An Actor Prepares, Again

After a longer-than-needed, self-appointed artistic hiatus, I did my first general audition today in a long time. And, it feels good. I mean, earlier today beforehand I wasn’t so sure. I kept imagining scenarios in my head that included everything from my mind going blank to having a medical emergency on stage to being straight up kicked out of the place and not allowed to audition at all!

That’s when I realized I was a bit anxious and needed to relax.

General auditions are odd, and often annoying. When auditioning for an individual show, depending on the company and the script and the director’s choice, the audition may consist only of reading sides, and only occasionally involve showing up with prepared material. Most actors I know sort of hate the monologue auditions, even while understanding its value. General auditions typically ask for two contrasting pieces, sometimes one needing to be verse, occasionally with a song. Plus there’s little sense of for whom or what you’re actually auditioning, as you’re part of a lined up schedule – go in, state your name and what you’re about to present, do your monologues, say thanks and leave. NEXT!

My problem with monologues is that I absolutely hate finding them, and even more so I think I’m pretty bad at finding them. Over the years I’ve often had a small handful of them at my disposal, but the problem is that over time they get to feel stale or no longer work for me or, even worse – I’ve shown everyone in town this monologue and it needs to be retired. (This is part of why I track what monologues I’ve done for which directors, to try to avoid repeating it.)

My hiatus wasn’t a fruitful time where I read lots of plays (where I would find great audition material.) In fact, during the past year or so I’ve probably read the least amount of any time in my life. I usually have at least one book on my nightstand, but it’s been a real dry spell. So when I realized it was time to get back in the game I started monitoring the audition sites again, looking for opportunities. When this came up, I put a reminder on my calendar for the signup date (there was a small window of opportunity) and started thinking about what I would do.

That’s when I realized I was screwed. I needed some fresh material.

I spent the next several weeks flipping through plays, anthologies, my paper files of monologues, my electronic files of monologues….I think it’s the worst part of being an actor. I hate it. If there were a service where someone would send me recommended monologues appropriate for me to do on a regular basis, I’d read those plays and happily pay for that service. Thankfully I came across something in time, and in the course of about 9 days I worked up a new 1 min 15 second, dramatic monologue – scored, memorized and fully embodied. (I coupled it with a contrasting one I’ve done before, but this theater hadn’t seen.)

Honestly, I wasn’t sure I could do it – that I could be ready. And I was prepared to cancel my audition slot. (For which I’d kick myself for months.) But it went off without a hitch, and in fact, I think I had their attention and that it went well! Not only do I recognize more clearly the time and committment I personaly need to work up such a thing, I’m confident I could do it again.

I’m feeling back in the game, and tomorrow I’ve got another chance to use this new piece!

Note to self: Keep reading and looking for material!

Auditions and Bicycles

It’s summer, at least unofficially, and I haven’t yet ridden my bike once. I’m feeling a need to take it out, give it a quick spin, before I even think of committing to commuting somewhere or hitting a longer trail. I just know it’ll be invigorating, even while it tests my endurance and flexibility. I may end up sore. I may end up feeling really out of shape.

bikeThat’s how I’ve been feeling about my acting life too—if not my entire artistic life. A bit out of shape and anxious. I’ve been so focused on other things and spending so much time and energy on them, that I’m feeling out of it. This lag of being between projects is always an unpleasant one, but this one’s feeling rather difficult.

I need to get some work going or at least on my horizon

I’ve had a few auditions recently that have felt really “blah.” In one instance my gut immediately afterward thought, “Well, that was ok. Not great. Not bad. Just ok.” But 24 hours later I realized I had a really crappy audition, and left so many potential elements outside the audition room, it’s almost embarrassing. I desperately wanted a do-over, wanted a chance to make the good choices, rather than the banal. It was a new-to-me director too, so that’s a double crapper.

Then, the same sort of thing happened again the other day at another initial audition. At the time, it felt ok, seemed ok. But then looking back, I realized there wasn’t anything special about what I did. In this case, I thought that the material didn’t seem to give me much to work with, but even I know that’s a lousy excuse. If I had got the job I’d have to find a way to make it work, and I know I can’t always count on a scene partner or director to bring the life to something—I have to find a way myself, too.

And that’s the thing about auditions: you get one shot. Even if you’re not feeling it, even if you’re feeling out of the groove, off your game, tired, overwhelmed with other things, or whatever. You only get that one chance to shine, and that moment comes and goes very quickly. Most auditions are won or lost in the first 15 seconds, at most.

My muscles are feeling out of shape, and I can’t let that keep me down. And I can’t let all of this get me down, or I’ll be writing posts about depression and the dog days of summer.

I’ve got an audition tonight. I need to follow my own advice.

Perhaps I ought to ride my bike to it.

A Not So Bad Audition

The other day I auditioned for some independent film, at an old warehouse or factory building in northeast. Northeast Minneapolis, that is. Or also known as Nordeast. After living here for 20+ years I’ve finally started to find my way around that part of the city, and I don’t get lost up there nearly as much as I once did. I’m not directionally challenged in most of the world, except for a small area of Minneapolis on the other side of the river.

It was sort of an audition. More like an audition/interview. There was no camera recording me, even though this was a film audition, and strangely, think I was the most calm and confident person in the tiny studio. The writer/director seemed nervous and not sure how to go about any of this. The other person (whose position wasn’t made clear to me) was more confident, and tried to act like she knew what she was doing, even though she clearly questioned herself.

Not unlike a set of red lips along a highway

All this was fine with me—I don’t mind when others are nervous. In fact, I often wish everyone else were nervous most of the time and not me.

What would life be like then? Perhaps discomforting.

But I digress. I didn’t end up getting it.

So what does all this have to do with this picture?

Nothing really.

Except that on this beautiful afternoon when I went on this audition and as I was walking back to my car I noticed how prominent the General Mills building was on the skyline in that part of the city. In some weird way it made me think of the Magikist sign off the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago, which is sadly no longer there. (The sign, I mean, not the expressway. Or Chicago.) And it didn’t remind of that because a set of big lips are like tall white mills but because it seems so brazen, so distinct against the back drop. You drive past it every day, see it all the time, and don’t really acknowledge its presence.

I stopped a moment at my car as I tossed my stuff in to the back seat and I thought, “Well, I don’t think I’m what they’re looking for, but it’s a lovely day and it wasn’t a bad audition and I’ve met some new people, so life’s not so bad. And hey—that’s kind of a cool view!”

So I took a picture.

General Mills. “Life’s not so bad.”

Seeing Red Flags

Two of the audition notices to which I’ve responded in the past month have made me pause, surprised at the response because, in both cases, the interactions seemed rather unprofessional or at minimum inconsiderate. I don’t get why this happens, and I wonder if people realize what kind of impression they’re making. Or maybe I’m just being a pill, but these things are red flags to me.

First there was the request I submitted, along with my picture and resume, for an audition slot to a general audition. The notice that had been posted was clear on the time, requirements and contact info. I followed protocol. It took over a week for them to respond to my message. I had started to think that perhaps they hadn’t received it, or perhaps they reviewed the resumes before assigning auditions so that they’re only seeing people who could fit the season or are worth seeing for some reason. This would be odd, and unusual. I thought it was a possibility. But really…a week? I would figure if you post an audition notice, particularly for this kind of audition, you should expect to get inquiries quick and often. I contacted them the day after the notice was put out. It made me wonder how disorganized they might be, and how much of a mess the audition is going to be.

Then there are the people who don’t read messages.

I responded the other day to an ad for a shoe-string budget short film. There wasn’t much info about the piece in the audition notice. Because I’m going to start rehearsals for a play soon I was wondering if it was even practical for me to submit myself for this. So, I sent an email asking for an idea of what the storyline was and what kind of schedule and timeline the project might take. The email bounced back. I double-checked the ad and actually guessed at what I thought was a typo in the address, and forwarded my message to what I figured was correct, asking “Is there a typo in your ad?” They failed to read my question and replied simply saying that there was a typo and asked if I could send my resume.

I replied with my resume, and I restated my questions.

I got a single statement response, sent from someone’s iPhone: “Do you have a demo reel I can look at?”

So, let me get this straight: You put out an ad that doesn’t provide relevant information and has a critical typo? Then you fail to actually read the straight-forward two questions I posed to you about the project? Twice?

Why do I want work with you?

Turns out my schedule won’t allow it anyway.

So to sum up, a couple key things, in my opinion, to how to get along:

  • Be professional
  • Be responsive
  • Be considerate

Because really, if you seem like an unorganized mess, then you probably are. If you are an unorganized mess, you’re probably not paying attention to the details of what you’re doing. And if you’re not paying attention to the details of what you’re doing, it’s probably lousy. And then, I simply don’t want to be involved.

Yep. I’m a pill sometimes.

You wanted to call me back, right? or Thank you, Next.

This morning I was at a callback for a commercial. I was happy to have the callback because a) I could use the money and b) it was with a casting director who the last time I saw her I had a completely awful audition. (It was apparently so awful I didn’t even write about it. I just looked. Perhaps I was too embarrassed.)

So A – well, who couldn’t use some extra cash? I don’t audition for commercials for the art, that’s for sure.

And B – that bad audition was so bad I had to email the casting director the next morning to basically apologize. She thankfully responded and said “everyone has a bad day.”  I think I had two that day. So getting called back…and I think doing a good job, has made up some points. Plus, my agent likes me getting callbacks.

The unique thing about this audition though was the director, or who I assume to be the director. Rarely does the client (as represented by several people, in this case five or six) get introduced or named. This guy gave direction, so I’m saying he’s the director for the commercial. My part had no lines; it was all reaction, even though it was really the focus of the piece. The other actor was like a bag of wind, given a monologue and encouraged to ad lib and keep talking. The director gave him a lot of…a LOT of direction between each of the five or six takes. And by a lot I mean…practically line readings. Super annoying. Talk about your bag of hot air. He knew exactly what he wanted and why he didn’t cast himself in the part, I can’t fathom. I felt bad for the other actor, who was doing everything the guy asked.

And really to top the whole thing off: I swear he didn’t look at me once. And never gave me any kind of direction.

And I’m the one pretending to be picked up by a giant hand, carried across the room and dropped to the floor! Even as we were excused, and me and the other actor gave a sort of “Thank you. Have a good day…” etc., not a glance.

Well, thanks for calling me back.

As I headed back to the ol’ day job I was thinking….”Would I really want to spend a whole day on a set with this guy?”

Turns out I don’t think that’ll be a problem.

Bad news: I didn’t this gig. Oh, well. Good news: I don’t have deal with that dude. And, I redeemed myself for the casting director.

When auditions go well

When an audition goes well, especially if it’s a monologue audition, and especially if it’s a new monologue, it seems like the sun shines just a bit brighter.

The fact that it’s in the mid 70s and sunny and a gorgeous Sunday afternoon also helps.

Last month I mentioned the joy of finding a new monologue, because finding new monologues is the hardest thing for me to do and yet I had stumbled upon something I thought would make a great piece. Today I tried it out for the first time and it went really well. It felt like it worked, it had an arc, there was some mystery, and I got very good feedback on it. Despite there probably not being a good fit of a character for me in the play for which I was auditioning, I got the director thinking and interested and considering me. Of course, when he asked if there was a specific character I might be interested in I answered (lamely) that I wasn’t sure because even looking at the character list it seemed there wasn’t a great fit, to which he agreed. I’m too young, too old or the wrong race. Still, he’s considering.

I love going in to an audition and possibly changing a director’s mind. That’s a successful audition.

It’s a sunny day indeed.

Slate it

The other day I had a commercial audition. It came a bit out of the blue. I had just reconnected with a local agent a few days before, and we chatted on the phone catching up. She’s a funny and very sweet woman who knows all the ins and outs of local commercial/film/industrial biz. As it were. Locally the “biz” here has dried up to a small pittance of what it used to be. I learned that I’ve moved into a different age bracket (I had no choice here, it happens naturally) and there are significantly fewer of “me” than there were a while back.

I haven’t been doing camera auditions for a while, so I felt a bit off my game. They’ve always been much more intimidating to me than a theatre audition for some reason —probably because I feel more in control when I’m on stage than when in front of a camera. Like the camera’s doing the work, not me. And in some ways that’s true. Plus I know it picks up the tiny things about nerves and thoughts and tensions so much more easily than a person sitting 20 feet away in the house. I can’t hide my nerves from a camera. I can’t hide my thoughts.

So I was a little anxious walking in to the casting office. The lobby was full of people, both adults and kids, and there was hardly a place to even sit. But then a great thing happened. The guy behind the desk remembered me the moment I walked in, and started telling me how he keeps seeing my face on this local theatre website. And then the assistant turns around from the copy machine when she heard the first guy saying who had just walked in the door, and she’s someone I’ve known for a long time, and she starts telling me (and the room) how she was just talking about me with so and so and blah blah blah….Suddenly my anxiety is gone. I’m having fun.

I was introduced to my new “family” and we were soon escorted in to the audition studio. The director is someone I’ve auditioned for many times in the past. She did a sort of double take, being surprised to see me, and said “Where the heck have you been?”

A few minutes of taped audition time later, all calm, comfortable and still energetic and interesting, and it was over. I think it went well.

Whether or not I’m right for it…who can say? I’m not too concerned. But I left feeling energized and elated. Walking in the door and being greeted that way was a huge relief.

And the fun capper:

Leaving the building, walking into the sunny downtown afternoon, I crossed paths with the actress who had just played my wife for two minutes. She stops me and asks, “What was that we just auditioned for?!” Turns out she looked at her calendar after the audition and realized she was supposed to have been there the next day, and now she didn’t know what to do.

I found this hilarious, but tried not to let on. I suggested she call her agent.

Boy. And here I thought I was off my game?