Tag Archives: casting director

10 Audition Tips From The Other Side of the Casting Table

Heather Wolf at the casting table for 'I And You' at the Fountain Theatre.

Heather Wolf at the casting table for ‘I And You’ at the Fountain Theatre.

What I Learned Watching Other Actors Audition 

by Heather Wolf

Ready? Show of hands: How many actors have ever wished to be the proverbial fly on the wall at an audition? Well, volunteering to be an audition reader may just contribute to that most integral tool in an actor’s arsenal: keeping your sanity.

I was given the opportunity to sit on the other side of the casting table during the Fountain Theatre’s casting of I and You, directed by Robin Larsen. It really was an invaluable experience. In preparation for the actor’s life (read constant, unavoidable rejection), there are countless articles, books and instructors all trying to drill in to our sensitive, artist brains that it is not personal. Well, let me add my voice to the throng: It is NOT PERSONAL.

How can I say such a thing? Knowing that it is, quite literally, your life? I know what makes it such a personal and consuming experience for an actor. But across that table, it really is nothing personal. In a good way. Guess what? While you walk out the door obsessing over every moment from your audition, your pic & res is already in the “Yes”, “No” or “Maybe” pile and probably not for the reasons you think.

You may have been the production team’s favorite actor and won’t even get a callback because of [insert-­character- ­stat-here]. How is that fair? How is this supposed to help with the whole staying sane thing? What you keep hearing is true: all you can be is you, all you can control is your work, let the rest go.  I am a witness.

More good news: everyone staring at you from across that casting table is on your side. They want you to be great as much as you do. They understand the courage it takes just to walk through that door. When they smile and welcome you and try to put you at ease, it is genuine. So breathe, try and calm those pesky nerves and remember why all those people are there. Putting actors first is the modus operandi of The Fountain Theatre and they actually deliver. Even if you’re just passing through on an audition. After hearing the same lines read over and over, hour after hour, day after day,  they are still rooting for you when you walk through that door; hoping that you will be the answer to their casting prayers.  It is as difficult for, and means as much to, the people on the other side of the casting table as it does to you.

The audition room at the Fountain Theatre.

The audition room at the Fountain Theatre.

As an actor, I intellectually understood these concepts. But experiencing it first-­hand from the other side of the casting table is another thing altogether. Every actor should be an audition reader at least once. If offered the opportunity, grab it. It really is a priceless and freeing experience for any actor. 

So, here are my ten audition tips taken from the other side of the table:

  1. Relax. They want you to be there. They are on your side. They want every single actor who walks in — including you —  to be the answer to their casting prayers.
  2. Be professional. Be prepared.  Be on time. Arriving early is on time and on time is late.
  3. Always bring your headshot and resume. Even if you know they already have it. At the end of the day when the headshots are spread across the casting table so they can make their callback choices, you want your lovely face shining up at them from that table reminding them who your are. Not an empty blank white sheet of paper with your name scribbled on it.
  4. Do your work. All you can really control is what you put into your audition. You may be a cold-read ninja and think you can just walk in and nail it.  But if you have actually been provided advanced notice with the sides and the script, take that gift! Give yourself every advantage. You’ll need it.
  5. You don’t have to memorize the lines. It impresses no one. I know many actors feel that having their lines memorized is part of doing the work, but that is not what matters most. This from Stephen Sachs, award-winning director and co-founder of The Fountain Theatre: “We really don’t care if the lines are memorized or not. It means nothing to us. What matters is their performance, the freedom of their work. Often, an actor will memorize the lines thinking it will “free” them and enable them to do their best work but then they are concentrating so hard on remembering the words that it completely locks them up. I see it all the time.”
  6. It is okay to make mistakes. Honestly. Skipping a line, having to start over, glancing at your sides, does not impact whether you’re cast or not. Strive for perfection, just don’t be derailed when imperfection strikes. It may be the best part of our day.
  7. Be flexible and directable. Most actors claim they love direction.  Listen and process what you are being given. Because if you go back and give the exact same read? Your goose is pretty well cooked. If you need clarification, ask!
  8. The audition room is a “no fly” zone. Walk calmly, don’t fly in and out the door. The second you have said your last line and hear “thank you” doesn’t mean you are required to turn tail and run. Gather your things, say your final “goodbye” or “have a nice day” and exit at a reasonable pace.  I promise, you have the time.
  9. Leave it in the room. However you feel you did, leave it in the room. Your job is done.  It is out of your control. Just keep on keepin’ on.
  10. Be an audition reader at least once. Volunteer, ask friends, do a show and run your own session, but find a way. The perspective it gives you as an actor, the understanding of the process, knowing first hand what the other side of the table has to deal with and what you can and cannot control, is genuinely priceless. At least it was for me.

Why LA Actors Do Theatre in Los Angeles

Blue silhouetteby Stephen Sachs

When Joseph Campbell spoke of the power of myth he didn’t have LA stage actors in mind. Yet a powerful and prevailing myth has spread for years in theater centers throughout the country about why actors do theater in Los Angeles. The legend claims that LA actors are somehow less serious and do theater only to be seen by casting directors in “the Industry” and not for the art of the work. This is simply not true. The idea that actors in Los Angeles only do theater for the purpose of showcasing themselves with the hope of being cast in television or film is not only an insulting and disrespectful myth, it is a lie.

As the Artistic Director of a leading theater in Los Angeles for 24 years and a longtime theater director, I have an insider view of the truth. It has been my experience over more than two decades that the hundreds, maybe thousands, of LA actors I have worked with do a play for one fundamental reason: they are passionate and committed to the work. The LA actors I’ve worked with have been fiercely dedicated, hard-working, highly-skilled, deeply impassioned and utterly professional.

I believe actors are extraordinary creatures. And actors who do theater in Los Angeles, even more so. They tackle challenges unique to this region, not faced in other cities. Particularly those acting in productions in one of LA’s many intimate theaters like mine where the pay is next-to-nothing and the reward is decidedly artistic.

The LA actor navigates a theater landscape in Los Angeles unlike any other in the United States. There are a handful of large production houses and a collection of mid-sized venues. These, however, are dominated by a network of more than 100 intimate theaters (99 seats or less) webbed throughout the region. And that’s what LA is: a region stretched over 469 square miles, not a city. An immense terrain of diverse neighborhoods too vast and spread-out to be walkable, connected only by freeways. No centralized Theater District.

Skyline-Los-Angeles-Night

Intimate theaters in Los Angeles operate under the AEA 99-Seat Plan. This one-of-kind agreement was created years ago to address the unique plight of the stage actor in Los Angeles. Overseen by Actors Equity, the Plan permits Equity actors to work in intimate theaters in LA without the benefit or salary of a formal contract. Actors are paid a ridiculously low stipend. In pure dollars-and-cents, factoring in expenses and wages lost elsewhere over the course of rehearsals and a run, it can actually cost an actor money to do a play in Los Angeles. So why do it? Because much of the most satisfying work and most challenging new plays are being done in these intimate theaters. Actors long to act in these plays for the same reason we ache to produce them: for the sake of the art. Nobody makes any money.

Debunking the myth, the LA actor often commits to a play under tremendous self-sacrifice, not self-promotion. They reschedule or give up Film & TV auditions, change their day-job schedules, cancel shifts as waiters, rearrange travel plans, postpone weddings, fail to attend funerals, miss family events – all to be in weeks of rehearsals  and then months running a play, all for next-to-nothing money in a theater that holds only a few dozen people. Why? Because they are dedicated to their craft.

I’ve seen LA stage actors turn down high-paying roles in movies and TV shows because it conflicted with a play they were doing at my theater. If “getting seen” by The Industry were their true motive for being with us, why would they do such a thing?

Actors may move to Los Angeles with the hope to make money in movies and television. What they find, however, may surprise them and save their artistic lives: a thriving Los Angeles theater scene of generous, talented artists. Actors may book an episodic to feed themselves and pay their bills, but they do a play to feed their souls and pay their dues as an artist. They come to LA to break into The Industry. They stay to be part of a Community.

Hollywood still heralds itself as “the movie capital of the world” despite the fact that fewer movies are actually shot here anymore. More plays are now produced each year in Los Angeles than major motion pictures. Yet LA still fights for its right to be called a “theater town.” The fact is: Los Angeles has more theaters and creates more theater productions than any other city in the world. More than New York or Chicago. More than London. That’s right. Los Angeles. How’s that for irony?

Los Angeles is also home to more working artists than any other major city in the United States, including New York. According to a report commissioned by the Center for Cultural Innovation (CCI), Los Angeles employs the largest pool of artists of any metropolis in the nation. Surprised? Los Angeles supports more than five times as many artists in the performing arts than any other US city, substantially exceeding New York.

Stephen Sachs

Stephen Sachs

I’ve directed actors in cities around the country, in Canada and the United Kingdom. The Los Angeles stage actor is as trained and as talented, as intelligent and inventive as any actor anywhere. A good actor is a good actor, no matter the coast. Sure, I’ve seen bad theater and bad actors in Los Angeles. I’ve also seen bad theater and bad actors in Chicago, New York and London. I’ve also seen truly extraordinary performances by actors in Los Angeles. In this respect, LA is no different than any other major city. If only it were perceived that way by the rest of the country.

The myth is that acting in a play in Los Angeles is only beneficial as a vehicle or stepping stone to something else more important. But LA theater actors, the ones in the trenches, the ones on the stages, don’t see it that way. To them there is nothing more important. They work too hard and surrender too much to do theater for any purpose other than perfecting their craft. Actors are artistic athletes. They need to work out, stretch their muscles, push themselves, and be challenged.

Actors don’t do theater in LA to be seen. They’re not on stage to serve themselves. They are here, like actors everywhere, to serve their art.

Stephen Sachs is the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre. This post originally appeared in HowlRound.

 

Intern Journal: My Peek into the World of Casting

by Jessica Broutt

Now a few weeks into interning at The Fountain, I have been able to do some very diverse tasks. This happens every few days when someone, usually Stephen,  announces that they have a “project” for me.  I have learned that project can mean a lot of things. Sometimes it is prefaced with, “this project is a really horrible boring job” and can be as mundane as organizing check stubs. Other times,  like last week, it can mean something really exciting like working in our casting department. This was one project I was dying to be a part of.  I would be scheduling times for actresses to audition for a role in our upcoming play, the US Premiere of Athol Fugard’s The Blue Iris.

When thinking about working in the entertainment industry, obviously casting is a big part of it, but it is also a facet of running a theatre in which I have had no experience.  I soon learned that it really is a world unto itself, populated with agents, assistants, and actresses, complete with its own language with which I was all together unfamiliar.  Despite some brief coaching from Stephen, I felt a little unsure about how I could survive in this world .  But, armed with my new-found knowledge of “sides” and “breakdowns”  I put on my most confident voice and  called agencies and actresses alike.

Sometimes it was easy.  I got to speak to the actress herself, we picked a time, she said she would be there and it was done.  Other actresses were not so easy to track down or I found myself talking to the second assistant of their agent. It was quite nerve-wracking to remember who was represented by Lisa from Momentum or who would be out of the country through the week. It definitely gave me a new-found respect for anyone who has ever worked in casting.

Still, one thing that really amazed me was how nice everyone was when I called. Every agent and assistant seemed more than happy to speak with me, e-mailed me back right away, and much to my amazement, seemed to believe I knew what I was doing. And the same was true with the actresses, each one was more polite than the next. I was surprised at how easy it all seemed.  It was then I realized that I had a little bit of power.  These actresses were grateful for my call. They wanted this role. And by being nice to me, their chances of obtaining it remained intact.  I was so worried about them calling my bluff as a casting director, that I failed to realize that they wanted this audition even more than  I wanted to not embarrass myself scheduling it.

The Audition Process.

If I thought calling everyone to arrange the auditions was exciting, it was nothing compared to having all the actresses come in the day of the audition. My job sounded fairly simple:  have the actresses sign in, take a copy of their resume and headshot, and escort them into the audition room.  But then there are the things that no one tells you.  Like how some actresses will come a mere moment before they are expected while others will come one hour before and size up the competition.  I also had no idea that Calvin Klein jeans were the unspoken uniform for auditions. Or how different every actress’s method of preparation is.  Some remained very calm as if waiting for a doctor’s appointment and sat patiently in the waiting area until they were called.  And then there were others, like the actress Julanne Chidi Hill, who would rather not sit just outside the audition room and feel the tension.  Instead, she went elsewhere and practiced. And not just outside the theatre but a block away, to truly distance herself from the competition.  So far away in fact, that I was afraid she had left all together. Yet, her unorthodox method obviously paid off, because she walked away as the newest addition to our Fountain Family, and with the role of Reita.

Julanne Chidi Hill

When auditions were over and the role had been cast I thought my job was done.  I commended myself on everything going without a hitch, and considered my venture into the world of casting over.  But I forgot something very crucial:  I had to call all the other actresses  and inform them that they did not get the part.  The thought of making those calls seemed awful but in practice, it wasn’t really that bad.  The few actresses who I spoke to were painfully nice about it, and thanked me for the call. The agents seemed to take the news as nothing out of the ordinary. And I was blessed with speaking to many voicemail boxes, who all seemed to take the news extremely well.

After the last “the role has been filled” phone call, I was actually done with this project. Instead of breathing a sigh of relief, as I did when I filed away the last check stub, I felt a little sad.  While it might have been a bit scary to arrange auditions, it was also very exciting.  Now when I get to see The Blue Iris next month in August, I will know that I helped to make it happen in some way.

Just as my many other projects have taught me, there are so many different jobs in running a theatre and countless people who work behind the scenes to make it run smoothly.

This was definitely one of my favorite projects thus far. I look forward to my next!

Jessica Broutt is our summer intern from UC San Diego.

TV Show Changes Role From Hearing to Deaf to Nab Deaf Actor in ‘Cyrano’

Troy Kotsur

A remarkable thing — perhaps even historic — happened in a Hollywood casting office last week. The team for the TV show “Criminal Minds” took the extraordinary step of rewriting a character in an episode from a hearing role into a deaf role solely so they could hire a deaf actor. The “Criminal Minds” casting director  had seen deaf actor Troy Kotsur on stage in our smash hit production of Cyrano at the Fountain Theatre and was so blown away by his performance that he convinced the TV team to change the role in the upcoming episode from a hearing character to a deaf character just so they could hire Kotsur.

Video Trailer for ‘Cyrano’ at the Fountain

click “cc” if you need captioning

As Troy tells it:

I walked into the casting director’s office and saw about 10 hearing actors in the waiting room.  They were auditioning the same role as I was going for.

After I auditioned, I felt great with the choices I made to present the character and how I went with the flow with the Criminal Minds team in the room.

At first, I assumed they did not know much about Deaf people.  During the process, I thought: Did they understand anything I signed? Could they tell if I played the way they wanted the character to be?  Did they see the details I brought with my face, eyes and body language for the character?  Could they tell the difference between hearing actors and Deaf actors?  Is there a difference?  Or could only an expert, who knew both cultures, catch the differences? Did the team know what they were looking for? Most teams don’t know until they see what the actors bring in the room.

Deep down inside, I was hoping they wouldn’t hire me because I was Deaf.  I wanted to believe they would hire me because of the skills, nuances, and the specifics of what I was able to give for my character, for their story.  Good acting.

After I auditioned, I felt that it was possible that they did see the specifics and moments.  It was a positive experience.

I learned later that originally the character had lots of action and no speaking lines.  They gave the character to a hearing actor, Matthew Jaeger.  Matthew has worked with Deaf West Theatre in the past with Deaf and hearing actors.  He asked the Criminal Minds team to give Deaf actors a chance to show their work because they can do this character just as well.  I’m grateful to Matthew Jaegger who encouraged the Criminal Minds team to give Deaf actors a chance.  This all wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Matt.

I also learned that the casting director saw Cyrano at the Fountain Theatre.  I had no idea.  It’s wonderful to have casting directors and writers see plays at the Fountain and Deaf West for the opportunity it gives for more jobs for Deaf actors.  It’s challenging for Deaf actors to get jobs because there aren’t many written roles for Deaf actors to play.  Non-speaking roles or Deaf characters are roles I usually audition for.

The Criminal Minds team decided to give it a shot.  They did a re-write after they saw my audition.  What a journey and a blessing.  I am curious to know how the writers will write, to dive into a Deaf person’s mind!”

Troy’s agent, Liz Hanley with Bicoastal Talent, is thrilled.

“I have had the pleasure of repping many deaf artists over the years,” she says. “I always count it as a great success when a deaf client lands a ‘hearing’ role. I have always submitted deaf actors for roles they were right for, whether the breakdown called for a deaf actor or not. Through hundreds of submissions, I have only convinced a casting office or producer four times to see a deaf actor for a role that wasn’t labeled “deaf”. All four times resulted in a job.”
“If only Hollywood was more willing to see deaf actors on all roles. Thanks to the awesome Cyrano production,a Hollywood mind was opened.”
Troy will continue dazzling audiences (and casting directors)  in the lead role of Cyrano until the run ends with a final extension on July 29.

Troy Kotsur and Erinn Anova in “Cyrano”

“I’m happy that Cyrano got extended twice so that more people have the chance to experience opening their minds and souls to what this show is about” says Troy. ” It gives many people a new perspective or a new light with depth, having two cultures and languages on stage.  We’re all basically the same. The ability and skill to communicate can either bring you closer or farther away.”

“I hope this play and more plays like it can continue to inspire writers to create more stories for Deaf actors to get more work.”

Cyrano  Final Extension to July 29  (323) 663-1525   More Info