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.

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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.

Rhyme or Reason

Auditioning is the bane of an actor’s existence. Or so many actors will tell you. It can be a humbling experience, where an actor can find himself doing odd things (possibly over and over, in different ways) all in the goal of being liked enough (essentially) to be cast, aka hired for a job that will likely last either hours, days or possibly months, and in few other professions does one have to put themselves out there for such personal judgement and dismissal, and certainly for so little financial reward.

I fondly recall auditioning for Best Buy’s “Idea Box” (something they had for a while – a blue box for customers to write and deposit suggestions) and I was up for the part of the mascot. (I’m not kidding.) A blue, foam box that didn’t even speak. I didn’t get it.

I also didn’t get the part a few weeks ago when the director paid no attention at all to me at the callback for a commercial.

I didn’t get the part a few months back on a film I really wanted. Then later they came back to me, offering me the other part in the film, playing against the guy who got “my” part. I ended up liking it better that way. So that time I didn’t get cast and I did get cast.

You act your little heart out and sometimes you’re hardly noticed. Sometimes you’re noticed and you still don’t get the job.

In most things, there is no rhyme or reason to casting.

Earlier this week I went to a callback for a play, and it was a very different experience. I guess first off, it’s a play and not a commercial. Sure, there’s that. (Of course, I was once called back for a play and wasn’t really noticed because they meant to call someone else. Perhaps I’ll tell that another time. I digress.) This time, not only was it a lot fun, and not only did I just play around a bit and try to have fun with it, but I didn’t feel like I had to lay myself bare to be loved or noticed.

First off when I arrived I noticed there were more than a few faces I’d have expected to see there, and this was a good thing. The lobby was overflowing with talent, and (strangely, or not) most of that talent I hadn’t actually worked with before. And a few of them I couldn’t wait to work with. This puts me in a good mood, as I feel I’m in good company.

Next, when I get a chance to go in and read a scene, there were three auditors and only a slight tinge of nervousness on my part, which lasted the briefest of moments. I’ve known those three faces for anywhere from about fifteen to twenty…some years. I’ve acted with all three. I’ve directed all three. I’ve produced alongside two of them with three different companies on many projects, and I’ve been directed by one of them on numerous productions.

If that tinge of nervousness didn’t immediately disappear I’d have a real problem.

So why was it there at all?

It was an audition. It was a test.

test (n): an event or situation that reveals the strength or quality of someone or something by putting them under strain

Failure is always a possibility.

Yes, that sounds negative, but I know enough to like to be real about it.

I’m looking forward to working with all that talent.

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.

Come Back Here

A couple weeks ago I was bemoaning not getting cast in a project that I had quickly come to be excited by. That rejection only helped elevate my level of frustration with how work opportunities were sort of…passing me by. Boo hoo, me. (I got over it, of course.)

So out of the blue I got a call yesterday. Long story short – I’ve agreed to take a part in the film after all. Oddly, it’s the part opposite the one I was up for. I guess some changes have been made to the script or the characters, or something referred to as “creative casting” and they came back to me. I don’t care. I’m totally excited to work on it. I think the whole thing will be a blast, even if I’ll be playing opposite the guy (whoever he is) who got “my” part. And from what I know of the plot, I’m still playing a fascinating character, the guy that the whole thing is about. I can’t wait to see the script. I suspect it’s going to be gritty.

So I’m excited and looking forward to it, even for the few days it’ll take to shoot. (It’s a short.) The strangely disappointing thing is in how much better I feel about everything now that I’ve got some kind of work to focus on. It makes me wonder about the psyche of it all. My psyche. My own self worth seems too often wrapped up the quality and existence of any creative job.

That’s for another time to figure out. I’m looking forward to a new adventure.

Making me want it

The other day I had an audition for a short film being made this Fall by some local filmmakers. The film community only slightly overlaps with the theatre community here, and I’ve never really been a part of that intersection. Perhaps because of the increase in directing I’ve done over the past several years, my interests are moving more and more to a significantly more visual aesthetic, and as such, I find I’m more intrigued by the idea of working on films. Particularly, small, independent productions, where things are character driven. If I wanted to work in studio movies I wouldn’t live in a theatre town.

The audition went well and the little bit of the script I saw really piqued my interest. They weren’t sure if they were going to do any callbacks, or cast the three roles from the initial session, so I went away happy, kind of interested and…waited. Turned out they had enough options and interest to hold some call backs a week later.

I got to see more of the script for this, and to work with the director longer, discussing the character and his motivations and the plot, etc. I got to read with a few different actors auditioning for the other part, several times. Things were going well.

So now I’m very interested, not only because I think the writer/director and the producer know what they’re doing, but because I’m drawn to the character and the plot, and it’s not the kind of guy I’m often considered for at auditions. Frankly, he’s tougher. Meaner. More dangerous. And I like him because he’s a bit deceptive and manipulative.

I leave the callbacks feeling fairly good about it. My sense of how likely I am to be cast is generally pretty good at this point in most casting situations. I’m not 100%, and I start considering things like, how many others were scheduled to be there (I think only one) and what order did they schedule us and what did that mean? What did it mean the last time I held callbacks and had a tough choice to make?

The more I mulled it all over the more I’m geared up for it. The more I want it. I decide to be forward about that and I send an email to the producer with a “thanks for your time” and “thanks for having me” and “sounds fascinating” and “I want to play this part.” I know, that’s not really out on a limb, radical, but I wanted to put it out there.

Of course, I didn’t get it.

I feel like I’ve done more auditions in the past three or four months than I have in a long time, and for all kinds of things – commercials, industrials, theatre, film. Perhaps it’s simply the volume of rejections that makes me feel a bit bitter about it all.

I certainly didn’t take it personally or even hard. They were very kind in their comments about me and talk of working together some time in the future. I don’t think it was bullshit, but it’s not a gig.

So I take away from it the same thing I take away from all such encounters. I’ve made one more potential connection, and had one more new audition experience unlike others I’ve had, and perhaps made one or two more people aware of me and my abilities. And I move on to the next opportunity, hoping it all adds up.

Tough Decisions

Three nights of auditions. I’m sure there are people who would disagree, but I could do it all again. Somehow I find them invigorating and exciting. Playful. Energizing.

Toward the end of the evening last night I finally took some time to give a bit of direction to play with the scene and see what else people could or would do, see how directable each one is. Playing this way was enlightening. In some ways it told me what this scene was about. In other ways, it told me there was something wrong with it. For some people it told me they were better than I thought.

No two people will do the same scene the same way. But good actors will both do it well. Thus, there are difficult choices to be made. We have some serious competition for a few roles, and each person brings their own advantages. And, disadvantages.

I should probably just relax in to the fact that I don’t make some decisions easily, but once I’ve made my choice I rarely regret it.

Auditions are a bitch.