-The Second Fatal Audition Mistake-
Mother’s child and fatal audition mistake, Never Be Late has a twin, with whom you really don’t want to play.
Fatal Child Two – Never Make Excuses
This child is bathed in misunderstanding and controversy, to be sure. However, if you are auditioning and you find yourself making excuses, you are pretty much dead. The fatal blow from making excuses almost always comes because this child’s twin is Never Be Late. They aren’t Siamese twins – they don’t have to travel in pairs but you seldom see them apart. You see, if you are making an excuse, then something must not have gone as planned or you weren’t prepared for what happened… And there you have it: unprepared.
As Directors, we didn’t know you were going to use a hairbrush in your scene. So, the fact that you left your purse locked in your car ten blocks away and couldn’t get it before the audition isn’t information we need UNTIL you tell us that not having the hairbrush is going to ruin the funny part of your monologue. That’s an easy mistake and could be confused with telling us you are Late except that you have a reason for telling us about the purse and the hairbrush and the locked car ten blocks away: you want us to “cut you a break” just in case this monologue goes as terribly as we all now know it will. You want us to imagine you doing your monologue with the hairbrush and you want us to picture the audience of Directors gasping with laughter – as if you had the brush and did the scene really, really well. Which you would have, of course, “So let’s call her back!” Is that it? That’s not fair, you say? It’s obvious this child is Late not Excuses – she screwed up! She’s unprepared! Yes, and she’s making excuses to save herself.
What about when you have a good excuse?
Like what? What do you think the Directors want to hear about why what you are about to do is going to suck. “I hope you’ll forgive me; I just had my tonsils out, so I can’t sing or talk the way I normally do.” Well hell, sign him up! He kind of looks like a Tony-type. “Tell me, Bob, can you hit a high B-flat? You don’t have to do it now but in the song ‘Maria’ you’re going to have to do that.” What are we supposed to do for you? Imagine you “talking or singing the way you usually do?” We don’t know you. For all we know you sound better now than you will when you are normal again. “I can do a back flip but I hurt my leg playing basketball.” Do I write down you have a special skill of “Back Flip?” Maybe I will if you have an Olympic medal or something – maybe then. Most Directors want to see and hear what you can do, at your best, today, and will not cut you any slack because you have a cold or a blister or the dog ate your yo-yo. It isn’t fair of us, I know. But think of all the other shows you’ve auditioned for when healthy, did you get those roles? All of them? This is probably going to be one of the ones you don’t get as well.
So what do you do when you have a REALLY GOOD excuse?
What do you do when you wake up with a sore throat and have a vocal range of two notes? Not go to the audition? “Nobody’s going to cast me anyway, so why go?” Well, you could do that and the Director probably would never miss you. You can’t be Late if you don’t show up and you wouldn’t make the second fatal mistake of making an Excuse and no one would have bad thoughts about you. It’s a plan but probably not the best for getting called back. The first consideration is “Are you sick?” If you are sick, you are likely going to piss of a whole lotta people (the Mother of All Audition Mistakes) when you arrive coughing, sneezing and slinging snot everywhere. Performers hate sick people – even cute, little, sick babies. Theatre professionals generally work ridiculous hours, six and a half days a week – they can’t “get sick.” That is unless you show up and make them sick. So, if you’re really sick, stay home.
If, however, you wake up and you have laryngitis, that’s a different story. Visualize your day just as you would have if you could sing up a storm. Do everything the same. When you go on stage to audition, do it just as you normally would. “What!?? Why don’t I just tell them I have laryngitis??” Because, although we are Directors not doctors, we aren’t idiots. As you croak along like Jabba the Hut, we are looking at your resume seeing what you have done and for which theatre companies. When you finish your audition most Directors would say something like, “Bob, I see you recently played Tony in West Side Story, so what’s going on with your voice?” Ahhhh, now you can give an ‘explanation,’ not an excuse. Now you have been given the right to tell your tale, whatever it might be: injury, surgery, sore throat, or the dog ate my yo-yo. In this particular case, you probably never would have had to sing a note; after introducing your song, most Directors would have stopped you and asked.
When you preface what you are about to do poorly with an excuse, you are asking us to forgive what we haven’t seen. If you don’t give an excuse, you are still going to do the scene exactly the same way – bad singing, without a hairbrush, whatever it is – the excuse isn’t going to make the scene/song better. If your Special Skills section on your resume says you can do a back flip but you can’t today because of injury or something, shut up about it unless you are asked. Directors can read. Is your vocal range on your resume? When the Director asks you to explain why something sucked, you are ‘required’ to tell them. If they think this is a special circumstance, they may call you back anyway, depending on the situation. If you won’t be able to do a back flip for six months and a flip is required in two months, they’ll tell you they can’t cast you. Sorry. No harm, no foul.
One of the times that Late and Excuses are tied together is the “Hairbrush” excuse. If you were a professional actor – well trained and prepared – you would have other monologues, which didn’t require the hairbrush. These other monologues would cover a lot of bases, not only missing hairbrushes and yo-yos. What if you did have the hairbrush and did the scene very well and everyone was gasping for breath with laughter and the Casting Director then said, “Sally, do you have anything else for us?” “Was there something in particular you’d like?” you ask. “How about something dramatic – there’s another role you might fit.” Do you have a “Yes, I do,” answer for that? How about something classical? How about “another comic monologue?” How about an Irish dialect? Late doesn’t have any of those ready. Excuses will tell about how she can come back tomorrow with one. If you are prepared you’ll never be tempted to offer an Excuse, which is usually fatal.
Okay, Now It’s Time To Pump The Brakes
Family Emergencies, Blizzards, Tornadoes, Traffic Accidents, Nuclear War
Everyone has things happen, which are totally out of their control and which cause them to be late or not show up at all. It is only sane to cite these events as an Excuse for being Late. If there is or will be eighteen inches of snow, it’s pretty clear the Casting Team will probably be aware of it and you won’t be the only one affected. You won’t need an excuse because the staff will be tearing their hair out to reschedule the entire session of the audition. Similarly, if a circus train has derailed causing all traffic to freeze in place within a ten-mile radius of the theater while they collect the monkeys and tigers, the staff is probably being flooded with calls from stranded actors. You won’t need an excuse and if you start to describe the problem over the phone, someone is likely to hang up on you because the other phone is ringing. Let’s remove the obvious catastrophes from the conversation.
Not so obvious are the very real problems of family emergencies, car trouble and accidents; these are personal catastrophes no less debilitating but certainly “personal” problems. Again, everyone knows they happen and for the sake of this discussion, let’s say one of them has happened to you. In an earlier section it was laid out pretty clearly that actors Late In Time are in serious jeopardy of being…dead. Additionally, offering Excuses has been given the same sentence of death. What do you do?
Every situation is so amazingly different that there isn’t any one answer but some possibilities exist and they should be investigated.
If You Are Going to Be Late
If one of the personal issues above will cause you to arrive Late, it makes sense to call the theatre and try to speak with – or get a message to – the Audition Monitor. You do not want to be a “no show.” Assuming you can talk with the Monitor, you can explain your situation and offer your best guess at what time you can arrive – possibly there’s another day of auditions and you both can adjust your appointment. That is probably the best scenario available to you. The problem with it is two-fold. First, the Monitor is almost always nowhere near a theatre phone so the message has to be delivered – sometimes only part of the message gets through and sometimes it gets through much too late to help you (it could be pinned on a callboard somewhere or in a mailbox). Second, you probably have no idea when you can guarantee you will be able to arrive.
If you cannot get through by phone – maybe your cell has died – you may be able to arrive Late and try to work out a solution. Depending on how late you arrive, the Monitor’s options for fitting you in may be limited; the lobby could be a madhouse and auditions could be running very late. Unfortunately, there may be nothing anyone can do THAT DAY. When arriving late, actors should be prepared for the absolute worst – maybe even expect the worst – it can only get better from there. If the worst happens (no slots today or any day) the actor must thank the Monitor as much as possible. No crying, yelling or stomping off in a rage will do you any good. Thanking the Monitor and sending a note to the Director is your only hope for getting seen unless you know someone in the company, who can and will help you. How you behave with the Monitor could be key: the Monitor, as has been written above, could be the Director’s spouse. The Monitor could put in a good word for you. If you don’t behave with the Monitor, there is a good chance the note you send to the Director will be useless.
If the Monitor can get you in on that day or the next, it requires the same deep gratitude for the Monitor. Rescheduled actors, however, run the very high probability of being Late In The Head. These actors have to do their best to embrace the new appointment as a gift and a joy, forgetting about EVERYTHING that happened up to the point where Divine Intervention breathed life into your recently dead audition. Be thankful and happy and get to work preparing for your audition.
If you manage to get a new appointment, there is more good news. The Casting Team in the audition hall knows nothing of your soap opera today. When you walk out on stage they want you to be perfect – the solution to at least one of their casting situations. You could, of course, take a little time and tell them the whole story, blow by blow, but you know better than to do that by now.
“This Blog Is Stupid – You Don’t Know What You’re Talking About”
“My experience is just the opposite from the situations you describe. Other Directors say there’s nothing wrong with explaining that you are sick or injured if affects your audition. It’s not that brutal.”
Oh my. These things happen. People disagree all the time. Evaluating performance techniques and talent is not immune to conflicting opinions and I would be astounded if it wasn’t the case with this blog and my admonitions. Going back to the “every rule has an exception” axiom (which seems to be at work here), I would counter-offer that “every exception has a rule it is breaking.” Regardless of what Fatal Mistake or Near Fatal Mistake you choose to challenge and/or break for some reason, if you know you are right and you have good reasons for what you are doing, who can argue with you? If I was an actor in your audition situation, I may well agree with you – I probably would – “You’re right!” The problem is we would both be actors who are right and Casting Directors don’t think like actors.
This blog is written from the point of view of Casting Directors. It’s written from the “backstage” view of auditions: the view of the Stage Managers and Audition Monitors – not the actors. The premise of the book is that actors usually don’t know how Casting Directors think and that if they did, they would probably have better audition experiences. Being right about being sick or injured or late doesn’t matter if the Director doesn’t care. Theatre is a benevolent dictatorship at best, not a democracy. Actors are given roles by Directors based on no definable system related to equality. One person was cast and sixty-four were not. Why? “I had a feeling this was the best person for the role,” says the Director. Next question?
Who is going to challenge the Director after the cast list is posted? No one will lose their new role because it has suddenly been brought to light that some other actor was more talented and would have had a better audition except for the fact that they were sick and couldn’t sing. So, if that’s the reality (and it is), wouldn’t it be a better idea to get into the head of the Casting Director Who Will Make The Decision and out of the head of the Actor Who Is Right? It is a fact that if an actor comes onstage and begins even a short description of why they are not “up to par today,” Casting Directors will agree that the actor is not up to par today. That’s not a good place to start an audition. Can you win them back? Sure you can! Maybe you can. I don’t know if you can. Why risk it?
It bears repeating that Casting Directors desperately want you to be a solution – any solution – to some small part of their casting challenge. It is not as if they are looking for you to fail – they want you to be fabulous! After all, if you are exactly who they are looking for, they don’t have to look for anyone else! That is gold. But if you fail in some way while others haven’t, the solution you have become is that you are now one more actor they don’t have to think about anymore. Sad as it is, in a long day at the audition table, the only thing Directors want to do is separate the headshots into two piles. “Call Back” and “Not This Time.” If actors make the choice easy, no Director will lose any sleep. Yes, it is that brutal.
(Next: Fatal Audition Child Three.)