Actors tend not to believe the feedback of casting. Actors think we’re jaded in our candor. What those disbelieving actors don’t realize is that our feedback comes from a position of caring, and of experience from witnessing from behind the audition table. So then will those same dismissive actors reject one of their own?
Actor Chris Richrads was recently a reader for several casting offices. He posted his observations on Facebook. When I asked if he would share those insights with Answers for Actors, he was very gracious in doing so.
Each time, I get in as a reader everyone — everyone — behind the table is warm and kind and welcoming. Pleasant.
I sit at my music stand and review my sides. I scan the list of the day, looking for friends, looking for agents. Just looking to see. See something. I don’t know.
It’s usually 7-8 pages of actors. 5 minutes each appointment. 6 straight hours of appointments. Almost 100 actors in a day, all day, every day. Holy hell. Wow. Exciting. Terrifying. And these are the ones who got to this point. I hope I brought enough water for all this talking I’m about to do.
I see who has reps. Nearly everyone. Everyone. Gulp. And this actor? Oh yeah, they have *that* agent. I’ve reached out to that agent. No response. Oh and *that* actor? Yeah, they have *this* agent. I’ve met with this agent. This agent seemed pleasant enough. But bored. “We like your talent, but have your type.” Gulp, gulp, gulp. Sigh. Damn it. The 2 dreaded-celebrated defining T’s of our craft who can never seem to work together. Fraternal evil twins. Ugh.
Simultaneously I gently eavesdrop on the powers behind the table. “Oh *this actor* is coming in and they went to ***THAT school*** and **got their MFA** and *worked with* **that person** on **this project**.” The Actor Lizard Brain kicks in on your end. You’re honored to be a reader. Delighted. Truly. Adore it. You’re proud to be here in this capacity. You fully understand it’s a position of trust. But that tiny voice in you whispers, “Damn, damn, damn. Sigh. No wonder I’m The Reader. No wonder I’m not being asked to audition for this. No wonder. Welp. Maybe I can learn a thing or two? Or maybe I should just hand in my card and go find another career. Maybe I should say fuck this and go home and write the best damn script anyone’s ever seen. That’ll show ’em. And then they’ll wish they asked me in. Sigh.”
And then the day starts and casting begins to usher in the actors. And learn I do. Well. Re-learn. It’s nothing new, but the reminders are good. It always comes down to this:
- Comprehension is king.
Comprehension. Is. King. You need to understand the language. The style. The period. The piece. You may bend and push and deliver the text how you want and in any way that’s honest to you–but understand what you’re saying, why, and the dramatic function within the script. It’s even ok if you’re not pitch perfect on your memorization. Hell, it’s ok if you’re not fully memorized and just a stellar, kick-ass reader. As long as you COMPREHEND.
- Do not try too hard or get too personal.
Don’t bring up your therapy. Don’t ingratiate yourself to those behind the table. Don’t pitch yourself and give additional info as to why you’d be good for the role after you do your work. Don’t call the playwright a modern day Shaw. We can smell it. We can feel it. It feels like sales. It feels false. Fake. It feels like TMI. It feels uncomfortable. If you already have a relationship with the people behind the table that’s another thing, but don’t do the above. Don’t commit to a Leveraging Act.
- Union or non?
Does. Not. Matter. It’s anybody’s ballgame at every single moment.
- If you feel caught between a Creative choice and an Authentic choice, ALWAYS MAKE THE AUTHENTIC CHOICE.
If you seek authenticity, you will find your creativity. If you seek creativity, you may never find authenticity. Your authenticity will never fail you. Your creativity might. Realize Your Authenticity IS your creativity.
- Yes, a friend and/or spouse/partner of the director is already cast.
Or they’ve written the piece. Sorry. But seriously don’t worry about it. Half the time I personally know them already. And I vouch for them. You’ll love them. Really, really. Allow this. Accept this. And you know what? The two of you were never even going to be in the same stratosphere of consideration for the same role to begin with so it’s one million percent out of your hands as it is. Embrace it. One day if you are lucky this will also work in your favor. So just be patient.
- You will never, ever scroll through your iPad or iPhone sides as quickly or as smoothly as you can just flip a page.
Don’t perform. BE. I cannot stress this enough.
- Don’t do the prop thing. Really.
- Out of 100 actors, only one will truly give you chills with the breathtaking caliber of their work.
One. Maybe two. Maybe. But this is no cause for despair. It doesn’t rule out the rest of you. Because in my experiences I have yet to see this person get a callback. But it’s only —ONLY—because they do not fit what is sought. And this is no cause for despair for You Who Gives Us Chills, either. Because in this you have no control. Zero. None. Not a lick. And when you leave the room, the earth opens up and the ground has shifted, the needle has moved, and everyone behind the table whispers your name excitedly. They are committing this moment to memory because they know this will be a story they will gladly tell one day — that YOU auditioned for Them. They will remember your name. And then they say in the room that they can’t wait to see you on tv one day. So I hope you keep doing your work and doing it well. Your authenticity and honesty and vulnerability and energy shook us all. But you were too young or too old or too tall or too short or too blue-collar-looking or too-white-collar-looking for this piece and this moment in time. And that’s it. They know your name. They’ll keep you in mind for other things and call you in again. They think you’ll be on tv. And I do too. Lord knows I desperately hope you’ll remember the kind/good reader from XYZ auditions when we cross paths again one day — maybe on set together? (of course that’s absurd). But for now, please know, you have literally burned yourself into our minds, I swear to you. And it’s not fair that you’ll never hear it from this audition. But please. Please. Take that with you.
- Typically getting an adjustment in the room is a good thing. But not getting one is not the end all and be all. Promise.
- Oh yeah. And *that agent* and *that actor* and *that school*? It means jack.
He/she/they/it got you in the room, sure. And that’s quite the battle, so snaps to ya. But better to not expect someone and be blown away than expect greatness and be let down.
- Pretty Ain’t All. (Thank God).
- It’s quite clear what certain agents are cultivating on their rosters.
I know this because I’m clocking which agents are tied to which folks. It’s telling. I clearly need to find a way to get in front of the agents who are interested in people who look like people, and not only the hot, 20s-30s, 6-pack muscled guys. Or maybe I should hit the gym harder, try and catch up? …Nah you know what I’m sure I can Google the people agent person contact info.
- All the tenors look like tenors.
- Fellas. I get that your name might’ve been taken at the union. But does that really mean you need all 8 of your names on your resume?
Also what was in the water that makes you all Jonathan Patrick Patrick Michael Shane-Lance Edward? The THIRD??
- It’s ok to be nervous. It’s ok to not know something.
But really, ask questions. Clarify.
- You can be the most brilliant singer and an ok actor and still deserve a spot in the room. The inverse is also true.
- Are you American? Don’t say “cheers” instead of “thanks.”
- Don’t dismiss yourself, but also don’t linger.
Auditions, after the work, should be a comfortable communication among colleagues.
Even some prominent New York casting directors and directors have side hustles in this fair city. This blows my mind but further evidence we really are all in this same shitty boat together. -The only thing to do is be you, and focus on and deliver the work. This entire thing is a game and a feat of engineering. Think of the whirring mechanisms of a clock. Of its guts. Wheel, cog, spokes, circle. That’s this. All the pieces are moving. All the time. All the pieces fit and don’t fit. Everyone does well and well enough, and one will give us chills. But to them, they are simply doing their own thing too. Every single person who walks in that door in every single 5 minute chunk will make you think of the role differently and the project differently, every single time.
So have faith and keep chugging. Do your best. I promise you it’s enough. I promise you’re doing alright. Don’t get lost in the stupid trappings of the game.
And if you, dear reader, ever get the opportunity to be a reader — DO IT. Seriously. It’s such blessing and you’ll learn a ton and you won’t regret it.
‘Til then, keep breaking legs. See ya In ‘the room.’
Chris Richards is an actor with a deep love and respect for the entertainment community, and perhaps naïvely believes that this whole process is a better endeavor when we all work together and figure out ways to encourage and support one another. If you feel so inclined, you may follow his actor Facebook page here and/or the Instagram handle @thisischrisrichards to stay in touch.
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