The Other Side of Auditions: Part 1
Last winter, I interned at one of the major casting companies in Chicago, Paskal Rudnicke Casting, and it was the best experience of my career. Normally during the school year, I’m a substitute teacher for Chicago Public Schools, so you could imagine how thrilling it was to take two days a week to NOT sub and be creative in the casting room instead. (Not to say subbing is never creative. Trust me, when you have a room full of 30 middle schoolers with no sub plans, you are forced to be creative. Turns out kids LOVE improv games.)
I saw a ton of auditions during my internship. It was thrilling to watch actors take risks, explore the text, work and play. I especially loved watching good actors listen to feedback from the casting directors, process it, and make the necessary edits. (Side note: When a casting director gives you a note, this is not to say what you first did was bad. Most likely, they just want a different take, so they can show their client various ways you work.)
During my time in the room, I also saw a few doozies. Why do some actors feel the need to oversell products? An actor walked into the casting room once for an audition for a major company (let’s call it Company A), and the first words out of her mouth were, “I love Company A! I shop there all the time!” I guess this would have been fine if it rang true, but in this case, it did not read as genuine, it read as desperate. Desperation does not help an actor get the part; it makes everyone else in the room feel uncomfortable. It’s kind of like American Idol, when contestants cry in front of the judges: “But I want it! This is my dream! I want it so bad!” Right. So do the thousands of others auditioning. (Quick, somebody stop me before I go down the “Why our country is failing for giving every child a trophy” rabbit hole.)
Do casting directors want you to use the product they’re trying to sell? Sure! But what they don’t want is for you to lie about it. Here’s the deal: Casting directors are really good at reading what is true and what is fake. It’s their job, really. If you walk into the room and talk about a product, only do so if what you’re saying is true. Do not feel you need to go out of your way to oversell a product if you don’t feel that way about said product. They will read right through you. So, in short: Liking a product = Sure! Lying about liking a product = Trouble. Genuine = The BEST choice. And FINALLY, I’m just saying this to cover all the bases, although you probably already know . . . DO NOT go out of your way to tell them you do NOT like a product. Keep that to yourself!
Another actor for a different commercial was asked to improvise her reaction to getting a free $25 gift card. I tell ya what, I want what she’s having, because she acted like she just won a million bucks. If you won a $25 gift card, would you really jump for joy and scream about it for two minutes? Probably not. Almost always, commercials are depictions of real life. As actors, we sell products by being truth tellers. Keyword: truth. Why would anyone want to trust someone who overreacts?
So my point is this: Don’t try so hard. Geez, this is easier said than done, and I am speaking of the challenge from experience. In regards to your work in the room, if you feel you aren’t doing enough, you are on the right track. Assuming you’ve done all the necessary work leading up to the audition (i.e. memorizing, researching the product or show, rehearsing, dressing appropriately, being on time, etc.), trust that you are enough. As PR Casting Director AJ Links says, “being yourself is the most important thing in the room.”
Ok, so that’s something NOT to do, but what about something TO DO? Bonnie Gillespie describes walking into an audition room with the following thought in mind: “I hear you need an actor. Maybe I can help.” Walk into the room with confidence and offer yourself up as the solution to their problem. This thought really changed the way I looked at auditions. With the intention “to help” instead of “to impress,” I started to get rid of the nerves and useless thoughts floating in my head. I got to the point where I was ready to work the moment I walked into the room. It took a very long time for me to get to this point, but it completely changed my audition process.
Sometimes I feel if I’m not succeeding, then I’m not trying hard enough. While this sentiment is true is certain situations, it does little but get in the way for me once I’m in the audition room. Preparation is key for any audition, but once in the room, relax, and be ready to work and play simultaneously.