Last week, I saw a post at the Showfax message board by a young actor named Jennie Roberson. She had experienced her first audition and was eager to share her thoughts with the world. Something she wrote reminded me of a topic I’d considered covering awhile back, so I got permission to quote Jennie and decided to dust off the outline of a column on Waiting Room Games for this week. You know what Waiting Room Games are, right? You arrive for your audition, you sign in, and then it’s: “Let the games begin!”
As Jennie said, about her experience: “What was really fascinating was the [waiting] room etiquette. I’d heard legends of how people act in there, but I didn’t entirely believe them.” Since you occasionally have to endure some measure of silliness before getting into the room for your audition, let’s explore these games (and how not to get so wrapped up in them that you forget why you’re really there).
One of These Things Is Not Like the Others
When you show up at your audition and the waiting room is filled with people who are not your type or who aren’t your age or who are dressed completely differently than you are, you begin to hear that song from Sesame Street about noticing the difference between shapes, colors, and whatnot. Don’t despair! Sometimes auditions are going on for many roles at once. Heck, at commercial casting facilities, there could be as many as a dozen different projects casting at once! So, don’t even start in with the, “What role are you here for?” line of questioning. It’s not worth stressing about. Even if you did get some sort of inside scoop by speaking with other actors in the waiting room (or by scanning the sign-in sheet for details), the information could possibly derail your audition mindset.
You know why you showed up at this place at the appointed hour. Sign in, take a seat, and don’t even “see” what might distract you in the room.
Part of the reason I recommend you not even engage another actor in conversation about which role he or she might be there for is because doing so flings the door wide open for The Psych-Out. And believe me, some actors are better at The Psych-Out than they are during any audition, ever.
Sure, it starts out innocently enough: “What role are you here for? Oh, really? Me too!” Yeah… watch out. Here it comes. “I heard they’ve already seen 300 people for this. Yeah! Really! This is the third different casting director they’ve had on this project. The director is supposedly really impossible to work with and he throws these temper tantrums if you do the slightest little thing wrong. He actually fired his last casting director during an actor’s audition! Can you believe that? I would hate to be the poor actor in there when that happened!” As soon as that seed is planted, an actor’s creative mind (which is busy trying not to worry about the material, the character, paying rent that month, getting to the next audition, whatever) begins to whir with all of the “what ifs” and “whys” about this urban myth. Mission accomplished. You are now effectively psyched out and the actor who did the psyching notices you shift uncomfortably in your seat, assured that you will be no competition whatsoever.
Or worse, The Psych-Out is a direct hit (and one that you get to carry around for days after the audition). “You have great hair. Where do you get it done? That color must be so tough to maintain. Oh? It’s not a dye-job? Really? Hmm. Looks like it. I mean, no offense, but it’s just too sharply in contrast with your skin tone to be your natural hair color. Hmm. I didn’t even know they were considering redheads for this role! I mean, of course, if you were to get the role they would totally be going against type from the breakdown anyway, right? (laughs) You certainly aren’t ‘waif-like’ by any stretch.” And in case you gents reading think this is only a game the females can play, let me assure you that I’ve heard quite a few: “Wow! You’ve beefed up since I saw you at that audition over at 200 South LaBrea a couple of months ago. Hah! Just kidding with you, buddy. You’re looking good. Your hair loss has slowed down a bit, huh? Using Rogaine?” Yeah… those psych-outs will leave a mark or two.
The In Crowd
This one is a tougher Waiting Room Game to deal with, because often the casting staff is in on it. An actor who has obviously “been here before” enters the waiting area and is greeted with hugs and enthusiastic hellos, while you were barely glanced up at, when you signed in. Whether it is a warm reception from the staff or fellow actors already in the waiting room, this sort of thing can still make you feel like the last kid picked for kickball teams in grade school. There are basically two pointers I have for coping with this issue.
First, if you show up at every audition with an iPod and a favorite book, you’re likely to tune out just about everything that might throw you off-track before your audition. So, if you want to choose the head-in-the-sand method of avoidance, go for it. But my second tip is probably the wiser choice for the long haul. Look, everyone wants to feel as if he or she belongs. It’s a core element of the human condition. And if your plan is to be in showbiz for a while, you’re going to want to build relationships with the people in every casting office and in your peer group! Actors who have been at this for more than a year or so will tell you that they consistently see the same actors at every audition. Sure, there will be times when you’re the new kid in that group, but eventually, you’ll know everyone just like they seem to know everyone when you are new. If you don’t want to wait for the repetition factor to sooth this issue, look around at an audition and introduce yourself to someone else who is sitting alone, not feeling like a part of The In Crowd. This isn’t to get chatty; it’s just to say hello. If you worry you’ll interrupt someone’s pre-audition concentration (or your own), no problem! Just wait ’til the audition is over and say, as you’re leaving, “See you at the next one!” You’ll feel more like a member of The In Crowd in no time!
The Diva Report
Another comment from Jennie’s first audition: “The best was seeing the ‘two-faced actor’ [legend] come true. There was a beautiful girl in there almost making a show of how impatient she was — sighing and shuffling loudly — but when the cameragirl came out to get her, she was all sunshine and smiles. I know that behavior’s gonna get back to the director. Apparently it always does.” Damn straight it does! In my casting business, we have what we call The Diva Report. During several scheduled breaks during the session day, my intern, assistant, and any readers I have working will come in and give me a quick report on any actor who was obnoxious, high-maintenance, late, demanding to get in before other actors who had been waiting, rude, or otherwise a pain in the ass. Why is this important? Well, as you know from reading previous columns, I do my best to populate sets with GOOD PEOPLE (not just good actors). Being a good actor is the baseline for competing at this level, so being talented goes without saying. That’s standard. But if I’m going to put someone on set on a low-budget indie film where everyone is going to need to be patient and flexible at times, I absolutely will not inflict a diva on that entire crew and the rest of the cast. It’s not fair to anyone for one person to ruin a shoot (and we all know it only takes one diva to make that happen).
Here’s a great example from a recent project I cast. Two actors entered the room to read together and one of them was just bubbling over with enthusiasm and positive energy — SO happy to be there. Problem is, he had the wrong sides with him. “You told me to prepare the other sides,” he said. “Yeah,” I began, “And if you had shown up at your scheduled appointment time, that’s what we’d be reading, but now we’ve shifted into another character block and now your character is reading with this other character and therefore you’ll need the other sides.” (This dude was over an hour late.) When I stepped outside to pick up the sides he would need, my intern said, “I told him those were the sides he’d need.” I said, “I know.” I returned with the sides and asked the pair if they’d like to take some time to go over this set of sides together, now that we were all on the same page. No, they assured me. They were ready to do this scene. Great! I love flexible actors who are ready to work!
After their read, I thanked the actors and walked them to the waiting area. The bubbling, enthusiastic (but tardy) actor said, “Do you remember having me audition for a film last year?” “Of course; that’s why you came in for me today. I thought you did great work then!” He said, “Oh, cool. Thanks.” I then asked for the on-deck actors to come on in and continued about the work at hand. On the next break, I went out to the waiting area and asked, “Any divas?” My intern said, “OH, yes!” Turns out, this guy had berated my staff, refused to look over the material with his scene partner (which is fine, but apparently his refusal was not at all respectful to the other actor — and that’s not fine), and as he turned away from me after we said our goodbyes, he plastered a dirty look on his face and rolled his eyes about the butt-kissing he’d just done. (Believe me, I can live without the butt-kissing, so it’s not like he was earning points reminding me that he had auditioned for me a year ago; yet somehow he thought he was.)
I’m not going to go into further detail about the way he treated people in the waiting room because there were a dozen people there who will immediately know who this actor was (and there’s no need to embarrass anyone with specifics). Suffice it to say that I actually got calls from representatives of actors who were in the waiting room with that actor. One agent put it very well. She said, “I trust that you know the score with so-and-so.” “Oh, yes,” I answered. She was sure that I had a staff who would inform me of this actor’s unprofessional behavior, but her client wanted to be certain that I was aware of his impact on the other actors — himself included. “Absolutely,” I told her. “That actor will not be reading for me again anytime soon.” Because when an actor who shows up an hour late then treats people badly, I don’t care how talented he is. He can go work on films cast by someone else. I know another few hundred really talented actors of his type who are also professional, punctual, and downright pleasant to deal with. Bring ’em on!
The moral of the story, regardless of the particular Waiting Room Game you’re facing, is this: You can choose your level of participation. I encourage you to disregard being the only apple in a roomful of oranges. I encourage you to disengage from any chatter that’s designed to throw you off your game. I encourage you to connect genuinely with the casting staff and with others in your peer group. And if you think that diva behavior is going to help you get cast, please know that you are simply wrong, wrong, wrong! You may happen to get cast in spite of being a diva once or twice, but in a town this small, I can assure you that it won’t take long for word to get out. And unless you’re personally capable of opening a movie at $30M, no one is going to put up with your games.
Enter that waiting room with your audition game face on, then rock the session room with all of the talent and professionalism you have. Leave the rest of the sport to the non-pros.
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000461.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.