By Craig Wallace
I’ve been in casting rooms over the years where the decision as to who will get the job is in a seemingly unbreakable stalemate based on the reading. Half the room is convinced Actor A is the best choice and the other half feels as strongly about Actor B.
One way I’ve seen the tie broken, is to watch the tape of the two people again and turn the sound down to see who had the more connected listening and brighter reactions. It never failed to be a unanimous decision after that.
More than half your job, if you get it, will be listening and reacting. In the audition, you have to show them that you are up capable of making that half of your job more alive and vital than anyone else.
Here are three ways listening will help you get the job:
1. Listening shows who you really are. If you’ve worked correctly on preparing your piece for the audition, you’ll have an intent that drives you through the piece, personal and evocative relationships and choices that make it clear the unique qualities that you have to offer the role. Great! That will go a long way to making a good impression in the room. But will that alone get you the job? No. Those decisions are all about the words, and let’s face it: Most audition material doesn’t offer you dialogue that by itself will enable you to break away from the pack, no matter how great your choices.
What will ultimately decide the job is how alive you are in your reactions to the other person’s lines. People can make similar choices and sometimes even sound alike, but no one listens like you do. No one’s face lights up in reaction like yours does. It’s these moments of pure unaffected listening that have the potential to break you apart from all the others.
Listening deeply and reacting freshly gives a window into your internal life and while everyone has the same words, no one has the singular light that’s behind your eyes.
2. Listening calms and connects you. When you truly live in a piece, you’re not just jumping from line to line but fully experiencing the feelings of your choices. Listening allows you to live in the piece.
This focus on living in the scene instead of playing the scene calms the mind and creates the space necessary to stay relaxed and on target throughout the piece. Great auditioners have prepared in a way that allows them to let the work go when they’re in the room and gives them the freedom to simply listen and connect to the relationships. Speaking can dilute focus as your brain is managing the thoughts, emotions, and sound of the words. Listening increases focus; it allows your brain to relax and live in the open emotional space of silence. Listening is also what connects you to the reader and all of the other people in the room. A common sight in an audition is the actor who is not able to let his work go and is trying hard to produce moments instead of letting them just be. While there may be a lot happening in the actors mind and while they may really be feeling it, none of it is getting out into the room. In an audition, what you’re feeling pales in comparison to what you make the people in the room feel.
Relaxed, rich listening and honest reacting is the connecter.
3. Listening helps you rule the camera. With so many auditions being put on tape these days, it’s essential that you not just stare into the camera, but use it to your benefit. The moments that are the most compelling and that live the longest in the memory of the audience are the wordless ones. Casting directors, producers, and directors all know this, and if you want the job, you need a technique that gives you the listening/camera skills that allow you to create these job-getting moments in the audition. You draw the viewers’ attention to you when you listen deeply and react genuinely, and that is especially important if the person who has the authority to hire you is not in the room, but watching your audition on an iPad 1000 miles away.
It’s commonly known that listening is a very important component of acting and auditioning. But, I often get the sense that it is still looked at as being less important that what you do when you’re speaking.
For the camera, it’s the opposite. Listening is actually more important, and in an audition, it’s essential to booking the job. So the next time you have an audition remember: The most important lines in the piece aren’t the ones you’re saying, but the ones you’re hearing and reacting to.
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Craig Wallace is an acting teacher and Backstage Expert. For more information, check out Wallace’s full bio!
""""One of the most mortifying moments I experienced in my theatrical career was when I was asked to bring the entirely African-American cast of a new musical we were workshopping, a new piece by an African-American librettist and composer, across the street to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and up into the plush boardroom so they could perform a song or two for the board of directors. I wanted to say something, but I didn't. For one thing, it would take an invaluable 45 minutes to an hour out of the creative team's limited time together. But... every year we had to do the same old song and dance for the board to remind them that yes, we did do new plays and musicals, so yes, it was sometimes a good idea to expose the board to new voices, to the vibrancy of an exciting work in progress.
You all know where this is going, don't you? I led the team in. The talent in that team! The writer/composer himself and the cast, lauded veterans of the stage and the most promising members of the next generation of acting giants. And there was our board. White, as white as can be, white white white white. And very comfortable. They'd just been served lunch, I believe. My theater spared no expense in pleasing our board and catering to their demands (oh my god, I'm feeling such rage right now! I'm pretty sure we had a staff member who was mostly dedicated to help our richest board members get house seats to shows on Broadway and the West End. But I digress...)
The only black face in the audience seated at the conference table? The only person of color? The head of our education department, of course. My heart went out to her.
The cast sang a song from the show. They did it. And they brought it. Because they were and are professionals. And the very pillars of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion reverberated down to the parking lot. It was breathtaking.
And I had just been complicit in the remaking of a scene for the millionth time: black bodies and voices entertaining white audiences, an institution raising money on the backs and voices of black bodies.
I was too mortified to apologize to our writer and to our cast, none of whom, I should add, expressed even an iota of discomfort. They were professionals, and they shone. And come to think of it, they'd probably all become accustomed to this scene. "It's just how theater works," they might have thought with a shrug of their shoulders. Or maybe they seethed inside, for the millionth time, when all they were trying to do is workshop a new musical.
Well, I apologize sincerely now to our writer and those actors. I wish I had had the courage to put my foot down. It is not how theater should work.
I quit the American theater on Valentine's Day 2016, so I've been out more than four years now. And honestly I don't plan to return, which is why I can write with such candor.
The heart of the problem, my friends, is with the non-profit structure, which is capitalism on steroids. Who are the bosses ultimately in an American institutional theater? The board of directors. Who are the board of directors? For the most part, those members of the community not with the strongest attachment to the art form but those with the deepest pockets. Often they're really not members of the community. They often just drop in. They are sometimes mere tourists.
It's no wonder that that board meeting was held in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The theater, like most American theaters, had built its board of directors on the old opera model: You get the richest folks together, offer them galas and house seats and receptions and private recitals and showings (for which artists often don't get paid extra, mind you), you pamper them and make them feel more special and entitled than they already do, and then they'll write you big checks to support the kind of art they like, the kind of art they can bring their kids and grandkids to. AND they--not the artists, not the community--get to hire the institution's leadership.
It is a rotten model. Rotten to the core. How can any artistic institution claim to be working for and in the community with that model?
It's got to be torn down. It's got to be reinvented. And I have no idea what the next model will be. I really don't. And no, honestly I don't think government is the solution frankly. Some of the most bloated, self-satisfied, decadent theater I've ever seen was in Germany, where it was almost fully government-funded. Lots of bells and whistles and provocations and completely soul-dead.
I see amazing and galvanizing lists of demands recently being made and posted by theater artists of color. These are vital demands. But they don't address the central issue. As long as the ultimate bosses of an artistic institution remain the community's deepest pockets, nothing will change. Nothing. You'll be putting band-aids on a gaping wound. Sorry, but it's true.
So please figure something else out. Maybe for a few years you just avoid the institutions. You've already started. In the pandemic, so many of you are making amazing art without an institution. Find those who truly adore your work and ask them to fund it. Screw non-profit. Form a corporation and value your art art-making as a resource that profits you, your viewers/audience and your community. I have no idea.
But please don't return to a new version of the old. After the virus, after he's out of office, after police reform and nationwide conversations about race, after, after, after, begin something new. I can't wait to see what it is!”
Words: Pier Carlo Talenti
Video: Griffin Matthews
April Yvette Thompson