Thursday, 16 July 2015

Should there be more transparency to actors after auditions?

I know how frustrating it must be. You’ve had a casting for a show. You learnt everything you were meant too, had a nice chat with the director and casting director – and thought you left with a ‘good vibe’. But two weeks after your audition you haven’t heard a thing. Frustrating. Particularly if you’ve had five recalls and a final. In this kind of situation you’ve already invested a lot into the audition process – time, money, and energy. Not to mention the sleepless nights, days taken off work, even paying to watch the show. So it’s only natural to feel you’ve got the part. So why is it that we often don’t give you, the actor, an answer? Whether it be a ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘we’re still not sure’  - at least it would let you know where you stand, and allow you to move on if the job doesn’t go your way.

I recently spent a boozy Dom-filled evening discussing this with some dear actor friends, who said they find it frustrating and rude when we don’t give answers – particularly when they’ve had a couple of recalls and dance calls. In any other job after an interview, or even after an application you would usually get an answer – so why doesn’t this happen in showbusiness? It used to be because of time – if we’d seen over 100 people then it would take forever to let everyone know why they didn’t get the job - but times have changed. Theatre, in particular, has always been steeped in tradition, and some people resent changing with the times – but now we live in an age where it takes seconds to send an email. For casting directors to send a standard email stating the result of an actor’s audition takes no time at all.

We often say that an actor is still ‘in the mix’  - which means they’re not our first choice, but there’s a chance we might come back to them if everyone else turns us down. Now this is not a bad thing – indeed it means you’re still in the running – but maybe we should be even more honest. Often when you don’t hear something for weeks then that’s the reason – you simply won’t be told until the other actor gives us an answer.  But maybe, instead of not letting you know what’s going on, we should be honest straight away and tell you that we’ve offered it to someone else - and if they turn it down then the part is yours. Then you’d know how highly we thought of you – and there’s still a chance the job is yours. Is that something that would be better than just a yes or no? I’d be interested to know your thoughts.

Auditions are very complicated jigsaws, particularly in a cast change – when it’s not just about casting the parts, but also their covers and swings. It is a difficult task – and can drag on for months. If it’s for a long running musical the difficulty comes when actors who are in the current cast don’t decide if they’re staying on until the last minute - because we will inevitably have already started auditioning for their part. Now of course this is annoying if you’re the actor auditioning – because you’re actually auditioning for a job that possibly doesn’t exist. But with the rising costs of casting venues we have to see as many people as possible on an audition day. Again – this is another example of where we could be more honest to the actor. If we are auditioning actors for a role that actually might not be available we should make that clear from the offset, so the auditioning actor knows exactly where they stand. This, I feel, is only fair. Then we aren’t getting anyone into the room under false pretences. It’s just like if a business advertised a job and took interviews, and the job wasn’t available – it is actually entirely illegal. The same applies if we’re not sure about whether to give you the role or not – we should be honest with your agent and let you know that’s what we’re thinking.

Then comes the question of if we should give you an answer on the same day - just after your audition. Often someone is outside the door letting people in, and it wouldn’t take any time at all for them to pop into the audition room and relay an answer to you. But I suppose that can be quite difficult –particularly if you thought you had a good audition. The alternative is that the casting department could do a standard email after the auditions to let your agent know (indeed some casting directors sit in auditions dribbling over porn on their laptop – instead of doing this they could use their laptop to email your agent, dear).

A couple of actors told me they’d be happy to be told in their audition if it’s a ‘no’ - straight after they’ve performed their material. Personally I think that could be quite hard and upsetting - for both the auditionee and panel. In an audition situation the actors are vulnerable enough – without the threat of them being told by the director that they’re not right for the part. It’s most important that we let you perform, and then have a few minutes to talk amongst ourselves.  But I do feel it’s vital that you’re told as soon as possible. So the solution may be that your agent is contacted the same evening with an answer - or if you want to know directly you could leave your mobile number or email address and we will contact you (however there are some directors and casting directors who you should NEVER give your number too, dear). Then we could message you an answer as soon as we get chance.

And while we're on the subject - i have heard horror stories of the words 'you've been pencilled' or 'you've got a heavy pencil' for an advert. Now whoever invented this term (it was probably an advertising exec who got paid 5k for coming up with it) should be pencilled heavily in the face. The term means nothing. Absolutely nothing. Advert casting directors should stop using it entirely - it is like they're dangling a lovely little cheque in front of the actor's nose - only to inevitably take it away with the words 'we've gone in another direction'. If you think there's a chance you may 'go in another direction' then don't call the agent in the first place. It is cruel and makes the actor so excited about the job - which is usually taken away from them a few days later. So please cease from using any term with the word 'pencil' in it - and just call the agent and be honest about the situation the actor is in - for example: 'we like her, but we've got to let the client see the video first. But we also like 2 others. So it could go to any of them'. That would be far fairer, and far clearer, and would not involve using a heavy pencil with a rubber on the end to erase the 'possible booking' from an actors' diary, dear.

Many actors like feedback after an audition. This can be rather difficult as often casting directors see so many people that they forget why they thought you weren’t right. And also, it can just be a ‘feeling’ – sometimes there’s no reason at all why you’re not suitable for the role, apart from the fact that you’re simply not ‘quite right’. I know how frustrating that may sound – but it’s the truth.  And besides, you should never really believe everything you hear when asking for feedback. I have known agents asking for feedback about their clients, and the new intern in the casting director’s office has had to read some scruffy handwriting on the audition sheet – which is interpreted totally wrong. So unless it comes directly from the casting director themselves take feedback with a pinch of salt. And even then, casting directors have been known to say anything just to get an agent off the phone (of course if the feedback is marvellous then accept it regardless of who it comes from, dear).

Because of social media now it is very easy for actors’ to do detective work and find out if someone else got the role they wanted. And of course it’s such a small world that actors know actors – and report of other people getting the role. So it seems silly not to let the actors know from the horse’s mouth. And it’s only polite. An actor has given their time to come and audition for us – and we should show the same courtesy by giving an answer.

Indeed I know one actress who has been waiting for 6 years to find out if she’s been offered the Evita tour (and the tour finished two years ago…)!

My actor friends all said it would make them feel much more valued if we just let them know either way. So the time is now to break this inconsiderate and unprofessional pattern. If an actor auditions for a show, no matter how many recalls they have, they deserve an answer. It’s as simple and easy as that, dear.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Advice to an audition panel on how to behave in a casting.

A dear acting friend contacted me recently and wanted to share something he had written about castings – and how an audition panel should behave towards the actor. Actors are always being given advice on how to prepare and what to do in audition situations – so I thought this idea of turning things round was rather nice.
We’ve all heard those embarrassing tales of actors falling victim to the rude director who never looks at him, or the pianist who plays the song far too fast and in a totally different key than the one intended. 
So here is a piece written by a young actor friend. Read it, enjoy it, share it – it’s certainly made me re-think my audition etiquette, dear.

Some advice to the audition panel. From an actor.

I’m an actor – a bog-standard normal jobbing actor. I’m out of work lots, but I’ve also had some great jobs I’m very proud of. Some of them have been profit share, some equity minimum, and some £50 more than equity minimum (those ones are rare). It’s a tough job – it’s not the hardest job in the world, but it gets me down occasionally. I’ve got really close to getting a lot of good acting jobs over the past year – but always been pipped to the post at the last hurdle. All my friends tell me I should be really proud of ‘getting to the final’ and ‘having a recall’ – but I’m not. None of that matters until I get the job. And sometimes in a final audition I feel like I’m only there to make up the numbers anyway. So naturally I’ve tried to develop a tough skin – like we’re told too. But I can’t. No matter how much I tell myself that a job doesn’t matter, and that this one won’t change my career – I end up wanting all of them – and put such pressure on myself to do well that I can’t think of anything else. I literally focus all my energy on the audition. I listen to the soundtrack constantly, go over the script excessively, and repeat the lines all the time – in my sleep, while driving, even in the bath. Everything revolves around the audition. It’s like a powerful drug that takes over – I have to do the best I can to try and get the job. I’ll do research online, stalk the director on twitter, read as much background material as possible, and make damn sure I learn anything I’m told to ‘prepare’. I suppose it’s one of the reasons why I’m an actor – the competition, and knowing that your life can change any minute. And I try so hard because I feel I owe it to myself. I’ve made so many hard decisions in my life to try and be an actor, and given up so much else that my friends with normal jobs have – that I constantly feel I MUST succeed. Not to mention the guilt I feel for my parents – the money they gave me to go to drama school, and the sacrifices they made to allow me to follow my ‘dream’.  But unfortunately, more often than not, the dream often feels like a nightmare.

One of the biggest things I’ve started to dislike about being an actor is the lack of respect we get. Now I've chosen to be an actor and I’m trying my best – so surely that in itself deserves a modicum of respect – particularly from those working in the business. And this is why I’m grumpy at the moment. It’s hard enough getting an audition and even harder getting that foot in the door – but when you’re in that door, in front of the panel of director, producer, musical director and cleaning lady – there should surely be a mutual respect between everyone. The casting director and team are there doing their job – and us actors are there doing our job. So we are a team of professionals in a room trying to help and work with one another. In any other line of business if you have an interview you will be looked in the eyes, asked how you’re feeling, introduced to everyone, and thanked for your time. But this is the acting business – and different rules apply. Of course these rules mean that if a casting director or director read this and think I’m moaning chances are they won’t offer me an audition again. Hence me writing anonymously.

I had an unfortunate experience a couple of months ago when I had a second recall for a west end show. I was sent lots of material to learn – which I did – and prepared everything to the best of my ability. I drive my flatmates mad when I have an audition – they have to put up with me wailing in the morning, afternoon and evening. Anyhow, I’d learnt all the material and was at the audition venue, and was told that the audition was running late. Fine. No problem. I didn’t mind. I didn’t have any work to dash back too, and anyway I would never want to appear rude by saying ‘actually it’s not good enough – I’ve got to be somewhere’. So I sat very patiently for twenty minutes outside the room while another actor was inside. Now this was your typical audition room –where you can hear the other person inside. And I hate that. In future if anyone is making a purpose-built audition venue please soundproof all the rooms – there is nothing worse than hearing everything that the other brilliant actors are doing before you (and they always sound SO much better than me). Eventually the door opened and I was granted entry into the divine audition room – only for the panel to tell me again that they were running late and ‘would I mind singing just one of the songs’ they’d sent? Of course I nodded, although inside I was incredibly upset. The actor who was in before me was up for the same role, and had been through all their material – and they had obviously already made their decision. So after my week of preparing, learning, and digesting the three scenes and three songs I was asked to perform only one. I did – they thanked me, and I left.

Obviously I knew I hadn’t got the job  - but at least in an audition there should be a common courtesy. If an actor is sent some material to learn – whether it be one page or twenty five – they should be allowed to perform all of it. Now I’m not blaming the director – I don’t know whose fault it is on these occasions. I think general emails are sent out by the casting department to actors up for specific roles – and they just tag on the same scenes to everyone. But it should be checked with the director, and made sure that the actors will definitely be performing it in the audition - because as an actor we can spend days learning it. And it is not fair to then take advantage of us by not allowing us to show what we have prepared.

However, I digress. I just thought it might be rather useful for me, a jobbing actor who has had some awful experiences in auditions, to offer some advice to the panel.

So – to the audition panel. Here are some guidelines on how to behave when holding auditions:

Please introduce yourself. It is hard for us to stand in a room full of people we don’t know – it’s made a lot more comfortable if you introduce yourself. It puts us at ease, and we feel like you are on our side - and have a genuine want for us to be there.

Look at us when we perform. Believe it or not we can still see you when we’re performing our material for you. So please show us the courtesy of watching fully what we are doing. We are performing for you in the hope of getting the job, and that you see something you like. You won’t be able to see if we are suitable if you sit there doodling on my headshot for the entirety of my rendition of ‘Corner of the Sky’. It makes us feel like we’re doing a bad job and that you think we’re not suitable for the role. I understand it can be uncomfortable to watch us if we’re terrible, but even if we are, we’re still trying our very best for you.

Don’t wear sunglasses in the audition room: There have been many times when I’ve been in an audition and the producer or director is perched on the end of the table wearing ridiculous sunglasses. I understand you may have a hangover – but please don’t go out and get hammered the night before you know you’re going to be spending the day in an audition room. I don’t care who you are – whether you’re the producer, director, musical director, or director’s thai boyfriend – take your bloody sunglasses off! It’s not bright in the room, and it doesn’t make you look important – it just makes you look like you’re trying far too hard. In fact scrap that - in future auditions I’m going to perform wearing my sunglasses so we’re on equal level.

If you’ve sent us material to prepare – allow us to show you how we’ve prepared it. This is a big one. Please, please, pretty please mr god of auditions – if you’ve sent us something to learn, let us show you. We‘ve usually spent days, paid for singing lessons, and even taken time off work to learn the material – so it is only fair that you let us show you the work we’ve done. Even if you’re running late. Bad timekeeping is your issue and is not something we should be punished for. 

Let us start again. If we make a mistake during our speech or song please allow us to start again. It’s happened so often to me – and I’m usually told ‘it’s ok we’ve heard enough’  - but I hadn’t got to the bit I wanted you to hear yet! Please always offer us the chance to show you something again.

If possible, don’t have all the same actors who are up for the same part auditioning at the same time. This is annoying, and awkward. It’s so embarrassing walking into an audition only to see another 5 people dressed like you, hair styled like you, and holding the same bit of script as you. Immediately in my mind everyone else is far better than me – they look better suited for the part, they’re a better height, they’ve got a nicer shirt on, and their teeth are whiter. Then for them to go into the audition room WHERE WE CAN HEAR THEM BEING BRILLIANT! It’s really humiliating, and makes me analyse everything in my head and think I’ve already lost out on the part. So please, for the love of actor’s sanity, split up the times when you see each role. It won’t take long. I promise.

Don’t rush us when go through sheet music with the pianist. It’s awful when the pianist starts playing our song in a totally different tempo and different key than we’ve asked for. Please give us ample time to go through the key changes, tempo, repeats, and even difficult chords with the pianist. It’s so important because it’s never the pianist that looks bad in the audition – it’s us.   

Smile at us. You know those corners at the side of your mouth? Well could you raise them slightly? I know it sometimes hurts, but my god it is nice to see. It makes such a difference to have a panel of people smiling at us – which automatically puts us at ease – than a line of monotone looking faces judging us from the outset. It’s funny – but if you don’t smile, we presume that you don’t like us. Obviously I understand that it could be 4pm in the afternoon and you’ve been in a stuffy audition room since 9am – but the action of a smile makes the whole experience better for all of us. Honestly. If we as actors walk into an audition with a stern looking face and don’t smile we tend to get bad feedback to our agent that we weren’t ‘very friendly’. Well the same applies to you my lovely audition panel colleagues.

Let us know, and ask permission before recording our audition. These days it is very common that auditions are filmed. Particularly when the director can’t be at the audition (so you audition for the resident director). I understand it is useful, as it saves us coming in for another audition - if the director watches the footage and thinks we’re wrong. But it can also be off-putting seeing someone at the back of the room with a video camera focusing in on your every move. But I get it and don’t mind, as long as you ask us. There’s always the worry in my mind that the footage is going to somehow get leaked onto the internet and I’m going to look like an embarrassed idiot online for the rest of my life.
And when I say ask, I mean ask EVERY TIME. If you say on the first audition that you’re going to record me don’t presume that I’m happy for you to do it every time – it’s only polite to ask me at every audition and recall (if we’re lucky enough to get one). I may even start bringing a video camera into auditions and record you – lovely audition panel - just so I can show it to my fellow actors and we can judge how good at auditioning you are.

Thank us for our time. We’ve given up our valuable time to try and help you cast your show. We’ve paid travel expenses to be there, and often taken the day off work. So please be polite and thank us. Even if it’s just a quick thanks – it makes all the difference – and means we leave the audition feeling like at least you were grateful we were there.

And that’s it. We’re not asking for much really – just a bit of friendliness and mutual respect. After all, we’re all professionals working in a tough industry – but if we treat each other with a bit more respect it makes everyone’s job a lot more enjoyable.