Thursday, August 09, 2018


Earlier this week I had the opportunity to attend auditions for a play opening in the fall.  I had a vision of Michael Douglas in A Chorus Line (the gawdawful movie), sitting in the back of a dark theatre; a disinterested and disembodied voice shouting Next!

Uh, no.

For starters, the auditions aren't held at a theatre. They're in what look like rehearsal rooms, about 300-400 square feet. In other words, we're front row center. The lighting is good, the paint is fresh and cheerful, there are benches outside the door for "next!" to wait.

We got started late of course, but the first actor through the door was totally calm ...or appeared that way. He had been asked to prepare a song, and two short scenes (sides) from the play.  And when he started, he just owned the room.  I couldn't take my eyes off him.

15 minutes later, the next actor arrived. And did the same thing.

For three hours, actor after actor, all good, all TERRIFIC came through the door.  As the day progressed I could start to see where a few of the actors had made choices in the script; some of which I thought were good, some I thought could have been better.

The director gave notes to the actors.  Giving notes is akin to making suggestions for revisions to a manuscript, except she did it out loud and immediately. While the notes were different every time,  what she asked each actor to change was pretty similar. In other words she tailored her notes to the actor, and did it right then with no time to stop, think, change her mind.

It was like watching a ballerina on a highwire.Without a net.

And then came the really interesting part.  The actors were terrific, but the ones I thought were the very best didn't rate callbacks. Cause in theatre you not only have to be terrific, you have to mesh with the OTHER actors. So if the leading lady is short, the leading man can't be 6'5". You can't cast a tenor for a role that is to be sung by a bass.

Which perfectly showcases the challenges writers face: a perfectly good and publishable book can be a bad fit for an agent's list so it gets a pass. Nothing wrong with it at all, in fact it's darn good. It's just not a good FIT.

The only thing actors have better than writers is all those guys only had to wait a couple of hours to find out if they were getting a callback instead of lingering for 30 days in the incoming queries.

It was a day drenched in awesome sauce, and for a bonus, I got home before it poured buckets.



Allison Williams said...

This is soooo true! I spent a while as a director and there's plenty of great actors who just aren't the very best fit. Coincidentally, I wrote about this same situation--but with the metaphor of (not)buying carpets in Tunis a couple nights ago--for Brevity (flash nonfiction lit mag)'s blog :)

Em-Musing said...

LOve this. For many years I did on-camera, and most of the time it required doing an audition. Thirty-some talents via for one role. Rejection was the name of the game. So when querying, I had no emotion to rejections because I was used to it, but even better it didn't mean game over. Always more chances with other agents and revisions before I sent again. The best part though? I didn't have to share room space with the competition. That's insecurity on a whole 'nother level.

Donnaeve said...

My first thought was I wonder how the actors who didn't get a callback feel this morning?

Probably a lot like writers facing an email in their inbox with "Thanks, but this isn't for me."

What a fun way to spend an evening - and as to raining buckets. Boy - you got that right - our street flooded, and my daughter called to say they had two trees down, and a shed had collapsed on top of their tractors.

And I can't resist.

"It was a stormy night . . ."

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I will say, back from my acting days, yeah, the immediate feedback whether callback or rejection, seems almost heavenly now compared to the hurry up and wait and wait of the writer game. This is a great analogy.

Lennon Faris said...

Wow, what an adventure! I would love to see that.

Still, I'd much rather be a writer. Em-Musing - I can't imagine sitting in a room with competition. It's eye-opening enough, doing that digitally with the flash fiction contests here! People amaze me.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

In publishing, waiting time is like the time between buying a lottery ticket and when the numbers are picked. The anticipation of winning the prize, because the odds are so against us, is often all we get. How do we lessen the odds?
Be a reider !

John Levins said...

A very interesting day! Thank you for telling us about it.

I’m curious how many of the actors were represented by agents, and if any of the agents came to the auditions?

Michael G-G said...

I'm taking my young(ish) son (15) up to Seattle today to do the very same thing. I can't believe how calm he is--I'm the wreck.

Interesting how many of the previous commenters have been actors, or have auditioned. I'm sure it helps with dealing with rejection.

P.s. Lingering for 30 days in the queries is pretty darn good. In my experience it's 60-90, if you hear back at all.

John Davis Frain said...

Love this. I've been in your shoes for my own screenplay and it remains the strongest memory. To hear brilliant actors put a spin on my character and bring her/him to life was the most amazing thing ever.

For me, the event did take place in a theater. After the first guy read up on stage, I turned to the director and said, "Is it okay if I stand and applaud?"

But then the next person on stage tore it up again. Just like your experience, actor after actor was fantastic.

And then we sent them home and never got in touch with them again because we're NORMANS. <<<-- This part is completely fabricated for each of those actors, but entirely true for many of us.

Janet Reid said...

John Levins I believe they all had agents, and none of the agents attended the audition. The only people other than me were the casting director, the playwright, the play's director, and the casting director for the theatre where the play is to be produced.

All of the actors had experience though; a couple had appeared on Broadway in plays I'd heard of.

Theresa said...

Very nice analogy.

K.L. Murphy said...

This might be one of my favorite posts. Also, reminds me of scenes from the NBC show Smash. The way things fit also applies to the stories themselves. Sometimes we try too hard to force a plot or a character and while they might be good, they don't make it the best it can be. Time to get back to work making things fit!

BrendaLynn said...

What an adventure. Thanks for the perspective.

Claire Bobrow said...

Okay, I'm officially jealous! I love plays and musicals and Broadway, and...and...I live so far away. Sniff. What a cool opportunity, and a great analogy for those of us in the query trenches. Hooray for an awesome sauce day!

K.L Murphy: I'm glad to know I wasn't the only one who watched Smash. So sad it went away.

CynthiaMc said...

I always liked having all my competition in the room because you pretty much know where you stand. I hated auditions where it was one in the room at the time and everybody else waiting in the hall.

Though I did get applause from the hall for my audition scream at Horror Nights.

Good times!

Alina Sergachov said...

Wow, I'm so jealous! I want to be in a room where it happens, too. Broadway musicals are one of the main reason why I love NYC so much. Thanks for sharing this with us.

As a side note, I'm going to NYC in two weeks to interview people for my occupational folklife project about theatre... and I can't wait to hear their stories about what working in a theater on Broadway is really like!

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...


Now I'm jealous. Wish I were there with you while you're conducting the interviews.

Victor S E Moubarak said...

Great insight into acting as well as the writing professions. I struggled when writing my book "characters" with the briefest of descriptions. I concentrated more on their character and behaviours rather than their looks; allowing the reader to imagine what they looked like.

God bless.

MA Hudson said...

So is this what a pitch session feels like? Never been to one but I can imagine the participants must be eyeing each other up, wondering who was going to get a 'call back' (manuscript request), and crossing their fingers and toes that it's them.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Ah, theatre! Been there, done that.

I was able to handle the rejection of auditions by telling myself that it wasn't that I was a bad actor, it was that I simply didn't suit the role.

That is the reason, and that is always the reason (unless you truly are a bad actor).

I knew I wasn't a bad actor, because I did win roles. (If you're interested, google YouTube for "Tivoli" and "Where will the dimple be" for some am-dram fun.)

Alas, authors don't get that kind of reassurance, as we get knocked back query after query, year after year, with no fun little am-dram to reassure us that we can tread the boards after all.

John Levins said...

Thanks for the info, Janet!

Brittany Constable said...

I know my experience doing auditions for theater and choir made me much more comfortable with the rejection that comes with querying and story submission. You have to learn very quickly that it's not personal and it's not even necessarily about your talent. In a lot of auditions there's a certain level of ability required just to get in the room in the first place (like when I auditioned for an all-state choir that was only open to people who'd already made it through the regional auditions and performance). So it's not a referendum on whether or not you're good. An actor's career is going to consist of hundreds of jobs and thousands of auditions, so if every "no" is shattering you're just not going to make it far.

...Man, I miss those days. It's a shame my dayjob schedule makes it basically impossible to do any community stuff.