This Is Not The Show I Auditioned For. How The Heck Did I Get Here?

So if it isn’t bad enough that actors auditioning for a part are being evaluated on the social media following they have cultivated along with their looks and talent, they are now being asked to record and submit their own auditions.

Actor Melissa Errico wrote a piece for the New York Times about how possessing home recording studio and the requisite mastery to use it (or a friend with the aforementioned space, equipment and skills) is now increasingly required to audition for the stage.

The self-tape is the latest torturous incarnation of the ancient abusive art of the audition, the primal act of our craft. And the rules of engagement, even in suburban basements, are formal and strict:

You are expected to perform your lines in good lighting, framed horizontally, in medium close-up, with a microphone.

You are often asked to produce two extra pieces of audition material, the first, a “slate” in which you stand in front of the camera, showing your full body, and introduce yourself by name, height and role you are auditioning for.

You may also be asked to sign a Trumpian nondisclosure agreement and pose with it, your face holding a paper contract just under your chin.

Auditioning has always been a torturous affair and the article raises the point about whether it is better to be summarily dismissed in person after waiting for hours to audition, or at a distance by someone reviewing a video it took you 20 minutes to make.

There is a split on both sides of the casting desk. Some directors feel it is too impersonal and commodifies actors. Others feel that self-taped submission opens the field of potential actors to the entire world.

Some actors feel less anxiety with the tape, others feel it is too detached, impersonal and lacks even a hint of feedback necessary to improve.

Raul Esparza, a Tony-nominated Broadway actor and the star of “Law and Order,” acknowledged that he often self-tapes to get work, even as the process edges toward absurdity.

Auditioning for a superhero movie, “I wasn’t told the name of the film, role or the plot, and was asked to tape a scene from ‘Good Will Hunting.’” The feedback was, “Listen, they loved you, but you weren’t exactly right for it.”

What wasn’t he right for? “Good Will Hunting”? Or an unknown hero in an unseen script?

Errico writes she discovered she got cast based on one of her videos, but has no idea how it happened.

That week, I got a text that I was cast in a Sofia Coppola film that I had never heard of, in a role I had never read for and have no idea how I got. Though I was utterly delighted to get the part, the process baffled me.

The lack of transparency may be the biggest issue with this process. Money could be exchanging hands just to be placed in a pile of videos to be considered. You would never know you were immediately out of the running because your thumb drive should have discreetly wrapped in a $100 bill when you handed it to the assistant to the assistant.

Judging from the lack of details provided the two actors quote above, someone could inadvertently find themselves associated with an objectionable company, individual or project.

People with the money to pay for better lighting, make up, digital enhancements to voice and face will have an advantage over others.

Just as the push for more diversity in casting is seeing results, an obscure process and criteria may erode any progress that had been made. The old process really did nothing to advance equitable casting in itself, but having everyone audition in the same room with the same equipment, whittling it down and doing callbacks with people in a similar condition is an equalizer by comparison. (Instead of complaint being everyone is using the same audition piece this year, it will be about the use of the same video filter and green screen background.)

The director could be watching videos on a big screen in the quiet and comfort of her house and the choreographer could be watching on her phone sitting in the middle seat of a five hour flight. You’d never know you didn’t get the part because the in-seat charger wasn’t working and the phone went dead before the choreographer got to you.

As I end this entry, thinking back to the social media following requirement –I am sure I am not the first to say it, but it occurs to me that there is a contradiction in wanting your performers to have a strong social media following so that they can help promote the shows, and then forbidding those followers from taking pictures/video of their favored person when they come to see the show.

[NB: Entry edited 5 min after initial publication to add mention that lack of transparency about process could find people associated with objectionable projects for which they wouldn’t have auditioned.]

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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