Over the years, I estimate that I’ve participated in (insome way, shape, or form) approximately 43 billion theater auditions. What? You“doubt” that figure could be “accurate”? Well, I doubt your face is accurate. Ha! I guess I schooledyou.
Yes, yes, I’m exaggerating. But I’ve been to more than myfair share of auditions. First, when I used to act, as an auditioner; now thatI’m working for a theater, as one of the scary people who sit in the audienceand pass judgment on the people auditioning. And, as such, I have a few helpfultips for anyone planning to audition for a community theater production.
Now, please note, these tips may or may not hold true forauditioning for film, as I know nothing about that, other than it seems peoplewait in really long lines when general casting calls come to town and I have towonder if it’s worth it because I am the MOST IMPATIENT PERSON ALIVE. I can’teven wait five minutes in a grocery store line without starting to grumbleunder my breath. Some of those people wait OVERNIGHT. I don’t get that. I guessit’s exciting that you might see yourself on the big screen? And you can put iton a resume? And I suppose it has to have happened at least once or twice thata director sees some sort of spark in an extra and turns him or her into thenext big thing (but probably that’s not going to happen to you, so I wouldn’thitch my wagon to that particular star)?
So here are some tips if you ever plan on auditioning atyour local community theater. Helpful! I’m telling you. You come here for thefunny, you leave A BETTER PERSON FOR IT.
Be prepared. First, read the audition notice. Not justwhen to show up and the address of the auditions, but the characterdescriptions and the ages. Are all of the women in the play under the age of 25and you’re 50 (and you look 50)? You’re probably not going to get cast. It’sreally best not to waste anyone’s time – ours or yours. We’re going to thinkyou’re delusional and you’re taking time away from people who actually have ashot at the parts. Second, it doesn’t hurt at all to read the play you’reauditioning for. It’s not a prerequisite, no. I’m not saying don’t show upunless you’ve read it. But this is kind of a test, and wouldn’t you want tohave done your homework before showing up with your number two pencils andscrap paper? Also, you might read the play and find out it sucks. I mean, thetheater isn’t going to think it sucks, obviously. The theater chose the playfor a reason. (In case you’re wondering, theaters don’t arbitrarily choose theplays they do every season, like, throw names in a hat or something. I’ve beenon the play selection committee at my theater for years. It’s a lot of work. We read30-40 submissions and we discuss the hell out of them and do lists of pros andcons and choose directors with care and put them in the order that works best.It’s not something we take lightly.) So anyway. Read the play. Maybe you fitthe age range of the actors we’re looking for, but you have a deep issue takingyour clothes off onstage and there are three nude scenes. You know not toaudition. See? Aren’t you glad you did your homework? Gold star.
Put your best faceforward. Again, we’re not going to NOT cast you if you show up looking likeyou just rolled out of bed. We’ve cast people like that before, depending onour needs and who gave the strongest audition. But it doesn’t hurt at all todress neatly and professionally. Am I telling you to wear a ball gown and operagloves? No, looney tunes, I’m not. (Although, you’re a theater person, no onewould even look at you twice if you did.) But even nice jeans and a dressyshirt will do. Also, be prepared to move. Women that show up in too-shortskirts kill me, because listen, I’ve gotten too many beaver shots over theyears from women who wore inappropriate skirts to auditions and then had to beactive in their audition and oh! Hello! I see you wore a thong yikesaroonie!See, I sit in the front of the theater, because I’m usually the one calling outyour name and telling you all when to come up and what scene you’ll be readingfrom. So if there’s crotch to be seen, I’m seeing it. And I can’t UN-see it,you know? Also, you’re not fooling anyone, short-skirt-and-cleavage-top. Thedays of the casting couch are over. Most of our directors are female, and themale ones, sorry to say, are mostly gay males. (It’s the theater. I don’t knowif I’m blowing anyone’s mind, but there are a lot of gay men in theater. Iknow! Hide yo wife hide yo kids, right?) If you think your sexy-mama getup isgoing to get you a part, no, it’s not, and also, secret mental points againstyou for thinking you’d be getting a part with your jiggly bits and not youracting skills.
Don’t be a douchebag.Don’t come in like you’re too cool to be at the audition. Maybe that works inNew York City, I don’t know, because I DON’T LIVE THERE AND OBVIOUSLY NEITHERDO YOU. We’re a decent-sized city, but we’ve got a small-town vibe going forus, especially in the theater scene. Come in nicely, with a smile, be friendly,and do what you’re asked to do without argument. Now, I know, you might benervous, and this might make you quieter than normal. That’s expected, and that’sfine. But entering in full-on bitch-on-wheels mode? Black mark on yourpermanent record. Actual examples of this: someone who refused to fill outaudition paperwork because “I don’t have time for that,” (and then proceeded totalk on their cell phone for the next half-hour loudly while people werelooking over the audition material); someone who went into the theater when weasked the actors not to do so because we were having a meeting in there aboutthe order of auditioners and then refused to leave because the lobby was toocrowded and it really wasn’t all that crowded; a person who looked over theaudition material and then said “the scene I want to read isn’t here, do you havea script, I’m going to be reading a scene of my own choosing” (this is not anoption, but nice that you’ve decided on your own that it is!); and the personwho decided at the last minute they weren’t going to audition, but talkedloudly to everyone around her all through everyone else’s auditions anddistracted everyone. Also? If you’re new to the theater, you don’t know whoanyone is, and what their relationship is to everyone else. So BE CAREFUL WITHYOUR TRASH-TALKING. We’re theater people. We gossip, we trash-talk, we bitch.Yes. Yes, that’s what we do. I know that. But if you’re new to a place, you haveto watch who you’re doing it TO. I’ll never forget the woman who gave abrilliant audition, and then came back to her seat and started to run down thetheater, the area, the other actors, the audition process, and the plays wewere doing that season with the person sitting beside her. She did it quietly;she wasn’t distracting. Thing is, the person sitting beside her WAS THEASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF THE SHOW AND A BOARD MEMBER. Needless to say, she wasn’tcast.
Be honest. We askthe information we need on the audition sheet. If you leave something off – theage range you can play, dates you have a conflict and won’t be able torehearse, a character you’re unwilling to play, that you’re unwilling to swear,kiss, or be nude onstage – this hinders us in our ability to cast you. See,here’s a backstage peek into the audition process, at least where I work. I assumeit’s basically the same in other places. We watch everyone audition. Everyonewho showed up and is interested in auditioning gets a chance. Auditions areopen; no roles are precast. Then, once we’ve seen everything we want to see, wesend everyone home, spread out the audition sheets and our notes, and talkabout the roles and who is in contention for them. If you didn’t write that you’reunwilling to play Felicia, and you gave a kick-ass audition for Felicia, youmight get cast in that role. Actual conversation I had once with someone we’dcast: “Hi, this is Amy, calling to let you know you’ve been cast as blah-blahrole in blah-blah play! Congratulations!” (After a loooong pause) “Oh. I’m notat all interested in that part. I don’taccept. Thank you for calling me, though.” Hmm, let’s think how this could havebeen avoided. If you’d READ THE PLAY, you’d have known you weren’t interestedin the part. Then you could have WRITTEN IT ON YOUR AUDITION SHEET. But even ifyou didn’t read the play, you sat through two nights of auditions, so you knewyou didn’t want that part. Why didn’t you come up to one of us and TELL us, “I’dlike to amend something on my audition sheet” and write “not willing to acceptthe part of Judy” or whatever on it? So THAT was a waste of time. On a happiernote, the second person we called for the part – someone we’d decided on foranother part and decided to switch to that part – gladly took the role andROCKED it. She was the star of every review. And every time I read a review ravingabout her in that role, I hoped like hell the woman I’d called originally wasreading it and weeping into her cornflakes. Because I am PETTY and MEAN.
Don’t be delusional.This one’s tough. I mean, I have to appreciate anyone that shows up.Auditioning is hard, I know. I used to do it. I’m debating doing it again laterthis season, actually. (Cue nervous nailbiting…NOW.) But you know those peopleon American Idol that show up andaudition and you turn to the person you’re watching it with (or your cat, I don’tknow, I don’t judge and NEITHER SHOULD YOU) and say, “She can’t think she’s good. She doesn’t, right? The producers put her there so they’d have someonefor the clip show, right? No one’s thatdelusional, right?” Well, I can’t speak for AmericanIdol? But in real life? THOSE PEOPLE SHOW UP. I’m sorry, people. I reallyam. The only consolation I have is that you probably don’t know who you are, ifyou’re reading this – you probably wouldn’t even identify yourself with the “delusional”moniker. I would give examples but I really don’t want anyone reading thisaccidentally to identify themselves. I don’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings. Ireally don’t. I just find it very hard to believe you can’t see yourlimitations. Listen, I wouldn’t, for example, show up to audition for a chorus.BECAUSE I CAN’T CARRY A TUNE. Likewise, I would not show up to run a marathon,BECAUSE I AM FRIGHTFULLY OUT OF SHAPE. Is there something I’m not aware of thatstops people from realizing they can’t act? I’ve been doing this – seriously,not even exaggerating this time – for almost 24 years, and this still surprisesand kind of upsets me. It sometimes takes everything I have not to yell “Really?You aren’t pulling our legs? Where’s the hidden camera?” after one of thereally heinous auditions. THEY’RE THAT BAD. Again, no hate mail, I appreciateyou coming out, and it takes bravery to audition, it does. But how can you notknow? And also, there are classes you can take to get better, maybe take one? Idon’t know.
Don’t take itpersonally. We get a lot of people auditioning for a few parts. Justplaying the odds, you don’t have the best chance of getting a part. If you do –congratulations. It’s the best theater in the area, in my humble opinion; you’regoing to love the people; I’m so, so excited to get to know you and to get towork with you. But if you weren’t cast, it isn’t anything personal. (Well,unless you trash-talked to the wrong person in auditions. Then maybe it is.)Casting is a tough thing. We take the following into consideration: your look,your audition, your availability for rehearsals, your onstage compatibilitywith the other people we’re considering casting, your reputation among othertheater people in the area, your resume, how well you took direction (if wegave any), our gut feelings about you, and about 53 other tangible andintangible things that go into casting a show. Again, like choosing a season,we don’t cast a show arbitrarily. We have to work with you for a few months. Wealso are dependent on the money we make on the shows to stay afloat; if theshow bombs, we don’t make a lot of money, and we need that money because, let’sface it, theater’s not that lucrative. So if you don’t turn in a top-notchperformance, it’s not the best thing for us. Let me reiterate – IT IS NOTPERSONAL. Don’t go around telling people my theater “hates” you. We don’t, butwe’re going to start if you keep bad-mouthing us. One of the things we alsotake into consideration – how well you take rejection, if you’ve been rejectedbefore, and if you came back to audition after being rejected by us in the past.We do take into consideration past auditions, if they were excellent. It is inyour best interest to be CLASSY.
So there you go, potential auditioners. Is it scary? You betyour ass it is. It’s putting yourself out there and getting up in front ofpeople voluntarily and letting them judge you. However, let me tell you fromexperience, the high you get after having auditioned, whether or not it wasultimately successful, is something everyone should experience at least once intheir life. You feel like you can tackle anything, seriously. And if you arecast? You’re in for the ride of your life. Yes, sure, I’m biased andtheater-crazed, I’ll take that criticism gladly. But if you’ve ever thought ofdoing it – do it. And if it’s my theater, tell me hi. Just keep your crazy eyesand beaver shots to yourself, because I don’t want anything to do with those.
(Title is from a W.C. Fields quote, because I don’t want anyone to be all “thief, thief.” “Show me a great actor, and I’ll show you a lousy husband. Show me a great actress, and I’ll show you the devil.” I will not comment on the veracity of this quote.)