-The Third Fatal Audition Mistake-

In previous posts there have certainly been some aspects of auditioning which were out of the actor’s control:  weather, sickness, traffic jams and family emergencies.  However, Mothers Two Fatal Children we’ve met so far are certainly under an actor’s control: Never Be Late (be prepared and on time) and Never Make Excuses (shut up).  You’ll meet Fatal Child Three below but first, let’s take a look at some other audition situations and conditions, over which you have no control.

What You Cannot Control

Producers and Casting Directors make dozens of decisions about an actor in the first ten to thirty seconds; many have nothing to do with the monologue and the actor has no control over them.  It’s like a big “selector machine” with you being put in at the top and bounced from one “Yes or No” decision to another until finally you hit a “No” and you’re kicked out.  In other words, you could have been told in the lobby if you had any shot at getting a callback.  (“I could have told you they wanted a gymnast if you’d asked,” says a helpful nobody after the audition.)   Some of these decisions may seem obvious and silly – they aren’t because this is what Directors think they want right now and you will be in or you are out – no middle ground.  No one cares at the moment about your killer laugh line at the end of your monologue – if you get through these seven questions first, THEN that laugh might be important.  Some of the decisions/discoveries the Directors make about the actor auditioning – which can kill the audition in the first ten seconds include (in no particular order):

All the qualifications below, regarding how you appear or present at the audition, are in the mind of the director.

  1. Male or female (whatever you are is wrong)
  2. Age range (you appear to be too old or young)
  3. Body type (you are too big or small or weak or strong)
  4. Vocal quality/range (you don’t have/show what they need)
  5. Can you move/walk normally for the role (what’s normal???)
  6. What role(s) might you fill, if any (none, or they are already cast)
  7. Level of experience (lack of languages, special skills, certain training techniques)

If you hit a “No,” you will not be cast and you have no recourse.  There is no “appeal” process.  They didn’t understand you can be the person they need.  These were things you couldn’t control that day and it wasn’t fair. Go home. Your headshot is in the “Not This Time” pile.  It wasn’t ever going to be your day.

In auditions, as soon as the actor came on stage I would turn the headshot over to look at the resume and I would make two notes almost immediately: Body Type and list Possible Roles.    While the actor introduces him/herself, I would be looking at the resume for Special Skills, What Companies s/he worked at and then What Roles at those companies.  Within the first ten seconds of the monologue I would fill in the Vocal Quality and start to cross off or circle roles on the “possible” list.  Lastly, I would give the actor an Acting Score from one to ten.  The truth of the matter was, if this score wasn’t eight or above, there wasn’t much hope unless it was for a chorus role or walk-on, in which case the other two scores had to be close to perfect. If I needed a Santa Clause who wasn’t a major character and a perfect-looking Santa came in with a six or seven acting score, they would probably be called back.

Returning to the first ten seconds, it can be seen from the information above that some factors are totally out of the actor’s control – for that day.  It could be the Director already knew who the Mother and Father character actors were going to be and felt the Daughter must have a certain look to be in that stage family.  If that is what the Director is looking for and it is available in another equally-talented actor – you will not be cast regardless of how well you audition.  If that other actor leaves the cast, you might have a shot – if they remember you.

What else can’t the actor control?  The budget for the show in time and money.  You might be the best and most experienced Anne Frank candidate, but if Anne has to be non-union (or local) and you are a union actor (or from out of town and require local housing), you won’t be cast because they don’t have the money.  They will find another Anne.  If you are an okay tap dancer and they need you to be a good (not great) tap dancer, you may not be cast because they don’t have the time to spend rehearsing you to bring you up to the standard they need.  They will find another tap dancer.

Three more hurdles?  Sure – here you go (and these really hurt):  the role could be pre-cast and you don’t know it.  Or, the Director may have his/her own favorite but has to go through the motions of auditions, fully expecting to cast the favorite (sure, you could win this one). All in all, assuming she won’t ruin the show (and sometimes even then), the Producer’s niece will be cast by the Director if the Director wants to work again. And one more?  The Director may not like you personally or professionally.

All that being said, if a miracle happens (and it won’t) and they find time or money (or the niece gets hit by a bus), yes, you might get cast.  However, they will probably keep the money and/or spend the extra time making the show better with the other actor; with the bus accident, your chances are better.

The Good News

You can’t control what you don’t know and you never know what the Casting Directors are thinking.  Never.  Sometimes you never had a chance, it’s true.  That’s good to know because if you don’t know it, you’ll think you failed again and again, and that’s usually just not the case.  And the other good news is that the Director’s next show might be perfect for you.  The Director may take your headshot with her on the plane to Kansas City and call you a month from now offering you a role based on the audition which “wasn’t successful.”  And it doesn’t have to be the Director who gives you your next role; it could be the stage manager, choreographer or even designer who sees your audition and passes the information on to a different Casting Director.  It could be a visitor in the audition hall, who is directing another show across town and stops in.  Again, you have no control of what the Directors will do with the information you give them in the audition today – it could be very good for you, if not today, then tomorrow.

Fatal Child Three – Never Do Something You Can’t Do

What if the dog didn’t eat the yo-yo (so no “excuse”) and Tom could bring it to his audition?  What if he did bring it and used it but he couldn’t really yo-yo?  What would the Directors do?  Hire him?  “Well, I don’t need anybody in my show that can yo-yo, so that’s not a problem – but I sure can use an actor who is terminally stupid, like Tom.”  Out of the millions of possible audition scenes why would you pick one, which requires a skill you don’t have?  Would you pick a song with notes out of your range?  Of course not – that would be STUPID.   Believe me, many actors do.  And people have an infinite range of things they can’t do!  Some can’t fold a paper airplane; or use a paddle-ball; or whistle.  This child is easy to spot when you are rehearsing your audition piece, so pay attention:  the first hint is if you can’t do something.

“Yeah,” you say, “but what if you have to do something in a show and you want to show you can do it?”  Well now, that’s a horse of a different color but I need a little more information.  For the show you have to be able to sing a high B-flat and you can’t; what are you going to “show?”  This fatal mistake is all about what you can’t do in today’s audition.  Sing a different song.   If you sing ‘Maria’ and blood comes drooling out of your mouth as you strain to hit the money note (and don’t), are they going to cast you as Tony?  Not me.  Are they going to cast you at all?  Well, that’s a tough one; maybe.  But I would have a huge question mark about why anyone would choose that song if they couldn’t sing it.  Could it be they weren’t prepared with another song?

On a similar note, remember the back flip that was required for the show?  No excuses – when they asked, you told the Directors you could do it but had an injury – you’d be fine before rehearsals.  What if you didn’t tell the Director you were injured?  What if you tried to do it while you were injured?  What if you had a really horrible accident trying to do a back flip when you were injured and knew you couldn’t do it?  Would you get cast?  Well, you’d probably be in a cast – that’s my bet.  But even more likely, and equally dangerous, is what if you never could do a back flip and in the heat of the moment you gave it a whirl.  How do you think that’s going to go for you?  Why would it be any different than launching into an Irish dialect, just because you thought you might as well give it a whirl…or jumping out of an airplane without a parachute.  We’re not speaking about the Director asking you to try a dialect – this is about you deciding to do one without training, unasked.  That’s not being unprepared or creative; it’s being stupid and possibly dangerous.

When people ask me what I look for in an actor when I’m casting, I say I want to hire the absolutely smartest people who have the skills and are right for the roles.  Smart actors make the rehearsal process much easier because they understand things faster.  I can refer to mythology or characters in other plays as a way of drawing a parallel with what their character might be thinking, and they understand what I’m talking about.  I don’t have to come up with two or three analogies before the point gets through.  Smart actors don’t do things they can’t do in auditions.  It’s a fatal mistake.

What do they want from me??

Directors want you to be the perfect solution to just one of their casting problems.  As cut-throat as these entries paint them to be, Directors look at each new face walking onto the stage and hope with all their being you will be terrific.  They will cut corners and slide over bumps in your audition road if they can somehow envision you holding down one of the roles on their chart.  They look at you and say, “Okay, Joan could be that tall,” and so on.  They will force a mental picture of you in their cast if it is at all possible.  It isn’t so much that you have to be perfect; you just can’t fail.  You can’t suck.  They’ll give you every chance possible as long as you don’t commit suicide.  Once they put your headshot on the wrong pile however, it will take a Herculean effort in the rest of your audition to make them pick it up again.  They are already picking up the headshot for the next actor.

You’ll Never Know

It’s been said and will be repeated that you should never to assume you know what the Director is looking for no matter what anyone tells you – including the Director.  Why shouldn’t you trust the Director?  Because theatre is a collaborative art: actors and Directors work together and inspire each other.  Directors give actors ideas and actors do the same for Directors.  Actors can bring a new interpretation of a scene or a character to the Director and (wait for it…) change the Director’s mind.  Believe it.  I have known actors, whom I would never cast in particular roles and yet they were cast in those roles – by me.  Directors have a picture in their heads of the characters they are casting – sometimes a very clear, exact picture – which can get thrown away in the first ten seconds of an actor’s excellent audition.  It happens every day.  Many actors have come up to me after auditions and asked why I told them they were too old for the role and then cast a person older than them.  After awhile, I wised up and stopped telling actors how tall or old or skinny (especially “skinny”…) an actor should be to be called back.

But You Can Assume

Clearly, Directors do know some things about the casting that will probably not change for a particular role.  Some of those can include the actor’s gender, approximate age, race and general body type.  Even those things could, conceivably change.  However, Anne Frank’s father, Otto, is probably going to be played by a white, male actor who is older than the actress playing Anne.  In that the Frank family has been hiding in an attic and nearly starving for two years, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume the actor playing Mr. Frank might not weigh three hundred pounds.  Beyond those, I don’t know what other assumptions I would make about the actor I would cast as Otto Frank.  And even those assumptions wouldn’t hold up in hundreds of color/gender-blind companies.

You can assume, in an ideal world, Directors want actors who are pleasant, well-trained and smart.  They want actors who are skilled in the use of their voices and their bodies.  They want actors who are daring – willing to take chances, to try new things and to listen to other suggestions.  They want actors who are creative and will bring new ideas to rehearsal.  While it is impossible to quantify, they want actors who are talented. The farther you stray from those ideals, the more difficult it will be to be cast.

There is another trait you can assume Directors look and listen for and it’s best described as magnetism or electricity.  At the Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC) combined auditions, actors are brought into the hotel ballroom in groups of twenty-five. [some of these arrangements may have changed over years.]  Auditionees sit in twenty-five chairs along one wall of the room until it is their turn to get on the three-foot high platform stage and audition. When they first enter the room in a line, every Director is checking them out.  “Is there an actor who could play Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for me?”  When it is clear the first eight or so of the actors, by sight alone, probably don’t fit what a Director is looking for, the Director can “zone out” for awhile, read a book, finish some paperwork or go to the restroom (eight actors times two minutes each, plus walking back and forth to the stage is about twenty minutes).  If the Director stays in the hall and becomes engrossed in work, there is a drone in the background of the actors going through their audition pieces, which is comfortable and not distracting.  Until, all of a sudden, one voice cuts through the fog and EVERY Director’s head snaps up and all eyes are focused on the stage.  There is a fabulous actor on stage and everyone in the hall knows it.  Call it magnetism because all eyes and hearts are drawn to the actor.  Call it electricity because the energy the actor sends across the footlights electrifies the house.  Two minutes and then it’s over.  If a Director needs an actor that age, height, color, body type, that actor will be called back.  That quality is more than talent and I’m not sure it can be taught but when Directors experience it, they know.  That’s one thing the Director is looking for.

(Next: The Fourth Fatal Child)