The Intern Saga Episode 6: Behind the Table

As an actor, I’ve always wondered what it is like to be on the other side of the table during auditions, and what goes on after you walk out of the room and the doors close. Well recently, I got a chance to sit in on an audition process, and the entire process was fascinating to witness. While I won’t mention any specifics of the audition itself, I would say that there is a fundamental lesson that was really hammered into me (with good reason) by observing this process – one that an actor should get a refresher on every so often.

 Having just come out of the audition process for college admissions – where advice is usually “show who you are”, “while they’re auditioning you, you’re also auditioning them”, etc. – witnessing auditions for a professional show requires a completely different mindset. The three main overall points that have to be addressed when a person auditions for a show are the following:

  1. Are they in the right age range of the character?
  2. Do they possess, or can they possess, some of the inherent qualities of the character?
  3. Are they good?

Going into this experience, I thought that #3 would be the be-all-end-all qualification – get the best actor for the job, right? But my definition of best actor slowly was redefined into the right actor. I saw some phenomenal auditions and some phenomenal acting, but I would see these great actors get put to the side because they either weren’t the right age, or didn’t have the qualities of that character. Very rarely was someone not considered because of their level of talent, and that’s out of the actor’s control. It’s nothing personal, it’s just that they’re not right for the part. And while I knew this lesson, it was good for me, as an aspiring actor, to get a refresher on that lesson.

I was in a production of Seussical the Musical years ago. I auditioned for the show, and got called back. I was so determined to get the role of Gertrude – the bird with the one-feathered tail – and so I prepared so much for that callback. I went over the songs, I tried developing a few character ideas to show the director where I was headed, I practiced the dance again and again. Call backs came, and I nailed it. I felt so prepared and that allowed me to show my confidence and play on the stage. I was so proud of my audition for them that once call backs had ended and the cast list was to be announced, I was confident that my hard work would be rewarded. I got cast as a Bird Girl. At the time, I was flabbergasted, because to my middle school mind, I had nailed the call back thus should have landed the role, right? This director allowed people to set up post-audition meetings with them to discuss their casting process, and I immediately signed up. I was itching to know why I didn’t get Gertrude.

And in that meeting, I learned arguably the most important lesson in theatre that I have learned.

The director agreed with my judgment of the callback – I did nail it. It was evident that I had put time and thought into my choices and preparation, and they would have been happy to have me as Gertrude. Even more confused, I asked them why didn’t I get Gertrude if they were so impressed with my call back. The answer: because the director wanted a certain guy to play Horton, and I wouldn’t have made sense, casting-wise, to be Gertrude opposite him.

It was a hard lesson to learn, and of course I was disappointed upon hearing why I wasn’t cast as the role I wanted, but looking back on it now, I am so happy that I have that experience to look back to. And years later, I think the lesson from that experience has finally sunk in, with the little reminder every now and then (such as sitting in on auditions).

Sometimes, things are just out of an actor’s control. I can’t control the fact that I’m a college student. So I won’t be playing Martha from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? anytime soon. I can’t help that I am extremely white and blonde, so I will never ever in my life be able to play Sarah Brown in Ragtime (ugh that show is so PERFECT). But more subtly, I read older than my age, so while I am 19, to many people I can’t play a 16 year old because I would look too old. I’m pretty tall for my age, so that may work well for me on stage, but could backfire on me for film.

While an actor can give their all in an audition and knock it out of the park, quite simply, they might not be right for the role because of variables (such as height, ethnicity, age, etc.) that are completely out of their control. And you know what? That’s okay. It’s part of the business. Because while there are so many roles that an actor can get rejected for, there are also roles that an individual actor is right for. And those are the ones that we go seeking with every audition we make.

Until next time!

~Kelsey; Movie Buff/Intern

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