THE READINESS IS ALL
In auditions we don’t fear that we aren’t good enough. We fear that we won’t do our best work. It’s not that we think we’re not good. It’s that we think we won’t be good. I actually think there’s a simple trick to ensuring we can audition fee from that fear: Prepare.
A great audition is two-thirds preparation and one-third bravery.
An actor who walks into the room familiar with the material and confident and courageous in execution will get noticed. In a situation where the end result is dictated mainly by factors out of our control, we have to zero in on the elements we can control. My practice of preparing for auditions has become, like so much of my artistic routine, about sifting through my process and finding the actions that the most impact. If given a side, becoming familiar enough with the words that I can execute an impulse without a piece of paper in front of my eyes is the most important step. That’s the groundwork for a successful audition. Without that foundation my audition will be shallow. Giving the task of ‘reading the side’ over to the character is not compelling acting. Give the character freedom to, with the words, accomplish a more daring task. Anyone can walk into a room and read. We’re special because we can walk into a room and Act.
So, it’s the Boy Scout motto for us: Always Be Prepared.
IT WORKS LIKE A BOOMERANG
Put yourself out there and it’ll come back to you. Pool your resources. Call in your favors. Pull all your strings and use all the ammunition you have.
Strangely enough, though I work in a truly collaborative field where getting a job is all about who you know and everyone seems to know everyone, I often feel like I’m doing this by myself. I’m not. We’re not.
I read a breakdown for a season EPA the other day and planned to go to the audition. Before that, I emailed my college professor because I was pretty sure she knew one of the playwrights/directors for a show in the season. She did, and she sent him an email saying he should keep an eye out for me and mention me to the artistic director. So, I went to the EPA and felt really good about it. (See my previous post.) I got a callback for the play written by my professor’s friend and I was thinking all the dots had been connected and that my professor had helped me get noticed. Turns out, the playwright forgot to mention me to the artistic director. (I met him today at the callback and we talked all about it.) I got the callback all on my own, just because the artistic director, who had never met me, liked my work at the EPA. Y’all - I have never had a callback from an EPA! I’ve been called in by casting directors I know and been called in based on my submissions, but I’ve never been called back cold from an EPA.
I don’t actually think this is a coincidence. I know my connection didn’t actually give me the callback, but I did feel great about this project and my chances and I think that effected things, in both tangible and intangible ways. I put myself out there. I pulled my strings and “the universe” responded.
Another example: Took a workshop tonight with a great NY casting director. There were 15 actors in that class who all randomly signed up with no previous connection. The casting director knew someone from each and every actors’ resume. Every one! We are not alone, everybody. This is a small little universe filled with like, millions of people who all know each other. We’ve gotta use that. We’ve gotta know we’ve got friends in this industry. We’ve got people on our side. Use them. Put yourself out there and, one way or another, it’ll come back you.
THE HABITUAL ACTOR
I’ve recently learned that successful marketing is a habit and not an event. Today I learned that acting is no different.
This audition season has been a little slow for me. I haven’t spent as much time in the room as I’d like. I haven’t created for myself enough opportunities to practice acting. Spurred of late by some inspirational people, and maybe by a looming, workless summer, I’ve had a good couple of outings recently. The room felt comfortable. The monologues felt fresh. I was back in the habit of acting, as if I had never left.
Here’s the thing, y’all - I am a good actor. I mean that in a very fundamental sense.
It think it’s a mistake for us to think of acting as a subjective art; allowing other people to have control over our craft and our individual perceptions. We are constantly judged for our performances and there is no way around that, but that judgment need not be a comment on our ability.
I know how to act just as a carpenter knows how to build a chair. I can walk into an audition room and present you with a chair: four legs or a pedestal; supports a person’s body weight; probably looks something like the accepted idea of a how a chair should look. I’m not saying it’s always a perfect chair. I’m sure that even the best of carpenters has neglected to measure twice and made that third leg too short. I’ve seen lots of wobbly chairs that are still sat upon. Of course, the chair I present in the room might not be to everyone’s liking. Maybe I come in there with a wicker patio seat and they are looking for a bar stool. It’s still a chair. Or maybe, I come in with a great bar stool but they just hate it. Happens. Still a stool.
A carpenter is good at building a chair because he has learned how and practiced. I am good at acting because I have learned some ways how and I have practiced. I have made it a habit. The small hiatuses which have inevitably risen have not robbed me of my learned and practiced craft. Practice is the difference between that which is habitual and what is eventful. That’s why, after weeks of being out of the room I was able to go back in and find success.
All that said, habitual acts must, of course, be habitual. I can’t make the successes of the past few days an event, or I might actually forget how to make a chair.
Recently I read a good book by a guy who read another good book that made him change his life. The advice he read in his good book went something like this:
Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
This advice made that man quit his job and go back to school, and now he has a whole new life that he likes way more than the one he had. Way to go! I’m sure that could happen for me and you and a million other people too. However, doing what makes you come alive is gonna change your everyday life even more than you entire-life life. Recently, I have done a much better job of doing what makes me come alive each day. I figure, the alternative is to do what makes me feel dead. At the very least, that doesn’t sound exciting when I run through my day over dinner.
If reading a book makes you feel more alive than not reading a book, then read the book. Since the new year, making an on-camera demo, getting together with an accompanist and booking some new head shots has made me feel more alive then not doing those things. It made my fiancée feel alive to go pick out a wedding dress. Hitherto, the wedding planning was sort of driving us crazy. I think we have learned that actually making decisions about our wedding - decisions like where it’s gonna happen, who’s gonna take the pictures and where some of our guests are gonna stay - makes us feel like we are actually having a wedding. That makes us feel alive. After a while staring at wedding photos and budgets online made us feel dead.
Take responsibility for making yourself come alive. Look around you and find the thickest, highest wall you see. The wall that is standing between you and that life you want at that moment. Then knock that wall down. Even if it won’t fall. The act of bashing your fist against it will make you feel more alive than staring at it. You don’t need a whole new life to be happier than you are right now. You simply need to live more of the life you already have. There are things you can do right now that will make you come alive. You, and the world, need you alive. You are no good to anyone dead.
By the way, I don’t remember the book the guy read that made him come alive but the book that that guy wrote is called Wild at Heart. (It is amazing. If you are a man or know someone who is, read it.)
HOW TO ACT WITHOUT A JOB
As I put more and more audition notches in my belt, which by-the-by I had to black in with a sharpie yesterday morning as the pleather was beginning to crack, I am better at balancing the futility with the benefit.
I know there will come a day when the goods I deliver in the room are enough, even if my resume and picture are lacking. Then I will get the job and make some money to get a better picture, add to my resume and even the people who can’t look past my experience will start to consider me. (Nothing against those artistic and casting directors who say, “Thanks, that was really great!” and mean it, but still don’t call me back. They have their productions to consider and there are a lot us who are good. Other factors inevitably must come in to play.)
So, what are these auditions to me then? Why do I go to Broadway open calls I don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of even getting a callback for?
For one thing, at least at the moment, they are the work.
The audition room is my studio for now. I can’t afford to take a voice lessons every week. So, I work my ass off on my own, stick to what I know, and give it all I’ve got at that ECC. I learn on my feet. I learn what songs work and what songs don’t. I learn how to walk into a room relaxed enough to set my voice free and focused enough to put the character behind it.
I know I’ve said it a ten times in ten different ways, but finding the art in auditioning is the key. A successful audition comes from treating it the same way you treat a performance. Over the past couple of years I became very good at using performances as a laboratory for exploring truth. Doing the same thing in auditions is not only fulfilling, but I’m sure someone in a position to use me will notice soon. Then “Chin up”, I say. I have a chance to act every day.
Except when I have to work a double, or when there are only ECC dancer calls. So, most days.
IT’S COME TO THIS: A POST HIGHLIGHT REEL
As the summer draws to a close I find myself lacking inspiration. The sun has drained it from me and despite numerous occasions from which to draw artistic and spiritual motivation, I thirst for the fluidity at which I once spouted epiphanies and observations. Toward that end, I did a little digging in to the back-of blogs I wrote while in residence at Barter Theatre. I fond this one particularly timely and thought, what the hell? Let’s have it again.
I did a talkback last night after a performance of Cabaret. And, of course, my fellow actors and I were hit with the question, “What advice would you have for young actor about where to begin his career?”
It’s a big question and a common question. Last night six of us passed along six great nuggets of wisdom about adjusted expectations of success, self fulfillment, determination, internships, vision and patience. There are as many answers as there are career paths.
Here’s one way to think of it:
Starting a career is like peeling an orange.
There are many ways to do it. Some people think they have a magic secret or trick, which indeed works sometimes, but will not work on all oranges. Sometimes you dig in and make a lot of progress right from the start. Other times you chip away at it slowly, broken piece by piece. There is no right place to start and you never know when or where a breakthrough might come. It can be tempting to give up on a tough orange. It can be tempting to see a bit of the juicy flesh and dig in before all the skin is off: you must resist that temptation. The reward will be greater if you persevere and expose the entire orange before indulging. The trick is, no matter what, to just keep peeling. Oh, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from some experienced orange grower or Florida resident.
I am on a Megabus heading out of the city for a much needed week of repose. It’s funny how once you begin a vacation, you can’t imagine your life without one. I am thinking now that if I didn’t have this chance to leave the city and recharge I simply wouldn’t survive. The fact is, I surely would survive and if I wasn’t on this bus I’d be gearing up for another audition or heading to the restaurant like any other day. The opportunities to relax and enjoy life which I am lucky enough to afford should not be taken for granted, and at this moment I feel lucky.
Yesterday, before working my last shift of the week at the restaurant, I was trying to remind myself of the connection between being a server and being an actor — how serving someone a meal can be the same as serving someone a story. At 4:45 p.m. I got off the subway at Union Square and walked north to 18th street, all the while promising myself I’d make tonight an experiment in finding the art in fine dining service.
Fast forward to 11:00 pm. Final seating was a half hour ago and I was just handed 5 more tables in my already crowded section. My co-workers were being cut left and right around me and my workload, rather than dwindling as you hope it will at this time of night, seemed ever expanding. I had been hustling all night and it had taken its toll on my body and my resolve. My promise to connect my work and my art seemed a faded memory, like the dream I had as a kid of being a pro basketball player — it simply wasn’t going to happen. The mental preparation I did on the walk to work was like practicing my lay-ups on the shaky, free standing hoop my father set up in the driveway of our Indiana home. I used to dread anyone I know driving by and seeing me bank the ball sloppily off the backboard in a vain attempt at emulating Scotty Pippen. Standing at dish pit, scraping half eaten halibut into a bowl of now soupy ice cream sundae, I dreaded anyone knowing that I was foolish enough to think I could find an artistic outlet in such activity.
This much I’ve learned in the past few months: I have to find a way to channel the stimuli around me into an artistic framework or I lose all sense of purpose. I have to make art all the time, otherwise the weeks will pass and a morning will come when I wake and realize I’ve gained nothing. Money in my bank account allows me to eat and pay rent and occasionally buy the jeans I like. That’s all well and good, but I have to get more than that from my job, I just have to. I’m needy that way. I’m not gonna last long doing this restaurant thing for money unless I can find a way to turn the dream of finding artistic fulfillment in the throwing away of uneaten halibut into a reality.
The easy things in life make shitty art. When you have an “easy” time rehearsing a play, it’s probably going to suck. Art is made in the struggle. The hardest things strived against in useful ways will always make significant art. There are only a few things I’ve done in my life harder than this. That’s a good sign.
WHAT I DID THE NEXT DAY
This post is a couple of days late, but still good.
So, if you’ve followed from last time — I failed. (See pervious post) Well, like I promised myself, the next day I got up and started again. I walked over to AEA and signed up and got ready to walk into that room and do a monologue, whether they liked it or not.
Here’s what happened. I did the worst monologue I’ve ever done and I had the best audition I ever had. I mean, really the monologue sucked, but I’ve never walked out of an audition happier. Yeah, guess what I had forgotten? It’s not about the monologue, or the song or the two of them together; not at the open call it isn’t. An audition at that stage is a meeting. We shouldn’t even call it an audition, we should just call it a damn meeting.
Before I started my monologue I looked the casting director in the eye and said, “Hello, how are you today?” And she said, “Good, thanks. What will you be doing?” And I answered, quite honestly, “I don’t know yet.” I then asked her which of two pieces she would prefer, because in my mind what was asked for in the breakdown didn’t match what was needed in the play. She lead me in the right direction, and on I went. She spend most of my monologue looking at my resume, so maybe she didn’t even notice that it was shit.
That exchange — the exchange before I even started my monologue was the audition. That was the meeting. The rest was just fodder. After my shitty monologue she asked, “How long were you at Barter.” I answered, and told her how I’ve only been back in the city for a few months. She replied, “Well welcome back, it’s really great to meet you. Thanks so much.”
“It’s really great to meet you.”
Yeah, that’s what it’s all about folks. The open call audition is a meeting. A chance to meet someone and let them meet you!! Even if you can’t get out of bed in the morning and get a good monologue or song together, you can at least go out and meet someone. That sort of makes this part of our job seem not so bad to me.
WHAT I DID TODAY
Today I went to an audition just 10 blocks away from my apartment. It was for a few plays in the city, of which one or two had a role that I am generally good for. After a very lovely five minute stroll down 9th avenue I walked into the holding room, signed up for the next available slot which was just a half an hour away, looked around, and then I left. I walked the 10 blocks back to my apartment, changed out of my nice pants and shirt and sat down at my computer. I went about the rest of my afternoon, accomplishing a few menial tasks and then went to work.
Is it a problem that I didn’t have to strain much to travel to the audition, thus I allowed myself to look around the room, get a bad feeling and decide it just wasn’t worth it?
I audition a lot. Some people audition more, I’m sure of it, but I do audition a lot. I’ve been called back zero times since I came back to New York a few months ago. I’m equity and I’m a little rusty in the audition room and I’m often going to EPA’s which I just don’t have a shot-in-hell for in the first place. So, put in perspective my continuous strike out’s don’t bother me much. It probably has more to do with my crappy headshot and little to do with my actual audition. I realize that. But, today, I failed. No matter how I look at it. I let the system beat me. I looked around the holding room at the same 25 faces I’ve been seeing in every holding room for the past two months and I thought, “Is this one really gonna matter? We’ll all be back tomorrow.” I looked at the audition info sheet and saw that an associate producer was the only person in the room and I thought, “She’s gonna take one look at my headshot and then another look at my thin New York credits and by time she looks up my monologue will be over. ‘Thank You.’ she’ll say and I’ll never hear from her again.”
What I did today is probably the scariest thing that’s ever happened to me. I gave up. I’ve just never done that before. Not on acting.
After today I promise myself I’m never going to do that again.
OKAY, THIS IS GONNA HURT
That’s what I have to remind myself.
Something on an episode of Mad Men last night, which I got to watch because I was cut from my serving job early, reminded me that the suffering and the hours and hours of working and rejecting the-more-working and all in fact the stumbles are the trappings of building a career.
If that’s not true; if success comes easily and I’m just not in on any of that, please leave me in the dark about it. I don’t wanna know. It’s keeping me going right now to know that all this is necessary.
Note: I am not truly suffering or truly in pain. I do not lack food or love or warmth. I am just striking out as an actor in a place where every ball is a curve and there are no walks. I’ll hit one outta the park soon.
P.S. to all your New Yorkers.
I don’t go Down Town enough and if you, like me, have lately been trapped between 3rd and 9th avenue, north of Houston and south of 59th, head downtown to Wall Street. Not to occupy it, though I find nothing wrong with that, but just to see a piece of New York that is unlike any other. I felt like Indiana Jones riding into the lost city.
THE SERVICE INDUSTRIES
“Will there be anything else?” Or perhaps it’s, “Can I suggest a wine for you?” But, sometimes it’s, “Now is the winter of our discontent/made glorious summer by this son of York.” Whatever the line, it’s all in the same language and it’s all for the same purpose.
Is that restaurant job getting you down? Is standing behind a desk or stand greeting guest after guest waring on you resolve? Especially because you are missing auditions to do it? I am a firm believer that there’s more than one reason actors do so well in New York and LA as waiters and hosts and desk clerks and reservationists. Yes, the fact is there are a lot of us and a lot of those jobs and the math simply works. However, it’s also true that we are damn good at those jobs. And, its also true that those jobs are fundamentally the same as acting. Exactly the same.
An actor serves a customer. A customer who is sitting in a theatre expecting fulfillment and an enlightening experience. The actor almost always serves the customer their truthful expression of another’s imagination. The actor serves up the playwright’s story and the director’s vision to the hungry audience. The audience has high expectations and will likely come back or bring friends only if they are truly satisfied and filled by the experience. They will surely slander your name and caution others against you work if they are not.
A restaurant server serves a customer. A customer who is sitting at a table expecting fulfillment and an enlightening experience. The server is always endorsing and delivering the expression of another’s imagination. The actor serves up the chef’s food in the demeanor and candor dictated by the management. The customer at the table has high expectations and will likely come back or bring friends only if they are truly satisfied and filled by the experience. They will surely slander your name and caution others against your work if they are not.
And remember, whether in a restaurant or in a theatre; your work is a reflection on the work of the original visionary whose vision you are bringing to the customer. Your lifeless and sloppy work on stage/in the dining room with reflect poorly on the work of the playwright/chef.
I have certainly always had a passion for food and wine. And even if I didn’t, I would be blind and foolish to not recognize the passion those around me share. The restaurant professionals I work with and for pour an enormous amount of creative energy into their work and art. It is paralleled only by the enormous creative energy I pour into mine. They believe in serving the customer just as I believe in serving the audience.
If you don’t believe that food and whine is an art, read the bios of some of the now-famous Food Network chefs and international restaurant pioneers. The people who create genres like Asian fusion and nuevo Latino. Lean about the man who invented the now dessert tray standard Molten Chocolate Cake. They are artists and their art needs actors too. I am an actor, not a waiter. But I play a waiter in real life and I’m going to give that role my all.
WHO ARE YOU AUDITIONING FOR?
I was reminded today of what an audition truly is about. Or, at least, what it certainly is not about.
Your audition is not about you, it’s about them.
Today I walked into a small equity call for an Off-Broadway show. I think this was the first call and the only person in the room was a lone casting assistant. Now, put yourself for a moment in the shoes of that assistant. Sure, I had to get up pretty early and go sign up for an appointment with 40 other guys. But, in the end, I go in and do my 2 min. monologue and then get on with my day. She, on the other hand, maybe woke up a little later, but has since 10AM been sitting in that room watching actor after actor file in and yell, or cry or throw jokes in her face. She has been watching them show and plead and beg and try to appear better than they think they are. And she’ll sit there until 6pm, all by her self. And she is burdened with the task of sifting through all of these auditions and finding two or three actors worth meeting again.
So, between you and she, whom should your audition be about?
Next time you’re in the room, whether it’s a lone casting agent of a slew of production and casting personnel, make the audition about them. Take the pressure off yourself and do something for them. Entertain them. Make them remember the two minutes you were in the room as the two minuets they were transported to another world or met a really amazing character. Give them a little truth among all the lies. Don’t bother showing them that you are able to entertain. Rather, do what they are hiring you to do — entertain them.
Acting is the art of turning the thoughts of the actor into the thoughts of the character. It is the practice of translating what the actor is thinking on stage into what the character is thinking in the world of the play.
It begins with the will to discover the difference. It continues with the will to continue that discovery. The beautiful part is that though you fail most of the time, art happens not in success but in ambition. Art happens in the struggle.
TEACH OUR CHILDREN WELL
I recently coached a young actor on some audition monologues. This particular actor doesn’t yet have all the skills which are traditionally lumped together to make a “good performance.” He is still green when it comes to crafting a monologue, he still gets ahead of his words and he hasn’t yet gained absolute control of his body. His voice is strong but raw, and his breath and his thoughts are not always in perfect harmony.
But, golly is it exciting to watch him act. All the aforementioned skills will come in time. I remember when I was his age I had a little better handle on my voice and body and craftsmanship, but I can assure you it was not nearly as exciting to watch me work. What he has already discovered, and what I have only recently started to fully embrace, is that the foundation to all good acting it is to hand it over to the character. He knows that his best work comes when he doesn’t concern himself with how he sounds or looks. His best work happens when he doesn’t try to show the audience what he is doing, but instead lets the character actually do it. He knows already the difference in his acting between what appears to be real and what is actually true. I think I would give up all my outwardly sharpened skills - my glossy diction and my adept sense of structure - if I could go back 10 years and ground my acting in truth first.
I was trained well. Despite the monumental efforts by my early teachers to make me understand that acting is greater than the sum of its parts, it’s taken me many years to grasp the intangible foundation that makes all acting worth watching. In retrospect I wish that I had found the foundation before the structure.