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Unified Auditions from the Other Side of the Table

April 4, 2013

My interview subject was keen to figure out if there would be time to eat dinner before callbacks began. After seven hours and 200 auditionees, he was feeling a little fried. Unified auditions – like UPTAs, SETCs, NETCs, and MWTAs – are great for actors to be seen by lots of different companies at once, and are great for companies to see hundreds of talent in one place, streamlining their auditions over the course of one weekend. They are, however, exhausting. For both sides of the table.

They are also puzzling for the actor to unpack how to market oneself to 40+ companies with a single 90-second “package” that can include music and monologue. I accompanied StageOne Associate Artistic Director, Andrew D. Harris, to UPTAs and, following SETCs a month later, asked for his insight into the unified experience from the perspective of someone with casting authority.

The Enterprising Actor (TEA): As an actor, it is daunting to think about how to make yourself stand out from the other 199 auditionees you will see in one day – and that’s just one day of three or four days of auditions producers are watching. What makes someone stand out?
Andrew D. Harris (ADH): Don’t try to stand out. I saw a lot of people who were doing things to try to stand out, but it backfired on them 99% of the time. What stood out was someone who knew their type, executed their piece or pieces well, and generally behaved in a professional manner. If they were a type I needed and I saw some talent and professionalism, I gave them a callback. Or I kept their resume, if I don’t have anything for them this season but they are a type I don’t have in our local casting pool. We also know the shows that are on the short list for 2014-15, so I was keeping an eye out for roles I know we’ll be looking for then, especially the Cassius Clay piece we’ve commissioned.

TEA: So is there anything I can do to be more memorable?
ADH: Be talented.

TEA: Okay, let’s say I am a type that you are looking for – and of course I’ve got mad skillz – What can I do that will make me a more appealing candidate?
ADH: Be talented and be the type I need.

TEA: That’s not as helpful and answer as I would have liked.
ADH: It’s the truth, though. There’s only so much I can tell from 90 seconds, so just relax and make those 90 seconds a showcase of your talent. The rest is up to whether I need your type this season.

TEA: What were folks doing that was not working? What were some of the big mistakes you saw?
ADH: Not knowing their type. This was huge. There were lots of people who must have chosen their monologues because someone gave it to them, or because they like the piece, but not because it shows me anything about what you can do, what you have to offer, as an actor. The first thing you need to to do is to get clear on your type and learn how to market that. After that, I’d say don’t yell so much. There was a lot of yelling, or very quiet monologues where I could barely hear the person until they yelled “F*@%!” That does not help me know if you would fit into my casting matrix. And, sure, I may remember you, but it’s going to be for all the wrong reasons. A lot of people rushed through their monologues, too. They seemed so preoccupied with not getting cut off that they didn’t act at all. Or they tried to squeeze too much into their 90 seconds. Some people did two songs and a monologue in that 90 seconds, and each time it was the monologue that was short-changed. While we do musicals, and I am looking for singers, my first priority is your acting chops. I would advise actors to do one song and one monologue so that you have time to do something with each of them.

TEA: Even then, 45 seconds doesn’t seem like a lot of time to do something with a piece.
ADH: No, but I can tell in those 45 seconds enough to know if I want to call you back and see more.

TEA: Fair enough. Did anyone get cut off?
ADH: A few people did.

TEA: Did that reflect poorly on them?
ADH: Not at all – unless they ignored the timekeeper. A few people got cut off, stopped, stated their name and number, and exited. That was fine. Some other people, though, rushed to finish their piece when time was called. A couple of them just kept going after time had been called several times. If the timekeeper is sitting there saying, “Time. Time. Time! Time! TIME!” I am going to assume you will be as rude and dismissive of my Stage Manager as you are being of the timekeeper, the people who are waiting to go on after you, and of my time. At that point, you are holding the producers hostage at your pleasure so you can finish your piece. I don’t want someone that rude, unprofessional, arrogant, or oblivious in rehearsal with the rest of my company.

TEA: Did you see any monologues or songs repeat themselves?
ADH: There wasn’t too much overlap, considering how many people there were. At SETC we had one afternoon that was almost exclusively music from Avenue Q and Next to Normal, but repetition of a particular piece wasn’t enough for me to notice it or to “count against” someone.

TEA: What advice would you give me about searching for the elusive perfect monologue or song?
ADH: Know your type. Know your type. Know your type. Also, consider how your monologue will play to the room; one guy did a monologue that ended with the phrase, “If there is a hell for actors, it is children’s theatre.” Considering that StageOne is a TYA theatre, and there were a lot of family-oriented theatres in the room, I would have advised that actor that insulting half of the hiring companies in his monologue was a poor choice. I don’t remember anything about him, except that he clearly doesn’t want to work with my company.

TEA: Yikes!
ADH: Yeah, and you know, there was another actor who did that same monologue but rewrote the final line to something like, “If there is a hell for actors, it is here.”

TEA: I’m guessing that other guy didn’t get a callback with StageOne.
ADH: No, no he didn’t.

TEA: That reminds me, at UPTAs we had to indicate which type of work we were willing to take. Did you pay attention to that?
ADH: Absolutely! If an actor did not check that they would accept TYA* work, I didn’t even bother to pay attention to their audition. There are too many other people who did check that box and too many other demands on my time and attention to worry about someone who has indicated they would turn down a job offer from me.

TEA: So you really did pay attention to whether an actor checked that box.
ADH: Oh, yeah, I did. It was the first thing I looked at. If that box wasn’t checked, I didn’t even look at the headshot and resume.

TEA: What if they were brilliant, did you go back and sneak a peek at their picture and resume?
ADH: Nope, I was already looking at how many more people there were in the group who had checked the box, and looking at the next person’s resume. Their brilliance existed in a vacuum.

TEA: Let’s talk about clothes. Did what people wore have any bearing on your impression of them?
ADH: The only people whose outfits I remember were two blonde girls who wore dresses the color of their skin or hair – they just disappeared – and one guy who was dressed very distinctly and also acted like a jerk. His clothing made his being a jerk more memorable and easy to point out.

TEA: Callbacks for both UPTAs and SETCs are in the producer’s hotel room. That can be a little awkward.
ADH: For the producers, too.

TEA: Are there any tips for making that less awkward?
ADH: Just behave professionally. Pay attention to what the producer is indicating for you to do. I had a chair out for people to sit in so they weren’t sitting on the bed, that felt less awkward for me.

TEA: What else can you tell me about callbacks?
ADH: Keep your theatres straight. I had people sign-up for callbacks who I had not called back. I know some people have a lot of callbacks to juggle, but keeping straight the names of the theatres that called you back seems like a pretty basic skill. I even got “Sorry, I can’t make a callback with you” notes from people I didn’t callback. I get that it is a busy weekend – it is for me, too – but just like you expect me to keep your information straight, I expect the same from you.

TEA: Let’s talk about the networking opportunities. Were you schmoozed? Did you schmooze?
ADH: Hanging out at the hotel bar, restaurant, lobby, etc. is a not a bad idea. I would caution actors, though, that not all producers wear their badge out and about. Maybe we’re tired and don’t want to be networked. Maybe we want to see how people are behaving when they don’t know a producer can hear. Just be aware that you don’t know who can overhear you if you decide to talk about how lame a theatre is, or degrade your callback, or the person’s callback before you.

TEA: I ran into that a lot at UPTAs. People would check out my namebadge to see if I was talent or producer before continuing their conversation – or not, depending on which badge I was wearing.
ADH: Yeah, but that was helpful, too. I ended up chatting with a guy who knew someone we’ve cast a few times, which he mentioned after seeing StageOne on my badge. I had a great chat with him and asked him to send me his stuff. He was a nice guy, seemed to have a good track record, and even though I don’t have anything for him this season, he’s a type I need most seasons. So, maybe that will turn into a job for him in a year or so.

TEA: From your perspective, and what you heard from other producers, do you feel like these things are good investments of time and money for actors?
ADH: If you’re young and just starting out, or if you’re young and looking for summer work, they are particularly good.

TEA: Hold on, why do you keep saying, “If you’re young…” Do actors age out of unifieds?
ADH: No, but the vast majority of actors at both of them were young. SETCs trended much younger and greener than UPTAs.

TEA: So, does that mean an older actor has a better chance of getting work? Or less of a chance because producers go there looking for their young chorus types?
ADH: It’s going to depend on the producer. I’d guess that the average age at SETC was 20-25, and at UPTAs it was more like 25-35, but I saw actors older than that at both. The older actors probably won’t get as many callbacks, simply because there are a lot of theatres there looking to fill their summer stock choruses, or their theme park shows, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile.

TEA: Sounds like it’s a real individual answer.
ADH: It is.

TEA: What about for the Equity actor, do you think it’s worth the time and money for them?
ADH: You’re going to have a lot fewer producers even looking for Equity talent than for non-Equity folks.

TEA: At UTPAs, I noticed there was one number who got called back by a lot of theatres, it was a guy with a beard. Was he just spectacular, or something? What made that one person so appealing?
ADH: Yeah, I remember him. He was a really good type: good classical theatre type, good leading man type, good singing voice.

TEA: And a few of the tall, leggy Equity ladies got callbacks, but other than that, not a lot of Equity folks got callbacks at UPTAs.
ADH: Some actors who were in a show at StageOne during UPTAs were asking me about this, too. You have to remember that – and this is true of all theatres – the number of union actors I can hire is a budgetary issue, not a talent one. I have so many Equity slots I can afford to hire each year. We hire as many local Equity folks as we can, and reserve out of town slots for roles we just can’t find locally. That means that, at an audition like these unified auditions, I am going to be extremely judicious about whether I callback Equity actors, and if I do, it is going to be a type I don’t feel confident that I can cast from my local talent pool. I think it can be a useful investment, but it may not net any jobs. It’s much more of a toss-up for Equity folks than for non-Equity folks.

TEA: Sounds like Equity folks need to view it more as a networking opportunity than an audition for work.
ADH: Well, I’ll leave that up to the Equity actors to decide.

TEA: What do you wish more actors had known? What would have made your job easier?
ADH: Know your type, show me a piece that helps me see what your type is – I can’t chat with you in these settings the way I can when you audition for StageOne in Louisville or Chicago – so you have to give me enough to get a feel for the kind of actor you are. Then, if I need that type, we’ll have the callback to chat.

TEA: Get my type figured out, don’t suck, and then hope lots of theatres need my type.
ADH: That’s it in a nutshell.

TEA: What if I brought you chocolate?
ADH: A mango Jamba Juice – that would be good.

TEA: So know my type, don’t suck, and bring you mango smoothies?
ADH: Yes. That’s the secret to being cast. Mango smoothies.

*TYA is the acronym for Theatre for Young Audiences, and is the contract under which StageOne works with Actors Equity.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 4, 2013 10:14 am

    Great interview and what a nice person to be so generous with this “inside” information. Thank you for this!

  2. The Growing Artist permalink
    April 25, 2013 10:54 pm

    Very helpful!

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