Behind the Candle... Table?
This year I got to do the one thing I never knew I wanted to do, and the most important thing in my career thus far: I sat behind the table as a creative component, and contributed to casting a show I was working on.
Now I’ve been behind the table a few times as an assistant choreographer (observing), which taught me a lot to begin with. I’ve also had many a conversation with people who talk about the benefits of being a reader, assisting a casting director, and other ways to... wait for it… be in the room where it happens. All of these opportunities are, without a doubt, insightful to say the least. You see what different creatives respond to, get to hear what they are actually talking about when hopeful auditioners enter and exit the room (spoiler alert: it’s usually food, other projects, or Netflix shows), and you get to hear the same five 16-bar cuts sung over and over and over again. It's honestly a little grueling at times.
This time was different. This time I was looking at these artists as blank canvases for a show for which I had been in preproduction, at this point, for almost a year. A show that I know inside and out in its original form, but was rediscovering through a new set of lenses. Each individual that walked into that dance call had my wheels turning, my heart racing with excitement, that maybe this person would be the perfect Woman 3, or this actor would be our Graffiti Pete, and on and on. I realized that the crap I had been told about [insert mocking voice] “Oh they’re on your side! When you walk in the room they WANT you to book the job!” wasn’t actually crap. It was and is completely true. The weird energy you feel when you walk into an audition room of either “you’re never gonna be what we want so feel free to try, but no,” or forced positivity that makes everyone uncomfortable but we all giggle at the bad jokes anyway is because NO ONE IS COMFORTABLE AT AUDITIONS. Creative and otherwise. It’s a mass job interview, set in a completely contradictory environment, that revolves around breaking more hearts than any other industry. But it’s what we’ve got to work with.
After the dance cuts were made where some people were kept for their type rather than their ability, or because they were completely wrong for this project, but we wanted to know if they could sing well enough for something else we were working on down the road, or were cut because we’ve worked with them before and it wasn’t a good experience (this is real, please remember that your performance as a human being is just as - if not more - important than what you do onstage), we got to the vocal auditions. Now, as a tried and true dancer/singer, this is where I figured I’d learn the most about auditioning. And I did, but not from the singing itself. Look, most people can sing, and I mean REALLY sing. And in this day and age, it bodes way better for you as a triple threat than a dancer who can just “carry a tune”. So take voice lessons. Do it now, do it every week. I’ve never met someone who has regretted learning to sing. But if you’ve met me, you know I’ve regretted not learning to sing better sooner. But vocals aside, here’s what I learned: who you are as an individual and the work you’ve put in are all that matter and all that you can allow yourself to let matter. Walk into the room with confidence, poise, and a dash of talent, and leave the rest to the creative team. Listen, I always hated when people would say “just be yourself!” Ummm.. I’m an actress. I literally spend my life being everyone/thing BUT myself. On purpose. Well friends, it’s time to take a look inside. I cannot tell you how many people walked into the room with a nervous energy that made us so nervous that they had to be a killer singer for us to even consider moving them onto the next round. Walk in like you’re meeting a new friend or on a first date. Calm, cool, casual, interesting, and ready to get started. Don’t waste time telling us/them how much you love the show and what it means to you. We know, we figured as much since you made the efforts to be here with your heart out front and center. We can tell, and we thank you! But that wastes time, and I guarantee we are running behind as it is. Just come in, say an honest and endearing hello, and show us what you’ve got.
After that was another big cut. At this point, a couple of rounds in, making cuts felt like killing dreams, and all I wanted to do was look each individual in the eye and make them promise me that they would keep coming back and keep trying. That this “no” has nothing to do with who they are as a person, but that we have already created a mold that they must fit into, not the other way around. That it SUCKS to have gotten up at 5am to make sure you’re on a list, in full make up, with a perfectly planned outfit and song and not make it past the first round. That it’s because we already have someone who is local, with no union status, with their own housing, in mind for the track they are also really right for. But this is show business, and we can’t negate the latter portion of that two word noun - business.
The reality of it is that there’s so much more that goes into casting a show than you just being “perfect” for the show. There are the offers that have already gone out, the specific vocal requirements of the overall sound of the show, the available costumes and wigs, the oh crap these two girls look the same we can only pick one! circumstances, and on. Often when you ask for feedback from casting it’s along the lines of where you fell short in their eyes. And that may be true, but what they are trying to do is give you key things to focus on as you continue to develop a greater sense of who you are as a performer. It’s not a shortcoming, it’s an opportunity for you to hone in on a specific skill that other people you are auditioning with may excel at a little more. Part of me wishes feedback weren’t a thing, but that’s the self-deprecating ‘I’ll never be good enough’ part of me. If you ask for and receive feedback, make it a ‘challenge accepted’ moment and be thankful you have something specific toward which to focus your energy. Stop taking the classes where you’re the best in the room and take the ones that make you feel like you suck. Seriously! Challenge yourself to take risks in an effort to be better over all, and celebrate failures as infinite room to grow. Open opportunities for yourself that you didn’t even know existed. That’s the beauty of this industry. We cannot control anything when it comes to whether or not we book work, but we can control how much we allow ourselves to grow and evolve.
Now don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t an experience filled with magic fairy dust that will help me rock every audition I go to. I still have work to do, as do we all. I am still nervous while I wait outside for my turn to sing and the girl in front of me has the highest, prettiest, most supported belt that I’ve ever heard through a thin wall. I still come in flat on notes I thought I was going to nail or blank out on choreography mid audition, or forget to look up from my sides often enough to fake that I’m off book in a cold read. But you know what I will now also do? I will let that audition go as soon as I walk out of the room. I will prepare myself to be the best I can be when I walk in, to feel as confident and gracious as simultaneously possible, and I will BE. ME. The rest is up to the stars, and we cannot let our “no’s” define us, only empower us to continue towards the “yes’s” of our dreams.