Mind-Hacking the Audition Process

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The relationship between actors and the casting process can sometimes be antagonistic, and that’s super unfortunate. If you find yourself ripping your hair off over the audition/casting process, and feeling resentful toward casting directors who “always bring you in, but never cast you,” consider these 3 mind-hacks:

Casting directors want you to do your best so you can make them look good. (AKA they are on your side.)

The job of the casting director is to bring in as many viable options for every role so the director and writers can choose from the best. The decision will ultimately be a consensus, but the strongest voice in the room is rarely the casting director.

The reason the casting director is not the strongest voice in the room is because WE KNOW THEY ALREADY LIKE YOU! Otherwise they wouldn’t have brought you in (let alone brought you for the millionth time.)

It’s a chance for you to make an impression without necessarily booking the job.

On average, there are probably (at least) 10 people vying for every role in a production. Just because you don’t get the job, doesn’t mean you aren’t good. It doesn’t even necessarily mean you weren’t good for the role. It just means they went with someone else, who was also good. (That’s really all you can take away from that experience.)

But the truth is, you may have made a big impression on someone in the room, they just weren’t able to cast you in this part. That’s why acting guru Dallas Travers often says, “Don’t worry about booking the job, worry about booking the room.”

If someone in the room likes you and brings you in for something else later, chances are you’re even MORE suited for that job, and MORE likely to book it. Remember – it’s not about this job, it’s about the next job.

The casting process is also an interview opportunity for the actor.

I think this is a difficult one for actors to absorb, but it’s important to recognize at any stage of your career. Each time you audition for a director or a writer, you have to consider that they are auditioning for you, too.

Sometimes the overwhelming need to book A job overrides the consideration of whether or not you truly want to book THIS job. But there’s nothing worse than investing time and energy in a project that ultimately is not the type you want to be a part of. That goes for the quality of the content, but even more so the quality of the process.

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So often there are blog posts written to help actors better prepare for the audition process. Rarely do you see suggestions for those running it. That’s why this post from director Michael Barakiva warmed my heart as it addresses some of the usual pet peeves actors have about the audition process. My particular favorite is:

Choose short sides.
Seriously, you know in the first 30 seconds if the actor and the role are the right fit. Don’t waste their time preparing ten pages. If you need to see ten pages, you’re a horrible director. Besides, short sides allow you time to work with the actors.

I’m curious – what are your biggest concerns about the casting process?

The Most Underutilized Resource in Theater

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PC: Caitlin McNaney

Rajiv Joseph is one of my favorite contemporary playwrights. I remember seeing his play A Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo in Los Angeles and being blown away. It was political, yet personal. Surreal, yet plainspoken. It captured a place and a wonderment that I seek to find in my own writing.

In this Broadway.com interview on the occasion of his latest play Guards at the Taj, he describes a lesson he learned about collaboration:

When I was working on Bengal Tiger with Moisés Kaufman, he said actors are the most underutilized resource in theater. He works from a very holistic, collaborative place, and he would bring the actors into the discussion about the dramaturgy of the play in a real way. Actors are investing so much in these lines that I’ve written, so it behooves me to ask them as many questions as I can and listen to them with great attention. It will only help. I trust [Guards at the Taj stars] Arian [Moayed] and Omar [Metwally] as much as I trust anyone in this regard. When they tell me something—even if I don’t agree with it—I try to consider it as deeply as possible. More often than not, I find myself figuring something out with it and the play improves.

I’ve often considered the fact that as an actor, I come in contact to new works far more often than most writers do. I am always reading new scripts, participating in workshops, auditioning for shows that will never be seen, or go on to be huge hits. With this bird’s eye perspective, I’m constantly able to pick apart what works, what doesn’t – what pitfalls writers fall into, and what strengths allow them to rise above.

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Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, with director Bart DeLorenzo

I remember working with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa on his play Dr. Cerberus at South Coast Repertory. He had a wonderful way of taking feedback from actors. If he agreed, he would say so and make a change right there. If he disagreed, or wasn’t sure whether or not he agreed, he would say, “Hmmm. Let me think about that.” And from there he would go home and return the next day, either having made a change, or recommitted to his initial instinct. Either way, it invited actors into his process, and I have taken this lesson with me as both an actor and writer to everything I work on today.

So writers – I encourage you, as you work, to listen to your actors. They invest everything into every single word you wrote. They have instincts about when something rings true or when it screams false. Take your grain of salt, but take their feedback, too, in equal measure. They are one of your greatest assets.

Are you a writer of plays, musicals, or anything else? I want to know what you’re working on. Share in the comments below!

Gentrification Madlibs

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This Handy Guide to Gentrification written by Buzzfeed contributors Michael Albo and Amanda Duarte is, frankly, too good not to share.

Written in the form of a multiple-choice Madlibs, it tells the story of Wilmington (read: Williamsburg, Brooklyn or Venice, California), which goes from a dangerous den of “spongecake” addicts with cheap housing, to a community of genderqueer youths and pour-over coffee colonic spas, to a neighborhood packed with Wholefoods full of babies where no one can afford their own artisanal hand-milled toilet paper anymore.

Read, enjoy, laugh – but always remember the days when the Cinnamon Toast Festival was just about the cinnamon and the toast, and wasn’t the corporate sellout monstrosity it is now!!

Have You Ever Wondered Why Superheroes Wear Capes?

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The other day a random thought popped into my head: Why do superheroes so often wear capes?? I wondered if there was any literature on the purpose of capes in these superhero myths.

One thread suggested that there was a link from Zorro and/or The Three Musketeers. Those swashbucklers being the original “super heroes” of literature and, given the time periods, natural cape wearers. This then held over to Superman and beyond.

Others discussed the utility purposes of capes such as it’s assistance with aerodynamics, but at least according to one study on the phyiscs of Batman’s Cape (yes…an actual study) that seems incorrect. Other purposes include making it easy to hide or confuse enemies, being a protective shield, and acting as a symbol.

My favorite blog is this one that asks Do Superheroes Really Need Capes? The author basically decides the purpose of a cape is purely for the sake of fashion. It even goes so far as to depict some of our well-known cape-wearers looking rather silly without their capes.

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I was disappointed to find that there was no deeper symbolism to be read into it. Something like “the fluid movement of capes create a sense of the ephemeral, and as such give human shapes an otherworldly form.”

So, I guess without that I’m with Edna from Pixar’s The Incredibles. As she puts it:

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The Best Pixar Film of All Time

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I have always been a huge Pixar fan, and reading Creativity, Inc last year by Pixar (and now Disney Animation) President Ed Catmull has only solidified my adoration for the company and their brilliant creative process. You will often find me extolling the virtues of their story-telling and business principles, and basically recommending everybody everywhere to read his book.

When I saw this post from Collider called Pixar Films Ranked from Worst to Best I had to click. Now, I have yet to see Inside Out, but…I have a VERY CLEAR frontrunner for Best Pixar film, and it is not always everyone else’s frontrunner.

Luckily – the article agreed with me as to which is the best Pixar film. Take a look at the list and see if you agree, too!

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Craft is for the Brits!

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An article in The Atlantic caught my attention the other day with the headline The Decline of the American Actor. Being an American Actor myself, I must do what I can to stay up-to-date about my decline. Wait…come again?

First a quick digest of the article: author Terrance Rafferty makes many assertions that bumble about throughout the piece. The most important, in my opinion, is the comment that (in relation to their more successful British counterparts) American actors have less appreciation for training and technique.

It’s undeniable that Brits, Canadians, and Australians are taking high-level American jobs left and right. Rafferty’s list of non-American TV actors playing Americans is astounding.

“On any given night of channel surfing or Netflix browsing in the past few seasons, you’re likely to have happened upon an English actor or two playing a 100 percent born-and-bred American: Andrew Lincoln, David Morrissey, and Lennie James on The Walking Dead, Hugh Dancy on Hannibal, Charlie Cox on Daredevil, Freddie Highmore and Olivia Cooke on Bates Motel, Damian Lewis and Rupert Friend on Homeland, Eddie Marsan on Ray Donovan, Janet McTeer on Battle Creek, Dominic West and Ruth Wilson on The Affair, or Hugh Laurie on House.”

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Rafferty describes the lot of American actors as having “on the job” training. A crop of younger actors such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jennifer Lawrence, Reese Witherspoon, Keri Russell, Michelle Williams, Emma Stone, and Michael B. Jordan all having learned their craft as child actors in commercials, TV shows, and the few odd films. He suggests that perhaps the lack of “meaty role” opportunities early in their careers ill-equips these actors later on.

For me, however, it’s not about the lack of meaty roles, it’s about the lack of preparation for how to play those roles when they come. This is where the Brits’ and their training comes in handy. The Brits have Shakespeare. His plays are the backbone of their training, and when you learn how to fill the language and experience of Shakespearean drama, and allow it to be real, then you can take on anything from super villains to intimate lovers.

American actors could also study Shakespeare, and it would teach them a great deal. But even more than – we have our own classics to study: Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, William Inge, Eugene O’Neill. And here’s the thing – the American actors who forged the modern style of film acting DID study those playwrights. Brando, DeNiro, Pacino, Hoffoman – they learned a technique to bring the experience of the characters in those plays to personal, honest, relaxed life.

Method Actors
All of those actors learned Method Acting from Lee Strasberg’s Actor’s Studio. My own teacher, Salome Jens, also studied with Lee and continues to pass on his instruction to this day. But there are no notable teachers or schools continuing this kind of instruction. And worse, it continues to be distilled into ingredients that don’t actually have anything to do with the method. What Rafferty calls “on the job training” really just amounts to an attempt by young actors to imitate the naturalistic style they see these older actors perform, but with no real knowledge of how to do it correctly.

And so a style persists, yes, but one with absolutely no substance. So what gives?

According to Rafferty: “The training…no longer has the sort of allure for young American actors that it did in the days of Brando and Dean and Clift and, later, De Niro and Pacino. Sweating out improvisations and emotional-memory exercises at the Actors Studio or the Neighborhood Playhouse doesn’t seem the best way to get noticed anymore.”

In other words – American actors aren’t in it for the technique, they’re in it for the fame. And the work it takes to get there is of no interest to them. On the occasion of James Dean’s death, Strasberg said, “As soon as you grow up as actors, as soon as you reach a certain place, there it goes, the drunkenness and the rest of it, as if, now that you’ve really made it, the incentive goes, and something happens which to me is just terrifying. I don’t know what to do…”

And if actors don’t seem to mind the difference between the real stuff and a cheap substitution, Hollywood is certainly no connoisseur. Yet there go those Brits, with that certain extra-special something that makes it that much easier to believe their performances.

Rafferty calls it the ability to have fun and play pretend. I call it craft.