Auditions – I was at Spotlight studios for a meeting recently and there in reception was a collection of nervous actors clutching their scripts and waiting to be called to the audition studio. Auditions! The bane of an actor’s life but a necessary evil.
So what’s the big deal? You know you’re going to have to audition to get the job, you’ve had time to prepare, you know that there will be stiff competition- but in fact, the final decision will be made taking all kinds of external factors into consideration and may actually have very little to do with you or your ability.
“You only get one chance to make a good first impression. Make it count”
Johnny Heller – Audiobook narrator & Coach
I would add to Johnny’s excellent advice that you need to not only be choosy about the jobs you go for, but you also need to be ready and properly prepared.
You’ll save yourself a lot of heartache, stress, and feelings of rejection and doubt if you concentrate on always playing to your strengths and if don’t waste your time in auditioning for jobs that don’t really interest you or that you don’t stand a cat in hell’s chance of actually getting. Of course you want to stretch yourself, to take on new and challenging projects … but an audition studio is not the place to try out something new or to experiment with new genres. Really it isn’t!
If you follow a lot of the online advice regarding acting, voice acting, auditions, success and applying for jobs, you might get the impression that all you need to do in order to gain success and recognition is just to want it enough. There is a lot of propaganda floating around that seems to imply that all you need to do in order to succeed is:
- Firm belief that you can do it
- To register for lots of coaching or classes
- Record a voice reel (often ‘the carrot’ offered free that pulls you in and encourages you to enrol on the course)
- To work really really hard
- Do lots and lots of auditions and just keep on believing!
No mention of talent or even an interest in a particular job – but I digress.
I’ve divided this article into two sections – live face to face auditions first, then recorded auditions for voice overs.
Back to auditions . . . firstly … live, face to face casting and auditions.
STUFF YOU CAN’T CONTROL
There is no sexual equality when it comes to casting!
There is generally less work for women than for men in all genres of acting and the performing arts, apart from ballet perhaps, where the corps de ballet is usually an ensemble of female dancers – think of all those swans! That’s just how life is … from Shakespeare onwards, with a few notable exceptions; (‘Once a Catholic’ set in a girls’ convent school, ‘The Steamy’ set in a Glasgow tenement wash-house, and ‘Prisoner Cell Block H’ set in a women’s prison), in most mainstream drama, whether it’s created for production on stage, screen – men get the lion’s share of the work.
Not just in drama either; In the world of the voice the male voice dominates – in television documentary narration, commercials and corporate voice overs, but also in Audiobooks, where there are far more titles for the male voice – and in video games as well. And though we have progressed from the point where only men were allowed to read the news on the BBC, it still seems that the male voice is accepted as being more trustworthy.
You don’t fit a preconceived idea of the character being cast’
Whether you’re male or female though, the decisions made in the casting process are actually very rarely only about the person actually doing the audition. Here’s why:
The casting director / director / producer / author / scriptwriter / client often has a very firm idea of what they’re looking for, how something should look and sound – and that ‘preconception’ is what they want to see and hear in the audition, or as close an approximation to it as possible. If you’re blonde and their preconceived idea of the character is a brunette, you’ll have your work cut out to persuade them you would be perfect; wig or no wig. Similarly if your age, height, weight, personal style, eye-colour, hair style or any other little thing doesn’t fit their identikit image, you’re less likely to be cast than someone who exactly fits their imagining, no matter whether you are far more experienced, better trained, or just an all round better actor.
‘But I’m AN ACTOR’ I hear you cry, ‘I can do fatter, blonder, older, younger – with this accent, that accent, with a lisp … think of John Hurt in ‘The Elephant Man’ hardly type casting! It was just ACTING!
l’ll only know what I want when I see/hear it!
The other issue facing an actor at an audition is even more frustrating. This arises when the person doing the casting has absolutely no idea at of what they’re looking for. This is usually obvious from their attitude – they are unable to give clear direction, have no clear character break down and you generally get the impression that it’s going to be down to you to come up with something. And that’s exactly what it is … they’re hoping for some kind of divine inspiration and that they’ll know what it is they’re looking for when it hits them between the eyes (or ears)! Faced with that situation where there is little or no guidance, all you can hope to do is to show your intuition, versatility and adaptability by accepting what little information their is and going for it. There is no point in being halfhearted in the hope that you’ll meet their requirements somewhere in the middle of the road. This won’t work, it will just come across as a wishy-washy performance.
They don’t know what they’re looking for … so you have to go all out to convince them that you are exactly it.
Fitting in with what’s already in place
- What has gone before and what is already in place has a huge impact on how something is cast. You may be brilliant, your audition might be the best they’ve seen, but if you’re going to be playing in an ensemble where some of the roles are already cast, how well you ‘fit’ with the rest of the company is going to affect the likelihood of your being cast. Think of how conventional casting usually is … the leading man is usually taller than his leading lady – so short men and tall women have it particularly tough! Easier in film perhaps where stories abound of short leading men standing on a box, or leading ladies standing in a trench!
- Casting directors, directors and producers like contrast – so if the existing company already has a couple of people who look and sound a little like you, you’re less likely to land the job than someone who has a completely different look and sound. Age, or at least playing age, is also important. The majority of acting roles and most voice projects want a performer who falls within the 25 to 45 age range, so if you’re very young or more mature (or sound like a teenager or a pensioner), you may have an advantage, though as there are fewer roles for either very young or very old actors, your opportunities will be more limited.
- Though appearance doesn’t come into consideration too much in the voice over world, there are still a lot of external considerations particularly if you’re joining an organisation in which other artists are already employed (or when you’re auditioning for an agent). Alongside native accent considerations – and a strong regional accent will limit the range of jobs you’re likely to be considered for – all voices fall within certain parameters based on p itch – soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass: and type, for example clear, breathy, smooth, husky, nasal, throaty, deep and of course vocal age. A voice casting director (or voice agent) will not want to have too many similar sounding voices to choose from.
STUFF YOU CAN CONTROL
So … given that when your auditioning it is not all about you, how can you maximise your chances of getting the jobs for which you are a good fit?
Don’ t audition too soon
Again, I refer you back to Johnny’s quote. Don’t rush things. You won’t do yourself any favours if you go for jobs that are way outside your capability or range. Look at your experience and skill honestly and submit accordingly. Dream your dreams and work towards your goal but be realistic … if you’ve never stepped on a stage (or recording studio) and have had no training, unless you’re exceptional – and most of us aren’t – you’re blowing your chances of being cast in future by jumping the gun and auditioning too early. Folk keep records and notes and will remember you.
Do your homework
I recently read that the most common complaint by casting directors and directors is that actors are turning up to auditions and casting sessions with no preparation. Amazingly, actors are stumped when asked the most simple of questions.
‘What have you been up to recently?’
‘What do you think of the play? Script? Character you are reading for?’
And worse still … actors are walking into the audition without knowing anything about the people who are about to audition them.
Now I know from experience that acting auditions generally come to the actor from their agent … and agents are normally briefed pretty well about the people who are leading the auditions, so though the actor may only have been sent the script of one scene, this is normally accompanied by a resume of the whole drama and by a comprehensive character breakdown. This is important information – and using it wisely can make the difference between getting the job and not getting it!
Armed with the information that you’ve been given, it is then down to you (yes you … the actor) to do some research. Firstly, find out as much as you can about the writer and their work. Find out what else they’ve written, find where their plays have been performed; if they’re an author and it’s an audiobook audition, find out what other books they’ve written, and if of a similar genre particularly, try and read them … or listen to them if they’ve already been recorded.
The same principle, of finding out as much as you can in advance applies to any audition, for film, television, radio, video game, animation or any other kind of performance . Even if the information seems totally irrelevant, it will give you something to talk about and will show that you’re interested and engaged. Much better than talking about yourself!
If you’re auditioning for a play, film, audiobook, radio drama, video game, animation or any other kind of performance related project, you should at least know what it is about, where it is set, what accent to use, what is the style of the piece; is it a period piece that will be performed ‘in period’? What genre does it fall within? Is it a modern piece in a very naturalistic style? .Is it a comedic piece or a tragic piece?
- I find it quite incredible that actors expect to be cast without showing any interest or, commitment in a project, and feel they will be cast based on the magnitude and magnificence of their own extraordinary personality and charisma! Extraordinary!
Do your preparation
At some auditions, in addition to doing a reading, you may have been asked to prepare a piece in advance. Learn the lines, work on the piece, don’t just walk through it … you need to treat it in exactly the same way as you would treat a full performance! If you are auditioning for a ‘repertory season’ which contains more than one play and where you will be playing a variety of roles in several different plays; or if you’re attending a ‘general casting’ audition for any type of work, it’s a good idea to have a selection of perhaps three contrasting audition pieces prepared and ready to go … ask the director or producer which piece would be the best fit for their planned season and in that way you can tailor your audition to the projects that are actually going to be produced rather than subjecting the poor souls to the fortieth ‘To Be or not To Be’ of a very long afternoon!
FACE TO FACE AUDITIONS FOR VOICE ROLES
In my experience this is something that happens very rarely outside Central London where a voice actor may be called into a Soho studio to read for a client live … or occasionally for an audiobook production or full cast drama. It If you’re auditioning for agent you may be asked to do a face to face read. However, the vast majority of castings for voice work nowadays is done remotely – you submit a recording of a supplied script or send in your voice reel, or a generic recording that matches the style and genre of the job you’re going for.
If you are called to audition live for a voice role, then obviously the same advice applies as in any other face to face casting session – except that you’re not expected to learn the lines. I would always advise taking a second prepared script with you as well as the one you’re being asked to read … being able to offer a contrast can often get you out of a hole. Many voice actors carry a little personalised USB stick with a selection of their recorded work uploaded onto it. Whether to distribute these at an audition is an option worth examining.
My advice would be that if you have a USB stick with voice over work within the same job bracket as the one your auditioning for and if you’re auditioning for a casting director who works on many different projects, then it could be useful for them to hear your other reads. However, remember that you are meeting them in order to be considered for a specific project and adding different genres and recordings into the mix might dilute rather than strengthen your brand. I would advise playing it by ear … ask the question … and if you get a positive response then go for it.
You will always leave your business card and resume anyway, so including within your resume all the information needed to find your webpage, spotlight page, audio samples, show reel, voice reel etc, can be found and downloaded can be an easier way of doing things. Be subtle though. They’re generally busy and focused people working on a specific project, don’t assume they will be as interested in you as you are in them.
Part 2 of this Article is about AUDITIONS FOR VOICE ROLES – and goes into much more detail about the options available for voice actors … it will be posted on Friday 19 January 2018. Be sure to subscribe to my blog or follow me on my Facebook page, LinkedIn or Twitter feed if you don’t want to miss it.
KNOW YOUR STRENGTHS
Knowing your strengths and your limitations is very important. Very few of us are good at everything!
Some actors are born comedians, others just aren’t suited to comedy. Some specialise in the classics, others are more suited to modern works. An actor who is miscast may turn in a very good performance, but will have had to work very hard to get there, with immense support and input from the director and others in the team.
Self-knowledge is one of the skills that a good training will help you to develop, and you really do owe it to yourself not to make life more difficult than it needs to be by auditioning for jobs that you are really not suited to or for genres you’re not really interested in working in.
OPEN AUDITIONS – CATTLE CALLS
All auditions are tough, however, there is one kind of audition that is more soul destroying than any other and that is the ‘open audition’ or ‘cattle call’ where there might be literally hundreds of ambitious and hungry people vying for the director’s attention. Think of the brilliant ‘A Chorus Line’ all those desperate performers … yes it can really be like this!
Open auditions are most often held for large cast productions (musicals, cabaret performers, singers and dancers and small part players in film and television dramas and for pantomime. There are sometimes cattle calls for background artists in commercials. I’ve attended a couple of such auditions. They are truly hateful and demeaning and absolutely horrible, but especially at the beginning of your career – but they are a part of the business, so just grit your teeth, be as prepared as you can be, do the best you can the forget it.
Truly … you really have to forget it, walk away and move on. If you sit waiting for the phone to ring or have any expectations at all, then you will go mad.
You may never hear back from any audition. Sadly the well hackneyed phrase ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you …’ is absolutely true.
However, you should follow up every audition with a personal thank you letter or email to everyone you meet. A brief ‘thank you for seeing me, it was a pleasure to meet you. I hope we might work together in future’ will suffice.
Add a link to your webpage, soundcloud account, spotlight page – and your to social media pages (professional Facebook page rather than your personal one) and invite them to connect with you via LinkedIn and to follow you on Twitter. Follow them on social media, and open a dialogue with them. Ask if they would like to receive regular updates from you – these could be annual / quarterly / monthly. Give them the option to choose rather than bombarding them with regular updates.
I send out an annual round up at the end of every year wishing them good wishes for the festive season and including the highlights of my year … and I send that to all of my contacts.