Hello fellow travelers. It’s that time of year in New York City, when the audition season is upon us and actors of all varieties dash back and forth to multiple calls, lugging books, clothes, makeup, resumes, lunch, water bottles, dinner…yeah, sometimes all that. And this general cacophony will last until about April, with a few lulls for sanity’s sake.
I’ve been in the NYC area for more than twenty years (yikes). And while overall, I’d say the whole experience has gone pretty darn well, you don’t need my resume. But what I want to share with you is some info you definitely know (but need to hear again) and a few things you probably don’t, about how to survive not only the crush of audition season, but a lifetime of offering your talents to some who will love you and some who will forget you.
Let’s start with what should be painfully obvious…
- Be on time
- Dress appropriately
- Have multiple headshots and resumes
- Be prepared
- Know your material
- Don’t waste anyone’s time
- Make sure your music is marked
- Be respectful of others
- If you make a mistake try to carry on
- Don’t apologize for being sick
- If you’re really sick stay home
- Don’t be a sycophant
- Buy a dictionary
- Believe in yourself
- Have a good time
- When it’s over, let it go
Okay, I don’t mean to be so glib (what am I saying, of course I mean to be glib), but honestly gang, that’s all stuff you should know, and if you don’t know there have been a thousand articles written on those subjects, even some by me! And it really isn’t any deeper than what the sentence says. Dress appropriately: look like you care. Don’t waste anyone’s time: is there really an opportunity for you here? Let it go: most of the time, the answers you seek will come to you.
Now, here’s the stuff I really want to share with you.
How do I act in the room?
Like a normal human, which today may be hard to find. Be kind, be warm but not ingratiating. A simple “Hello,” “Good morning,” and “Thank you,” is not only appropriate but appreciated. Have sympathy for the people behind the table, it’s a tough job and a long day. Most are underpaid, some not paid at all. You can and should engage in conversation IF PROMPTED, or if you REALLY have something relevant to say. But the combination of talent, intelligence, warmth and courtesy will not go unnoticed. Might not equal a job, but at least you will be held in high regard.
“Man, this theatre/casting office just doesn’t like me.”
That’s probably not true, even if you’ve never had any traction with them. It took me years to get attention from some of the offices in the city, there’s still some that haven’t given me any, and a few that once did and no longer do. We (on our side of the table) will likely never know why that is, it could be anything from “wow they are talented but I don’t have a spot for them” to “wow they look just like this person I hate,” which of course seems unfair but it is as human as it is unlikely. Our job is simply to do good work. Whether or not it brings a desired result is beyond our control.
Do you have a process?
I’ve dubbed myself the mayor of the Equity call, which is egotistical of me but also tongue-in-cheek. I don’t go to as many auditions as my friends do, simply because I live farther away, and my work parameters are different from theirs. So when I go, and I see my friends who have been doing this as long as I have, I really want to catch up with them. So I talk. And talk. And the next thing you know it’s my turn to go in the room, and my head isn’t necessarily where it should be. What’s your audition process? Can you go into the waiting room and get your head in the game?
My monologue/song isn’t that great
Well, why isn’t it? And are you sure you’ve explored all the material?
I recently was working with my coach on a piece that I have used for years, and I always make the same statement: it’s a good cut, a good song, but it’s not really about anything. And my coach looked at me cockeyed as if he was saying “Oh yeah?” And he very simply, very personally, made this nothing song completely about me. And you better believe it was different. It had life, it had story, it had purpose. And instead of finding the trash can, that song will stay in my book.
For tips on how to cut your music for an audition, check out our blog post here.
Commiserating can help you survive, but complaining will keep you unemployed
For many years, one of my closest friends and I have compared notes on auditions, jobs, people…any and every element of the business. We can both get pretty down about how it all goes, but this shared misery (if you will) is how we survive. We talk it out, laugh at the insanity, laugh at ourselves, and keep going. In 2000, I was working on a beautiful production of Kurt Weill’s Street Scene. This show takes place in the middle of a summer heatwave in New York City, and our beloved director said to us, drawing on his many years of New York experience, “You know how New Yorkers survive the madness? They complain to each other. They share the experience. Then they shrug their shoulders and get on with it.”
Commiserating is sharing the burden of disappointment. Complaining, is more of an individual statement. And one that not many people will want to be around.
One of the most common complaints I hear from actors is that they are often given dozens of pages to prepare, and most often only are given a chance to do a fraction of the material. Yes, on one hand that stinks. Sometimes we get these huge audition packets the night before and are expected to work miracles. Or not, maybe the people giving them out are actually human beings. Maybe they understand what a Herculean effort that would take. Maybe you can impress them with how quickly you can absorb the work. And if nothing else, what a gift, to work on a huge amount of material for something you’re actually interested in doing.
I’m going to leave it there, though there is always more. There is no doubt that this lifestyle is a grind, I don’t dig ditches for a living, but the mental and emotional stress is no joke. So we must approach it with sincerity but also levity, with empathy not ambivalence. I choose this life over and over, and sometimes I ignore my own advice. But mostly, I remind myself that there aren’t really any secrets here, just effort, kindness, and resilience. Just like real life.