Actors' Nightmares

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Ghouls. Ghosts. Mummies. Masks. Jack Torrence from The Shining. Donald Trump from the Republican Party. All things that go bump in the night.

This is Halloween, this is Halloween

Pumpkins scream in the dead of night

This is Halloween, everybody make a scream

Trick or treat till the neighbors gonna die of fright

It’s our town, everybody scream

In this town of Halloween

– The Nightmare Before Christmas

Today, we explore not the town of Halloween, but the town of ::cue scary music:: THE AUDITION ROOM. 

Alright, shit’s about to get real. We talk a lot about our successes and how to overcome our challenges, but what about those times things don’t go quite the way we’d like them to? I mean those times we want to crawl into a hole and die? I’m being dramatic. Go figure.

I reached out to some fellow actors and asked them to send me their most horrific audition stories, just to see what would happen. The result? Pretty hilarious . . .

There were no sides, we were simply told that it was for a “big feature film” and that we should be prepared to improvise. Once in the room (a normal casting room, with an entrance/exit door, a table, a couch, a chair, a monitor, etc.), the camera started rolling and the director said he’d walk me through the action – which ended up being something along the lines of, “You’re really scared and you want to get out! Use the room!”. So I fake-tugged on the open door, tried to seek cover behind a metal chair, looked around wildly (while trying to avoid looking into the camera lens), and made somewhat audible distress sounds. Did. Not. Book. It.

– Anonymous

I was going in for a Superbowl ad. We were all called to the creative team’s location, rather than a regular casting house here in Chicago. It was a big commercial, so I was really excited and plenty nervous. Plus it was a new environment, so the temperature in the waiting area was pretty anxious. The audition was super-simple: I walk in the room and say “Hey guys, what are you doing?” Easy, right? Well, on the first take, when it came time for my big line, something caught in my throat and I kind of gagged out the word “gu-guys”. The audition facilitator turned to the camera guy, instructed him to turn it off, and clearly angry and incredulous, he turned to me and demanded “Did you just call them gay guys?” I was mortified. I instantly apologized and tried to explain myself, but the whole thing was clearly a wreck. They turned the camera back on and let me have another swing at it, but I was rattled and embarrassed and the damage had already been done. I high-tailed it out of there and walked home in the rain, praying they didn’t call my agent to tell her that her talent had gone off-book so dramatically. Needless to say—I didn’t land that one.

Meghan Reardon

I showed up ready to read one of the most intense scenes of the movie, waited for 1/2 an hour to be seen, and then when I got into the room the camera operator told me that there was no reader. Rather than read himself, he proceeded to pull a roll of duct tape from his bag, and put an X on the wall behind him. “Would you mind reading with that?” he asked. “I’ve read with worse…so sure.” I said. I got called back. I declined to attend.

– Anonymous

So this theatre that shall be called “Judging Amber Theatre.” J.A.T. was having a musical audition. I LOVED the show they were doing. I was ready. At least I thought. It was my second audition in Chicago. My first was Steppenwolf and that went quite well. Did it land me work? No. I’m a white woman. I am one of MANY white women. The casting director did say positive things, but I digress. I was feeling confident, but my voice had changed since my move. Chicago air was testing my vocal chords. I thought “Eh. I’m nervous. The adrenaline will show up, and I’ll do fine.” Adrenaline was apparently playing hooky that cold day in February. First error: switching songs. Yup. Classic Auditioning 101: don’t switch your music at the last minute. I had to start over three times, and then it was an awkward “Okay that will be all…” as the director turned and ignored my exit while talking to the person next to him. The notes were not my notes! I could not claim those notes! They were awful!!!! I could have done so much better, but the Chicago allergies were effing with my Texas raised vocal folds. I wish to this day I had said, “May I have my headshot and resume back so we can forget this every happened?” Everyone else that was auditioning after me could hear me in the next room. “Break legs everyone,” as I exited. I should have said, “Well I set the bar nice and low. You’re welcome!” Ugh. It’ll be another year and 100 voice lessons later before I audition for them again. Sigh.

– Amber Ray Snyder

There was no camera for this one, just two guys behind a table tapping away on their laptops. And behind them, an enormous reflective surface – so I could see everything I was doing. As if that wasn’t distracting enough, my partner was an elderly woman who clearly could not understand the director, as she asked me to repeat everything he said. I thought it might have been because of his heavy accent, but it was in fact because she was hard of hearing. Again I had to improvise being trapped, only this time with a partner who had an understandably difficult time discerning between my acting and my (maybe) real behavior. Did. Not. Book. It.

– Anonymous

I got an audition for summer stock.  This particular season at this particular place, they were doing a Shakespeare comedy and a dark comedy farce.  Perfect!  Totally my speed.  And/but, on the same track as those plays, there would be a couple musicals thrown into the mix.  “Psh.  Whatevs.  Totally got this.”  Did I get my BFA in Musical Theatre?  No.  Did I go to Conservatory?  No.  Did I get MFA in musical anything.  No.  But, like I said, I totally got this.  I do have 16 bars of a song for just-in-cases like this.  I decided to do a song from Man of La Mancha.  

I get to the audition. I do my Comedic Shakespeare and my Contemporary Farce.  They laughed. They chatted with me.  I thought, “Great, my work here is done.” And then they asked for my song. “Cool, yeah, sure, no problem.” I sang the first half–not bad.  Actually, maybe even pretty decent. Then I inhaled to launch into the next bit, and…blank.  Yep.  Total blank.  No idea what words come next. Mm-hm. So what did I do?  I kept singing.  Here is what I sang. (Please note: all the things I am saying that I am doing, I am, in fact, doing.  With verve and enthusiasm.)

To be sung to the tune of “I Like Him,” from Man of La Mancha:

IIIII don’t knooow

The rest of theee woooords,

So I’ll do a little dance,

And maybe shake my butt…

For yooo-ooouuu.

I thought this was hilarious.  My roommate’s cat would have thought so, too.  I left, chuckling and rolling my eyes, “Oh, good grief, Ariel.”

I did not get a call-back. But I did get an e-mail:  “That was a pretty fun audition.  Thank you.”

I’ll take it! 

Ariel Lauryn

When I moved to Chicago back in 2013, I went to an open call at Ford Models. I was nervous, to say the least, and on my way there, I was listening to Dan Savage’s Podcast, The Savage Lovecast. (For those of you who don’t know, Dan is an author, columnist, and activist. In his podcast, he answers questions from callers about relationships and sex.) When I got to the Ford Models office building, I quickly pulled out the headphones from my iPhone, thinking this would automatically stop the podcast. I was wrong. Instead, the podcast continued playing on speaker. At that moment, Dan was talking about mutual masturbation and how to get the most out of the experience. Everyone in the room overheard the dialogue until I was finally able to turn my phone off. It was absolutely mortifying, to say the least. Needless to say, I have not been back to Ford since.

– Eric Feltes

Your turn! Do you have an audition horror story? I’d love to hear about it! Leave a comment here, tweet me, or Facebook me!