Both Sides of the Desk

It has been educational running the auditions for Rabbit Island. I will always identify as an actor first. Even if I was stricken with ALS and couldn’t talk or move, I’d still see myself as an actor. Most of my closest friends are actors. I’ve had some of my most important and profoundly human experiences working or just being around actors. But being exposed to more of them, I can see why people aren’t so crazy about them. And why people had weird reactions to me when I’ve admitted to being an actor.

Usually, I either work as a solo performer or with people I know from previous projects. Aimee and I thought it would be prudent to post a notice for this play in a few places thinking we might hear from a hundred or so interested people. You can read the actual character breakdown in my last post. In a nutshell, we were looking for 5 actors to do a 60-minute play for 5 performances in the Frigid Festival. There would be about 70 hours of rehearsal and we are paying a $200 stipend for the rehearsals and run.

First, we sent emails to actors we know and think are good for this project. That was to maybe a dozen or so people. We only heard back from half. Why would you not even respond to a polite and complimentary email offering you a job, even if you aren’t interested or are too busy? Maybe the emails went to spam folders or they are dealing with something time consuming and difficult or maybe we aren’t on as good of terms with those actors as I thought. At every turn, I tried to think the better of why someone would flake or do something weird.

No matter, we pressed on. Aimee posted the breakdown on Actors First New York and Actors Access. From the former, we received 30 or so requests. From the latter, we had over 1600 submissions. Over 650 were for the female role who is in her late 20s to mid-30s. 400 plus were for the female who is mid-20s to early 30s. The two male roles only had 300 or so combined. The rest were for the any age/any type role. Even though some actresses submitted for 2 or even 3 roles, we still had over 1600.

How did we weed them down? Aimee took the first pass. She is the director so her say is weighted more than mine. After writing the play and trimming it down, my job is mostly to throw in my two cents now and then but to know when I’m getting too close to stepping over the line. I went through and pulled a few people but most of them were her picks. She looked at their work online. Photos, websites, reviews, videos, etc. People who did not present well online were not considered.

There were a couple submissions by people I know who are good but not right for this. It was good to see their faces pop up. Hopefully something else in the future will come together.

There were many, many people who were submitting just to submit. I will write about this now openly and honestly without too much fear of reprisal as my blog page views were barely above triple digits since the breakdown was posted. This says to me the actors were mostly reflex submitting and not doing any due diligence on the play or the people working on it. In all fairness, it is only a small downtown project. On the other hand, actors should be smarter and know what they are getting themselves involved in. Just put my name or Aimee’s name into a search engine and you’ll find all sorts of stuff about our work. Then ask yourself if you want to work with us. There are a lot of people out there who do good work but what they do isn’t a good fit for me.

It was not hard to skip over the crazy or those not serious about their craft out of the 1600. If a guy is pointing a gun into the lens of the camera for his profile pic, we will not call him or her in for an audition. If someone is using a picture in a bar, we will not call him or her in either. Mostly we had professional looking pictures and most actors had good to pretty great credits. These roles actually require actors with good training and serious comedic acting skills.

Most also did not have their email or cell numbers on their AA profile. This made it hard to reach to them. For a couple, it meant not being called in because it was too much trouble. If you have a website, have some way of reaching you on it. There isn’t much point of having a website if someone can’t reach you to offer you an audition from it.

A lot of people are putting notes with their submissions. Most were “I’m this kind of actor who has done this and this and this so I’d be great to play Karen.” This was well and good but usually didn’t put people over. I can read your training and credits and know what you can do. Much worse were the notes that read “Think of a blend of this actress and that actress.” I can’t begin to give two blended shits. Forge your own style and personality. Something about either of those gave me an uneasy feeling like this person would be kind of difficult. This kind of project will require the actors to roll up their sleeves and work. Those notes made me think they wouldn’t want to put in too much because there isn’t a guaranteed easy path to fame with this project. Everyone will be treated fairly and professionally and probably better than on most indie projects based on my personal experience but Wonka wrappers will not be handed out. Lots of respect and challenging work that should resonate with the audiences though.

The notes that did make me look closer at certain people were more geared towards the project. “This role sounds too much like me” or “this is intriguing” or “not sure what this is but it struck a chord with me.” Those notes tipped me that these are thoughtful people who might work more for the good of the project rather than making themselves look good. I write to give actors something to sink their teeth into as much as tell a good story. I think messages sent along these lines tipped me that this might be an actor who is responsive to good material and will do something with it by digging into it. These would not be people waiting for things to be told to them or grind the rehearsals to a stop so they can get over their fear enough to get into it.

If you date someone and then can’t bring yourself to speak to that person after a break-up, don’t submit yourself for a project they are working on. That is a crap-tastic way to try to make amends. Do that in real life first. I hope the economy improves soon so things like this don’t have to happen too often.

Getting the Karens down to the 6 we called in wasn’t easy. Other characters were easier. We had 25 to 30 we were going to see, which is more than plenty. Several did not show up on the day of the auditions due to illness, other conflicting jobs, or a rehearsal that was running long. It was also a really pretty day so it would be easy not to go to the audition. One person in the room admitted as much to me, saying she was thinking of not coming in but thought the sides were too good to pass up. I appreciated the candor slightly, mostly I was shocked she would say this. One guy couldn’t make it because of train malfunction and a rehearsal. He tried really hard it seemed from his emails and really was interested. We would keep him in mind for the future. The others were a little shady. To suddenly have a job in the winter on a Sunday morning in early October…shady. But I tried to think the best and dismissed it. I probably won’t call that actor for anything else though.

The people we called in were very prepared, though the people we didn’t know personally were slightly more prepared overall. The greater majority of the people we saw are people with whom we would want to work. Really at this point it’s about getting the right mix of people because it’s an ensemble piece. It was really tough but I decided not to play the role I wrote for myself. That’s how serious we are about this.