This is a repost from my first blog, www.scenerychewer.wordpress.com. When I wrote it, I was auditioning in Southern California. Many of these projects were outside the world of musical theatre (gasp!). I gained an entirely new appreciation for the role a casting director plays in the audition process. When you're new to the City, casting directors seem like obstacles to your success. It's so hard to "get seen!" Know that the casting director really does want you to do well. They really do want you to be The One, The Person, The "Find." At the very least, consider the alternative....
Like most actors, I have spent most of my career bemoaning the existence of a casting director, which most of us view as a “hurdle” to getting cast.
“If only I could get seen for that,” we’ll moan over a few drinks.
“So-and-so never calls me in!” we’ll say to one another, or simply to ourselves, when we learn that [insert dream musical here] is being revived on Broadway next season, and that so-and-so is casting it.
Of course, for every casting director who “won’t” audition you, another casting director loves you, goes to bat for you, and calls you in with regularity. Each casting director keeps a stable of people: regulars, like on Cheers, who presumably audition consistently and well for their respective offices. As actors we know this, and we appreciate their loyalty. But still, most of us are in this profession because we’re passionate about it, and it KILLS us when we can’t get seen for a dream project.
And sometimes we’re not even happy when we do get seen. “If only I could get in front of the creatives!” actors say when they have gotten the audition, but haven’t gotten the callback. By “creative,” we mean someone from the directing, music or dance team who can see how truly great you are, someone who knows talent! The casting associate sent to the first round of auditions is frequently a 22-year-old liberal arts major from the University of God Knows Where. (If you’re a CD and you’re reading this, you’re probably like, “That’s not true!” And you’re right. I am exaggerating. But that’s how it feels!) And on the first round or an open call, offices do tend to send the lower-ranked associates. Not the interns, exactly. But a step above.
What we forget, of course, is that this particular not-quite-an-intern has been schooled in What the Creatives Want. He or she may not have much experience (or imagination, for that matter), but that person is looking for something specific. What we also forget is that these 22-year-olds have nowhere to go but up, should they choose to stay in the field. And many of them do, working their way up the office ranks or branching out into directing, managing or some other aspect of the business.
Like ’em or lump ’em, casting directors have always been part of the business for me– a hurdle or a conduit, depending on the project.
Until I moved to L.A.
Not only am I blown away by the number of casting offices in this city, but I am also blown away by the number of projects without a proper casting director. In L.A. the business is bigger. Much bigger. This is because the city of L.A. is a one-trick pony. It’s got the entertainment industry, and that’s it. New York is the epicenter of finance and fashion and journalism and architecture: reason 4,024 that NY is the best city on Earth! (#Bias) But in L.A., all they’ve got is Hollywood. Now, I came to town well aware of my position at the bottom of this giant totem pole, which was good. If I weren’t aware, I would have been made aware in a soul-crushing manner. Thankfully, I fit right in to L.A.’s theatrical totem pole; however, compared to NY, it’s pretty small. (For NY actors: I can walk into any EPA and get a slot 20 minutes later.)
So to build a reel and get some film experience, I have been auditioning for non-union projects and student film.
And that’s how I learned the true value of a casting director.
A casting director is the hallmark of a professional production. A casting director will not waste your time. Yes, he or she may send you 41 pages of material to learn in three days (I am NOT exaggerating here), but he will not have everyone “just show up at 11:30.” He will send you detailed and specific instructions about the audition; you will not have to email him to find out if an accompanist will be present or other such nonsense. If a casting director is present, you will not be auditioning in someone’s home. You can safely assume that the creative team is looking for talent, and not just somebody to sleep with. A casting director won’t call in a million people. They will wade through the submissions and eliminate those who aren’t right for the part, as well as the amateurs; i.e., those who show up without a headshot. (“Do I need one?” I heard somebody ask. You always need one! Even in the age of digital submissions, they will need to make notes on something. Like a picture of your face. At the very least, give them something to file away for later. Even if they don’t take it, bring it!)
I’ve learned that casting directors exist for good reason. I’ve always known they make the casting process easier for the ones doing the hiring. What I didn’t know is that they make the casting process easier for the actor, too. I’ve learned to steer clear of any project not helmed by a professional CD. I’m just too old for the bullshit.