Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Actors' Notebook: Confessions of an Audition Reader

You walk into an audition and greet the casting director, director and producers with that strange, pheromonal cocktail of fear and excitement, hoping that this might be the job that changes your life.

There's another figure, perhaps less noticeable, sitting in the corner. It's your reader — and very likely the only other actor in the room. In this case, let's call that person "me," because it very well may have been. It's okay if you don't remember me because if I did my job well, I was invisible and you shined. 

But I remember you — and for as many actors as I've seen book that life-changing job, I've seen many others not shine as brilliantly as they could — or else shine brilliantly in their work, then somehow manage to sabotage it before leaving the room.

Because I am familiar with the blood, sweat and tears that go into preparing for an important audition (and often, into obsessing over it afterward), I offer these, my Ten Commandments of Auditioning, for your amusement and hopefully, your booking!

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1.  Greet Everyone

Sounds simple, but a mysterious thing happens when some actors enter the room. They say hello to everyone they think can give them a job. Inevitably, a few folks get left out. Considering how often the whole room is polled to see if any of us have worked with the auditioning actor, it pays to be universally courteous.

2. Embrace Your Nerves

Everyone in the audition room is scared. Actors are afraid they won't get the job, casting directors are afraid their choices won't align with their producers', and producers are afraid their show won't be a hit. Unfortunately, actors are the only ones everybody's watching!  Our job then, as professional empaths, is to avoid the trap of absorbing and refracting everyone else's fear and instead — be the peace that heals it.

3. Prepare

Once I was a reader for a historical drama and ten out of twelve actors had not researched the characters they were auditioning to play. These were well-known figures who would be easily recognized by an audience — and even easier for an actor to research on YouTube.

Yes, I know we're all busy. But if you don't have five minutes to make that investment in your career, who will?  It's no one else's job to dive into that mass of infinite potential known as "our talent" and pry out an interpretation. That's our job — in fact, that's the privilege of our profession.

4. Don't Apologize

Ever been on a date with someone you looked forward to meeting and the first thing they said was, "Ugh, look at this pimple!"? You hadn't noticed it before because you were taking in the entirety of them — but now that pimple is all you can see.

Similarly, actors frequently enter audition rooms and apologize for their "pimples," sometimes real, mostly imagined. Since no one behind the table knows how to deal with such confessions, the usual response is some version of, "No, no, you have a beautiful complexion!" 

Now, if we're honest with ourselves, perhaps that is what we really wanted to hear. And for one person auditioning, that might be a reasonable concession to make. But imagine how tiring that exchange becomes, actor after actor, hour after hour?  By 4pm, the auditors feel depleted because they have been rendered your caregivers instead of your collaborators — and, above all, they're looking for collaborators.

You were invited to audition. Take pride in that fact by showing up as who you are today, knowing that you are enough.

5. Cancel If Necessary

You just got the sides, flew in, didn't have time to learn the music, are sick, going through a lot...  believe me, I understand! These are real life problems and I've experienced them all. But heard throughout the day, the folks behind the table start to wonder:  You're a professional. If you're not able to put that aside and show up fully, then why did you accept the appointment? 

After all, if you went to a cardiologist for quadruple bypass, would you enlist her services if she reiterated that she hadn't slept and couldn't tell the left ventricle from the right? Probably not!

Better to give your slot to another actor who would happily leap at the chance to audition than aim for a badge of bravery. There's grace and self-respect in that decision — for you as well as the room. Trust that another opportunity will present itself, if not for this show, then for another.

6. Keep It Clean

Over the years, I've noticed that the great and mysterious Universe has a magical way of cornering us with our unfinished business. It's no surprise, then, that once an afternoon or so, an actor walks in and suddenly turns very pale, realizing that someone they never expected to see again is now in a position to hire them!

I could go on with my personal philosophy about keeping our affairs clean and current, but perhaps it is best summed up by the wise words of director/choreographer Jeff Calhoun: "Handle every situation as you'd like to remember it."

7. Keep On Truckin'

An actress came in to audition, knocked her song out of the park, but didn't get the job. I saw her a few weeks later and she was still beating herself up about it.

Six weeks later, she came back for a completely different project, knocked the same song out of the park, and booked the job.  This actress didn't "fail" the first audition and "win" the second; it just so happened that she fit perfectly into the jigsaw puzzle the creatives were assembling the second time around. 

In my observation, when it's not our show, it's not our show, and there's nothing we can do about it. But when it is our show, it's ours — and there's nothing we can do about that, either!

Trust that there is a plan in place for you.

8. Have Something Lovely Planned For Afterward

Have a big audition? You've probably busted your ass for hours preparing for it. Be sure to plan a sweet outing for yourself afterward. Grab an ice cream, take a walk, catch a movie — whatever it takes to shift your focus and acknowledge your own efforts. This stops us from becoming "actor machines" and helps restore our humanity.

9. Be Happy For Whoever Gets The Job (Including You!)

Years ago, Carol Burnett was up for a musical she thought would mark her Broadway debut. Instead, another girl got it.  After a moment of sadness, she said to herself, "Well, it was her turn.  Maybe next time, it'll be mine." And whaddaya know?  It was!

I've pined over "lost" shows, only to realize after seeing them that that part I was sure was mine was never meant for me. I've also gotten gigs, failed to savor them and consequently, missed out on their riches.

Ingratitude is a disease which eats away at the heart of an artist. I believe it is an attempt to shield our tenderness from the unpredictability of this business. The key, then, might be to appreciate exactly where we are today, knowing that it could all look differently tomorrow.

10. Stay In Practice

My friend, casting director and audition coach Amy Jo Berman, introduced me to Jeff Olson's brilliant book, The Slight Edge.  Since then, I've subscribed to its simple philosophy:

Do a little of what you don't necessarily have to do each day to enrich the quality of your life. Soon, like the water hyacinth growing silently beneath the surface of the water, your efforts will have canvassed the pond.

What shows up when we audition is all that we have addressed in our lives when there was no urgency to memorize those sides and that new song. The cumulative impact of these "slight edge" endeavors — from tending our talents to cultivating our inner peace — is what stops auditions from becoming "special events" — and allows our lives to become the work of art instead.


  1. I hope you don't mind if I use this to refine my "audition" talks when I teach. This is such a great reminder, and such clear insight for both veterans and "newbies" alike!!

  2. This is so helpful, and I'm forever grateful to you!