Yes, yes, I’m exaggerating. But I’ve been to more than my fair share of auditions. First, when I used to act, as an auditioner; now that I’m working for a theater, as one of the scary people who sit in the audience and pass judgment on the people auditioning. And, as such, I have a few helpful tips for anyone planning to audition for a community theater production.
Now, please note, these tips may or may not hold true for auditioning for film, as I know nothing about that, other than it seems people wait in really long lines when general casting calls come to town and I have to wonder if it’s worth it because I am the MOST IMPATIENT PERSON ALIVE. I can’t even wait five minutes in a grocery store line without starting to grumble under my breath. Some of those people wait OVERNIGHT. I don’t get that. I guess it’s exciting that you might see yourself on the big screen? And you can put it on a resume? And I suppose it has to have happened at least once or twice that a director sees some sort of spark in an extra and turns him or her into the next big thing (but probably that’s not going to happen to you, so I wouldn’t hitch my wagon to that particular star)?
So here are some tips if you ever plan on auditioning at your local community theater. Helpful! I’m telling you. You come here for the funny, you leave A BETTER PERSON FOR IT.
Be prepared. First, read the audition notice. Not just when to show up and the address of the auditions, but the character descriptions and the ages. Are all of the women in the play under the age of 25 and you’re 50 (and you look 50)? You’re probably not going to get cast. It’s really best not to waste anyone’s time – ours or yours. We’re going to think you’re delusional and you’re taking time away from people who actually have a shot at the parts. Second, it doesn’t hurt at all to read the play you’re auditioning for. It’s not a prerequisite, no. I’m not saying don’t show up unless you’ve read it. But this is kind of a test, and wouldn’t you want to have done your homework before showing up with your number two pencils and scrap paper? Also, you might read the play and find out it sucks. I mean, the theater isn’t going to think it sucks, obviously. The theater chose the play for a reason. (In case you’re wondering, theaters don’t arbitrarily choose the plays they do every season, like, throw names in a hat or something. I’ve been on the play selection committee at my theater for years. It’s a lot of work. We read 30-40 submissions and we discuss the hell out of them and do lists of pros and cons and choose directors with care and put them in the order that works best. It’s not something we take lightly.) So anyway. Read the play. Maybe you fit the age range of the actors we’re looking for, but you have a deep issue taking your clothes off onstage and there are three nude scenes. You know not to audition. See? Aren’t you glad you did your homework? Gold star.
Put your best face forward. Again, we’re not going to NOT cast you if you show up looking like you just rolled out of bed. We’ve cast people like that before, depending on our needs and who gave the strongest audition. But it doesn’t hurt at all to dress neatly and professionally. Am I telling you to wear a ball gown and opera gloves? No, looney tunes, I’m not. (Although, you’re a theater person, no one would even look at you twice if you did.) But even nice jeans and a dressy shirt will do. Also, be prepared to move. Women that show up in too-short skirts kill me, because listen, I’ve gotten too many beaver shots over the years from women who wore inappropriate skirts to auditions and then had to be active in their audition and oh! Hello! I see you wore a thong yikesaroonie! See, I sit in the front of the theater, because I’m usually the one calling out your name and telling you all when to come up and what scene you’ll be reading from. So if there’s crotch to be seen, I’m seeing it. And I can’t UN-see it, you know? Also, you’re not fooling anyone, short-skirt-and-cleavage-top. The days of the casting couch are over. Most of our directors are female, and the male ones, sorry to say, are mostly gay males. (It’s the theater. I don’t know if I’m blowing anyone’s mind, but there are a lot of gay men in theater. I know! Hide yo wife hide yo kids, right?) If you think your sexy-mama getup is going to get you a part, no, it’s not, and also, secret mental points against you for thinking you’d be getting a part with your jiggly bits and not your acting skills.
Don’t be a douchebag. Don’t come in like you’re too cool to be at the audition. Maybe that works in New York City, I don’t know, because I DON’T LIVE THERE AND OBVIOUSLY NEITHER DO YOU. We’re a decent-sized city, but we’ve got a small-town vibe going for us, especially in the theater scene. Come in nicely, with a smile, be friendly, and do what you’re asked to do without argument. Now, I know, you might be nervous, and this might make you quieter than normal. That’s expected, and that’s fine. But entering in full-on bitch-on-wheels mode? Black mark on your permanent record. Actual examples of this: someone who refused to fill out audition paperwork because “I don’t have time for that,” (and then proceeded to talk on their cell phone for the next half-hour loudly while people were looking over the audition material); someone who went into the theater when we asked the actors not to do so because we were having a meeting in there about the order of auditioners and then refused to leave because the lobby was too crowded and it really wasn’t all that crowded; a person who looked over the audition material and then said “the scene I want to read isn’t here, do you have a script, I’m going to be reading a scene of my own choosing” (this is not an option, but nice that you’ve decided on your own that it is!); and the person who decided at the last minute they weren’t going to audition, but talked loudly to everyone around her all through everyone else’s auditions and distracted everyone. Also? If you’re new to the theater, you don’t know who anyone is, and what their relationship is to everyone else. So BE CAREFUL WITH YOUR TRASH-TALKING. We’re theater people. We gossip, we trash-talk, we bitch. Yes. Yes, that’s what we do. I know that. But if you’re new to a place, you have to watch who you’re doing it TO. I’ll never forget the woman who gave a brilliant audition, and then came back to her seat and started to run down the theater, the area, the other actors, the audition process, and the plays we were doing that season with the person sitting beside her. She did it quietly; she wasn’t distracting. Thing is, the person sitting beside her WAS THE ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF THE SHOW AND A BOARD MEMBER. Needless to say, she wasn’t cast.
Be honest. We ask the information we need on the audition sheet. If you leave something off – the age range you can play, dates you have a conflict and won’t be able to rehearse, a character you’re unwilling to play, that you’re unwilling to swear, kiss, or be nude onstage – this hinders us in our ability to cast you. See, here’s a backstage peek into the audition process, at least where I work. I assume it’s basically the same in other places. We watch everyone audition. Everyone who showed up and is interested in auditioning gets a chance. Auditions are open; no roles are precast. Then, once we’ve seen everything we want to see, we send everyone home, spread out the audition sheets and our notes, and talk about the roles and who is in contention for them. If you didn’t write that you’re unwilling to play Felicia, and you gave a kick-ass audition for Felicia, you might get cast in that role. Actual conversation I had once with someone we’d cast: “Hi, this is Amy, calling to let you know you’ve been cast as blah-blah role in blah-blah play! Congratulations!” (After a loooong pause) “Oh. I’m not at all interested in that part. I don’t accept. Thank you for calling me, though.” Hmm, let’s think how this could have been avoided. If you’d READ THE PLAY, you’d have known you weren’t interested in the part. Then you could have WRITTEN IT ON YOUR AUDITION SHEET. But even if you didn’t read the play, you sat through two nights of auditions, so you knew you didn’t want that part. Why didn’t you come up to one of us and TELL us, “I’d like to amend something on my audition sheet” and write “not willing to accept the part of Judy” or whatever on it? So THAT was a waste of time. On a happier note, the second person we called for the part – someone we’d decided on for another part and decided to switch to that part – gladly took the role and ROCKED it. She was the star of every review. And every time I read a review raving about her in that role, I hoped like hell the woman I’d called originally was reading it and weeping into her cornflakes. Because I am PETTY and MEAN.
Don’t be delusional. This one’s tough. I mean, I have to appreciate anyone that shows up. Auditioning is hard, I know. I used to do it. I’m debating doing it again later this season, actually. (Cue nervous nailbiting…NOW.) But you know those people on American Idol that show up and audition and you turn to the person you’re watching it with (or your cat, I don’t know, I don’t judge and NEITHER SHOULD YOU) and say, “She can’t think she’s good. She doesn’t, right? The producers put her there so they’d have someone for the clip show, right? No one’s that delusional, right?” Well, I can’t speak for American Idol? But in real life? THOSE PEOPLE SHOW UP. I’m sorry, people. I really am. The only consolation I have is that you probably don’t know who you are, if you’re reading this – you probably wouldn’t even identify yourself with the “delusional” moniker. I would give examples but I really don’t want anyone reading this accidentally to identify themselves. I don’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings. I really don’t. I just find it very hard to believe you can’t see your limitations. Listen, I wouldn’t, for example, show up to audition for a chorus. BECAUSE I CAN’T CARRY A TUNE. Likewise, I would not show up to run a marathon, BECAUSE I AM FRIGHTFULLY OUT OF SHAPE. Is there something I’m not aware of that stops people from realizing they can’t act? I’ve been doing this – seriously, not even exaggerating this time – for almost 24 years, and this still surprises and kind of upsets me. It sometimes takes everything I have not to yell “Really? You aren’t pulling our legs? Where’s the hidden camera?” after one of the really heinous auditions. THEY’RE THAT BAD. Again, no hate mail, I appreciate you coming out, and it takes bravery to audition, it does. But how can you not know? And also, there are classes you can take to get better, maybe take one? I don’t know.
Don’t take it personally. We get a lot of people auditioning for a few parts. Just playing the odds, you don’t have the best chance of getting a part. If you do – congratulations. It’s the best theater in the area, in my humble opinion; you’re going to love the people; I’m so, so excited to get to know you and to get to work with you. But if you weren’t cast, it isn’t anything personal. (Well, unless you trash-talked to the wrong person in auditions. Then maybe it is.) Casting is a tough thing. We take the following into consideration: your look, your audition, your availability for rehearsals, your onstage compatibility with the other people we’re considering casting, your reputation among other theater people in the area, your resume, how well you took direction (if we gave any), our gut feelings about you, and about 53 other tangible and intangible things that go into casting a show. Again, like choosing a season, we don’t cast a show arbitrarily. We have to work with you for a few months. We also are dependent on the money we make on the shows to stay afloat; if the show bombs, we don’t make a lot of money, and we need that money because, let’s face it, theater’s not that lucrative. So if you don’t turn in a top-notch performance, it’s not the best thing for us. Let me reiterate – IT IS NOT PERSONAL. Don’t go around telling people my theater “hates” you. We don’t, but we’re going to start if you keep bad-mouthing us. One of the things we also take into consideration – how well you take rejection, if you’ve been rejected before, and if you came back to audition after being rejected by us in the past. We do take into consideration past auditions, if they were excellent. It is in your best interest to be CLASSY.
So there you go, potential auditioners. Is it scary? You bet your ass it is. It’s putting yourself out there and getting up in front of people voluntarily and letting them judge you. However, let me tell you from experience, the high you get after having auditioned, whether or not it was ultimately successful, is something everyone should experience at least once in their life. You feel like you can tackle anything, seriously. And if you are cast? You’re in for the ride of your life. Yes, sure, I’m biased and theater-crazed, I’ll take that criticism gladly. But if you’ve ever thought of doing it – do it. And if it’s my theater, tell me hi. Just keep your crazy eyes and beaver shots to yourself, because I don’t want anything to do with those.
(Title is from a W.C. Fields quote, because I don't want anyone to be all "thief, thief." "Show me a great actor, and I'll show you a lousy husband. Show me a great actress, and I'll show you the devil." I will not comment on the veracity of this quote.)