Excerpt from Book the Job by Doug Warhit
THE CASTING DIRECTOR’S OFFICE
If you really believe you’re in the place where your character is about to commit murder, or you’re in the hotel room where you and your lover secretly rendezvous, or you’re on the witness stand being cross-examined, you won’t have time to get caught up in the distracting aspects of the casting director’s office.
Part of your daily work should be to sensorially* create a core group of places that you can conjure up quickly, e.g., a place that makes you feel safe and comfortable; a place that makes you feel trapped; a place that makes you feel sexy; a place that makes you feel lonely. You can create places from your imagination and/or your past. If you’re very specific and detailed in your work, you’ll soon learn to create whatever place you need almost instantaneously. Then, the next time you have an audition, you’ll be able to bring the observer into the world of your character, rather than losing yourself in theirs.
*Sensorially-using all five of your senses (taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing).
Your job is to bring the casting people into your character’s world, not to lose yourself in theirs.
IF THEY KEEP YOU WAITING
Rather than losing your focus, getting angry, or gossiping with the other actors in the waiting room, use the extra time to go more deeply into the life of your character. Use the character checklist at the end of the ACTING TECHNIQUE section of BOOK THE JOB to stimulate and deepen your preparation. Fantasize about an aspect of the character’s prior circumstances that you haven’t already explored. For example, if the scene is about getting a divorce, you might fantasize about how much you loved your partner when you first met. Use the time they keep you waiting to add depth to your role, rather than as an excuse for not doing your best work.
If they keep you waiting, think of it as good practice for when you’re working on the set.
YOU’RE NOT THE CASTING DIRECTOR
“That other actor is so much more the character than I am.”
“I don’t even know why my agent bothered submitting me.”
“That blonde is so much sexier than I am”.
“That tall skinny guy is perfect for the part. “
The good news is you’re not the casting director. You’re the actor. Stick to your own job. That’s more than enough to focus your attention on. Remember, they’ve seen your headshot. They already think you fit their image of the character. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have called you in first place. Don’t try to control the game by rejecting yourself before anyone else even gets a look at you.
“My car broke down.” “I got caught in traffic.” “I missed my train.” “I had to pick up my kid from school.” “I got lost.” “I just got the material.” “My agent forgot to fax the sides over to me.” “I had to take my dog to the vet.” “My agent gave me the wrong material.” “I’ve been really sick with the flu.” “I had to work really late last night.”
Those are all wonderful excuses, but guess what? No one cares. If you make excuses at the audition, they will assume you’ll make excuses when you get the job. Television and film production are stressful enough. Don’t add to the tension. Save the drama for the role.
The three cardinal sins for actors:being desperate, dull, and late.
HOLDING THE AUDITION MATERIAL
Instead of whining about having to hold think of the sides as a good friend you are allowed to bring into the casting session with you. You don’t have to look at your friend if you don’t need to, but he or she is a glance away, just in case.
Get in the habit of turning the pages of each scene as you work, even if you don’t think you need to. That way if you forget a line or the casting director jumps ahead by mistake, your friend will be there to assist you.
Write a short statement in large letters at the top of each scene that you can look at right before you read. The statement can be an intention (I’m going to wipe that smug look off your face) , a moment before (I just went skinny dipping), a secret (I stole the money), a reminder (breathe and have fun), or a question. (How dare you cheat on me?) You will immediately become connected and grounded, thus allowing your friend, “the sides,” to support you in doing your best work.
BURYING YOUR HEAD IN THE SCRIPT
TV and film auditions are about the connection between you and the person you’re reading with, not the connection between you and the paper you’re reading from. If they can’t see your face and
your eyes, you might as well be on the radio. One solution is to have as much of the material off-book (memorized) as possible. Memorization is a muscle just like any other that can be strengthened with daily practice.
If you get the material at the last minute and there’s no time for you to learn your lines, you’ll still need to get your eyes off the \ paper as much as possible. To gain confidence working this way, practice the following exercise: get two copies of a scene book and sit down opposite another actor. Pick out a scene and read it over silently. Then read it out loud three times, getting your eyes off the page and onto your partner as much as possible. (Move your thumb down the paper so you always know where you are.) Go on to the next scene, repeating the same process. In a few weeks you’ll become extremely skilled at working this way.
Note one: Memorizing your lines means knowing them so well that you don’t have to think about them. If you don’t know them perfectly, you’re better off using the sides (audition scenes) to support your connection to the reader.
Note two: For short sentences, your eyes should be completely off the paper, whether you’ve memorized the material or not. For longer speeches, your eyes should be off the page on the first and last lines, , as well as for your most important moments, e.g. if you’re telling the other character you’re going to kill them or that you love them, your eyes can’t be buried in the paper. In addition, you must maintain the same pace as you would if you had the material completely off-book (memorized) and were doing a finished performance.
If the people you’re reading for can’t see your eyes,you might as well be on the radio.
WHEN THE CASTING DIRECTOR READS BADLY
One of the things actors worry about most is what to do if the casting director reads badly (without inflection, poor eye contact, rushing through the material). You can prepare for this contingency by rehearsing your auditions with another actor in the following way: have your partner read her lines as well as she can. Then have her say her lines without any inflection or eye contact. Then have her rush through the material. Keep repeating this process until you can imagine you’re getting what you need, no matter how your partner reads.
Another way to approach this problem is to use what the casting person is not giving you as an obstacle your character must overcome. For example, if your character is supposed to be angry or frustrated, you can blame the reader through the author’s words for not giving you what you need. If it’s a love scene and the reader is avoiding eye contact, you can imagine he’s shy and you’re trying to draw him out. If you can remember that every scene is about getting something from the other character that is being withheld, you can turn this flaw in the audition process to your advantage.
The quality of your work must be contingent upon your ability, not the reader’s.
ROMANCING YOUR GRANDFATHER
You use your imagination to create the character you’re playing, Why not use your imagination to endow the casting director with the qualities you need in order to believe he is the other character? If it’s a love scene, perhaps the reader has beautiful eyes or a sweet sounding voice or maybe you can imagine the reader as the young person he once was. You must still connect with the actual person you’re reading with, but you can choose to focus on what you imagine is most appealing, rather than most distracting.
VIOLATING THE CASTING DIRECTOR’S PERSONAL SPACE
Don’t kiss, kick, spit on, or even touch the casting director. If he’s concerned about his personal safety, he won’t be focusing on the quality of your work. If he can smell your breath, you’re way too close. Don’t touch the papers on his desk or move his office furniture. Spark his interest by connecting with him emotionally, not physically.
FUMBLING A LINE
Actors sometimes take themselves completely out of a scene if they accidentally change a word or fumble a line. Their faces turn red and they think they’ve ruined the entire reading. The fact of the matter is everyone makes mistakes and if you don’t make a big deal out of it, neither will they. If you do stumble and it takes you out of the scene, ask them to give you the cue line again, but don’t be overly apologetic.
Be more concerned about your character’s needs than saying every word perfectly.
ACTING BY YOURSELF (NOT LISTENING)
If you’re just waiting for the reader to finish saying his lines so you can continue acting by yourself, the casting people will only be seeing a portion of your capabilities. Remember, you’re not just acting when you’re saying your own lines. You’re also acting when you’re listening and reacting to the other character.
IF THEY RE-DIRECT YOU
If you’re given a directorial adjustment after your reading,take it as a positive sign. They wouldn’t waste their time re-directing you if they hadn’t responded to something you were already bringing t0 the role. Even if you did a great reading, they may want to be sure that you can take an adjustment.
Note: If they don’t re-direct you, it doesn’t mean you didn’t do great work.
“Accept direction as evidence of your capacity to be flexible, not as a statement of your incompetence. ”
PRETENDING TO UNDERSTAND THEIR DIRECTION
Quite often actors will nod their heads as if they understand the adjustment being given, when in reality, they have no idea what is being asked of them. If you’re confused, politely ask them to rephrase their direction.
You can’t give them what they want if you don’t understand what they’re asking for.
THINKING OF ALL THE BRILLIANT THINGS YOU SHOULD HAVE DONE
It isn’t unusual for actors to think of everything they should have done after the reading is over. The reason this happens is because the actor is more concerned about winning the approval of the casting person than immersing himself in the character’s given circumstances. If you recognize this behavior as a pattern in your auditions, you need to spend more time doing relaxation exercises, personalizing the material, and creating a strong moment before.
Your primary focus of attention must be on your character’s journey, not the approval of the casting people.
WAITING ON PINS AND NEEDLES FOR FEEDBACK
If you did a great read and you’re physically right for the part, you’ll often get a call back. That’s the best feedback you can hope for. The feedback your agent receives after your audition may have limited value. The casting director may convey her opinion to her assistant who communicates it to your agent’s assistant who tells your agent who finally tells you what they said a week after the audition. A lot may be lost in the translation. Often the feedback will be general. “Oh, she was so adorable, just not right for this,” “Too green.” “We decided to go a different way, ” “Too tall, ” “Too short.” “Not funny enough, ” “He is still in the mix.” “It’s not going to go any further. “
Translate any negative feedback into something you can use to improve your work rather than using it as evidence that you’ve chosen the wrong profession. For example, if the feedback is, “You were green,” it may mean you seemed nervous or you made choices that weren’t strong enough or you were forcing the emotion. In any case, it points out you need to work on your audition skills.
Whether you eventually receive feedback or not, it is suggested that immediately after the audition, you write down what you felt worked and what could have been stronger. Take what you discover from your own analysis to find areas you can focus on to strengthen your work. Save your notes in a journal so you can see if your perceptions prove accurate over time.
MAKING CHANGES FOR THE CALLBACK
You’re getting called back because your work and your appearance fit the casting person’s conception of the character. Unless you are told otherwise, they should be the same for the callback.
Note: Write down what you wore at the first audition as well as any directorial notes you have been given by the casting people.
Making the same choices for the callback doesn’t mean you can just imitate what you did at the first reading. You still have to do a strong preparation, experience what the character is going through, work moment to moment, and trust your impulses.
FACING THE “DREADED” MONOLOGUE
For some actors, the thought of doing a monologue is worse than a trip to the dentist for a root canal. The following “Q and A” will alter your perspective.
Why do I procrastinate when it comes time to finding and preparing monologues?
You procrastinate because you feel like you’re going to be out there all alone, scrutinized like a bug under a microscope. Since you’re the center of attention, you think it’s all about you. You’re forgetting that a monologue is still a scene, even though you have all of the lines. The audience’s attention may be on you, but your focus must be on whomever you’re talking to (even if they exist only in your imagination). If you’re worried about how you’re doing or concerned about being judged, you haven’t made strong enough choices to involve yourself fully in the author’s given circumstances.
The other reason you procrastinate is because you’re settling for material you don’t really love. It would be like cooking a meal of spam and brussel sprouts with soy milk gravy and wondering why you’re not really hungry. If you continue to search until you find a monologue that you can’t wait to sink your teeth into, your desire to procrastinate will disappear.
Will I need to prepare monologues for TV and film auditions?
Unlike theater auditions where monologues are the norm, TV and film auditions almost never require monologues. In just about every case, you’ll be reading from the actual material being cast. On the other hand, when auditioning for agents and managers, it isn’t unusual for them to request a single monologue or two contrasting pieces.
If I’m doing a monologue for an agent, can I play it directly to her?
Ask the agent for her preference before you begin. She may feel self-conscious if you look at her while you’re performing. It may be easier for her to assess your talent if your focus is elsewhere, e.g., a chair or the wall. Also, it may be to your advantage not to use her. What if the agent yawns or has a twitch in her eye? You’ll often do better if you can create someone from your imagination so you can get the reaction you need to propel your work.
It’s hard enough to perform with someone. How do I imagine someone who isn’t there?
The mistake actors make is to practice their monologues by themselves. The best way to prepare is to rehearse with another actor as if you were readying a scene. Before you begin your piece, give the other actor permission to react to everything you’re saying. Allow them to interrupt, shout at you, ignore you, get up and storm out, kiss your hand, laugh at you, and chase you around the room. Repeat this exercise several times until you’re fully connected. Next, instruct them to just sit there, listen to your piece and react silently. Then have them wait outside while you do your monologue to the empty chair they were sitting in. Keep repeating the process until you can do your piece and actually experience this person even when they’re not in the room. Then when it comes time to actually do your monologue, you’ll be bringing the energy of your partner into the agent’s office with you, and you’ll be fully engaged.
What kind of material should I choose if the agent requests a monologue?
1. Select material appropriate to your age and type. That way the agent can see if the two of you are on the same page in terms of how you should be marketed.
2. If you are only asked to do one piece, choose material which allows for a wide range of emotion (ideally something with comedic and dramatic elements).
3. Pick material that moves you. If you’re not passionate about your selections, they won’t be either.
How do I find a monologue that fits these criteria?
You use your imagination in the creation of your performance. Why not use your imagination in your selection of material? If you’ve exhausted your local drama book store of monologue compilation books, perhaps you have a favorite passage from a special book that you’ve always loved, or a song lyric, or a poem you can turn into a monologue. How about doing a sonnet with a Brooklyn accent? Or a monologue where you play several characters with different accents and distinct physicalities? Or a monologue written for someone of the opposite sex? Or how about writing your own monologue, tailor-made to your strengths?
I would love to write my own monologue, but what if I’m a terrible writer?
Everyone has an anecdote or remembrance from his or her own life that always gets a strong response. Try turning it into a monologue. If you don’t like writing, tape record and transcribe it. Or tell it to a friend who does write and have them tweak it. If you decide to do your own piece and they ask you what it’s from, tell them it’s from Best Stage Monologues of 1997. They don’t need to know that you wrote it.
I used to get a great response from my monologue, but now it falls flat. Should I dump it?
You may be “phoning it in,” i.e. doing it by rote. You need to break your piece down from scratch, the same way you would if you were handed new material. In addition, you may be imagining the person you are talking to is your therapist or a close friend and your objective is to get them to listen and understand your situation. The problem is a friend or therapist is already predisposed to listening and understanding so there aren’t enough obstacles for your character to overcome. Imagine you’re speaking to someone who hates you or thinks you’re a liar. That way you’ll fight harder to overcome your obstacles and you’ll bring your monologue back to life.
I feel weird acting in someone’s office.
If you can use your imagination to create the person you’re talking to, why not use your imagination to sensorially create the place where your character’s life is unfolding?
One more question. How long should my monologue be?
Two to three minutes is more than enough time to show what you can do.