Tag Archives: auditions

“Too Street”: Hypocrisy in Policing the Speech of our Actors

Idris Elba, the living embodiment of

Idris Elba, the living embodiment of “suave,” was labeled “too street” to play James Bond by Bond author Andrew Horowitz.

I just had an interesting conversation with someone whose white teens are using the slang words “finna,” “aight,” “brah,” etc. She characterized it as “shortening words to sound hip.” I’m almost certain she just didn’t know where the terms came from; I don’t think she was trying to be erasive. But it brought to mind how poorly we’re handling political issues around language, especially in the theatre.
Those slang words aren’t about being hip and cool– they’re about being Black. I’m not trying to stop Black people from influencing the language as a whole. Black slang is, and has always historically been, one of the most important influences on the way English is spoken in America. But understand the context here. When a Black person uses the slang they create, they’re slammed for not being “professional,” not being “articulate,” but when that slang finally makes it to white mouths, it becomes “hip” and “cool.” Usage changes language, and language is political. Our culture constantly appropriates Black invention as “hip” and “cool” while deriding and marginalizing Black people for using their own inventions. Language is an enormous part of that. If it’s become “hip” for white kids to say “finna,” how are we approaching Black people who use their own slang? Because right now, I see a hallway full of shut doors for Black people who aren’t speaking perfect English at all times.
I corrected a girl for saying “ax” in my class last year, and I’m deeply ashamed of that now. I read up on that usage, and I came to understand how wrong I was. Language is political. We have to understand what we’re enforcing, and why we’re enforcing it, when we police usage.
I know a Black actor who was told by a Black professor at the university where I used to teach that he would never be cast in Shakespeare because his speech was “too Black,” and that he needed to amend his speech in order to be cast. The actor told me this after I had cast him in several Shakespeare plays at my company (as well as several new plays– this actor is phenomenal). As a white director whose approach to classic work deliberately eschews stiffness and formality, I’ve always had an eyeroll for “American Standard,” which we still teach actors to this day. Even actors completely untrained in it will often fall into its faux-British, formal tones when doing Shakespeare. A couple of years ago at my company’s general auditions, I had a very diverse bunch of college actors, all from the same university (perhaps not coincidentally, where I used to teach), and every single one came in with a cookie cutter, faux-British, semi-Standard American accent. I actually considered contacting the chair with a “What are you teaching these kids?” email, but I knew exactly what they were doing: prepping them to perform in a world that rejects anything that doesn’t reek of privilege.

When we cast Shakespeare, when we cast new plays, when we teach actors, when we go to the theatre, when we choose our seasons, what choices are we making that reinforce privilege? How often have Black actors heard they were “too urban” or “not urban enough” for a certain role? How often have Asian and Latino actors been asked to “do the accent”? How often are we shutting people out because their speech– or their writing– does not conform to the expectations of white privilege?

The evidence is everywhere. Critics who slam plays because they don’t conform to the values and expectations of white privilege. Actors are told by white directors and casting directors in auditions to be “more urban” or “less urban,” meaning, “perform Blackness in the way I expect you to.” Black comedians Sasheer Zamata and Nicole Byer wrote a fantastic sketch, performed by Byer, called “Be Blacker,” mocking the many auditions in which Black actors are told to “be more urban.”

What does it mean to ask an actor to perform Blackness in a way white people expect or want? How often are we encoding the enforcement of privilege in our casting? How often are we encoding the enforcement of privilege when we say we’re teaching actors “speech and diction”? How much policing of speech is enforcing privilege?
American culture– and that includes American theatre– needs to take a long, hard look at the multitude of ways we police speech, especially the speech of people of color and people without class privilege. I’m including both spoken speech and written speech in that. If we’re making commitments to diversity, then we need to think about the multitude of ways in which we’re reinforcing the idea that diversity must be performed only in ways that are acceptable to white privilege. White people are measuring the acceptability of people of color by how closely they resemble whiteness off stage, and how accurately they can portray Blackness to white specifications in various situations on stage. I’m not claiming this is limited to Black people– cis people measure the acceptability of trans people by how closely they resemble cis people, and so on. But the topic at hand is how we believe Black speech is acceptable coming out of white mouths, but reject it coming out of Black mouths unless we can directly profit from it.
 In other words, if white America is talking about how hip and cool it is that white kids today are saying “finna,” then we need to look long and hard at the actors we’re rejecting because their speech isn’t “ready,” is “too urban,” or who “aren’t articulate.” We need to look long and hard about how we teach our students. We need to look long and hard at the people we’re not hiring at all levels because we perceive their speech– or their presence– as performing a kind of Blackness (or Asianness, or any other kind of identity that differs from straight, white, cis, class privileged) with which white people are uncomfortable.
I’m not excepting myself from this. Quite the opposite. I’m saying: This is a place wherein we’re falling down, and dragging far too many people down with us. Let’s examine what we’re doing more closely, and find a better way forward together.
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How To Rock Your Musical Theatre Audition

I understand that there are something like 47,000 books on this topic, but I’m going to give you some succinct, usable advice right now for free.

In addition to running Impact Theatre, I’m also the casting director at a TYA company, Bay Area Children’s Theatre, which is a blast. For one, it’s incredibly relaxing to be in a space where the final decision isn’t mine (Me: “Wow, what a tough choice– all three of those actors are great. Welp, I’m headed home– lemme know what you want to do!”) Secondly, it’s been fun to learn more about TYA and casting musicals, two things I knew very little about before I started. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was an opera singer, so I have a solid working knowledge of singing and singers. By the time I got to BACT, I had been casting shows for over 20 years, so I had a solid working knowledge of what makes a good audition and what should be avoided. I was bringing years of experience to the table, which helped me learn very quickly what makes an excellent musical theatre audition and what amounts to self-sabotage.

The original 1966 Broadway production of Cabaret

The original 1966 Broadway production of Cabaret

An audition is a fact-finding mission. We’re looking for answers to specific questions, and everything else is pretty much irrelevant. I’m not going to get into general audition tips– I’ve already written about that quite a bit (here, here, here). I want to speak specifically about your song.

1. I’m surprised how many people choose songs that tell us pretty much nothing about their voices. So many songs from the past 10 or so years of musical theatre writing are very poor choices for audition pieces– they’re conversational, almost recitative-like in places (if you know opera) and it’s impossible to tell what your voice can really do. You want a song that shows off your vocal quality and capabilities. It doesn’t impress us if the song is from a new musical or if it’s a song we’ve never heard before. That kind of thing is more relevant with monologues. We’re looking for answers to specific questions, like– What is her vocal type? Does she have a belt or is she more of a “legit” singer? What’s her legato like? How accurate is her pitch? What kind of volume can she attain, and is she showing the kind of throat tension that will cause her to lose her voice by the end of opening weekend? There are so many more, some dictated by the type of musical we’re casting (more on that below). If you’re interested in new musicals, there are so many great choices out there. Choose a song that shows off your vocal chops. Choose a song you love to sing because it’s right in your sweet spot. Don’t choose a song that’s cool, and has a lot of depth, but has a five-note vocal range. It just doesn’t tell us what we need to know. We’re not looking for someone to choose material– we’re looking for someone who can perform it.

Zero Mostel in the original 1964 Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof, © Photofest, Inc., courtesy of Gret Performances, Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy

Zero Mostel in the original 1964 Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof, © Photofest, Inc., courtesy of Great Performances, Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy

2. Don’t choose a song that’s overly ambitious. Every role has its own, specific needs. Some roles require a great deal of virtuosity, some require the ability to navigate tight harmonies without pushing your way to the front of the group, and some can be Rex Harrisoned through. Take realistic stock of your abilities and show us what they are. No matter where you are, there’s a role for you somewhere in the world of musical theatre. If you assume you need to reach for something you can’t actually do, all we know is that you can’t do something– we never got to see what you CAN do.

3. You are not Kristin Chenoweth. Unless you’re Kristin Chenoweth, who I assume, doesn’t read Bitter Gertrude. ANYWAY. Are you singing with your natural voice? Or are you pushing it out your nose to try to get that signature Kristin Chenoweth nasally sound? She has a very distinctive, fun quality to her voice, and that’s just how her voice sounds. You honestly don’t need to imitate her to get roles. Be yourself. When you push your voice out your nose, we can hear it, and we wonder what your voice really sounds like. BECAUSE WE DON’T KNOW. Let Kristin do Kristin. You do you. Nothing against KC, but I’ll be happy when women stop imitating her.

Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda in Wicked. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda in Wicked. Photo by Joan Marcus.

4. We tell you it’s OK when you don’t bring sheet music, but it’s actually not. I mean, it kind of is? We still want to see you. But a large part of performing a musical is being able to match pitch with the accompaniment. Can you hear the piano (or the guitar, or the orchestra) as you’re singing and match pitch? When you sing a capella, we’re left with partial information. This is why we’ll often asking you to sing scales, or Happy Birthday, or something along those lines with the piano if you come in with an a capella audition. Better to sing the song you’ve practiced than suddenly be asked to bust out the Star Spangled Banner on the spot, no? Bring your music.

5. Choose a song that’s contextually appropriate. If you’re not familiar with the musical, or if it’s a new musical in development, find out what kind of singing the role requires. There’s a world of difference between Dreamgirls, Into the Woods, American Idiot, and The Sound of MusicBringing a song that’s appropriate for one won’t necessarily give us the knowledge we need if we’re casting one of the others. If we ask for an “uptempo musical theatre song,” don’t bring in a rock song, a ballad, or a nine-minute Sondheim extravaganza. (In fact, avoid Sondheim completely, which of course is the advice you get everywhere, and you’re not going to find any disagreement here.) If you need clarification about the music in the show, or what’s expected at the audition, ask!

Nell Carter and Ken Page in the original Broadway production of Ain't Misbehaving, 1978. Photo by Bill Evans.

Nell Carter and Ken Page in the original Broadway production of Ain’t Misbehaving, 1978. Photo by Bill Evans.

6. Act your song. I’m sure you’ve heard this one million times, and here it is again. Your song is like a monologue. It has a narrative– a beginning, a middle, and an end. When something’s repeated (such as the chorus) find a reason why your character is repeating herself. “She’s happy” or “she loves him” or “she likes to sing” are pretty much the least interesting choices you can make. You can be happy, in love, or possess a predilection for something in silence, in words, or through (God help us) interpretive dance. There’s a reason your character is singing, and it’s not because “this is how it’s written.” Make clear, bold acting choices about your intro, every line you sing, the bridges, and the outro. Think, plan, rehearse.

7. REHEARSE. Prep a variety of songs you can use for the various types of musicals in which you’re interested. Then you’ll have a few songs from which you can choose, always ready to go, for most auditions. When you come in under-rehearsed, we can tell, and we wonder if you will be similarly unprepared in rehearsals. I’d honestly rather see an inappropriate song than an under-rehearsed one.

Nia Holloway as Nala and Jelani Remy as Simba in the Lion King national tour. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Nia Holloway as Nala and Jelani Remy as Simba in the Lion King national tour. Photo by Joan Marcus.

8. Do it, enjoy it, and forget it. It’s just an audition. You will do eleventy billion of them. Coming in tense will jack your voice. I’ve seen plenty of people miss a high note or squeak instead of belt due to nerves. Try not to stress. Do whatever you need to do to come in relaxed– within reason. I know sometimes people will tell you to have a glass of wine before you go in, but the last thing you want is the casting assistant scooting in a few steps ahead of you to inform us that you smell like you’ve been drinking. Never lose sight of the fact that an audition is a job interview. But also never lose sight of the fact that, like a job interview, we’re auditioning for you as much as you’re auditioning for us. You want to work for a company that respects you, and for which you enjoy working. I think sometimes that focus can help with nerves. When it’s done, walk away. Try not to obsess about it. There are so many reasons people don’t get cast, and talent is only one of many. If you don’t get cast, don’t take it as a sign of your worth as a performer, because it’s not, at all.

I hope this was helpful! Now go rock it out.

Neil Patrick Harris in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Neil Patrick Harris in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Photo by Joan Marcus.

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10 Tips for Choosing an Audition Monologue


Hello, you magnificent bastards. I love you all, and I’m prepping a new blog post for you while I’m also prepping a bunch of classes and a new season at my theatre, so it’s moving kinda slow at the junction. Hopefully I’ll be able to get the post up in the next couple of days.

Meanwhile, to prove my love, here’s an article I wrote for Theatre Bay Area Magazine, 10 Tips for Choosing an Audition Monologue. I spoke with some of the top casting directors in the Bay Area and used my own eleventy scrotillion years of casting experience to come up with a solid, practical guide to choosing monologues. 

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What Actors Aren’t Telling You

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.”

Career limiting behavior. Part of JD Hancock's awesome Stormtroopers series.

Career limiting behavior. Part of JD Hancock’s awesome Stormtroopers series.

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.

Your blind date is less likely to end in happily ever after if you text through the whole thing.

Your blind date is less likely to end in happily ever after if you text through the whole thing.


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.


“Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York. Squeak.”

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.


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.

That's what I get for doing another blood show . . .

That’s what I get for doing another blood show . . .

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.

We will not make our processes as magical as Batman riding a robot unicorn, BUT WE CAN TRY, DAMMIT.

We will not make our processes as magical as Batman riding a robot unicorn, BUT WE CAN TRY, DAMMIT.

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.

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Why Cold Readings Are Almost Always Useless

My Troilus and Cressida auditions

My Troilus and Cressida auditions

I’ve been steadily working on a post about auditions for directors and producers (what drives actors crazy, what they love, what works, what doesn’t) and I keep getting hung up on specific issues that end up taking on lives of their own. The homogeneity of the women on our stages was the first one, and now this. Eventually I’ll have a post for you (PINKY SWEAR) but I think we all need for it to be less than 38,000 words long, so I’m breaking these larger issues out into posts of their own.

So, cold reads, amirite? They’re almost always completely useless. Let me count the ways.

1. The information a cold read gives you is beside the point. When you hold an audition, especially a callback, you’re attempting to obtain a specific set of answers to a specific set of questions about an actor. Chiefest among them are how the actor makes choices, shapes narrative, engages with scene partners, handles the language, physicalizes choices, and takes direction. You need to know how the actor inhabits the character for which she’s auditioning. You need to see her make emotional and physical choices within that, and make thoughtful adjustments to those choices. You need to see what her style is– does her approach to the material fit with your own well enough to ensure a productive rehearsal process? An actor who has not had adequate time to prepare will be able to show you almost none of that, because that work is complex and takes time– which is why we have a rehearsal process instead of just having actors memorize the script on their own and show up to tech to get their blocking. We expect actors to come into rehearsal prepped, and it’s without a doubt that auditions, as artificial as they are, will provide you with the most accurate information about how your actor will rehearse (and, therefore, perform) if they can replicate as closely as possible the conditions of rehearsal.

A cold read is a completely different experience than either rehearsal or performance in almost all cases. What a cold read shows you is whether an actor can make choices QUICKLY and how adept the actor is at reading aloud. While either of those skills can be useful in some very limited situations (soap opera acting and voice over work spring to mind), they are of limited use in casting your production of, say, Hamlet or Eurydice, where creating a space for the actor to show you her talent, skill, and craft will be of much better use than seeing how good she is at pulling something out of her ass on the spot that will be, of necessity, superficial.

In case you needed any more evidence that cold reading skills are only loosely related (at BEST) to acting skills, I am an EXCELLENT cold reader and LOVE to cold read. Ahem. ‘Nuff said.

OK, I'm not THAT bad.

OK, I’m not THAT bad.

2. An actor who lacks the time to prepare is an actor glued to the script. Of course no one expects an actor to come into callbacks with the sides memorized, but a prepared actor is an actor whose head isn’t constantly buried in his script. If he’s unfamiliar with the lines, the basic narrative of the scene, or the emotional narrative of the character for which he’s auditioning, he’ll be unable to connect with his scene partners as his head will be glued to his script trying to piece together what comes next and what he’s going to do about it. If being able to engage scene partners is an important skill to you (SPOILER ALERT: it is), then you want that kid’s head out of his script as much as possible. Giving him the opportunity to look it over in advance is the way to do that.

3. Dyslexic actors are more common than you think. While many mildly dyslexic actors have found ways to work around a cold read situation, you’d be surprised at how often incredibly talented actors are so severely dyslexic they have to turn down your callback because you can’t be arsed to send sides in advance. When I posted about this on facebook, I was deluged with grateful responses.

“I’m literally crying as I type this. You have no idea how many auditions I have had to turn down because I didn’t want to look like an idiot, stumbling over words, and sounding them out in front of the auditors.”

“Many dyslexics are incredibly expressive and artistic people, which is what makes them such brilliant performers. I am one of these people. Thank you so much for seeing us in a world that often doesn’t.”

“Yes! Thank you. I have this issue so frequently.”

Personally, I learned firsthand how useless cold read auditions were years ago when I worked with an incredibly talented actor who was so severely dyslexic he could not read aloud at all. However, he was almost always the most talented actor in the room. People can succeed if you give them the tools they need to succeed, and all a severely dyslexic person needs is a little time.

If I could just have a few more minutes with the script . . . No?

If I could just have a few more minutes with the script . . . No?

4. When is a cold read audition appropriate? If you’re directing a film or TV show wherein you know the actors will be receiving new pages regularly and will need to be able to prep and perform those pages almost immediately, a cold read audition is a useful tool in addition to an audition that allows for more in-depth work. Similarly, many commercials and music videos require on-the-spot preparation. (Not that you need six hours of rehearsal to prep a 30 second Valtrex ad or the character “Hot Girl Dancing near Lamborghini.”) If you’re directing a play and cold read skills are required as part of the performance, such as an audience engagement piece where the actors perform material the audience has written on the spot, you’ll want information about an actor’s cold reading skills.

"Thank GOD for my RADA training or I'd never be able to get through this"

“Thank GOD for my RADA training or I’d never be able to get through this”

You might be able to get the information you need from a cold reading if you’re not the kind of director who is focused on in-depth work with actors. There are some directors who are more visually-focused, storytelling through visual imagery rather than focused on storytelling through acting and the actors’ emotional narratives, and for those directors, simply seeing an actor talk and move through space may be enough. If you’re not going to do in-depth acting work, there’s no need to see how the actor approaches in-depth acting work, right? So a cold read, which by necessity cannot ever be in-depth, could give you the information you require.



But for the rest of us, the information we get from a cold reading is just beside the point of the information we need to make informed casting choices, and marginalizes severely dyslexic actors (whose numbers are much greater than you think) to boot. So eliminate cold reading auditions unless you really need to test the actor’s cold reading skills specifically. You’ll get better information AND be more inclusive.

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Actors: This Is Why We Have Auditions


A casting call for showgirls, 1920s. This is exactly how I’m running callbacks for Troilus and Cressida.

I love auditions. I always have and I always will. I will happily sit through day-long auditions. I recognize, however, that auditioning is a deeply flawed process with huge limitations.

For that reason, I also hate auditions. Their artificiality makes it difficult to understand how an actor works in a rehearsal and performance process. There’s also a hierarchical feeling to auditions that makes me uncomfortable. I see actors as co-creators rather than as puppets who execute my vision. I think I’m auditioning for them as much as they’re auditioning for me. But the reality is: I have more actors in front of me than I have roles to fill. Some will hear “yes” and some will hear “no,” and I hate that. The fact remains that I must find a way to make decisions about who will populate the plays I direct or produce.

Taylor Mac wrote a great article about casting a couple of years ago, saying that we should completely do away with auditions and instead cast people we get to know through work in the community or working with them directly. This is, of course, a fantastic way to get to know actors– I’d even say the best way. But it’s not something that can replace auditions outright.

I use a combination of both techniques. I cast people without an audition (or bring them straight to callbacks) if they’re someone I’ve worked with before, or someone whose work I’m familiar with. But I just can’t envision completely giving up auditions, because I think, as flawed as they are, they offer something unique to theatremaking that we can’t do without.


One of the PR shots for my production of Othello at Impact Theatre. Skyler Cooper, my Othello, came in to audition for Macbeth the previous year and blew us away. I had never heard of her as she was new to acting after spending years in the Air Force. Impact’s lesbian Othello was one of the most successful shows we ever did, and I would never have found Skyler were it not for our open auditions. Pictured: Marissa Keltie and Skyler Cooper. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs.

The New Kid on the Block. Over and over again, I’ve had someone I’ve never heard of before walk into an audition and blow me away. They’re new to the area, recently graduated, or new to acting. Often an open audition is the only chance they have to break into a new market. This is especially true for actors who are traditionally marginalized. If you’re not getting cast, I have no way to get to know your work unless I hold an open audition. An open audition allows actors who have no other pathway access to directors, casting directors, and artistic directors. I think preserving that access is crucial.

Growth and development. Yesterday we had our first day of season auditions, and no less than three actors I’ve seen multiple times before gave auditions that almost knocked me out of my seat. Three actors showed up with auditions that were leaps and bounds better than anything I’d ever seen them do before. One did a piece outside of what one of my directors had considered her type, based on the pieces and shows he’d seen her do previously, and changed his entire conception of her abilities. There’s a special kind of joy in watching an actor develop over the years. I’ve seen actors go from green, timid, and wobbly recent graduates to powerhouses in just a few years. I’ve seen powerhouse recent graduates mature into wider and wider ranges and abilities. I’ve seen mid-career actors push through to new levels, mature into new types, discover new approaches. It’s deeply satisfying to see, and it’s something we might not see outside of auditions. If I “know” what your type, range, and abilities are, I might not prioritize coming to see your show in favor of seeing a show stacked with actors I don’t know. I can only see so many shows, so I have to pick and choose. Additionally, you might get cast consistently as a certain type, but have the ability to push out of that range into something new. An audition will give you the opportunity to show us that.


Impact resident actor Mike Delaney in the world premiere of Toil and Trouble by Lauren Gunderson, directed by Josh Costello. Mike auditioned for a show I was directing at CSU East Bay years ago. Now he’s a core member of my company. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs.

Actors as co-creators. When you do an audition monologue, theoretically, at least, this is material you’ve chosen for yourself, performed with choices you’ve made. The choices you make show me something about who you are. I want to work with people who bring something special to the table, who have interesting things to offer as co-creators of the work. When I go to see a show, often I have no way of knowing which choices you’ve made and which choices the director’s made, and that balance is going to differ depending on who the director is, how s/he works, what kind of relationship the director has with that particular actor, what kind of relationship that actor has with the director’s concept, etc. There are a huge number of variables that affect how deeply an actor is directed in any given production.

An actor came in to auditions yesterday doing a piece from a show he had performed, directed by someone I know very well. While he was a skilled performer, his piece looked, smelled, and tasted like the director. All I could see was the director. He came recommended by another actor whose opinion I trust, so I’ll call him back, specifically to see who he is as an actor. His audition just didn’t answer that question for me.

I’m not just looking for actors; I’m looking for collaborators. I don’t want minions; I want accomplices. I’m auditioning people so I can see both what their skills are and what kinds of choices they make.

Change Our Minds. Every so often, I think I know what I want for a certain character, and then an actor shows up who changes my concept completely. I had a short list of actors I was considering for a particular role in the show I’m directing this fall, and an actor I’d never seen before came to auditions yesterday and changed my mind. In the middle of his monologue I suddenly realized that I wanted something completely different for the character. I could see him as the character, and it brought a different context and more depth to the role than I had previously considered. Now he’s my frontrunner for the role. 24 hours ago, I had never heard of him.


Chris Quintos in Impact’s production of The Chalk Boy by Joshua Conkel, directed by Ben Randle. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs.

Despite their drawbacks, auditions are a very useful tool. I have a love/hate relationship with them, but I’ll continue to rely on them.

P.S. I have some articles about audition tips you can check out here and here, and some casting advice for actors here.

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Things Not To Do At TBA Generals Or Really Any Audition Ever


Well, the first day of the annual Theatre Bay Area General Auditions is under our belts, and I’m seeing too many actors sabotage what would otherwise be an excellent audition with easily avoided mistakes. Here’s what NOT to do at TBAs (or at any audition). Strap in.

1. RUSHING. I would *much* rather you get cut off than have you rush through your pieces trying to play Beat the Clock. When you rush your pieces, your shaping, diction, and choices go straight to hell, and all I’m left with is the knowledge that you can say a lot of words very quickly. Your punchlines do not land. Your beautifully crafted emotional moments speed by and make as much impression as a poem written on the side of a runaway freight train. Cut your pieces down to manageable sizes and rehearse them TIMED.

2. BLAND CHOICES. I get that you don’t want to be pigeonholed into one particular “type” and miss opportunities to be called in for other types of roles, but speaking emphatically is not acting. I’ve seen dozens of monologues where the actors made choices I thought were misguided or downright awful, but at least I could see that they were able to make bold choices. That skill is worth a callback. I’d rather have you swing the bat and miss than never pick up the bat at all.

3. SINGING WHEN YOU CAN’T SING. It’s not helpful. Sing if you’re a singer. Sing if you are hoping to be cast in musicals. Do not sing because you’re doing a monologue about a guy who sings all the time. Two minutes of listening to singing done by a guy who can’t sing is not putting me in a callback frame of mind. What’s worse is that the singing in such a case is all too often taking the place of solid acting choices. Do not sing because you can kind of sing and think you might be cast in a “play with music.” Most people can’t sing and that’s FINE. If that’s you, just act. It’s enough, I promise.

4. POOR CHOICE OF MONOLOGUE. Non-linear, experimental, poetic monologues are the very worst choices you can make for audition monologues in a general audition. Almost all of us are casting for linear narrative projects. If there’s no narrative in your monologue, I can’t see how you shape narrative. If there’ s no discrete character, I can’t see how you make character choices. In the end, all I have is you speaking emphatically (again). Monologues that are sexist, racist, or insane are also poor choices. I covered that point in my earlier audition tips post.

5. UNDERREHEARSED. My heart bled for a kid who went up during his Macbeth monologue today. This is not something you want happening to you at TBAs. Only do pieces you know as well as I know the layout of Solitude in Skyrim. Which is to say: PERFECTLY.

6. SONGS WITHOUT RANGE. BLUES SONGS. ROCK SONGS. If you’re singing a song with a four-note range, I have no idea how well you can sing. If you’re taking the trouble to sing at an audition, show me what you can do! Blues songs and rock songs are just beside the point of most musical theatre. While you may be rocking the cast-iron fuck out of that song, we still have no idea how you handle musical theatre songs, which are, let’s face it, the vast majority of musical theatre out there. Even “rock musicals” are (mostly) using musical theatre-style voices, and most musical theatre songs are technically more difficult and demanding, with wider ranges, than most blues and rock songs. They just don’t give me the information I need.

7. WEARING A SHORT SKIRT AND SITTING IN A CHAIR ON A RAISED STAGE. This one needs no explanation. Hello, nurse!

8. TRYING TO CRAM 4+ PIECES INTO YOUR TWO-MINUTE SLOT. This is never a good idea. You’re not showing virtuosity. You’re not giving us enough time to understand why you’ve made the choices you’ve made. It’s unfocused and always ends up being a parade of caricatures. Two pieces are plenty. We don’t need to see everything you’ve ever done.

9. DOING A MONOLOGUE WRITTEN FOR A PERSON OF COLOR WHEN YOU ARE NOT A PERSON OF COLOR. Remember, most of us have no idea who you are and have no way to ascertain if you’re making this choice on purpose (although to what end, I would have to wonder). This will only result in every auditor assuming you haven’t read the play. And if you *are* making this a deliberate choice, bear in mind that this is an incredibly controversial action that would be perceived as naive at best and racist at worst by most of the people in the room capable of giving you a job.

10. YELLING, SHOUTING, OR SCREAMING. Yes, I understand that on occasion volume can be a powerful choice. On the rare occasion. Like, very rare. Easily 99 times out of 100, yelling, shouting, or screaming is the easiest, cheapest, and most boring choice you can make. Pick something more interesting. Any fool can say words loudly. McKayla is not impressed. When you feel the urge to use volume in a monologue, put your thinking cap on and come up with a few different choices to try in that moment. You’ll be glad you did because WE’LL be glad you did.

Auditions are bizarre. WE KNOW THAT. It’s extremely difficult to truly showcase your talent and skill in two minutes. So do yourself a favor and craft that audition to show yourself to your best advantage. We’re all out there rooting for you, honestly.

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General Auditions Dos and Don’ts

My Lisa Keating headshot.  She's amazing!

My Lisa Keating “I’m a fancy grown-up Artistic Director” headshot. She’s amazing!

This is an article I originally wrote for Theatre Bay Area Magazine about the TBA General Auditions. While it was written specifically for these annual Bay Area-wide general auditions, 99.997% (shut up, I did the math) of the article is applicable to any audition. 

Theatre Bay Area General Auditions are right around the corner, and many of you are preparing for what will be the most important audition you’ll have all year. As someone who’s watched thousands of actors audition over the years, I’ve seen a lot of great auditions and a lot of truly awful ones, and despite the number of audition workshops going on in the world, lots and lots and lots of actors make the same, easily avoided mistakes. Here are my top 10 audition tips to help make your Generals audition—and all your auditions throughout the year—look professional and polished.

Before we begin, let me start by saying that, for the auditor, every audition is a set of problems that needs to be solved. If you’re casting, say, “Measure for Measure,” you have a minimum of 13 problems that need to be solved—13 parts that need filling. Each and every person who walks through that door is a potential solution to one of your problems, and trust me, all casting directors are rooting for you because of that. There’s no adversarial relationship—quite the opposite! We want you to do well.

1. Be polite to every single human you see. This seems like a no-brainer, and yet I saw an actress flip off Berkeley Rep casting director Amy Potozkin in an ill-advised bit of road rage on my way into the Generals last year. This is the sort of thing my businessman brother likes to call “career-limiting behavior.”

2. Dress appropriately. By this I mean that you should wear something clean, comfortable and reasonably professional. You don’t have to wear something uber-dressy, but you should look presentable. You should not look like you just tumbled out of some strange bed in the SFSU dorms and barely managed to get on BART in time. You should wear something that makes you feel confident and that you don’t have to fuss with. You don’t want to be futzing with your sleeves or pulling the Picard maneuver every few seconds, because then we’ll start to watch that instead of watching you. For this same reason, you shouldn’t dress provocatively. When you dress like Jenna Jameson on the red carpet at the AVN Awards, pretty much all anyone will notice is your outfit. That finely tuned Rosalind goes right out the window. Also, please do not wear something “costumey.” I know many of you have used this kind of thing successfully for commercial auditions, but I do not recommend it for the Generals. While an audition is indeed a type of performance, it is first and foremost a job interview. A special note for the TBA Generals: Please avoid anything shiny or reflective, such as sequins. The last few times I’ve seen this at the Generals, the light bounce made the audition almost unwatchable.

3. Do a well-rehearsed monologue. Under-rehearsed monologues always look terrible, as they are without fail filled with bland choices, blank spots where you’re hunting for lines, and unmotivated pauses. I know you think you can totally pull it off, and maybe you can, but you’d be in the tiny minority. Be mindful of the difference between doing it in front of the bathroom mirror and the pressure of doing it in front of all of the Generals auditors.

4. Face forward so everyone in the room can see you. No, you can’t do your audition to an empty chair stage left or in complete profile stage right. Whoever told you that’s okay is wrong. Also, please never “use” us. Don’t look directly at the auditors. It makes us uncomfortable, and that’s the last thing you want. We stop thinking about you and your monologue and become fully absorbed in the fact that you’re staring at us. We do not wish to be part of your scene; we want to watch you and take notes. Place your mark over the auditors’ heads.

5. Make bold, interesting, motivated choices. Some early-career actors make bland, boring choices in audition monologues, fearing that bold choices will lock them into one “type” or another. However, all they’ve shown me is that they’re bland and boring. Make bold and interesting choices! Show me your chops! On the flip side, don’t make wild, unmotivated choices in the mistaken attempt to show virtuosity. Unmotivated screaming, weeping, maniacal laughter, or randomly chosen physicalizations, for example, are not showing you to the best of your ability. Also, please don’t bring props. Again, I know some of you have had success with this for TV auditions, but it’s not done in the theatre. I actually saw someone whip out a prop gun during the Generals one year. Not a good idea.

6. Choose your audition pieces wisely. Choose pieces that focus on your desired area of specialization, whether that’s period-specific, type-specific or what have you. In addition, when you choose your audition pieces, bear this in mind: many of the Generals auditors will have never met you before, and our only real taste of you will be your audition. Try to avoid choosing pieces that, while potentially awesome in a performance situation, could be unsettling in a monologue situation. I understand that this sounds unfair, but life is unfair, bubbeleh.

Avoid monologues that are creepy or insane unless you have a sharply contrasting companion piece. Exceptions are very well-known monologues, particularly Shakespeare.

Beware of monologues with lots of overt sexual talk and/or swearing. Many auditors, including myself, don’t mind that at all, but many do, and who they are would surprise you.

Avoid monologues that are insulting, racist or otherwise controversial. Yes, I understand that the character doesn’t necessarily reflect your personal opinions, but again, you want to avoid making a roomful of auditors who have never met you before uncomfortable. A great example of this is Carter’s monologue about his mother from Neil LaBute’s “Fat Pig.” While some people love this piece, enough people are put off by its hateful content to make it an extremely poor choice for Generals, or any audition where you’re not absolutely sure it will be well received.

7. Beware the classic pitfalls everyone warns you about:

Avoid accents unless you’re truly expert. Nothing pulls an auditor out of a monologue faster than a poorly done accent. Additionally, many auditors talk about how they sigh wearily to themselves whenever someone busts out a Southern accent (unless the play calls for it), because they are astonishingly overused in audition situations.

Avoid the monologues that are ludicrously overdone. I realize that this is subjective to the individual auditor, but by and large, all your standard lists are generally applicable: No Durang tuna fish monologue, Laundry and Bourbon, Spike Heels, Cowboy Mouth, Shadow Box, Popo Martin. I exempt classic pieces from this, because there are only so many from which to choose. If you want to do Julia or Launce, be my guest. Just be the best damn Julia or Launce you can be.

Never do a self-written monologue. Even if you’re the next Marga Gomez, a self-written monologue tells me exactly nothing about how you would handle standard material. It’s simply beside the point of most auditions.

8. Know what you’re talking about. Please don’t come in pronouncing words—or even the name of the playwright—incorrectly. Read the entire play if at all possible. If the play is unpublished, you can bet there is something about it somewhere online, and Google is your friend. Even a brief review from six years ago can tell you valuable information about the play’s tone, about the characters, etc. Once I judged a high school Shakespeare competition where two girls did the willow scene from “Othello” as slapstick comedy. Painful.

9. Make sure your headshot and résumé are professional. A great headshot is worth the money. While you may look gorgeous in the DIY headshot your boyfriend took of you in the backyard in front of a bush (why is it always in front of a bush?) it simply doesn’t look professional. And that shot from ten years ago is no longer usable, no matter how much you spent on Botox. There are many fantastic headshot photographers in the Bay Area. In my opinion, Lisa Keating is one of the finest in the country. Check out her work at http://lisakeatingphotography.com.

Poorly formatted résumés are a rampant (and distressing) problem. Many actors have excellently formatted résumés posted online that you can use as examples. Check out http://cindyim.com, http://valerieweak.com, and http://reggiedwhite.com for properly formatted résumés. Too many actors leave off their most recent email address, the names of directors, or the names of the theatre companies. Please also make sure that you have the name of the producing company, not the venue. La Val’s Subterranean Theatre and Exit Theatre are venues, not theatre companies. Finally, make sure that everything on your résumé is spelled correctly. An actor once auditioned for me with my name misspelled on his résumé. If you’re not good at spelling and grammar, find someone who is.

10. Exude confidence. Don’t apologize for being there, either verbally or by the way you present yourself. We know it’s nerve-wracking, but do your best to feel confident and enjoy performing for us. We’re all rooting for you, truly.

All right, kids: Now go kick some ass. I’ll be in the audience at TBAs this weekend sending you ass-kicking vibes.

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