What’s in a Name – or a Face?

August 21, 2011

OK, So I still harbor the desire to make my living as an actor, and my Equity card is burning a hole in my pocket.  Actually, it’s just a dull-thudding reminder that I haven’t made any of my career goals – yet.  However, it would be nice if I could manage to go to an audition where I didn’t meet up with some of the world’s most interesting, if unprepared, casting directors.  I’ve been to many auditions in my life, and as a teenager, I was “typed out” of more auditions than I care to remember.  (To be “typed out” is to not make it through the door of the audition.  Some miserable sod walks down the line of hopefuls at a cattle call, looks, and simply says, “No.”  Some are nicer; they’ll add an “I’m sorry,” but the inevitable “No” will be forthcoming.)

Ravishingly Dapper Headshot of Michael Tomas Otten

Just so that you have a point of reference, this is one of the headshots I use most often.  I honestly do look like this, and you must keep this in mind as I relate the following anecdotes about the fun world of theatrical auditions.

I think I must first explain that an audition can take place absolutely anywhere.  I have been in ballrooms, on stages, in a kitchen, in an empty office that echoed worse than the Grand Canyon, and, among others, a room so small, the three of us were touching knees.  Often, there is a table or two with an assortment of people who generally do everything except watch the audition.  These can be assistants, designers, boyfriends, etc.  It is extremely annoying when the entire row of people are all on their phones, texting furiously while one is pouring his or her heart out.  In any event, I think you get the picture.  Here are just a few of the interchanges that have taken place after I have not gotten the job:

1. Casting Director (CD): “Who called you for this audition?” (Definitely not a good sign.)

Me (Knowing full well that I have not gotten this job): “Well, since I sent my picture and resume to your office, and I received a telephone call from your office to come here today, I am assuming that you called me in for this audition.”

CD: “Why would I call you in for an audition for this show?”

Me: “Because you wanted to hire me is the only reason that springs to my mind.”

CD: “No, I don’t think it was that.”

Me: “Oh.  Well, do you want me to read anyway?”

CD: “No, I don’t think so,” Then, turning to the young man on his left, “What show are we casting today?”

Me: “Well then, I hope you find whatever you’re not looking for.” (Exuent)

2.  CD (Digging through a pile of photos scattered across the table in no particular order): “Who are you?”

Me:  “My stage name is Michael Tomas Otten.  You just missed me on your left.”

CD:  “OK, thank you… Ah – Um, You look like your headshot.”

Me:  “Pardon?”

CD:  “You look like your headshot.”

Me (Looking at the others seated at the table to see if this is a joke or an ice-breaker or something): “I thought that was the purpose of headshots – to be “looked-like” and all.”

CD:  “Well, you’re a character actor aren’t you?”

Me:  “I do and have played ‘characters,’ but I have also done leads.”

CD:  “…But everyone knows that the headshots of character actors are always fifteen years out of date.  This looks recent.”

Me (Knowing once again that this audition is going nowhere): “Oh, I’m sorry.  I must have been absent that day in character actor school when they told us that our headshots should always be fifteen years out of date.  I should have gotten the notes from a classmate.”  (At this point the CD just looked at me, and the director turned and left the room by a side door.  I could hear him laughing in the hallway.  The CD just looked at me, so I left.)

3. (a personal favorite!) CD: “Thank you for coming in today.  This is a brand new play, and we’re very pleased to be mounting it.  What role are you reading for?”

Me:  “I’m sure I don’t know.   I was told to prepare a monologue as you didn’t have a character breakdown yet.  You said you would supply script pages if needed.”

CD:  “Well, I can’t give you a script if I don’t know what the part is.”

Me:  “…But I don’t know what the characters are, so I wouldn’t know what to ask for.”

CD:  “Well, we’re writing characters in and out of the show all of the time, so you need to tell us.”

Me (After standing quietly for a few seconds):  “I just think I’ll go outside and try this again later.  Thank you.”  (I was always told to be polite, even to those who are obviously deranged.)

4. CD:  “Wow, thank you.  You gave a phenomenal reading; the best we’ve had today, but I’m sorry; you aren’t what we’re looking for.”

Me:  “I know I shouldn’t ask this, but I would like to know for future reference.  What is it about me that ‘is not right’?  Am I too fat, too short, too tall, or is it the mustache or hair color?  I only ask so that I can better prepare.”

CD:  “No, that’s an excellent question.  You don’t need to change anything.  If we were looking for someone like you, you’d be fine.  However, you just don’t look like anybody.”

Me:  “Pardon?”

CD:  “You don’t look like anybody.”

Me:  “Ah, I look like – me.”

CD:  “Yes, but you’re not somebody else.”

Me (OK, by this time, I was totally confused, and I’m afraid that I said the first thing that came into my mind.):  “Who’s on first?’  (…And with that, I gathered what dignity I had left, performed a rather graceful turn, and sauntered out of the room.)

5. (One last one –  a vocal audition when I was through singing) CD:  “Wow!  Thank you.  That was wonderful.  That’s the way that song should be sung!  That’s exactly what we’re looking for.”

Me (…feeling as though I have it this time – he really seemed to mean it.):  “Thank you.”

CD: “Now, if we could just get some other actor to sing it the same way.”

Me:  “…but you just said that I did it extremely well.”

CD:  “Yes, you did, but I wouldn’t hire you.  You don’t have enough credits.”

Me (suddenly feeling like a pinball machine with not enough quarters in it):  “…but if I did it well, why not take a chance with me if it was exactly what you were looking for?”  (Actually, I wanted to ask how many credits I needed, but…)

CD:  “No, it’s too risky.  I’d rather have someone I know who won’t be as good than take a chance on someone I don’t know who may or may not be phenomenal.”  (Looking back, I can applaud his candor, but I still want to throw a chair at him.  He cast a known “friend” in the role.  He was terrible and got the worst reviews I’ve seen in quite a while.  I was too upset to gloat.)

The moral of all of this is: “Leave the ego at the door.”   I have been to many good auditions where I did well, but I knew I was wrong for the role.  They don’t hurt that bad.  It’s the auditions where I know I’m right for the role, and I see someone who is not nearly as good as me get it that hurt.    Just once, I want to look like “someone” or be known or have the correct headshot.  Ah, well…

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