Recently I posted on The Book of Faces that I was considering writing a post about audition tips for theatres, and I was deluged with responses from actors: horror stories, pet peeves, constant annoyances, along with gratitude for moments of kindness, special consideration, and respect. I had comments both publicly, on the post itself, and privately, in messages and emails, by the tankful. Actors shared with me their ups and downs about the entire process, not just auditions, and it was quite an education. Going through them all, one thing stuck out to me immediately: No one is telling anyone else the truth about any of these things.
This is where I always come in, right? My brother likes to call this “career-limiting behavior.”
So here you go. The things actors are thinking but don’t ever tell you.
Note: I invented exactly none of this. Everything you see below comes directly from the actors themselves. And while I’m certain there will be actors who disagree (“What? I LOVE having to come in for 6 callbacks for a show that pays $250.”), I only included issues mentioned by multiple actors.
Also: This is for producers and directors, and I include myself in that (obviously). I’m in no way perfect and make mistakes all the time, so don’t think I’m castigating you from on high. I am but the messenger. I have many posts with advice for actors (this one, also this one, here’s another one, yet one more), so don’t worry– I’m an equal opportunity meddler.
Directors, we need to be realistic about callbacks. If you’re directing for a LORT and have big AEA contracts to give out, yes, you are entitled to three callbacks. If you’re working for a small theatre paying a $500 stipend for the whole shebang, you can bring the same actor back to see the same people once. You get a second callback if it’s significantly different from the first in the material covered or in the approach to it, or if the actors are there to be seen by different people (for example, a dance callback on a different day than the vocal callback). However, if you’re asking actors to come in for a second or third callback to do basically the same things for the same people they saw in the initial audition and first callback, some actors are starting to think you just don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t know what you want, or both. They start to wonder if working with you will be a good experience. You might want to address with actors specifically why you need to see them do the same stuff over again. Maybe having to articulate it will help you understand what the issue is, and might even guide you to making your decision without additional callbacks.
Another oft-cited problem with auditions in general and callbacks in particular is poor organization. This takes two forms: Disrespect for the actor’s time and disrespect for the actor’s preparation. When our callbacks are poorly organized, we run behind and end up making actors wait– sometimes even for hours– past their slot. Actors have time commitments just like anyone else– they need to get to work or pick their kids up from school or meet friends for dinner. If you told them they’d be there from 7-7:30PM and they’re still there at 9PM, you blew it. But wait! All is not lost! Did you apologize profusely for blowing it, or did you act like an entitled jerk? A sincere apology goes a LONG way.
Disrespect for the actor’s preparation often stems from running out of time. If you ask an actor to prep five sides, that’s a HELL OF A LOT OF SIDES. Actors will spend a significant chunk of time prepping that massive callback for you. If they get into the space and only get through 1 and 1/2 of those sides before you send them on their way, they are not happy. So be realistic about the amount of time you’ll need for each audition and the amount of material you’re giving each actor to prep. And again, a sincere apology when you blow it really goes a long way. Let’s face it: We all blow it sometimes.
Another pet peeve actors have about auditions is when directors ask them to perform material they haven’t been asked to prep. Again, a sincere apology goes a long way here, and there are always exceptions. An actor’s not going to get cross with you if you call him in to read for a small role and decide on the fly to have him read for the lead. But actors WILL get cross with you if you ask them to perform “something” from a show you see on their resume (“You mean the one I did five years ago? In college?”). Another pet peeve of actors is when directors ask for outlandish adjustments, such as asking them to perform the monologue they just did for you, but this time as a spider. If you know you’ll want actors to do improv work or extreme, unusual adjustments, tell them in advance. If you decide on the fly you want to see something unusual, be cool about it and understand that you’re asking a lot.
Cold reads are so problematic I’ve given them their own post. Send your sides out in advance.
What actors love about your audition: Being treated with respect and kindness. Free snacks (a simple bowl of mini Reese’s peanut butter cups was mentioned as an especially nice touch). Available water, bathrooms, and seating. Directors who pay attention during the monologue rather than text or eat. Directors who respond to an actor after the audition either way. An offer is always nice, but a timely release is appreciated as well, as difficult as they are to send.
We’re auditioning for the actor as much as the actor is auditioning for us. Think of it as a blind date.
Directors, you should probably know that a lot of actors don’t want to pretend their characters are animals, especially experienced actors who already have their own character creation processes developed over years of trial and error. Being forced to choose an animal seems twee to many actors. It works for some, but not (from what I’m hearing) most.
The most popular complaint, though, was time-related. “Mind if we stay late tonight?” I’m hearing that directors ask actors to stay late in the middle of rehearsal, or even at the end. The actors who pointed this out as a pet peeve fell into two basic categories: people who use public transportation and people who have early morning jobs. If you hold actors until 11:30, it makes it difficult for them to get home using public transportation (in the Bay Area, at least. Sigh.). Actors who have early morning jobs are already stealing from sleep to be at your rehearsal and are not at all excited about going in to work tomorrow on 4 hours of sleep, especially since you’ve scheduled another rehearsal that next night. No one wants to be the one who has to say, “Yes, I mind.”
Another issue is lack of concern for safety. This includes things like refusing to bring in a fight director and making untrained actors stage their own fights; making an actor perform blocking they feel is unsafe; making actors wear a restrictive costume that makes them feel unsafe (such as restricting vision). I’ve already blogged about why you need to hire a fight director. Otherwise, we need to remember to listen carefully and respectfully to actors when they tell us they feel uncomfortable or unsafe, and check in with actors when we’re asking them to do things that might be difficult or uncomfortable. And actors, if you’re reading this, please be honest with us. Lying to directors about your comfort level serves no one.
Lack of respect and hostile work environment. Just because you’re the director does not mean you can yell at an actor until she cries. You can’t throw fits, scream at your tech people, call your staff names, or make racist. anti-Semitic, or misogynistic comments. Learning how to direct by watching movies about directors is ill-advised. I understand there’s cultural support for bad behavior by directors (the auteur being SUCH A GENIUS that he is allowed to be horrible to everyone around him) but it’s actually not OK. Producers: WHY WHY WHY do you hire these people? There are brilliant directors all over. Give someone else a chance. You really don’t need to allow someone to treat your people poorly.
What actors love about your rehearsal process: Respect. Being treated as collaborators. Having a clean, safe rehearsal space with bathrooms and nearby, easily accessible places to get food and beverages. Having a detailed rehearsal schedule sent out in advance.
DURING PERFORMANCES AND AFTER:
Refusing to do maintenance. Yeah, you kind of have to make sure the laundry gets done, props get repaired or replaced, etc. It’s not the actor’s job to do any of that. It’s our job as producers.
Refusing to honor contracts. I’m not going into details here, but I’ve personally seen contract violations of both AEA and non-AEA contracts, in addition to the people who added this to their list of pet peeves. Honor your agreements.
What actors love about performances and after: Being allowed to use PR shots for their websites; producers who are accessible and approachable; a reasonable comp policy (no one expects 100 comps, but no one expects zero either); staying in touch after the show closes; recommending an actor to other companies; being paid on time with a check that doesn’t bounce.
Of course we all screw up from time to time. I’m no exception. I make 12 mistakes every day before breakfast. The overriding message I’m getting, though, is not that actors expect you to be perfect, but that they want to be treated with respect and dignity, and are happy to forgive you if you apologize sincerely for your mistakes.
Also of course, every actor is different. What one actor finds odious is perfectly fine for another actor. Talk to your actors and listen to what they have to say. Do your best to create an environment where your actors aren’t afraid to come to you with issues. Ask questions. Use your actor friends as a resource if you’re unsure. Communication is key.