What I Learned as a Reader at a Casting Office
April 19, 2016
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What I Learned as a Reader at a Casting Office (pt. 2)

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others” ― Martha Graham

Ok good. You’re reading part 2. That makes me happy. I hope you got something out of part 1. If you just jumped to this page, you can get caught up to speed by reading part 1 first. So let’s get to it.

But before I start, I just want to be clear with my intention with this two part(?) story. I asked a few friends to read part 1 before publicizing for feedback. One Actor who is a phenom (actor, writer, producer, director, singer) got back to me almost immediately (he’s a consummate pro as well). He said it was good but if my audience is casting directors and producers, it’s too long – I should cut it down to a third.

He’s right of course if these words were intended for casting directors and producers. They’re not. This is for my fellow Thespians and for myself. I’m not going to tell my fellow Thespians that they should do this and that they should not do that. This is more like “this is what I saw, this is how it affected me and this is what I’m going to do about it.” It’s better this way I think.

OK good. So, we’re at WOW – what is it and how do I get me some? I already talked about my lingering odor of resentment, that I should be going out more often and for larger parts. And I know the saying, there are no small parts, only small actors. I’ll leave it there but the resentment and hurt that I had been feeling day after day, month after month, year after year was working counter to what I want, making it difficult for me to sleep, sapping my energy which over time led to putting on way too many pounds which definitely has not helped my prospects at creating more audition opportunities.

What else?

This is a great question when reading a script and preparing for a scene. What else can there be? I find that this question fires up a hunger in me to know more about my character, the situation, what happened before, my relationship with scene partner and on and on. And recently I was taught to keep asking the question even after I have my answer because more answers will come and my understanding will deepen across the context of the scene. And to be patient and ok with not knowing right now – to trust that answers will come in great abundance. (I have a great teacher)

So what I started doing was paying attention in each audition and practicing observation. I would look for and be open to each Actor’s Wow as well as their work and, I hate to say it, their performance. I’m an Actor – of course I’m going to watch people’s work and get a sense of their preparation but my priority was to be on the lookout for their Wow as I searched for clues to where I might find my Wow. With each Actor that I read with, my goal was to be uber-interested in them yet relaxed, while delivering my lines and my reactions as if we were on set.

And I started seeing things – unnecessary things that I recognized as to having brought in with me to so many auditions to one degree or another. Many many times. I’ll list these things now, not as a criticism of those Actors but in recognition that I saw or sensed these unnecessary things in myself in auditions.

“Recognize” is a cool word – it means to “know again” and that was happening to me over and over again with each actor as if I were watching myself on tape. So for all intents and purposes, this was my list that I discovered by observing others, not their’s, and as painful as it is to share with you guys, I feel certain it will be helpful to me. I hope for you as well.

Unnecessary Things of Mine

  • The Drive – 45 minutes each way for a three minute audition, running late, bumper to bumper on the 101, those idiots that wouldn’t let me crossover to the 134 towards Pasadena, parking meters, the price of gas, my car has seen better days, etc. You get my drift – I’m not doing this any more. It’s not attractive.
  • The Apology – “Thank you for seeing me.” Wait a minute, how’s this an apology? For me, it has contained a little bit of low self-esteem as if the subtext was “I know you’re busy and have so many choices of people to see so thank you for including little ol’ me in your session even though I probably won’t get booked.” It usually follows Casting saying “thank you for coming in.” Instead of saying “you’re welcome” it has many times been “oh no, thank you for seeing me.” I saw this so many times and I honestly have no idea of what they’re thinking – I know what I was feeling – displeasure where my career was and out of that feeling would come out this camouflaged apology. No more – it’s not attractive.
  • More Apologies – Sorry I didn’t bring my pic & resume, sorry I’m late, I just got the sides this morning or last night, I went to the wrong address, I have three auditions today, sorry for standing on the wrong mark, sorry for flubbing the line or tripping on a word, I didn’t have the time I normally spend, yada yada… Basically anything that comes out of my mouth as a Damage Control attempt and is really saying underneath “it’s not my fault” – those are my apologies, like I said, usually for Damage Control – to fix things, to gain or re-gain advantage over my competitors in the session, to make them like me despite what was discovered or the “mistake.” Not really working – and not attractive.
  • Nerves – I thought that I had a pretty good handle on nerves. And usually I do. It was interesting to watch all these Actors go through this very real experience and the various levels of nerves and how each handled their own situation. Recently I had an audition where I blew a line and restarted and then blew the last line. A Damage Control statement came out of my mind before I could stop it – “sorry about that.” I can’t believe I said that. What happened? Originally I thought that it was because the Director was a phenomenal actor that I have admired for years and I was excited about the possibility of being directed by her. But looking back, that’s not completely true. The only time I’m nervous is when a part of me knows that I should have run the lines a lot more to have them in my bones. In this instance, I knew my lines but they were not in my bones, hence nerves.
    • I had a big realization with nerves just now writing this last bullet point up. Starting with my first teacher, Milton Katselas, who said (I’m paraphrasing) “Nerves are just the Creative Spirit looking for an outlet of expression.” I love that – there was hope for me when I first heard/read that in his book Acting Class.
    • Working with these Actors I was able to delve deeper into this concept and understanding so that it would work better for me. An Actor walks in with his/her Creative Spirit which is composed of Energy. If I have labeled this energy as “nerves” in myself, I have just crippled myself by attaching the negative connotations associated with that word. If I walk in without energy, how is my character going to have energy? How is my character going to have that quickening, that life force, that vitality as Martha Graham described it?
    • I hereby decide that I will be alert as to my energy before I enter the casting office, and its flavor. If it is not optimal, it doesn’t matter why – I will get to where I want to be, centered, connected and present (more on this later). I will make my adjustments. If I cannot do this in life, how am I going to do it inside a scene, whether in audition, on stage or on set? A better way of putting it: I have done this thousands of times in rehearsal, in class, on stage, thousands of times – this is healthier, more attractive. It’s a piece of cake really.
  • Agenda – I saw many examples of my agendas in these wonderful Actors, and I’m going to cop to them right now. Most of my little moves were designed to make them “like” me by giving me an advantage over my competitors.
    • I have asked intelligent questions that I really did not need an answer to since I already made my choices – aren’t I a smart actor?
    • I have walked in as the character, especially if reading for an intimidating guy, and then give them a wink as if to let them in on my little secret – just in case they don’t have an imagination – not necessary.
    • I have congratulated them on getting the gig (usually for pilots) because I know how hard the competition between Casting Directors is (yeah right).
    • I have complimented the script during producer session – brown-nosing as we called it in the Navy.
    • When they have asked me how I am, many times I have spoken about my latest booking and what fun it was – camouflaged bragging.
    • No more agenda – those comments, in me, came from a place of Fear – Fear is not attractive – and I always felt like a little bit of a heel for doing that, trying to con myself into contention. I love working professionally but I always felt a drop in my dignity whenever I did that. Why did I keep doing it? My guess is that I never looked at it straight on and decided on “is this who I am?” No more. It’s not.
  • Funky Objectives – coming in to command the room, to book the job, to show off my acting technique and my ability to bring emotion. I can honestly say that I am never attractive when I am showing off.

I had also seen amazing things in these 300 or 400 actors (I literally lost count – but nowhere near as many as someone who works in casting so imagine if you will what they see when someone walks in) with my renewed interest in seeing their Wow. And it took a while, maybe because I have a thick skull, but it occurred to me that Wow was an external reaction, a legitimate reaction for sure from a Casting perspective but not something that I could play as an Actor. How does one legitimately and honestly play Wow? And if that is the effect that I am trying to create during an audition, how is that honest? Would that  attempt be fruitful? I don’t think so – not for me. Attractive? Probably not. I would imagine that Casting people develop a strong sense for the truth over time, so wouldn’t that be shooting myself in the foot just like unnecessary things? Maybe even worse?

So here is where the payoff came for me in writing up this article. I decided to meditate on this Wow dilemma to come up with a recipe that I could apply to audition opportunities. I wish that it came right away but just like when asking questions on a character and/or a scene, the answer comes later – in the shower, in the gym, during a nap – anytime the mind is quiet for a bit. And it came to me in the form of a voice with a distinct timbre.

“The Force is strong with this one.”

Of course that would be the voice of Darth Vader played by the legendary James Earl Jones. And it would have been appropriate during the sessions for me to say the above words about quite a few Actors. I had a different thought at the time, which I had started experimenting with and wound up booking the three jobs I mentioned at the end of part 1. Happy Eyes.

There were many Actors that came into the room with Happy Eyes – it didn’t matter what their age was, or ethnicity or gender. Some people walked in with an energy (of varying strength) that “leaked out” authentically from their eyes, and it was beautiful. There was Wow for me on the receiving end but I sincerely doubt that they were trying to Wow the people in the room. They had Happy Eyes – for whatever personal reasons and in all different shapes and sizes and colors and varieties – and it caught my attention (I can only speak for myself). These Happy Eyes carried over into the audition and out the room and I felt myself being grateful for the marvelous gift that this artist just brought – not just the song but the well-cared for instrument. The Force was clearly strong with these Actors – an energy in the realm of pleasure. joy, interest, enthusiasm, warmth, allegria as we say in Spanish, focus, presence that was not indicated but genuine and authentic – because it “leaked out” of their eyes.

Final Lesson

The Final Lesson was so wonderful and I wished that I had learned it when I first started out on this “crazy” path. Casting is hard. At the end of each session, I personally had no idea of who was going to book it. If we pre-read say 20 actors for each role, there were at least a half dozen who could obviously do the job. More really if you thought about it but let’s just say that these six were the most impressive. They were all different. And without meaning to sound callous, it didn’t matter because that was someone else’s decision – there was still lots of work to do, lots more auditions to go through, more roles to fill.

And it hit me like a ton of bricks. It didn’t matter if I booked the job. What mattered is if I delivered what I had planned to deliver in terms of the work, the character as a real human being in a real place having a real experience. That’s the scene.

But now I have added to my objective what energy do I bring into the room? I added a step where I release all those unnecessary things that were not attractive and get to that place internally that produces Happy Eyes – to feel the Force, appreciate it and love it like Yoda and bring it forth, connect to it, that energy that shines best when I am fully present. Forget about the booking – that is someone else’s job. Forget about who is in the lobby or what agency they are with. Remember W.E. Deming – “He who enjoys his work is a joy to work with.”

My job is to bring the best of me and do the best I can with the character, and leave with appreciation for the opportunity and gratitude for the fun experience. Maybe I made a new fan. Maybe not. Doesn’t matter. I got to act today. I got to grow today. I was a pro today.

And that is what I learned reading a couple of hundred actors as an intern at a casting office here in Hollywood. I can’t wait for my next appointment. I can’t wait to start reading the script over and over again as if it were a magazine article and aggressively look for my life to form connection points – another lesson from Milton Katselas. Thanks for reading and if you think this was a worthwhile, by all means share – as MK wrote in “Dreams Into Action” – “Give releases your talent.” And then to drop my unnecessary things and get Happy Eyes. And you know what? I can rehearse the above every day without an appointment. Why not? Practice is the name of the game, huh?


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