Audition Room Dos and Don’ts

July 3, 2018

The audition room, Forrest Gump might say, is “like a box of chocolates … you never know what you’re gonna get.” At callbacks, any number of professionals can be present in the room–executives, producers, directors, agency representatives, casting directors– each person having a unique approach to interacting with the talent auditioning before them. Some want to keep things brief and strictly business, whereas others choose to talk with performers in hopes of creating a more relaxed environment. Some are straightforward; others might give a performer some sort of a test. Here is a collection of casting professionals who share some insights into their thought process when selecting talent, including some essential dos and don’ts.

Some Practical Don’ts

First off, at a recent ATX Television Festival panel, Seinfeld and Married with Children casting director Marc Hirschfeld spelled out some audition-room don’ts: No props, no inappropriate or distracting clothing, and no adjusting of clothing while reading for a role. Hirschfeld has seen plenty of actors audition with improper attire and intrusive items and actions, and he says these practices detract from what’s most important–the actor’s work.

Another practical tip, the Primetime Emmy winner advises, is for performers to make sure they’re pronouncing words accurately. If actors are uncertain about how to pronounce a word, he says they should show they’re taking their work seriously and “Google it.”

When it comes to commercial-acting auditions, Canadian casting director Steven Mann urges actors to keep their performances as natural as possible. “A lot of people, when it comes to commercials, they put a little too much into it. I find that people come in here and over-act and go really big. And I always say to people, ‘Watch the commercials and just be yourself. Tap into that energy when you’re hanging out with your friends, you’re on a patio having a glass of wine or cold beer, and people gravitate towards you’ … everything should be subtle.”

Do Keep It Brief

When it comes to auditions, Hirschfeld encourages talent to keep things brief. After reading for the part, he advises, “Get out gracefully and quickly so we can talk about you!”

Atlanta and True Detective casting director Alexa L. Fogel was also at the ATX Television Festival. The multi-Primetime Emmy Award-winning casting director added that actors should act like they’re a guest at a party and advises actors to “Be polite, don’t be overly familiar, do your job, then leave … It’s really just about the work.”

Mann shares a similar sentiment. He advises actors to avoid shaking anybody’s hand and to not be overly friendly on social media websites. “Like we’re not friends; we’re working together,” he states.

On the other hand, some casting directors prefer to chat a little to get a better sense of an actor and to set the tone. Marta Kauffman is a Primetime Emmy Award-winning writer and producer known for her work on Friends and Grace and Frankie. She likes to reference the performers’ special skills listed on their resumes to make a connection. “Come on, you get some great stuff in there!” she says. “But what’s great about it is you can read them–and there’s always something interesting in them–and it can always put an actor at ease because you can say, ‘Did you really ride a unicycle? What’s that like?’ And they talk for a moment, and you go into the audition, and everybody’s now a human being.”

Do Maintain a Professional Attitude

Television director, producer, and writer Paris Barclay revealed one of his rules when selecting talent. Barclay has directed countless TV hits including The West Wing, Law & Order, Glee, and Scandal. He insists, “I have a Life’s-Too-Short rule. I don’t care how good an actor is; if that actor is going to make me miserable, it’s not going to happen.” The two-time Emmy Awarding-winning director elaborated on how he sifts the wheat from the chaft, saying, “Just having live auditions, you can kind of tell within just a few seconds when someone comes in a room what their attitude is and how they respond. And that’s why I want to see them because I want to give them some direction. And a lot of times, it’s the wrong direction–and I give them deliberately wrong direction for the scene because I want to see what they do.” Barclay described the various ways actors respond to his purposefully faulty direction. Some go with it in the spirit of play and cooperation, saying, “Let me try that.” “That’s the actor that I want,” Barclay asserts. On the other hand, other actors resist the direction–if not argue. In these instances, Barclay has clarity: “I say, ‘Oh, you just lost a job!’”

Do Stay Humble

Mann has some tough-love advice for actors: “Every actor is replaceable. And that’s really the truth. Everybody is replaceable. Stay humble. Always be humble.” But he’s quick to emphasize the symbiotic relationship between casting directors and actors. He says, “Casting directors–we need you just as much as you need us. There are people who are afraid to come and talk to us, but it’s crazy. We’re all in this together.”

Kauffman urges actors to understand that casting directors are their advocates. Generally speaking, she believes casting directors are underappreciated. “I would say particularly–and this is going to feel ironic–by actors … I think actors believe they did it all on their own. And they don’t realize that they have someone fighting for them, bringing them in, mentioning them to names that you might never ever ever had thought of.”

Do Keep a Perspective

Fogel shared how she always considers an actor’s whole body of work rather than simply what’s the best fit for the part at hand. If an actor is not suited for one particular role, she files away the memory for future audition opportunities. “That good audition when you don’t get the role is still serving a purpose because this is a long game,” she told The Ringer.