Thoughts About Auditions (December 2013)

In February I will direct my first stage production in thirty years (previous was an epic You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, co-directed and co-written — we added six characters — with Dave Mihal, who also played the best Snoopy ever.) I decided against auditions for I Love You Because, instead choosing actors based on personal experience and my feeling for them in a given part. But if I’d held auditions, they might have gone like this.

1) Ice-breaker. Auditions are tough – like a job interview in front of an audience. Few people do their best in that circumstance. Start with a group vocal warm-up, something fun. Then have people sit in a circle and give everyone thirty seconds to say something about themselves (performers shouldn’t balk at public speaking.) What they choose to say, and whether they follow the directions, will be illuminating.

2) Instructions. The director should clearly specify what is being looked for, and what might be a deal-breaker. I’ve heard from directors in the past, “I would have given so-and-so the part but her availability wasn’t great.” Put your cards on the table.

3) Prepared audition piece. Give everyone sixty seconds to present whatever they want. A song. A monologue. Allow them to shine on their own terms. Don’t insist on a song from the show and make them purchase their own sheet music and then limit them to eight bars with an accompanist they haven’t rehearsed with.

4) Cull the field. If the above doesn’t provide the director with enough information for casting, it should give an idea about who can be sent home. Tell people when they can expect to hear from you – not more than a few days!

5) Give direction. With the remaining individuals, tell them what you want to see. Give them instructions and see how they react. Don’t spend hours exploring every possible combination of actors in a dozen scenes. (Or if you’re going to do that, pay them for their time.)

6) No callbacks. Direction is about management. Get it right to begin with and don’t waste everyone’s time because you can’t figure it out.

7) Thank you’s. Everyone deserves a call – not an e-mail, not a text message, not a posting on a web site. Ask those who accept parts to refrain from spreading the news until the following day, so everyone can be contacted before they read about it on Facebook. It’s most important to call those who weren’t cast, for reasons that should be obvious.