“How To Avoid Audition Suicide”
-The Fifth and Sixth Fatal Audition Mistakes-
In this post, we’re going to meet two more of Mother’s Fatal Audition Mistake Children, but first, we’ll take a look at three more “Near-Death” errors that have a pretty good chance of being fatal bullets.
Three Near-Death (You Hope) Audition Errors
Setting Up a Scene
If you are planning on swaying back and forth, stumbling now and then, holding one hand on your stomach and the other pressed against your lips, while you blurt out your lines before (fake) vomiting on stage, it would be good to let the Directors know your scene takes place on a small fishing boat. It is information the Directors need BEFORE you begin your audition. That being said, there are very few auditions, where the “scene” needs to be set. When you begin your monologue, the Directors don’t care if the scene takes place in the kitchen, dining room, or front porch of the house. They don’t care if it takes place in Milwaukee or Peoria. They probably don’t care what year it is or the weather or who you are talking to. The Directors trust you to convey the necessary information through acting. Who would have expected that? Setting up the scene is generally unnecessary and wastes time – not good. It won’t kill you, but when you realize that forty-five people have auditioned before you in the last two hours and you are the only one to introduce your scene, you’ll understand how jarring it is for the Directors and how inexperienced it makes you appear.
One other “set-up” situation should be mentioned: setting up props or furniture. It is okay to set up a chair where you need it if you are planning to sit and then rise. The Directors understand that you want to be able to move from upstage to downstage, for instance. You can even set up two chairs as long as you are going to use both of them in some way (other than talking to an empty chair). An actor, who quickly and efficiently sets up the stage is not wasting time and shouldn’t feel they must begin their introduction while they set up. They can talk while setting up, but they don’t have to as long as they move quickly. Not being efficient or taking a long time setting up a prop or furniture is tedious for the Directors. Nothing defines wasting time quite as well as watching someone put something together on stage – we call it “getting ready to get ready to start.” Not fatal but not good. Can it become fatal? Very easily.
Describing the Story or Character
There are millions of plays the Directors do not know. Maybe they know the title and/or the author but that’s it. If your selection is from one of these plays, the Directors expect that you do know the play and the character involved in your scene; to them, that’s a given. You, on the other hand may have a strong suspicion that they know nothing – maybe the play was written by your sister in college and never produced. Much the same as the “small fishing boat” description above, if there is information critical to the understanding of your monologue then, by definition, it is critical you inform the Directors. Beyond that, forget it.
Describing the story of the play however, goes way over the line of unnecessary information in an introduction. When you begin to describe the story of the play (fill in the story of any play here: “The king had three daughters…” and there could well be an audible groan in the audience coupled with the sound of a headshot being ripped in half. No one cares about the story – give the Directors the monologue just like the forty-five actors before you did – don’t waste time.
Similarly, describing your character is so unnecessary that it could become laughable – not good. “My character, Marty, is a big man and he has been a butcher in a little market in New York for fifteen years…” If you can’t show us your character, do you really believe we are going to give you points for describing what you can’t show? And if your character is someone you are not, why did you choose this scene? “My character is a very old woman, who is very overweight.” If describing the scene or character becomes the least bit lengthy, you are dead. It is a mortal mistake you will not survive. You have the slimmest of chances for survival if you gloss over the description so quickly that some of the Directors may not even hear what you say (that would be best because if they knew…). If you are going to say it so fast no one can hear/understand it, you might survive with an excellent monologue but you should seriously consider changing vocations; your days are numbered.
Not Knowing the Play, Playwright(s) or Theatre Company
I have a friend named Curt, who was the Artistic Director of a nationally known Shakespeare Festival. He was rightfully proud of his company’s fine work and reputation and he still is a pretty big fan of Shakespeare, as you can imagine. When actors came to his hotel room for callbacks, he would ask them not to read and, in fact, he’d ask them to leave the callback without auditioning if they didn’t know the name of his company. He said actors would come into the room – all in a bustle – and laugh and introduce themselves and sit down to talk to Curt prior to the actual callback. Often their first question was, “Okay, now – I’ve been running around so much – what company is this?” or “What kind of shows do you do?” Curt is a busy person and doesn’t suffer fools gently – he simply told them the callback was over. “I can’t cast ignorant and ill-informed actors, Michael. If they don’t know enough to at least know what company they are auditioning for, I don’t want them.”
Some Directors are crushed if you don’t know who they are and that’s why you ask the Monitor, “Who will be in the audition hall?” It is a (probable) fatal mistake if you don’t know anything about the play for which you are auditioning – it shows a lack of preparation and a certain arrogance Directors don’t like. It only makes sense to have an inkling of what the play is about, when it was written, who wrote it and why. Is it a romantic comedy or a dark comedy or a Restoration comedy or a farce? Aeschylus and Aristophanes wrote remarkably different plays. “It’s a Greek play right? Or is it Roman?” isn’t a question that will go over well. Directors don’t like having to educate actors in the audition hall – do your homework.
Fatal Child Five
Never Wear Clothes More Interesting Than You
If you come on stage wearing a suit of armor, you don’t deserve to be cast. That’s what every Casting Director would tell you after your audition, except that they will avoid you like the plague after your audition. You probably don’t have a suit of armor but you can make equally devastating costume decisions and those decisions can be fatal. Some actors simply wear clothes that are too tight or too revealing – and by this, I mean that the clothing is WAY TOO TIGHT or WAY TOO REVEALING. In either case the Casting Directors are appalled at your costume choice and can’t think of anything during your monologue other than “Who dressed this person in that??!” Their focus is off whatever you are saying and is glued to the plunging neckline or skin-tight sausage casing. Costumes will rarely/never get an actor a callback – and never if the actor can’t act. But costumes can easily lose the actor a callback in less than a second. Not fair, right? Right.
If your costume is too busy, the audience wonders how it does what it does. How is that halo connected? Is your lion costume too hot? Do you have antlers, fins, funky gloves, waders? If the Director spends any time wondering about your costume, it’s probably a terrible choice. Your costume has instantly become more interesting than you and when the Directors and audience members are whispering to each other about what you are wearing, you are dead.
If you don’t know what flatters you without going over the top, get help from a theatre person who has good costume sense – like a costume designer. Go figure. Who better to ask? If you think your costume is “kind of out there” and “pretty funny,” look at yourself in the mirror and pretend you are your minister or cranky aunt who has no sense of humor – what would they say? “What is all that crap?” If you wear all that crap on stage it won’t go well for you. Gimmicks don’t get roles for actors; professionalism, excellent skills and training get roles for actors – if they are right for the role and the Director wants someone like them. Wearing clothing more interesting than you is a fatal mistake.
Fatal Child Six
Never Use Props More Interesting Than You
If you come on stage with a three foot-toothbrush, you are probably in for a bad day. Oh, you’ll get a laugh or two from the sight gag, but you could have committed audition suicide. Once the initial shock is over, the Casting Directors want to know what the hell you’re going to do with that thing for the rest of “To brush or not to brush.” It’s a one-joke prop and you’re stuck with it for the next two minutes, which will seem like two years for both you and the Directors. It’s highly possible the Directors will want to know whose idea this monstrous prop was. Some wacked-out Director in college might have used it in their version of the show someplace but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for an audition. Was it called for in the script? If it was, there probably was a setup for it and some longer story than two minutes. What it is, is a bad idea you should avoid.
Additionally, there are some props, which are so provocative they should almost always be avoided. The chief one is a gun or it’s very good friend, the knife. Real weapons on stage steal focus from everything and everyone – every time. This is an absolute fact and should not be ignored. If you have a weapon in your scene, it had better be the very last visual of the monologue – the final “reveal.” Because whatever you say or do after the Director sees that weapon will be lost in space. You could just as easily be speaking Gaelic if you are waving a gun around. Knives can be even worse because the terror a knife conjures is one of very personal, brutal blood-letting. You cannot act better than the audience’s imagination and you will fail. Every time. Other questionable-to-be-avoided props include underwear, sex toys, anything sexual or scatological, like fake feces. It won’t be funny.
Lastly, you should not bring props on stage that will control you instead of you controlling them. A simple helium balloon cannot be controlled and will distract the Directors for the entire time it is on stage and it will distract you – but no one is paying attention to whatever is on the other end of that balloon string (you). Closely tied to Fatal Child, Never Be Late, not being prepared to handle your prop properly will kill you. If your prop is too heavy or too complicated to set up or make work, you are dead. Don’t try to set up a pop-up pup tent in two minutes while speaking. Even if you do get it set up, which is very doubtful, no one will have heard a word you were saying while you achieved this impossible feat. If the Directors think you are about to drop something or break something or get completely frustrated by something, then they are worried for the actor, not the character. When they worry about you or your prop, you are dead. Keep it simple and remember not to use props which are more interesting than you. It’s a fatal mistake.
PUMP THE BRAKES! – “But What If It’s Funny?”
Wow. What a great question! What if everyone laughs? All I can tell you is, “Funny Wins.” It’s true: if you are funny enough, you can overcome many (not all) of the Fatal Mistakes and get a callback. You can tell if you are funny by the extent and volume of the laughter – if there’s a lot, you’re winning. Directors are desperate for funny actors and they’ll often call you back just because you are funny and they hope to find a home for you in their cast.
That is if you are funny, not if you wear funny clothes; not if you carry a funny prop; not if you stand on your head while reciting your monologue. Funny wins – on it’s own – for callbacks about fifty percent of the time, which is a rough guess as to the mix of what the directors are casting nationally. Actually, with musicals added in with comedy, the mix of comedy to drama is way over fifty percent but the issue for “funny” remains the same as everything else: as funny as you may be, you may not be right for the shows. For all those uncontrollable reasons at the beginning of this book (What You Cannot Control), the directors may laugh and laugh and end up with, “God, she’s funny. I’ve got no place for her.” If that’s the case (in any audition) you won’t get the callback – so funny alone isn’t the answer to getting eight or ten roles this year. It is a gift to be a truly funny actor and that will put you way ahead of half the class. Not bad. If you pick your auditions carefully and you have some range to your talent, funny will win for you if you avoid most of the fatal mistakes. Nobody will care how funny you are if you are rude, late and/or piss off the wrong person.
There was an actor from Boston, who showed up at various auditions in New England every year, who was remarkably funny and yet, to my knowledge, was seldom cast. Why? Because almost all of his comedy came from the fact that he had a unbelievably “rubber” face. He could do things with his face only a three-year old could do with Play Doh. The directors always loved him but he was like the cute kid next door: fun to visit but you wouldn’t want it in your house all day. He was a one-joke actor, who never showed any ability to blend into any cast of “normal” actors. Could he have been cast? I’m sure he was now and then. But if he had shown any other side of his talent, it’s likely he would have been cast more often.
(Next: Fatal Child Seven)