You need time to relax, go over lines, warm up your voice and body, put on your makeup, change clothes, make a phone call, staple your resume to your headshot (“Does anyone have a stapler??”) – but you are later than you wanted to be so you “have to hurry.”  Whether you have the time to do all the things you need to do or not, you think you don’t so you’re late in your head.

Regardless of what time it is or what day of the week, if you “have to hurry,” you’re late. When you have to hurry, bad things happen.  Buttons pop off blouses; coffee spills; you can’t find things you know you have; there’s a (way-too-long) line at the bathroom; your clothes don’t fit anymore; and you stop smiling.  Eventually, even when you are standing off stage waiting for your name to be called in plenty of time, you are still late in your head and trying to catch up.  This story doesn’t end well either.

Nothing beats being Late In Time and Late In Your Head quite as soundly as being Late Preparing.  If you arrive early and on schedule – in plenty of time to do your normal routine without pissing anyone off – but don’t know your lines or music, you are late in preparing for this audition.  If you are on time and know your lines but you haven’t practiced taking the hairbrush out of your purse enough for your scene, you are late.  If you don’t know where you are going to focus during your audition, you are late.  If you forgot your headshot or prop or costume piece, you are late.  Any time you are unprepared, you are late.  If you are unprepared, you know it and it makes you Late In Your Head.  If you arrive almost early enough to go back home and get your headshot, you’ll run a good chance of being late in time, your head and obviously in preparing.  You won’t be able to lie to yourself about being unprepared – you know very well you are under-rehearsed – and no amount of smiling will learn your lines for you.  Your only hope is to smile your way through the audition and “pretend,” which remarkably enough, isn’t really acting.  But it is a fatal mistake.

How do we know you are late?  Generally, and fatally, you tell us.  Sometimes you blurt out something in your introduction about being “a little late.”  Other times you explain it fully – so we can understand and appreciate the fact that in some way you are late.  And if you don’t tell us outright (for which you get a gold star), you tell us by what you do.  Often, you are out of breath and have no control over normal speech patterns or speed – you seem possessed by the Breath Monster.  We can almost hear your heart beating two hundred times a minute.  You have been and still are perspiring.  Your hair or clothing is out of place – and you know it so you try to make it better.  But you can’t.  And we see you try to make it better and we see you realize you can’t and we start to pick up on your breathing.  We see you unable to take the hairbrush out without fumbling; we watch you grope for lines; we see your eyes darting around the stage and audience like a fatally wounded…actor.  Even if you didn’t tell us we could see it when you walked on stage.  From your voice and manner and poor preparation we knew you were Late.  As Casting Directors, we don’t have hearts of course, so they can’t beat as fast as yours as we slowly turn your headshot over and put it on the “Not This Time” pile.

(Next: “Fatal Audition Child Two”)