Thank You, 10 is an interview series brought to you by Audition Cat, an upcoming app with career management tools for the professional auditioning performer. Each article interviews an industry professional with a different experience and opinion about what the future of auditioning looks like. Through these conversations, we hope an image will appear about what’s next for the industry, and what it aspires to be. Have someone you’d like to be considered for an interview? Reach out to us Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
Reggie D. White
Links to Reggie’s work:
Lessons in Survival (now streaming through The Vineyard Theatre until June 2021)
The Inheritance (Broadway)
Lessons In Survival (The Vineyard Theatre)
Hundred Days (NYTW)
Getting to Know You
Who are you? What’s your artistic background / what started your journey into the arts?
Hi, my name is Reggie D White and I’m an actor, educator, director…I do a bunch of art s**t. I used to act when I was a kid and started doing it professionally just after college. I think at some point I always expected to quit theatre and start a “real” career, but in my mid-twenties, I realized that this was the only thing that made me feel whole.
WE KNOW, asking a follow-up on the very first question, but this is something we hear from artists constantly. When you were younger, what spoken or unspoken things in society taught you that theatre wasn’t a “real” career?
I think there’s a lot of mystery behind arts careers, and coming from a family that really believed in my intelligence and wanted me to pursue law or medicine, they wanted me to find a career path that would be financially stable. I also grew up in a family with people who were musically gifted but never chose to follow those gifts into a career path, and instead chose more practical paths. Luckily I experienced a decent amount of success early on, and they never (at least outwardly) encouraged me to find another path.
When did you set out on your current career path?
I did theater in college, and almost immediately started working in the Bay Area doing non-equity Children’s Theater and Community Theater, and one thing led to another. I’ve always been really passionate and when I started working, I just threw myself fully into theater-making and here I am.
What is your “mission statement” as an arts professional? What drives you to continue in this industry?
I’ve never really been super successful at creating succinct mission statements without a ton of outside help, but, to me, the how and the why of what you’re doing is just as important as the what, or the where, or with whom, or for how much. The work has to have a point of view and it must be created collaboratively, respectfully and responsibly. I also made a promise to myself 5 years ago to never show up as anything less than my full self. So after years of making myself acceptable and palatable to others, I make a point to show up in any space as my fully black, fully queer, fully enthusiastic, fully passionate, fully inquisitive, fully politically revolutionary self. I also fundamentally believe that artists are craftspeople, not hobbyists and should be compensated for all work with a living wage. And I keep at that work, because there’s clearly a lot still left to do.
Within your artistic profession, what other industry roles do you work with most closely?
I primarily identify as an actor/singer/I can do “principal” movement (don’t ask me to tap), but I also direct, and I feel very passionate about my work as an educator. I tried to costume design a show in college, and I almost lost all my friends. The theatre community provides so many opportunities for symbiotic interdependence. We’re all connected – freelance artists and general managers are good friends, deckhands and Development Managers go out for drinks – it’s why I love what we do. We all depend on each other.
What do you wish was more widely understood about your profession?
There are a lot of misconceptions about the relative visibility of theatre artists, most particularly how that, often ubiquitous, visibility can be deployed to craft a presupposition of financial security, but freelance theatre artists have almost no financial infrastructure. Even the ones who are “always working.” In nearly every industry, at almost every level, there are benefits and protections and a relatively transparent advancement structure. Sure, we have unions that protect us on the job and provide healthcare and pension, but unless you’re on a Commercial theatre contract, the only vacation you’ll ever take is an unpaid one. I wish people better understood how much work it takes to make a living as an artist – even if you work all 52 weeks in a year. And let’s not talk about the necessary chore of hunting down and making sense of the dozens of W2 and 1099s every January.
Auditions and You
In your experience, what is the most common pitfall that actors make with auditions?
I think the biggest mistake people make in auditions, is trying to hide inside of the material. If you don’t bring the fullness of yourself to whatever you’re sharing, it’s never going to shine as brightly as it can. There’s no such thing as THE perfect performance of a monologue or a scene – ESPECIALLY in an audition. Do your best rendition of your interpretation of the role. Make it impossible for them to imagine their show or their program without your intelligence, your talent, without your unique point of view.
Let’s talk about self-tapes! Self-tapes have become more and more common for auditioning actors, even more so during the pandemic. What do you like about self-tapes? What do you dislike about them?
I mean, self-tapes are great. No commute, no freaking out if they’re running 15 minutes behind and you need to get back to work in 10 minutes. It also takes all of that kind of holding room jockeying completely out of the picture, which sets you up to do your best work, because you’re not worried about the person who just came out who had them cackling with laughter, or the person after you who you JUST saw in that movie. I think one of the things that’s frustrating about self-tapes is you don’t get immediate, in the room, feedback, which I really miss about auditioning, because you get to go into a room and create something ephemeral – even if only for an audition you never book. That part is really special and I can’t wait until we get to do that again.
As self-tapes become more and more prevalent in the industry, for your profession, what are the main differences between in-person and virtual auditions? What advice do you have for actors who have less experience with virtual auditions?
A live interview or audition (even a virtual one) is always going to feel more satisfying than a self-tape. We never make our work in a vacuum anyway, so even though you might potentially have to worry about things like a lag in your internet connection, the ultimate benefit of being able to be in conversation in the room feels more useful than nailing a perfect take at a scene. If you’re going in for a virtual audition, just make sure they get a real sense of who you are as a human – just like in your acting work, show up as your whole self and fully demonstrate what you have to offer the program or the piece.
If there was one piece of advice you’d give to any actor right before an audition or recording a self-tape, what would it be?
“Perfect” doesn’t exist. The purpose of an audition is to find the actor you’re most excited to work with so, be the best you and trust that that’s enough. Also, it goes without saying, that you can’t be your best if you’re not fully prepared.
How do you expand your “network”? When you interact with a performer for the first time, what inspires you, and what are you looking for in this initial interaction/audition to convince you to bring them back?
I’ve never really thought about that question in that way before. I guess with all the hats I wear, my networks expand fairly organically. If a student is auditioning for me, I try really hard to not let them walk out of the room without getting a sense of why they want to be an artist. It’s not enough to like acting or performing. I want to know why the craft matters to you. And more importantly, what you plan to do with your training.
Looking to the Future
What excites you about the future of the arts and auditioning in particular? What are your concerns?
I think I’m most excited by the fact that when the theater comes back to the version that we remember, there are going to be a lot of stories to tell. I hope the necessary covid precautions force us to examine all the structures in our industry that never worked and imagine new, more equitable possibilities.
Post-Pandemic, how prevalent do you think virtual auditions will be / what role will they play in the day-to-day casting process? Are there aspects of virtual auditions you’ve found that you prefer
I’m really excited that people have finally discovered how efficient virtual work can be. I really miss being in the room in person, but I hope we don’t lose virtual auditioning entirely. Obviously, there are limitations, but it’s been amazing to have zero commutes.
Self Tape setups are a financial and technical obstacle for many in our industry. For those who either can’t afford or don’t feel confident in the technical knowledge to use self-tape equipment, what advice can you offer to give them the best audition?
Get creative and lean on your network. If you’ve got a friend with an amazing self-tape setup, offer to help read with them or work on your tapes together. Build book towers to balance your phone. Take the shades off of a lamp to get more light. I’ve done it all. Just make sure the work is your best and that they can see and hear you.
If you could rebuild the audition process however you’d want, what would it look like?
I wish there was better communication between casting offices and artists and greater transparency across the field.
What would better communication/transparency look like to you?
I think that’s hard to say, especially not being in the casting business, but I do think a paradigm shift needs to occur so actors aren’t treated like Casting Offices are doing them a favor by seeing them.
The arts industry has inherent barriers to entry including but not exclusively race, socioeconomic status/background, gender, disability, and more. How do you think the industry should evolve to make it a more accessible, equitable, and intersectional space for all? Especially how can we apply this to the audition process?
Collective liberation is the ultimate goal. And that cannot happen in this hyper-cannibalistic capitalist structure we live in today. If it’s too difficult for dedicated, passionate, talented artists to succeed, your system doesn’t work and we’ve got to keep reimagining it until it does. We’ve also got to make sure we’re not suffocating the art we make by creating that work in predominantly white, cis-het environments that force artists outside of that experience to flatten their work in the name of things like “legibility” or “universality.” We put humans on the moon, we can create just structures and systems that don’t drive or keep anyone out of the arts.
Where do you think this starts? Is it our responsibility as artists to create art that builds these systems intrinsically? Or do you think that it requires the institutions to make the first step?
As the institutions have funding and infrastructure, it should be their responsibility to look at the landscape and figure out how more people can be engaged in the field – giving artists with institutional affiliations the opportunity to contribute to those conversations.