In episode 29 of Casting Frontier’s Bring It! series, casting veteran James Levine and session director/actor Charles Carpenter emphasize an essential skill for actors: Knowing how to play well with others.

 You never know who your next scene partner will be, whether it be in a commercial, film, television show, the theater, or in class. But no matter who you work with next, you’ll be expected to communicate effectively, collaborate artistically, and engage with this person in a meaningful way. After all, playing well with others is a job requirement for performers. 

Working in casting, James and Charles have seen a wide array of interactions in the audition room; some flow naturally while others feel awkward and strained. In other words, they’ve seen it all! And in the spirit of learning from mistakes, they’ve compiled a list of undesirable interactions they’ve observed between scene partners. Then they zero in on what’s not working …

Steamrolling

Steamrolling occurs when one actor talks in such a manner that he or she doesn’t allow the other actor to naturally add input in the scene. The talk tends to be so fast, it’s hard for the scene partner to think straight, let alone jump into the act. “You don’t even allow the other actor to participate in the scene with you,” James says. 

Upstaging

Similarly, upstaging occurs when a performer physically takes focus from their scene partner so as to dominate the attention and make it harder for the viewer to see the scene partner. In the example shown, the actress repositions her chair in such a way that puts her in the forefront of the screen, effectively diminishing her scene partner in the process.

Invading someone’s space

Every actor, regardless of gender, has his or her own range of acceptable touch that must be respected. So before “Action” is called, it’s important to agree upon any physical contact you intend to initiate or receive. “You always have to discuss before you go into any scenario just how comfortable you are with physicality. You can’t just grab the other actor,” Charles warns.

Improv mishaps

Sometimes actors, hoping to demonstrate their improv skills, forget the important step of interacting with their scene partner with the organic “yes, and” frame of mind. Rather, they allow their flow of ideas to overwhelm the scene by talking incessantly, assuming their ideas are on target. Unfortunately, even though their words are being expressed spontaneously, that’s not what improv seeks to achieve. Rather, improv seeks to bring forth genuine, fresh interactions—a worthwhile collaboration that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. Improv, when done properly, brings tremendous value to an actor.

One last word about being able to play well with others. It includes being able to listen and respond to casting directors and session directors while auditioning. “You need to be able to give and take, listen, respond, take whatever piece of information is coming from behind the camera—sometimes a session runner or director is feeding you information from there. All of that requires your ability to play well and give back in a way that is productive,” James explains.

 

Determined to help actors cut through the mystery associated with the casting process, James Levine authored an enlightening book titled Bring It! along with Charles Carpenter and Jim Martyka, which will be released digitally in the near future. In the book, Levine shares helpful audition information from the vantage point of a casting director as it relates to commercial, film, and television acting. 

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