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The Other Side of the Table is Nervous Too

January 25, 2013

 I think it’s safe to say that the auditioning process is nobody’s favorite part of working in this industry. Continuous rejection after hard work and lots of waiting is certainly not why I chose this career. But after recently having the pleasure of musical directing several shows, I’ve experienced what it’s like being on the other side of the table and feel that the most important thing I’ve walked away with is: If you are right for this particular role, you’ll get it. Period.

Granted, I have only just begun my journey in casting shows, I am by no means a coveted musical director or an expert in auditioning. Of course I agree that sometimes there are contributing factors like politics or union requirements that are out of our control. But I’ve now been a part of the audition process enough times to see that much of what we stress ourselves to death over, plays a miniscule part in the actual casting decision. It’s great to have a well stocked resume and killer audition shoes, but it’s definitely not worth causing yourself anxiety over. Never in my experience has a casting call ever come down to who has the best legs or taken the most acting classes.

Let’s take a glance at my thought process behind the table of one memorable audition. Auditioner #1 confidently walks into the room and gives us a greeting that beams charm. She has obviously taken great care to research and think about the part she is auditioning for since her song selection is a perfect way to show the vocal range and the personality of the character. Great start, but as soon as the song begins, I’m instantly distracted by the fact her voice sounds sweet but she clearly is unable to handle the range that the character has to sing in the show. I know undoubtably that I cannot cast her.  I then notice her beautifully crafted outfit which accentuates all her best features while making her look the right age for the character and very professional to work with  (I mentally give her another point). I am uninterested in her acting choices so I begin to browse through her resume and headshot…it is rather impressive (so she mentally gets another point from me). As she concludes her song, I rack up all her points for professionalism, experience, looks, and personality but there is still no doubt in my mind that I will not cast her because she is simply unable to handle the role.

Fast forward a few auditioners. I’m handed a resume that’s greatly lacking with a headshot that looks like it may have been taken a few years ago by a family member with a nice camera (Mentally, I sigh and wish I could skip to the next girl). The song choice is not the best for this style of show and her outfit was not memorable (no extra points given here). Yet right as the music starts, auditioner #2 is already making fantastic character choices that grab my attention, I don’t care to continue looking at her resume because I am unable to look away from her performance! When she begins to sing, her range and connection to the song make me positive that I am going to give her the lead in my show. Just like that, I don’t need to rack up any points, she is exactly what I had in mind for the part.

Skip to another audition that was particularly painful for me to cast. With my male lead already cast, I passed up a number of wickedly talented female performers simply because they didn’t match his age and appearance. I felt like taking each of them aside and telling them that their performance blew my mind but they would frankly look awkward next to my male lead so I couldn’t cast them. I walked away from this experience with the knowledge that being right for the part doesn’t just mean being able to rock the vocal range of Christine from the Phantom of the Opera or having the perfect attitude and tap skills for Millie Dillmount from Thoroughly Modern Millie. It also means being right for this particular production that you’re auditioning for. Do you look correct when paired with the actors playing your counterparts? Are you available for the rehearsals? Is the director taking the play in a vastly different direction that perhaps you don’t fit into?

My personal audition process used to include a cyclone of the following: I don’t sleep the night before as I worry that I didn’t choose the right cut of the song. I lose track of time staring at headshots to pick which ones look most like the character. I rework my resume 100 times right down to the spacing of lines. I run around like crazy looking for an outfit that best fits the role. I arrive hours early and pace anxiously, analyzing whether I should go at the beginning or end of the audition to catch the director at the most opportune time. I fix myself in the mirror so many times while I wait that I look worse than when I started. I stress out so much that when I walk into the audition room, I don’t give anything near my best performance.

It’s true that the more auditions I make myself go to, the more comfortable and prepared I feel, but it was after casting several shows myself that I was able to see auditions in a whole new light. If I heard someone mess up I did not immediately discard their headshot, I looked for any other reason to invite them to callbacks to give them another chance to shine. If a performer was a little shaky walking into the room, I didn’t automatically think that they are not a confident performer, I saw that this audition meant a lot to them and that they get nervous just like me. At callbacks, when I taught songs to groups of auditioners and was asked to repeat a section of the song, I didn’t assume the performer was too lazy to learn the piece ahead of time, I just appreciated that they took the time to clarify.

I’ve heard it many times and it always bears repeating; directors want to cast people in their show, they are rooting for you to be good because they are hoping to find the perfect performer to make their production a success! There’s definitely something to be said about presenting yourself in a professional, prepared manner. But the director in me is screaming: if you sing and act the hell out of the song, I’m going to cast you regardless of the details because my reputation is riding on this too. The performer in me is patting you on the back reminding you that if you did everything right and didn’t get this one, it’s not due to a lack of talent, you just weren’t what the directors were looking for this time around. Don’t get so overwhelmed with details that your actual audition suffers. When you find the part that’s right for you, the rest will fall into place.

The Reckless Artist sig

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 25, 2013 10:20 am

    As a director, casting is always the scariest part for me. I always have to see the resume for previous shows and education/training along with the headshot while still watching and listening to them to see and hear the choices they are making. Although when it comes down to it: it IS solely based on if they are right for the role. I can usually tell within the first sentence with straight plays (I’ve never done casting for a musical though, one thing to add to my bucket list). Going with the gut instinct is usually the best plan for casting I’ve come to learn.

  2. January 26, 2013 10:13 am

    Great post! I’ve definitely seen this while sitting on the other side of the table when my husband casts. It’s great perspective!

  3. The Growing Artist permalink
    February 2, 2013 10:59 am

    Great post- I really enjoyed reading it! I have been on the other side of the table a few times. It is really interesting to experience an audition from a different perspective. I definitely found myself rooting for every actor that walked through the door. You want the audition to go well for each and every actor. I was definitely more impressed with the actors who really read the script and acted accordingly. You could tell who was paying attention to the stage directions and who wasn’t.

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