The No-Audition Audition
“What would you like me to read?”
“Oh. Okay. I have a monologue about this haggard housewife trying to overcome -“
“No monologues. Please.”
“No readings from the script? No monologues? What do we do then?”
“Yep… Just talk.”
(A long pause…..)
“Did I accidentally answer an ‘It’s Just Lunch’ dating app ad?
That’s usually the reaction (or close to it) I get when I tell an actor showing up for an audition that I don’t want them to read from the script or deliver an over-rehearsed monologue.
As a director I feel I learn very little from watching an actor deliver a monologue so over-rehearsed that it can be delivered while the actor is on fire.
“Okay, here’s the scene. So this is where the prince has a skull in his hand..."
"...Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him Horacio, a man of..."
“Excuse me, but your tights ignited.”
“(Whispers) yes, thank you. I can see that...
(Acting Voice) "alas poor Yorick…”
For me, a five to ten-minute chat tells me much of what I need to know about the actor. For starters, I can learn the actor’s background (in life and in theatre), learn their fears, what they believe are their strengths and weaknesses and also if they have a sense of humor, irony, sarcasm…. After all, If you can do comedy, you can do drama. Comedy is always harder.
Of course, a decent acting resume helps.
“What are some recent roles you’ve played?”
“I was one of the Monsters with an Axe at the Six Flags Halloween Show and then in April I was in an Easter pageant. I was a bunny” might not get you further than the front door, but other than that - have a seat and let’s talk.
I believe you can get a good read on an actor in a five to ten minute chat.
Here’s a good example. An actor showed up to audition for 12 Angry Men. A play he had previously appeared in… Now because he had played that one part before, I would never cast him in that same role, but I wanted to know what he thought of that character.
Within three minutes we were debating the character. He saw it one way, I saw it the complete opposite. And it got somewhat heated. But what I learned was how much thought this actor put into the role and so I cast him in another part in that play - a pivotal role. Not only because I could see the thought he put into his work but by his feverishly debating the character with me I saw how passionate an actor he was.
If I had asked him simply to read, he might have read a monologue from his previous 12 Angry Men role, (along with perhaps some bad acting notes given by a former instructor) something he has repeated many times before, on the stage and perhaps in front of his full-length mirror and I never would have seen the depth of thought or passion he gives to his characters.
Might not have even cast him.
Just another Six Flags Monster with an Axe so to speak.
(FULL DISCLOSURE: I did ask this actor to come back and read from the script - not because I wanted to see if he could act - I knew he could - but to see if he was the pain in the ass I thought he might be… he wasn’t, he isn’t, in short, he turned out to be a ‘Hail fellow well met’.)
And that’s just one example of why I believe when auditioning an actor - don’t audition. Talk.
Here’s another one.
I was once casting When You Comin’ Back Red Ryder?”.
The antagonist enters a small out-of-the-way diner and terrorizes the couple, cook, and waitress inside.
The actor playing that role needs to have an inner strength, a power over others - he needs to be a threat.
Well, they all showed up that day - the Rambo and Arnold wannabes - the wiry tattooed hillbilly types, the unconvincing Hell’s Angel imposters, the Charlie Mansons look-a-likes and of course, all those young men coming in thinking they were Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon. Just looking at them you could hear somewhere in the distance a voice yelling “Attica, Attica, Attica.”
I talked with them all and in the end I cast the short, skinny, near-sighted one.
Because as we spoke about the play, about his life, about his acting, his fears, his strengths, I could tell he just might be the toughest guy who auditioned - he just didn’t have to put it on display.
And he didn’t, that is not until he stepped into the boots of that character.
Then he was commanding.
Then he was a threat.
If appearance was a criteria for this role, he had a better chance slapping on a wig and being cast as the waitress
If I had just let him do a monologue - who knows?
- maybe he would have read one of the father’s monologues from ‘Time Out For Ginger’.
And I surely would not have cast him.
Just another Easter pageant bunny.
So as an actor, what do you do when you audition and are only asked to read from the play or ‘perform’ a monologue.
Well, you do it.
But before and after the ‘performance’ display your personality, ask questions, be yourself, make a joke, juggle for god sakes but just don’t perform and then walk away.
Remember, you are not a performing chimp….
(Unless you are just a performing chimp and then I apologize, but I do praise you for having the ability to read).
There’s so much more to ‘acting’ than acting.
You bring your spirit to an audition… it can be seen in your face, in your eyes, the way you talk off the cuff, the way you walk into a room, the way you look at others.
“Read from the top of page 10 to the beginning of page 11” tells me nothing…. except that you are literate.
So how does this pertain to the actors in this production of 12 Angry Men?
These 12 weren’t cast because they could read from a script or memorize a monologue. They were cast because in sitting across from them, from talking about their life, their acting, in some cases just ‘chewing the fat’ with them, I got the feel of who they were, not as actors (their resumes and list of theatre companies they worked with told me they could act), but who they were as people, in what directions they could be pushed, how tough they were, what their eyes said about the person inside.
Why is this so important?
I think an actor should not be cast in a role they can simply walk into and do in their sleep. I prefer casting actors into roles where they have to work hard to find that character, to grasp at and find emotions or personality traits they might not normally have, to study and experiment and eventually become someone else.
You can’t expect an actor to do all that because they read a monologue ‘really good’ from Plaza Suite.
These 12 Angry Men are unique in the sense that they were cast, one could say ‘organically’, or by a ‘gut feeling’ or through the sheer power of their own spirits.
They all made a lasting impression starting with their No Audition Audition.
And I believe they will make a lasting impression on you as well.