Audition edges

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I was at an audition the other day, musing about the various advantages I have in the audition process for Community Theater. I’ve written about auditioning before, several times, but I don’t think I’ve talked about, well, about me and my place in the process. And I do pretty well in auditions—I think I’ve got a part in something around three-quarters of the shows I’ve auditioned for since I returned to doing theater twelve years ago. That’s approximate. I have a résumé for shows I actually do, but I don’t have an anti-résumé for shows that I didn’t get in to. I can think of six, off the top of my head, and I’ve done eighteen shows. Hm, but I was cast in a few of them without an audition, so maybe it’s closer to a two-thirds success rate. Still, that’s pretty good! What’s my secret?

Digression: I don’t actually know if two-thirds is pretty good for amateur dramatics in my area. I have never asked. I think that would be interesting to know, but awkward to ask about. I would guess, from the numbers that I see at auditions, that the average show casts about a third of the men that try out and about a quarter of the women, but since usually there are two nights of auditions and I only go to one, I am making an assumption that the two nights are fairly equal. And (a) I only occasionally count the numbers and may well be misremembering the ones I do count, (2) the plays I audition for aren’t a representative sample even of non-musicals, and (iii) the gender binary is a myth. End Digression.

Well. There’s a lot of stuff that gives me an auditioning edge, but what I want to write about is the stuff that is in some sense phony. And by phony, I mean stuff that gives me an edge in the audition but not in the show, such that somebody else who would be equally good—or better!—in a role is less likely to be cast than I am. I think there’s stuff that gives me a legitimate edge, too, such avoiding a bad reputation, and enunciating, and having a large vocabulary, and trying to connect on stage with other actors in the scene, and not wearing a baseball cap pulled down to my eyebrows through the whole thing… stuff that a director could quite properly use to decide between me and another actor. But here I’m talking about the other stuff.

The first one is that I’m a middle-sized white guy. Average height, average weight, pale skin, male-presenting. No obvious disability, no prostheses (except my glasses), no disfigurement, no facial scars. I’m not even bald. I suspect that most directors doing amateur theater in the area default to someone who looks like me for most parts. They may not mean to, but they do. And then it has been a lot of playwrights’ default, too, so there are a lot of parts written to be playable by middle-sized white guys, too. So that’s an edge over a guy who is African-American or Asian or short or tall or skinny or fat or androgynous looking, at least for a lot of shows. Not every show, or every director (or all of the people who help cast plays), but certainly more shows and directors than default to anything else.

Another edge is specific to how amateur theater works in this region: I am a quick reader. Almost all the auditions involve cold reading, which isn’t quite cold, as we are generally given the sides and a few minutes to scan them and prepare. I am on my fourth time through while many other people are on their second, which (a) makes me more fluent when it comes to performing the lines, and (2) gives me a chance to identify possible problems or opportunities. Combined with this, my short-term memory is (still) good enough that I can usually look up from the page when I’m actually saying a line. My speed-reading and short-term memory don’t help much in the rehearsal process, and not at all by the time performances roll around. But I can give a director a little more sense of my skill as an actor within ten minutes of being handed some sides.

A third: I work in an academic library, at an institution with a performing arts college. I have nearly-instant access to a zillion plays, and really fast ILL access to a zillion times that. So if the play has been published, I can get hold of it in advance very easily. And while most people in Connecticut do have access to interlibrary loan, most people alas are unaware of that, and don’t make use of it—and indeed the process is likely to be slower at a public library, so it requires more thinking in advance. I can often read a script the day I see the audition notice, and almost always within a week. Also, while this isn’t specific to academic libraries, my workplace is generally amenable to my (f’r’ex) growing my hair out or shaving it off or dying it, such that I can safely indicate on my audition form that such a thing wouldn’t be a problem.

A fourth: I’m reasonably well-off. While I don’t actually spend much on my clothes, I can afford dry-cleaning comfortably enough that I am willing to wear fancy-ish clothes to an audition and then lie down on the floor to get a laugh. I have a car, which means that I am flexible about the time of the audition—and while transportation flexibility continues to be helpful during the rehearsal process, it’s easier to arrange rides with castmates once you’ve all started, or to figure out public transportation if you’re going to be there every weekday evening. Also, having my own car means that I usually arrive at the audition location unflustered and air-conditioned, or at any rate, if I don’t, it’s my own fault. And I can afford to print as many copies of résumés or headshots as I want. I suppose that not being desperately poor also helps during the rehearsals and performances, but I’m comparing this to someone who is making, let’s say, just under the median income for the metropolitan area, rather than to those who are actually impoverished.

Those are the big ones, that unambiguously help me get parts and that don’t help me actually perform them. There are other things that I’m less sure about—less sure that they help me get parts or less sure that they don’t help me through the process—but those are the ones that come to mind. There are some aspects of those things that are under my control, or attributable to choices I made, and there are many aspects that are not.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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