Despised may be too gentle a verb. I once loathed, hated, and had no respect for a portion of my fellow auditioning actors: the gossip-pools that saturated audition studio hallways. They flowed from one building housing audition studios to another. The flood of critical chatters never was (and is) a dry riverbed of snarky surreptitious opinions. When I was an actor, the worst offenders were non-union actors with too much mouth and too little empathy for peers. Or the non-union actors who had circled the stock and dinner theater circuit but never electrified their auditions for the brighter jobs of LORT theaters, Broadway or the then lucrative AEA Broadway tours. Tied for worst were the AEA actors that for lack of talent, personality, or other reasons hadn’t many paying gigs beyond SPT or LOA contracts; their resumes a dumping ground for forgotten showcases attended only by begrudged friends. Why my fervent dislike for these actors? What was their offense? Blatant backstabbing, disrespect for their fellow actors, the entertainment community, producers, and casting directors.
Young and ignorant of the casting hierarchy as I was as an actor I unfortunately was also a sponge silently soaking up the bad mouthing rippling my way. Waves of sniping followed by the speaker’s and their audience’s giggles against the people-behind-the-table for which these actors were about to audition. But… I didn’t absorb the voiced assaults that actors-without-filters had for their fellow auditioning actors.
My audition routine always required one item I bring. A book. A rescue I hoped would draw my attention away from the actors in hallways backstabbing the actors in an audition studio. Some of the Brutus tongued would press their ears to the audition room door. Others had their eyes peering through curtains or the chipped paint on a window. Once the audition room door clicked shut the clique immediately excreted their verbal bile.
“Did she get that potato sack from the Salvation Army?”
“A monkey did her make-up.”
“If he thinks he’s a tenor, I’m Pavarotti.”
“She reads the scene like a zombie on speed after inhaling helium.”
“He should’ve stayed home. Allow this time for a real actor.”
Those actors of the late 20th century were the equivalent of today’s Fox News. All noise. No substance. Little wit. Often an embarrassment. Our freedom to express openly opinions is never to be suppressed or discouraged. Dialogue seeds growth. Tilling the ground without seeding prompts the sprouting of weeds. The dishonest persons who plant relationships, and then surreptitiously poison the field encourages witnesses to yield their own false harvests.
Some years later when I jumped the audition table to sit behind that unfortunate barrier I rarely encountered past verbal bile clan members. Most disappeared into civilian life. A few have slithered up the ladder to the industry projects (Broadway, screen, and larger regional theater) of my past and present. They audition for me at open calls. I politely welcome and thank each for coming in. If after one of these spoilers of fraternity exits, and then a creative on our team speaks of an interest in the actor I simply say, “He/she wouldn’t be good for company morale.” The actor’s picture and résumé plops atop a large pile of actor résumés for whom no further interest is warranted.
I noticed that when I began auditioning industry and household name actors and the journeyman actors who are often employed; the actors backstabbing fellow actors in audition studio hallways subsided substantially. Maturity rises with each rung up entertainment’s ladder.
Yet, immaturity, and divisiveness continues. The clique has a new forum beyond the hallway. There are online message boards where bitching is encouraged to fester and breed in a digital petri dish. Anonymous unpoliced trolls post vilifying commentary to online articles. This allowance for keyboard courage encourages bad behavior in our 3D pursuits.
I cast in studio complexes where a new generation of the gossiping clique thrives. After I returned from my lunch break of a recent open call I posted on my Facebook profile my TODAY’S TIP.
One of the two chatty actresses above attended the open call after my lunch. I welcomed her.
She auditioned. After she finished singing I genuinely complemented her singing. I then said, “I think we rode the elevator together today.” She didn’t recall. (Fortunately I’m not always recognized when out and about but it has been happening more since the book and articles.) I thanked her for coming in. After she left I placed her résumé atop the large pile of actors for which no further interest was presently warranted. Unfortunately I don’t have a separate pile for permanent lack of interest due to bad actor behavior. But… under my home-office desk is a shredder. And what a cathartic snarling sound it makes as it rips through an actor who brings to mind the gossiping actors of my youth who shredded swaths of my idealism.
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Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at universities including Yale, Elon and Wright State University. He is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.
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