How to survive and thrive in the casting room.
ASA artists, along with actors across the world, are beginning the process of auditioning for drama schools and other professional projects.
Across every industry, men in positions of authority are slowly getting the message that they must respect the safety and sanctity of each person they work with. But until this message reaches every corner of the globe, I wanted to help young women and men in my corner of the world.
Actors are especially vulnerable because of the dynamics of our profession: we need to have a tough outer skin that covers a fragile, vulnerable heart.
So what's a young actor to do?
After reading a recent interview in the Sunday Times, I couldn't help but pass on some expert advice from a very respected American actor, Anjelica Huston (remember Morticia Adams?), whose father, John Huston, was one of America's toughest, but most brilliant film directors.
Yes, it's a generalization, but isn't that powerful? It's also a brilliant game for the imagination that you can play before you enter the room.
Doesn't mean you have to behave like a bully. Indeed I prefer to use 'power' versus 'force' by silently repeating the St. Francis prayer before I walk into a casting.
But Anjelica Huston's advice is valuable for both male and female actors for three reasons:
Besides a friendly, professional attitude, you need never be needy, grovelling or subservient to any casting director or producer. They are not any better than you. They are often less talented than you. And if you’re living in fear that this project is the perfect ‘foot in the door’ for your career - remember: other projects that are more appropriate for you will follow. Trust the process.
Casting directors will be watching for a certain type of energy that emanates from you. An energy that will be at home on a stage or film set. They don’t want to risk their project on a highly-strung individual who will be overwhelmed at the first sight of cameras and cables and frantic activity. They want someone who is comfortable in their own skin, and they can discern that from your attitude in the casting room. From the moment you walk in.
Finally, this attitude of getting in the cage with the gorilla is so fitting because it reminds us that any acting project is a collaborative effort. Don't expect the director to give you any guidance. In my 30-years experience of working in TV and films, I’ve found that very few directors give any thought to giving directions to actors! Many times they don't understand what we do, so they focus instead on the things that they can control: the lights, the sound, the set, the camera angles. They leave the acting to the actors.
So, returning to that casting room, what kind of actor do you need to be? Someone waiting to be told what to do, or someone who comes with a deep understanding of the given circumstances of the scene, has developed an identification with the character, has made choices about how to play it, and has their lines learned, so that they can throw the script aside, open that door and get into that cage?
And here’s the best part: when you get into that cage with that attitude, the gorilla that you’re facing instantly transforms into a team-mate, a peer, a collaborator.
How great would that be?
But if anyone ever asks you to do something against your convictions, quietly say, "I'm not comfortable with this. Thank you." Then get your things and walk out. You have the power. The sanctity of your innocence is greater than a momentary sacrifice to advance your career.
Please share this advice to each performer that you know, and we'll all be part of the solution.
Bryan Bounds is a professional actor and founder of the American School of Acting in Yorkshire, providing classical actor training to 21st century artists.