Friday, July 9, 2010


Well, I have a couple of auditions today.  Film stuff.  One at eleven thirty this morning and another at four thirty this afternoon.  I'm looking forward to them, truth be told.  I have been teaching others to audition for about ten years now with my studio, Naked Face.  The past ten years or so in Chicago it is how I have made my living, teaching acting (with a few years off as a drug and alcohol counselor) and audition techniques.  It started out as a sideline gig, a way to make some extra money, and much to my delight and surprise, quickly turned into a full-time thing.  There were days, particularly in the last few years, when all I did for eight hours straight was see students, one after another, in my studio in Chicago.  Through word of mouth and hardly with any effort on my part, a lucrative coaching business was set up.  I had a waiting list, in fact.

Not so much here in LA.  I'm trying to build a clientele, but the truth is I'm just not a known entity out here.  And for many reasons, word of mouth is slower and less dependable here than in Chicago and New York.  And since no one knows my work, things are a bit slower, to say the least.

I was thinking last night, I haven't had to audition for something since about 1998.  That's not a boast, its just something that happened.  I had a carefully set up network of theaters where I'd worked, people I'd worked with, places where I'd done stuff before, directors I knew, playwrights, etc.  No one ever asked me to actually audition for something.

So now I have to.  And it doesn't bother me in the least.

Some actors abhor the audition process.  It's a chore, a necessary evil for them.  The idea of being judged gets them all a-quiver.  I can certainly see why this would be.  I know some very famous and talented actors that have somehow made it to the top of their profession without being particularly good at it.  DeNiro comes to mind.  He's terrible at auditions by all accounts.  Can't cold read very well and is deadly dull at monologue work.  And yet I don't think there are too many that would say Bob DeNiro can't act.  From all accounts he has some dyslexia problems, too, which he's spoken of openly.  Scorcese, of all people, once said he gave the worst audition he'd ever seen when he read for Mean Streets back in the early seventies.

Here are some things I know about auditioning.  Usually I charge a hundred bucks an hour for this information.  You, Gentle Reader, get it for free just for tuning into my blog today.  (This is written with a grin, mind you.)

First, auditioning and acting have virtually nothing to do with one another.  Apples and oranges.  Auditioning is all about making an indelible impression.  Acting is about, well, it's about a thousand things, but making an impression is only one.  And it's not high on the list.  Auditioning is a competition, acting is not.  In the minute or so one has to make that impression one has only the time for one, maybe two, large brush strokes.  Subtlety is not high on the list of imperatives.

One of the things it is easy to forget about this auditioning business is that the guys behind the desk want you to be good.  They want the actor to come in and blow them away.  Usually they're as bored and uneasy with this process as the actor is.  Especially after seeing about a hundred or so actors before you.  They WANT to be knocked out.

I think it would be especially beneficial for every actor to be on the other side of the table at least once.  To see how much that side wants to be wowed.  It would make everyone's life a lot easier if the absolute perfect actor were to walk in and slam dunk the part.  The question then becomes, what do they want?  What, specifically, are they looking for?  This is a tough question and often times even the guys behind the desk don't know.  They just know it when they see it.

Reminds me of an actor once asking Olivier after reading for him for about an hour, "What do you want from me?"  Olivier allegedly said, "Well, for starters, I'd like you to be better."

Another thing often forgotten by actors, even veteran actors, is that the audition starts at the door, not when the material starts.  I always have my students actually leave the room and walk in every single time they run through their stuff.  The audition starts at 'hi, my name is...'

A big thing to remember is confidence.  It is ninety percent of the game.  Confidence seeps from an actor's pores.  I used to mentally work myself up into a quiet frenzy sometimes.  I would play mind games with myself and by the time I actually got to the audition I was practically affronted by the entire idea of having to read for someone.  My inner dialogue was something like, "Do you have any idea who I am?  Clearly, you don't or you wouldn't have me go through this process.  You don't have the foggiest idea of what I'm capable of."  And then it becomes a no-lose situation.  If they don't hire you, it's their fault, not yours.  It's a fine line.  It can't be arrogance, but at the same time, it can't be a 'Gee, I hope they like me' attitude, either.  Friendly, but supremely confident.  If one gets the call back, the first question should be, "What do you want?  What are you looking for in this reading?"  That's when the real work begins.

One thing to remember is to always 'play the space.'  If you've been rehearsing Lear's storm speech ("Blow Ye Winds!  Crack Your Cheeks!") in an outdoor theatre you can't very well do it the same way in an office with two chairs.  This is a mistake made so often it's unbelievable, even among veteran, savvy actors.

Never play to the guys behind the table.  Don't make them act with you.  They see hundreds of actors and the last thing they want to do is be coerced into doing the scene with you.  Pick a spot above them or slightly to the side to focus.  Everyone breathes easier.

Remember that sometimes the work of the actor has absolutely nothing to do with getting the part.  Sometimes you're just not what they're looking for.  It might be something so simple as the fact that they want someone shorter than you for the role.  Nothing to be done about it.  Don't take it personally.  Unless, of course, you have some special 'acting shoes' that make you two inches shorter.

Usually, and I say this from many, many hours spent as a playwright and director on the other side of the table, the decision is made within the first ten seconds or so.  If you bring in a two-minute monologue, often times the decision to either call you back or move on to the next person is made within the first few seconds of it.  The rest is just courtesy.  So make it short and sweet.  Do your thing and get out.

Talent is and always has been the great equalizer.  A great picture or a fantastic resume or a high-powered agent's submission will only get you in the door.  After that, if there's nothing there to back it up, it's all moot anyway.  A guy who comes in with one credit on his resume, the third guy on the left in a high school production of Julius Caesar, and then proceeds to blow me away will get the call back over the guy with seven Broadway productions but bores the bejesus out of me.  Talent is the great equalizer.  Always has been, always will be.

Don't play silly ego games.  "My, what a nice tie that is."  It's embarrassing.

One of my favorite audition stories is one Michael Moriarty once told me about Shelly Winters.  It was the mid-eighties and Ms. Winters was being asked to come in and read for a stage role about to go into rehearsal in New York.  She was called by the casting director and asked if she wouldn't mind terribly if they asked her to come in and actually read for the part.  Ms. Winters said, "Of course not, I'm an actor, that's what I do."

So the next morning she got out her big overnight bag and carefully placed her three Emmy Awards, her two Tony Awards, her two Oscars, her three Golden Globe Awards, her SAG Awards, her New York Film Critic Awards, her Los Angeles Film Critic Awards and her four Best Actress Citations from the Academy of Arts and Science and trundled off to the reading.  Upon arriving, she carefully took them all out of the bag and placed them, one after another, all lined up just so, on the table in front of the guys behind the desk, all without saying a word.  Then she said, "Now, exactly what are you looking for in me today that you haven't already seen?"

They offered her the role.

So, it's off to audition today.  As I said, both are for film roles, so it's a whole new ballgame for me.  As with every audition, no doubt I'll learn something today.  The trick is not to obsess.  Once it's over, I'll go about my business.  I have a play to do tonight, a rather large role, in fact, and that will be my focus once the readings are over.  Yes, of course, I'd like to do well with both of them, but if for some reason I don't, there will be another one on Monday, I'm sure.  Life goes on.

Angie, who has been in the casting business for many years, tells me things are about to heat up.  June is notoriously slow in this business.  July is when things get cooking.  Well, it's July.

See you tomorrow.

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