Don’t Be Like Punky
When I was about 7, my parents gave my sister Leigh Ann a cockatiel for her birthday, and because of the feathers sticking out of her head, Leigh decided to name her Punky. I guess because she looked like a punk? It made sense to us at the time. Anyway, the excitement of having a bird in the house wore off after about 24 hours. Punky turned out to be a pretty big asshole, really. She would hiss and bite any time you put your hand near her. She would also make consistent noise, or at least anytime she wasn’t hissing or biting you. And of course, she would shit on you if you managed to get her to sit on your finger or shoulder.
One day, my sister and I noticed Punky, along with her cage, was gone. We asked my mom what happened to her, and she said she got rid of her weeks prior and didn’t tell us.
We lived without that damn bird for weeks and didn’t even notice she was gone.
Don’t be like Punky. Don’t be an asshole. Furthermore, don’t be forgettable.
Don’t put yourself in a situation where people don’t recognize your absence.
When I was casting the remaining roles in our short film, OFF BOOK, with director Robert Bruce Carter and co-producer/writer, Mindy Fay Parks, I saw two types of people: the ones I remembered, and the ones I didn’t.
It’s really that simple. Let’s talk about each type of person . . .
The ones I forgot played it safe.
Sure, they were polite, memorized, on-time, etc. But they played it safe. They didn’t make any interesting choices. They recited the words, and that’s just about it. Boring. Safe and not wrong, but boring.
The ones I remembered made bold or interesting choices.
Sometimes, these choices were not what we’d end up going with for the final production, but you know what? That’s ok! The actors I appreciated were the ones that made me look at the script I wrote in a different light. They inspired me to really think about the messages this script presents. That’s exciting for a casting director! Like my favorite Chicago acting coach, Janelle Snow, says,
“It’s better to make a bold wrong choice than a safe right one.”
While mulling over this idea for this post, I reached out to Janelle and asked her to clarify her “strong and wrong” proclamation, and this is what she had to say:
I don’t want to propagate the idea that there’s a “wrong” choice, per se. I do think that there are some choices that are more appropriate (because of style, etc.), but generally speaking, I’d rather encourage actors by saying that making a big choice and possibly risking “failure” is better than playing it safe and leaving the room having them have learned nothing about the text or about you.
Big = important, specific, Safe = milquetoast.
We are artists, so why do so many of us walk on eggshells in the room, taking on a Paint-By-Number audition approach? I’m betting it’s done out of fear, and we all know how far fear-based decisions will take us.
It’s pretty easy for me to sit here and spread the “strong and wrong” message, but I know how difficult it is to implement it. The best way to strengthen this audition muscle is to do just that: AUDITION! Continue to take classes and foster good relationships with casting directors. Over time, auditions will become fun. You will begin to play and work your instrument in unique ways. Until then, trust the process and listen to your gut.
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