Audition Successes & Failures: Actor Tell-All from The Casting Table

Greetings fellow artists. I recently had a great opportunity as an active auditioning NYC actor: to sit on the other side of the table. It was a three-day masterclass, and it changed the way I now audition.


Welcome Guest Blogger, actress Holly Williams who recently jumped to behind the casting table. Oh–what she witnessed. Holly shares insight on how actors can soar with success. Or flame out in failure. Holly is an AEA actress, having recently returned from 5 continuous years of work at the TONY-recognized Barter Theatre.

Holly WilliamsHolly Williams

Guest Blogger

Greetings my fellow artists. Currently, I am writing this blog on my phone waiting to sign up for an EPA appointment. I recognize a lot of you. I see you almost every morning at the crack of dawn at AEA, Telsey, Pearl, Nola and/or Ripley. We stand in line together. Crowd around the mirrors and put on our makeup. Or stretch, and make small talk. Or do our best to silently hum vocal warm ups while we wait to snag a slot. 


A few weeks ago, I switched places. I had a great opportunity as an active, auditioning NYC actor: to sit on the other side of the casting table. This time I didn’t see you in your cute pajamas, lugging over-sized bags and winter coats. This time I was seeing bright-eyed and bushy tailed actors accomplish a savvy quick change into your audition-ready selves. I observed the notes casting director, and director, Paul Russell would write on your resumes to remember you by, the impression you gave when you walked into the room and when you left. In between auditions, he whispered what was working, what was not and why. I learned about the complications of solving the casting puzzle by listening to the creative team’s comments. It was a three-day masterclass, and it changed the way I now audition.


Look like your headshot:  

Like you, I have heard this a hundred times from various well-respected sources. One of those, “Duh- everyone knows that” truths, right? But more often than not, I wouldn’t recognize the person walking into the room based on your photo. Your headshot is the first thing I see. If your picture has a hair color/cut that changes your appearance, looks like you five or ten years ago (be honest with yourself about that) or is a super glamorous shot with makeup and hair fit for the cover of a magazine but not for the you walking into the room right now: I will not remember who you are at the end of the day. When all I have to look at and remember you by is your photo, let it look like you. So much of casting is outside your control. Looking like you headshot is not one of them..


Make your resumes easy to read:

I spent more time trying to hunt for information on your resume than I did watching your audition. Go to Paul Russell’s ACTING: MAKE IT YOUR BUSINESS book, turn to page 86 and follow the industry standard. I probably missed a marvelous part of your audition because I was searching for something that I should be able to find at a glance.

[As an aside: I thought my resume was FINE. I showed it to Paul on our break and he made all kinds of edits to it- and this is AFTER taking his class! So, for those of you like me who think, “Oh, this doesn’t apply to me.”….maybe get a second opinion just to be safe. Again, this IS within your control.]


Keep your audition material up to date!:

Our artistic producer LOVED asking people for something contrasting. And then he would ask for another piece–and another! I know this is rare. Most of us are used to only having time for one monologue or one 16-32 bar cut, and then leaving. But what surprised me the most was watching you have a panic attack at these requests. Some of you did not have another contrasting piece, or you flipped through your book frantically trying to find something and couldn’t decide, or you walked around in circles trying to remember another monologue you haven’t done in years. And even though I was on the other side of the table, rooting for you to remember your other material because I wanted to see more of your magic, I got nervous for you. Really nervous. So make it a goal to keep your audition material polished and ready to go when unexpectedly requested. This is in your control (see the pattern here?).


Be yourself. Have fun:

Okay- this is the thing that clicked the most for me. Now, I’ve taken Paul Russell’s masterclass twice and have taken advantage of his private coaching sessions. With all the notes I’ve taken on the business, marketing and audition strategy…two phrases I wrote down the most: ‘Be yourself’ and ‘Have fun.’


Easy, right? “How can I be anything other than myself? I get the chance to act and sing today. That’s always fun! Easy.”  After about the 30th audition witnessed, the phrases ‘Be yourself’ and ‘Have fun’ I had written down over and over again in my notes took on a new meaning. 


I realized I wasn’t being myself or having that much fun. Why? Because I would walk into an audition as my guarded self: Don’t speak unless spoken to. Put your professional game face on. Live in the moment once your audition begins. Politely thank them for their time and leave. If they are interested in more they will ask.


Do these also sound like your thoughts? They may–because I saw about 350 of you do the same thing. And you know what the result was? I had no idea who you were at the end of the day. 


‘Being yourself,’ and ‘having fun’ means allowing your authentic personality, all your wonderful quirks; your natural disposition; your likable and unique individuality to come into the room with you come through in the pieces you’re doing and also through the clothes you choose to wear. This is another way we get a glimpse of who you are in the limited amount of time we have with you in the room.


Those of you who found opportunities to let your authenticity come through made me remember you at the end of the day because I got a glimpse of your specific personality and I wanted to know you more and work with you one day. Even if you did not fit our casting puzzle: I remembered you.


Paul tried to engage your authenticity when you walked into the room: He greeted you, he would ask questions about you, and compliment your work or attire. But like me, you gave a very short guarded answer, and then ended with “Thank you” and you left the room. It was a missed an opportunity to know you more!  I learned that asking you questions behind the table is to get an idea of who you are and imagine if we might like working with you. Don’t recite your resume to me- it’s right in front of me. Tell me something. A quick story about a unique experience you’ve had or enjoyed, and then let that personality fly!


And here’s the best part about being yourself: it’s so freeing. The nuances of your artistic gifts come through more which is a lot of fun!  Your energy changed mine. Watching you enjoy your audition resulted in my own enjoyment and I had fun with you. 


So drop that guard, find (appropriate) opportunities to have a quick conversation or a moment to potentially create relationships with someone on the other side of the table by being your authentic self. Because one day, for some project, your gifts, craft, particular attributes, and individualism will be the solution to a casting dilemma. And you will have the advantage of being someone that casting will remember who then say, “Oh, I like this person a lot. I’ve been wanting to work with them.”


So be yourself! Have fun!


AMIYB_AmazonBernard Telsey, casting director for HAMILTON, The Intern, and The Wiz – Live! hails of Paul Russell’s book for actors, ACTING: Make It Your Business:

“Actors everywhere trying to succeed…


 Check out ACTING: Make It Your Business!

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Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned over 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 visit

Author: Paul Russell

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