Being an Actor is Weird

Earlier this Fall I had a few auditions for a film. Theatre auditions can vary greatly in how they’re handled by the producer or director, but film auditions are a really mixed bag. Small rooms, large rooms, cameras or none, one-on-one interviews with the director or with a table full of writers, producers, P.A.s, someone’s grandfather, and a dog. I’d say these recent auditions fell somewhere in the middle—there were enough people there to show me they were serious about making this thing and they were all normal and polite enough to tell me I’d not regret working with them if they hired me.

I didn’t get the part.

That’s not why things can be weird. In fact, there was really nothing weird about this thing except that I was never told I didn’t get it. Generally speaking after a second or third audition an actor is typically notified (that is, at least when they’re representing themselves and not by an agent) and the last thing I was told was “You’ll be hearing from us by the weekend.”

That was over eight weeks ago.

The other day I came across something online that told me the name of the actor who got the part. He’s perfect for it, a much better a casting choice than I would’ve been (yes, I can manage some objectivity) and he’s a great actor. I can’t feel bad—they got the right guy. I’ve worked with him before and consider him a friend, so I had to send him a congratulatory and sarcastic note along the lines of “thanks for taking my part from me.”

Obviously it’s not the first part I haven’t got, wasn’t the last, and I don’t really fret about losing a role. That would be really self-destructive. It’s just the nature of the work. And that’s kind of the weird thing. Auditions are this ridiculous way of getting a job. You stand up in front of people to be judged, and frankly liked, and you have to have the right skills, the right talent, the right look. You could be too short, too young, too old, or even not look enough like someone else. Or too much. And even then, there’s this weird elusive thing about chemistry with another actor, usually a stranger.

As my friend said in his response DUDE! I’m sorry about taking your part. Isn’t acting weird? We do our thing and a bunch of other people get to decide if we work, where we work, when we work and what we work on.

He’s right. But of course, if that were the only thing it would be just like everything else. I mean, if I were a chemist and wanted to work for 3M it’s not like I could just show up one day and say, “Hey, I can do this. Where can I set up in the lab?” I’d still have to apply, interview and be chosen. But if we apply the rules of hiring actors to the process of hiring a chemist then the chemist also has to be the right gender, the right age, the right “type”, look like he could wear the right lab coat, and it would make a difference as to whether or not he showed up to the interview with a pocket protector.

Do chemists use pocket protectors? Probably. But I digress.

A couple days ago I had an audition for a commercial. I didn’t even have to speak, it was just walk and give the right attitude. There are no lines. You’d think just about anyone could do it. For that job I have a callback on Monday. Yes, there are callback auditions for that non-speaking ,5-seconds of film, job, because of the thirty guys they’ve seen they couldn’t just pick one.

My friend was right. Being an actor is weird. This isn’t news to me, but sometimes things happen that really bring it home.

I’m going to practice my attitude now.

Excited, and Perhaps Anxious.

I shouldn’t be writing this. I should be doing other things but I can’t really focus right now because I have a show opening tonight. Typically when I’m acting in a show I take that day off from the day-job as part of a recovery from tech/dress/preview kind of thing, but also because I know my mind can’t focus on anything else for too long.

This time I’m not acting, but I am producer and director so it’s almost all I’ve breathed for the past month or so. Now it’s virtually out of my hands. I have to trust that the actors and board op will do what I know they can and plan to do. I can only sit back.

It’s been a crazy busy month. (Technically I opened and closed a whole other show I directed earlier this week–another experience that deserves some bit of write up here.) Twice in the past couple weeks I’ve had conversations with people (who don’t work in theatre) about theatre and what I am or have been working on, etc. etc. Both times the person made comments regarding how excited and fulfilling for me it sounded, made some remark such as they “could see something in [my] eyes when I talked about this stuff.”

I love the work I do, feel lucky to get to do it, and find it satisfying.

Between the projects and the day-job, I’ve probably been working about 70 hours/week for the past several weeks. I should be exhausted. (And truly, I think I am.) But I’m energized. Elated. Ready for things. My mind is engaged and I’m thinking on my feet, making decisions and choices more easily and with more certainty.

Side story example: At the day-job yesterday I discovered I was expected to present some materials during a staff-wide meeting, and the meeting had already started and my presentation was in less than five minutes.Yes, I panicked. And then I quickly gathered the info I needed, made quick decisions about what to say and how to say it…and then presented. I don’t think I said more than one “uh” in the whole thing — which I say all the time anyway. And I’m certain no one who wasn’t already in the know about my last minute prep could tell anything was amiss.

But still, today is different. It’s the day people are going to pay money to see the work we’ve done. I’m not nervous, just excited. Perhaps anxious. It’s hard to let go, to stop thinking about the show and how to improve it and what’s working and not working and what if this or that or I wonder…….

My mind’s on overdrive, but I might sleep well tonight.

Suddenly, A Show

Monday morning I had an email inviting me to mount a late-night show for a couple nights in late October, with a ghost-story like theme to coincide with another production.

It’s not like I usually have a play in my back pocket, ready to pull out at a moment’s notice, but in this case – I sort of did. Years ago I had co-created a show with the the person who approached me about this, and he suggested that the ghostly tales of our 4 Stories production would be a good fit. I had to decide quickly.

1998, 4 Stories by Upstart Theatre. Photo by P. Losacker.

That same day some one else, in a completely different context, quoted a saying about being more disappointed by the things you didn’t do rather by those you did. Hmmm….

I stopped by the theater, looked at the space, considered and said, “OK. Count us in!”

Several days and numerous emails and phone calls later, and with a bit of re-curating, I’ve got a cast in place to create a slightly altered version of that 1998 production.

A week ago I had nothing….well, almost nothing….in this time-slot of my year. Now, I’m playing producer/director and scrambling. It was all a bit sudden, but some fates have to be working for me because I quickly secured some amazing talent to be on board.

Out of nowhere, suddenly I’ve got a show to put together.

It Didn’t Stink

Today the cast got together and did a read-thru of our play. And you know what?

It didn’t fall apart.

It didn’t stumble.

It didn’t stink.

Going in to today’s reading we felt pretty confident that the script is in good shape and is ready for actors to take it on, and afterward it seemed that was, in fact, where we stand. This is a relief.

After the reading we had a lively discussion of the story and the characters, with lots of questions and ponderings. That’s a good sign that everyone is interest in the show and project.

As one of the actors said when signing up for an audition slot, “I have great respect for your work, so I don’t expect this will be complete crap.”

He may have been right. Good thing I ended up casting him.

A Good Man is Hard to Find

I once heard that it takes 5 years to establish yourself as an actor in a given market. I also learned that most people drop out of the business after 10 or 15 years. After working as an actor, and sometimes director, for 17 years in Minneapolis, I’d say both statements have a ring of truth.

We have one more role to fill in the cast.

Male. Age 40 – 50-ish. Father figure to victimized teen-age boy.

Turns out these types are hard to find. And by type, I mean “of that age”. Of course, I also mean, smart, talented, reliable, and not crazy, diva, weird, high-maintenance or completely odd. Those latter traits are way too easily found.

And by find, I mean available this summer.

So while most people drop out after 10 or 15 years, it seems more people quit the acting dream after 20 or 25. Not too surprising. It’s a ridiculous way to spend so much of your time and energy, when you can’t make a living at it. After a while you realize you’re not a kid anymore.

As for me, I guess I can say that I’m established here. I at least have enough of a resume, enough connections – although I could always use more work.

But, now I’m thinking I should focus on hanging on for another 10 years. Let other’s retire.

One to go

Hold that beer. Make it a Jameson.

We’re not quite complete. I spent much of yesterday waiting to hear the word, “Yes.” I’m thrilled I heard it from everyone who came to callbacks, but there’s still one more spot to fill.

There are so many things that go in to building a cast. We’ve got a strong group – but it’s incomplete.

Now I can focus on being anxious about that one last slot.

On ice. Just a splash of soda, please.

Next!

Auditions. What an exhausting process. Last night we held callbacks, and ran in to a few bumps in the road.

First off, there was the last minute cancellation. Just before leaving my house for the theater, I got an email that someone couldn’t make it. Normally something like that isn’t a huge deal, even if disappointing. In this case it kind of threw off a big chunk of the evening. Mostly because it combined with….

Secondly, there were the no-shows. Two of them. Now this is just plain wrong. I had a few no shows at the initial auditions. That too is wrong, but at a callback? That’s worse!

I didn’t invite very many people to the callbacks, and had planned on a smooth process of reading a few different scenes with a few different combinations, and moving on. Because of other scheduling issues, the evening was planned in two parts – an early session and a later session. So, the early session….was a mess. I was missing three actors, two of them for a critical role for the scenes being used, and had to scramble to find the right readings! And I had to make some tough decisions.

Third, there was the….how shall I put this…the unexpected. While I did have the cancellations and no-shows, I was lucky to have someone auditioning for the first time, and able to fill in.  This person had been unable to make it the prior night and asked to come the second night instead. I’m a nice guy. This is a low-budget, independent project. I accommodated. And that accommodation was the only way that person would possibly have attended the callback. There was another who did some very, um, interesting stuff.

Next!

In the end, however, there was harmony. We went in to the evening with certain leanings, most of which were justified by the end of it all. I don’t even think the last actor had quite left the building when my assistant director and co-writer and I quickly listed our casting choices and they matched exactly.

Well, that’s done. Let’s go get a beer.