An Open Letter to anyone holding auditions.

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This is a piece I've been meaning to write for a while, but today had an infuriating experience at an audition which prompted me to go ahead with it.

Namely, the sheer amount of auditions that are badly organised (if at all), not at all punctual, unfair or just seem to be worked out according to bizzaro-logic.

I'll mention no names and want to stress that this is in the spirit of information and improvement rather than a simple tirade, so here's the gist of today:

I was called down to Deptford (an hours travel) for a 4:45pm audition. I arrived early, and was given a number (I was well over 200th) and told to wait. I worked on the script, which had a spelling or grammatical error in every single line, the word 'farther' (meaning father) was used 3 times. At 5:45pm I was getting short on time before needing to head to work. I was told I'd have to wait at least half an hour/ forty five minutes yet, even though it was already an hour late. I left, without having auditioned. A whole afternoon wasted.

This isn't even that rare an occurrence. Other lowlights include:
- having a highly emotional audition in a corridor, and being shushed by the director midway through.
- Being told at the end of an audition that the shoot would be tomorrow and I'd need to be free all day (I wasn't).
- Being asked which role I'd like to play, then being told a "name" was being line up for that role and immediately thrown out (literally. physically.)
- Being invited along with EVERYONE who applied for the film (over 500 people showed up) queuing for three hours in order to be asked three questions and discover that no one actually auditioned, it was to see who they wanted to audition for real.
- Panels texting, smoking, answering phones and leaving me acting to nothing.

I'm sure everyone else here could add their own stories to the list.

But these have largely become accepted pitfalls of the auditioning process, and we, the actors who suffer from it all, just have to go along with it. This seems to tie into the implication that actors have no power and are simply at the mercy of the whims of the decision makers, a belief system the other side of the desk usually also run on, and I really don't think it has to be this way.

As actors, we have made a commitment to our chosen profession. We have spend thousands of pounds and given years of our lives to training, to say nothing of the photo's, showreels and other demands on our lives and wallets. Yet people holding auditions often seem to be making it up as they go along. A friend of mine with no formal experience recently wanted to hold auditions for a film, and decided to get all his potentials into a room for a whole day, and have them stand in a circle and watch each other read a three line scene until they were all done, with an hour set aside for telling them about the film and setup. He could have held ten minute slots and included the details in an email (what I would call the Professional way) and got the same results while inconveniencing people a lot less.

Actors spend hours learning and perfecting audition technique. It is not fair that they spend that on people who don't even know what auditions really are. The people put in the positions of power are the ones with no training or experience. Now fair enough, I've never come across a course on 'How to Hold an Audition', or advice for the other side of the desk. I've been on audition panels and been forced to go one what I know, which is quite a lot after all these years, but a lot of independent film makers or students have no such training to draw from. So I hope the tips posted here can go some way to rectifying that. So here are all the tips I can think of, after many auditions, both good and bad, and from both sides of the table.

  • 11 years ago
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Fiz Marcus

I know that students at the Central Film School are now having classes on how to audition actors and these are being taught by a casting director. It will be interesting to know if anyone who auditions for them notices a difference!

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Quite, I once waited 7 hours for an audition that was supposed to be invitation only but they'd allegedly publicised it as an open audition.

The producers probably felt that if they filmed people crammed into a tiny room or waiting on the street (and they filmed it without permission or release forms) then investors would think people were desperate to work with them.

I'm pretty sure that people who invest money are not that gullible.

This was supposed to be for a paid job as well so I don't think your theory of everyone-join-equity-solidarity will do any good.

Does anyone know what the union rules in the US are about auditions and how they compare?

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I saw that casting in Deptford advertised! He was also holding casting sessions all over the place but mostly Kent and Essex!

I seem to have developed an instinct for these things and my instinct tells me it will never get made...I even dissuaded my own 18 year daughter from auditioning for it!

I would love to be proved wrong but, when it comes to these situations, it has yet to happen! :-/

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Being an actor who does film, theatre and musicals, I recently went to a casting of a big show at a reputable fringe venue - where the MD was not only unfriendly but couldn't have been bothered to play the song properly and left me to sing certain parts acapella as they were too difficult to play or something- and it was a song they requested initially.

I am SICK and tired of being made to feel like total utter crap in the audition room because they panel are too lazy to realise their job is to serve us the actor and assess us correctly by putting the best people in the room to read with us or play for us.

And major companies are just as disorganised! I know of one that gets actors last minute and puts you through hell asking you to dance etc even if its not your skill set or what the brief said.

I for one, refuse to do any more unpaid work- especially with companies going for over ten years and still having the [email protected]@@@@@@g nerve not to pay their actors despite sold out houses! I've had enough!

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Fiz Marcus

I agree with you Blake on your last point, I have contacted Equity about one particular company and I'm not the only one

I just despair. To be working for nothing is bad enough, but to be working for nothing for a company that is sold out and has received thousands in grants - sorry that is appalling. If you can't afford to do the show and pay your actors, then don't do it or cut your actor numbers so that you can pay them! It's not rocket science, just show some respect.

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I was invited to an audition at the South Bank Centre and thought that was really impressive. When I got there, there was no directions as to where it was being held and no-one knew what I was talking about. I wandered about for about 10 minutes and was then met by a young guy, carrying my photo and scanning all the women my age. He said "It's upstairs". It turned out to be the corridor in the public section - one guy and one girl - they asked me to sight read the script and took pictures of me on their mobile phone!! The whole thing took about 5 minutes. It cost me £30 to get up there from Brighton, including a snack, and was a total waste of time and effort. It couldn't have been forseen though.
It was obviously a couple of students but hadn't said that in the posting - there was a "Production Company" name.

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I went for a recent casting for a play that was going to be on in Edinburgh. It looked like a really interesting role and my agent told me it was paid but didn't know how much exactly.
At the casting the first thing the director asked was how would I feel about working for free as his "funding was still pending" and in the next breath asked was i cool about full frontal nudity...
I also recently had to audition on a busy street in central London for a corporate video , as the director had neglected to tell me the casting venue had a dress code and I was wearing jeans ! Ah the glamour of it all.

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It really does pay to research companies thoroughly before applying/auditioning. Any company worth its salt will have some kind of web presence - you can then use your own judgement about applying/auditioning.

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Toni Brooks

Hi Fiz
I actually got in touch with the Barbican about this to query why it was unpaid work. The reply I got was that they were asking for volunteers and they weren't advertising on acting sites - which was blatantly untrue.

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Farah Sardar

It seems because so many people are trying to get into this, productions companies take advantage.

At the end of the day I guess it's where we decide to draw the line. And weigh up whether the casting can move us forward or not.

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Fizz, I have had castings at Central.Janis Jaffa is assisting and teaching students there. I'm not sure whether it's at all levels, or only in their final year.Anyway, she was present in one casting and the difference was wonderful.She was not present in another I did with a first year, but the whole thing was conducted very respectfully and thoroughly,and I felt very valued for my contribution and ideas about the character and screenplay.

Teaching casting techniques and how to work with actors should be taught in ALL film schools by someone with experience and calibre.

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I went to the "audition" for You, Me, Bum Bum Train.

It was not an audition at all - it was a meeting for cast members, which I was not advised of.

I had been given no information about the show or about the grants beforehand, but it was definitely described as an audition.

It wasn't the fact that it was unpaid, it was a combination that they had received over £50k in grants and we weren't getting anything, they were using non-actors and not auditioning the actors they were using. Also they were unable to tell us whether we had a speaking part or whether we would be "background". we also couldn't invite anyone, as it had already sold out.

Also putting us in the position of having to say we didn't want to take part in front of a room of 60 people, I felt was very unfair.

I know it sounds selfish, but I have to wonder what I am getting as an actor out of this project?

Needless to say that I didn't do it, but I felt that the whole set up was very underhanded and I am quite sure that The Barbican cannot be unaware that this has been advertised in MANY acting publications (including this weeks PCR).

I hope that they learn their lesson, as I think this is quite a unique piece of theatre and it does deserve to be shown, but they also need to respect the performers instead of treating them like cattle.

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What?! That's hilarious, performing to ONE audience member and it's being touted as a sell out show.
That's tickled me no end.
Oh and to think that funding is coming from the tax payers coffers. can we get 50k to spend on nothing...

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I think you got the wrong end of ....It's around about 80 people a night going through one at a time.I can't tell you more, because that would spoil it for people here who may have purchased tickets.

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Lee Ravitz

Yes, I have no particular interest in defending 'You, Me, Bum Bum Train' per se, as I've never taken part (although I know a few people who have) and it is, in some sense, only a poor man's Punchdrunk, in my opinion, but I do think it is a terribly unrepresentative example to be using in respect to...well...any complaint you may have about the industry in general, really.

It does, quite deliberately, only play to an audience of one during the course of each performance but naturally, there are many performances within a circumscribed 'running time' of an evening and a large number of people pass through the show each night on this one by one basis. The show itself works as an immersive walkthrough, and so people pass through it relatively quickly.

The issue of whether or not the production determines who are and who are not its 'leading' and 'background' performers is a bit moot, as I don't believe there is much of a script and everything is more or less improvised in response to the audience. It may be true that some roles are given a slightly more prominent opportunity within a scene, but, as far as I can tell, by and large, the scenes are actually meant to be pretty fluid and open to those who wish to take hold of the reins during performances.

There are always a huge mass of performers involved (often pushing a hundred odd), all doing their momentary thing. None of them gets billing; none of them is necessarily accorded a lot of time in the company of the audience; many are not career actors, although career actors do take part; and no-one is paid. In this sense, it is certainly true that the production is undercutting what actors should be earning - but it treats the actors who are involved on a par with everyone else who is taking part, be they martial artists, habitual walk-ons, burlesque dancers, caberet performers, models or whatever. Equity's point that everyone involved should be rightfully given NMW is salient, because there would certainly be no other way of ensuring a parity of contract across the board, given that the mass of performers are coming from such distinct backgrounds and specialisms.

I do not know much of the detail of the grant situation (and 50K is a phenomenal amount for supporting something that started out as a small scale fringe enterprise) but I would assume that most of it has been generated off the back of the notion that the production is serving as a sort of 'community' project that will involve large numbers of people, many of whom will be involved in the creation of the sets, costumes and design, as well as the performances, and will provide, for the capital, an innovative and remarkable piece of theatre. There is almost something as pernicious in the grant awarding bodies showing no concern for whether something will actually pay its performers, as there is in the production company's own waiving of this responsibility, but certainly, this perceived status as a 'communal' endeavour (in which hundreds plug together, for no financial gain, in order to 'make art') defines the entire perception of the venture.

I would assume that 'You, Me, Bum Bum Train' must be creaming off profit at some point - given such a vast grant, and such a relative paucity of ticket sales, thanks to its limited ability to accomodate audience, but I will concede that it is also the sort of production which must involve mass expenditure also, and I do think much of that money is *literally* going into the costs of production. This is still a terrible situation, because rather than emerging from some fat cat's principle of enriching themselves at the expense of those they nominally 'employ', it is more likely a case that the production team have long ago conceded that, by tacit agreement, no-one involved should expect payment and so they can, with impunity, pour more and more of the money they receive into making the next spectacle wilder and more audacious and more of an experience for the audience. This works for the production team: they are winning ever more of a reputation, crafting ever more exciting and dynamic work, gaining ever more popularity as a 'unique' and 'brilliant' provider of immersive experience - and their argument would no doubt be that those who do not come to the project with good will are those they do not want involved. This is the sort of position that is downright hypocritical only if they truly are making vast money from the venture themselves - and my suspicion is that they may well not be. However, that vast money can be made available for the sake of enhancing production values, but none for the sake of paying a basic wage to performers, is the sort of thing that undermines the whol industry in a different way.

Still and all, I don't think any of this is very representative. We are talking about a show that plays habitually to a designated audience of one, employs nearly a hundred performers, contains many performers from all walks of life (by no means all career actors), determines its 'performance style' through improvisation, requires multiple performances of very limited duration throughout the course of the run etc. etc. Nothing you can say about it is readily applicable to most other shows, in my opinion, except that there should be more money in it, and they should show a bit more real appreciation for the people who choose to give up their time for them.

  • 11 years ago
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People who choose not to pay their actors should never be worked with or tolerated. It's one thing to offer unpaid work because there simply isn't any money, which is perfectly acceptable as long as everyone is upfront about that fact from the outset, but to be making money and not share it is just greedy.

Still, it's not a case of debating the merits and pitfalls of unpaid work, but the standards, discourtesy and lack of professional conduct, which should not be connected to money. I've done fantastic plays that were unpaid, and been given a share of the profits for my work even when all that can be offered is a tenner.

I have actually recieved messages of support from some young film companies since starting this thread. The problem here is that I'm largely preaching to the converted. I posted here because it's (hopefully) not just actors who go on the CCP message boards, in the hope that some of the misinformed people who hold such auditions might see it and learn something. I need to get the message out someplace where it really can be seen, and draw attention to it. Suggestions welcome...

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yeh that's not as funny.

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Mary Tynan

You me bum bum train was casting on Spotlight as far as I know. And I thought one of the conditions for getting an Arts Council Grant was that you paid the actors.

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Fiz Marcus

It was casting on Spotlight and I agree I thought an Arts Council Grant meant paying your actors but apparently not. I apologise for having high-jacked your thread about the way actors are sometimes treated at auditions Jamie, but I do think that this is all part of the 'respect for acting as a profession' argument.

While as ever, Lee, you argue quite logically that this is not the same as other unpaid work - ie it is a performance experience for one person at a time and much of that experience, as I understand it, is the physical environment which the company creates around you. However the total experience could not be created without the actors. That they should be expecting actors to do this work for no payment I think is taking advantage of the huge number of 'wannabees'in this profession, the vast problem of under -employment amongst trained actors - particularly bad at the moment and likely to get worse and yet once again gives the impression that anybody can be an actor and that you don't need to pay them. Look at the reviews this production has gained 4* plus in most of the papers. All those actors who are working for nothing are helping to up this company's profile and set them up for more funding. There is a world of difference between this and working for nothing on a fringe production with no funding and playing to a handful of people. Sadly the company will probably get away with it as they claim the actors are 'Volunteers' and therefore not even eligible for the NMW never mind equity rates for the job.

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I almost feel like retracting my previous statement...

I was at an audition yesterday for one of the few remaining lead roles in an upcoming major TV series.

Only to be told as I arrive from another actor just leaving the audition that the role had been cut.

Now - it's not necessarily any fault of the casting director, and I suppose I can't really place blame on any one particular person... but my god, was I frustrated.

I had spent HUNDREDS in travel costs. The audition was in Ireland, and - though I'm Irish - I'm currently living in the UK. I spent another 30 quid on a short voice tuition session, just to be absolutely sure that I had the accent right. And the day before I spent another wad of cash on accomidation and the like.

Then to put the boot in further, I got a call from a casting director specifically requesting that I attend a session, which - you'll have guessed - I wasn't able to do as it was that very same day I was abroad.

Now - It's not all bad, as I did get to read for another smaller part, and I had the advantage of being able to meet the casting director and her associates and I believe my taped audition will be seen by the producers... but I couldn't - at the time anyway - help but feel slightly toyed with and out of the loop.

The fact that I had gone above and beyond in terms of preparations and was feeling quietly confident before-hand just made it that little bit more frustrating than it, maybe, should have been.

I suppose this stuff happens. At least there are positives I can take from the situation.

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