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.

Rachel Reiss, CSA

Pronouns: She/Her

Occupation: Senior Casting Director at Liz Lewis Casting Partners, Secretary of CSA’s New York Board of Governors and chair of the CSA Tech Committee

Links to Rachel’s work:  

www.lizlewis.com

Rachel Reiss on Facebook

@rachelreiss on Instagram

Credits:

2019 Heller Award Winner for Best Northeast Voice Over and Commercial Casting

(Most recent) King of Knives, Painter

 

Getting to Know You

Who are you? What’s your artistic background / what started your journey into the arts?

My name is Rachel Reiss and I’m a Senior Casting director at Liz Lewis Casting Partners, on the NY Board of Governors for the Casting Society of America, and Chair of the CSA Tech Committee. I was a total theater kid growing up. I attended a performing arts school and saw as many Broadway shows as I could. Though growing up with parents who were lawyers, I always had a logical side of my brain that wanted to put the pieces together behind the scenes. I realized during high school that I found more gratification in being a part of putting the full production together than just being on stage.

When did you set out on your current career path?

I fell into casting very early. I was home for the summer after my freshman year of college and was looking through all of my favorite Playbills. I kept seeing the same company listed under casting. This was before casting was a known career (before the American Idol days). So not knowing much about what casting was, I called the office, asked if they needed help for the summer, interviewed the next day, and started interning the following day. I spent time exploring other professions in entertainment, but knew pretty quickly that I had already found the career for me.

What is your “mission statement” as an arts professional? What drives you to continue in this industry?

I love bringing a creative’s vision to life. Members of a production have different ideas of how they see the final product. So I love materializing that while mediating those different ideas.

Within your artistic profession, what other industry roles do you work with most closely?

I love bringing a creative’s vision to life. Members of a production have different ideas of how they see the final product. So I love materializing that while mediating those different ideas.

What do you wish was more widely understood about your profession?

I’ve found that many don’t understand the role of casting. Our job is to find the best talent for a project regardless of where that person comes from. We do not represent talent (at least in the major markets) and we don’t benefit financially from talent. And most importantly, we genuinely want all talent to succeed. The better the talent looks, the better we look. So we are rooting for every single actor that auditions for us. We are the middleman between talent and production, so we are advocating for both sides of the production.

Auditions and You

In your experience, what is the most common pitfall that actors make with auditions?

I think the audition is built up to be a high stakes scary one-shot only event. But I encourage actors to try to reframe that perspective. You love to act, that is why you are an actor. In an audition, you get to act, play, and be directed by someone who really wants you to succeed. And if you are not right for one project, we will keep you in mind for another. Actors who are less fearful in the audition room, are more likely to be the ones who keep getting called in.

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 love that I can now see actors from all over the world. While I did this beforehand, quarantine has scattered everyone and made “local” artists more accessible. I am personally not a risk taker, so the idea that actors had to take a huge financial risk to move to NY or LA to be considered for a role pulled at my heartstrings. But now with self-tapes, there are fewer barriers to entry. I also love that it encourages talent to do multiple takes and watch their work. That is a wonderful way to learn and improve your craft. Though I hate that actors are now being asked to not just act, but produce, light, sound design, set design, etc. etc. As casting, we want you to focus on what you do best – act.

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?

Hard wire in your Internet!! Even if your Wi-Fi is good, it will most likely fail when you need it most. This gives you another level of security. The main difference between in-person and virtual casting is the chemistry. You will never be able to match the relationship building and chemistry you feel in the same room whether that is with casting, other actors, or with the production team. That is one of the greatest joys of casting, and why I love it so much. So I don’t think in-person will go away for that reason. But in the meantime, you don’t have to worry about gas, parking, subway, etc.

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?

HAVE FUN! We want you to be the best person we’ve seen all day. Truly.

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?

These both may sound redundant, but I’m looking for actors who are excited to be there, and approach the audition as a time to play, experiment and take direction. Also, I know so many professionals say this, but it’s true – strong choices. Even if those choices are wrong, it shows me you took the material, thought about it, and brought your unique perspective to the role. Again, even if it’s wrong, I am curious to see what you will do next.

Looking to the Future

What excites you about the future of the arts and auditioning in particular? What are your concerns?

I’m excited about the innovations in technology to improve the auditioning experience both on the casting and actor accessibility side. What concerns me, besides actors feeling like they need to produce, is that there will always be a socioeconomic barrier. As long as tech relies on the Internet, computers, phones, etc., there will be talented people who aren’t able to access this world easily. I am also so sad for all of the casting studios that are struggling or have gone under.

Have you thought about ways of combating this in your own work? Are there ways you see that Casting can help to open these barriers as much as possible?

Great question. In terms of actors feeling like they need to be producers, that is something I am actively trying to combat. In fact, stay tuned for a CSA panel that is in the works that will tackle this topic specifically. As for the socioeconomic issue, that is a tougher issue, especially as we live in a world where we rely on those same devices just to connect to one another. But I am trying to combat it in the small ways I can day to day. Whether that means managing client expectations so that talent can be on an even playing field with one another regardless of their setup/tech capabilities, having conversations with colleagues about the talents’ tech challenges that some casting professionals may not be aware of, speaking with casting platforms about these concerns, and devoting extra time to talent who may need the extra guidance and troubleshooting. But there is always more to be done and I’ll actively be looking for more ways to help.

 

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?

Virtual auditions/self-tapes were common before the pandemic, and increasingly so. The pandemic just expedited the upswing. I believe virtual auditions will continue after this for initial auditions/prescreens. But I think callbacks/chemistry reads will return to in-person once it is safe to do so.

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?

If you are a SAG member, they are offering their members help in this area. Their on-camera lab will zoom with you, be your reader, help with the upload, etc. If you are not a SAG Member, talk to casting! We want to help you focus on the acting, so if you need help with the technical details, we want to help you!

If you could rebuild the audition process however you’d want, what would it look like?

Great question! I’d have to think about this in more depth, but it would be based around actors having access to breakdowns/auditions without having to pay for equipment, membership, etc. But when I figure it out, I’ll let you know!

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?

The more diverse storytelling and representation are, the more understanding and empathy our world will have. I’m really proud to be a member of CSA and involved with many of their awesome initiatives including open calls/classes for underrepresented artists, mentorships programs, training and education outreach to schools that are focused on uplifting underrepresented groups as well as educating students from a young age about what casting is, so that there is more diversity behind the table. There is more for me to do and learn to become a better ally, but as I do that, I will continue to advocate for diversity where I can in all areas of the industry. Casting is one part of the equation. So the more diversity there is in ALL of the roles of a production (both in front and behind the camera), the closer we will get to breaking down these barriers.

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.

Sammi Cannold

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Occupation: Theater and Film director

Link to Sammi’s work: www.sammicannold.com

Recent Press:

Playbill Feature – Dori Berinstein and Sammi Cannold at Work on Theatre Reopening Documentary, Featuring South Korea’s Phantom and More

Credits:

Forbes 30 Under 30 in Hollywood & Entertainment

Evita (New York City Center)

Ragtime (on Ellis Island)

 

Getting to Know You

Who are you? What’s your artistic background / what started your journey into the arts?

My name is Sammi Cannold and I’m a theater and film director. My journey into the arts started early as I was fortunate to grow up in a theater/film/tv family — my mom produces theater and directs film and my dad produces tv and film. So, I was always around storytelling and, in a way, it was expected that I would go into the ‘family business.’ That makes it sound a bit clinical though and really, I think I decided to go into the arts, because being around it so much as a kid, it was hard not to fall in love with stories and storytelling.

When did you set out on your current career path?

If I trace it back, I think it was when I was in a summer arts program in my town when I was 13 and we were doing a production of Joseph that I was in. The head of the arts program, who was also directing the production, had to be in too many places at once, so he would leave the room and when he did, would leave me in charge for reasons I still don’t know. So, I started telling the other kids where to go on stage and ultimately, he credited me as the director of the production and hired me the next two summers to ‘direct’ You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown and Annie. I don’t think it would be accurate to call that ‘directing’ necessarily and I’m sure whatever I did on all three shows was not particularly great, but it certainly gave me the idea early that directing was something that I could pursue and wanted to pursue. Ultimately, I didn’t seriously pursue it until I got to college and started directing for one of the student theater groups on my university’s campus.

What is your “mission statement” as an arts professional? What drives you to continue in this industry?

I don’t have a specific mission statement per se, but I guess I try to navigate everything from a place of passion for the work and wanting to make an impact. What that impact is can change from project-to-project: sometimes it’s about helping an audience work through something, sometimes it’s about inspiring an audience to action, etc., but I always try to make things that have an impact beyond my own artistic interests.

Within your artistic profession, what other industry roles do you work with most closely?

As a director, I feel so lucky in that I get to work with basically everyone! Directors touch almost every corner of a production, so I would wager that we get the most collaborators of any position other than perhaps the PSM. So it’s hard to say whom you end up working with most closely — sometimes it’s your leading actor, sometimes it’s the PSM, sometimes it’s the associate director, sometimes it’s a designer, sometimes it’s the music director, sometimes it’s the choreographer, sometimes it’s a producer, and so on. But most of the time, it’s all of the above and then some.

What do you wish was more widely understood about your profession?

Directing–particularly directing large-scale musicals–is so much about crisis management and problem solving. I say this mostly for people who are interested in pursuing careers in direction, because I think it catches a lot of us off-guard when we start helming larger productions. Yes, a lot of directing is about the art on stage and a lot of it is about leading a rehearsal process, but a massive percentage of it is being presented with problems and having to fix them. And these problems can range from having to make peace between two actors who don’t get along, to figuring out how to work with a designer who’s not meeting deadlines, to figuring out how to find a middle ground when your audience is complaining the theater is too cold and your actors are complaining that it’s too hot. And then because I work a lot in site-specific theater, I get thrown a lot of problems that are very idiosyncratic — i.e. we need to take a ferry boat to get to the performance site, but this musician has severe sea-sickness, etc. But I’ve come to actually love the problem-solving aspect of the job — it keeps you on your toes and is a bit like a detective game. I think learning to love the problem-solving and coming into the room every morning ready for problems to be thrown your way is the only way to really be happy in a job that’s so defined by constant curve-balls.

Do you have any problems that come up consistently in your work on every or most projects? If yes, do you think the issue is systemic or something else?

Not really. Because every project is so different and has such a different slate of challenges. I’d say, in terms of broad categories — time management and the balance between art and commerce are always major areas of focus — not necessarily problems — but challenges.

Auditions and You

In your experience, what is the most common pitfall that actors make with auditions?

This is a very specific one, but it’s one I notice all the time: actors not having comprehensive books. I tend to understand if an actor is not as prepared as I’d hope they’d be on material provided by the creative team, because oftentimes, there are unrealistic preparation periods, massive amounts of material given, or extenuating circumstances in an actor’s life (including other auditions and callbacks or rehearsals/show schedules) — I always trying to remember that actors are not being paid to audition, so while they’re trying to put themselves in the best possible light, sometimes that’s harder than at other times.

That said, every auditioning musical theater actor can and should have a comprehensive book, because that preparation can happen outside of audition and callback timelines and is evergreen/helps in any situation. So often in auditions, I’ll ask an actor if they have something ‘more pop-y’ or ‘more legit’ in their books and the answer will be no. In that case, they’re shooting themself in the foot, because those questions are fairly standard and easy to prepare for. And I’m only asking them in hopes of helping the actor try to show a side of themself that I believe they have in them and would help them get the role, but they haven’t yet shown.

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 like that self-tapes can open up an audition process to actors from anywhere. On Evita at City Center, we had actors sending in tapes from many different countries in South America and Europe and it was so exciting to be able to widen our search beyond whoever was able to physically be in New York.

That said, I don’t like that self-tapes create a situation in which an actor can obsess over and tailor their performance so that we’re only seeing what they think we should see. There’s something really wonderfully raw about being in the room with an auditioning actor — and I don’t mean that in the sense of catching their mistakes. More the opposite — that you find beautiful things in a performance when it’s not manufactured and on top of that, you learn a lot about a person both from how they perform when put on the spot and also how they operate in a room/when speaking directly to you vs. through a screen.

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?

I think the difference is fairly straightforward: you don’t get to make a connection with the actor and vice versa — the actor doesn’t get to make a connection with you. Unless it’s over Zoom instead of self-tapes, I suppose, but I’ve only ever done that once and it was tricky because of a poor connection and whatnot.

In terms of advice, I guess I’d say — don’t let the fact that you’re doing this digitally flatten the more personal aspects of how you’d normally audition. If you’re someone who normally comes into the audition room with a lot of warmth, for example, bring that with you into the virtual audition room as well. We so badly want to know who you are and what makes you special and the virtual space can really make that tricky if you approach it too clinically.

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?

“Hang on tightly, let go lightly.” That’s not mine — it’s Anne Bogart’s theory that she talks about a lot in relation to directing, but I think it applies really nicely to auditioning as well. Come into the room holding tight to the choices you’ve decided you’re going to make with your material and being ready to make those choices with confidence and commitment, BUT also, be ready for something that the creative team or casting director says to cause you to let go lightly of the choices you’ve made. I find it most impressive and most telling in terms of providing intel on an actor’s dexterity when they can flip on a dime in an audition and make a completely different choice than the one they came in with.

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?

It really depends on the show and the role. I think actors get tired of hearing that adage that we really are rooting for you when you come into the room and so desperately want you to be the right person, but it’s true!

I think I’m often also surprised by who the right person is. I may go into an audition room with a certain conception of who I’m looking for and then someone will come and knock the socks off their audition and totally change that. So, sometimes it’s that they sang the material in an extraordinary way I’d never heard before, sometimes it’s that they had a take on the character that made it fresh and interesting, and so on.

I think also something that a lot of early-career actors usually don’t know is — if you’re auditioning for the ensemble of a Broadway or Broadway-sized show, we’re almost always looking–usually predominantly except in dance calls–at whether or not you can cover a principal role or multiple principal roles. The web of coverage on a show of that size is so complex that the majority of the ensemble usually has to be able to go on for a principal. So, if you think you fit a certain principal role description, it helps to make choices in your audition that might help us to realize that.

Looking to the Future

What excites you about the future of the arts and auditioning in particular? What are your concerns?

I’m excited to get back, but concerned about so much! I’m majorly concerned about access, especially when it comes to auditioning. It was hard enough to get into the room before all this and now we’re facing a situation in which there will almost certainly be a whole new level of capacity limits in terms of who and how many people can be in the room — particularly for dance calls. So, I’m concerned about what that means for newcomers.

What do you think is the most likely outcome to address this? More dance calls? Shorter dance calls so more people can get seen?

It’s a great question and neither solution is ideal, because every call costs money and time and a shorter call could make it such that a dancer can’t fully demonstrate what they’re capable of or doesn’t get enough focus at the front of the room/the creative team doesn’t learn enough. I think the former is the lesser of two evils all things considered though. I hope someone somewhere has a third solution that magically solves it all.

 

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 think that virtual auditions will certainly be more prevalent, especially because so many members of our community have now spread out across the country and the world even. I hope that that will allow us to provide more access, but at the same time, I worry that it will become a crutch that will reduce our ability to be in the room with actors for that all important chemistry test — both for our benefit and for the actor’s benefit.

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?

I personally don’t really care about the aesthetic quality of one’s self-tape setup for exactly the reasons you mention. I think where it becomes tricky is in relation to sound; obviously, for singers, you want to make sure your voice sounds the same way it would in the room, and I know that can be pricey and tricky.

I think I’m probably not the right person to give advice on this as I’m not familiar with the ins and outs of a self-tape setup, but I guess from a practical perspective, I’d suggest borrowing equipment from others to the extent possible if you feel yours isn’t going to put you in the best possible light.

If you could rebuild the audition process however you’d want, what would it look like?

One thing that I don’t like about the system is the practice of asking actors to prepare a lot of material and then only asking them to perform some of it. I understand why that happens — if a creative team learns what they need to learn on the first cut and time is tight, hearing the other two isn’t necessarily a productive use of time. But I think we have to ignore that impulse and always hear all the material, because I hate the idea of an actor preparing material and then us not honoring that preparation. So, I think we also need to think more critically about what sides we give an actor ahead of a callback so that we’re not claiming hours of their lives for nothing.

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?

I think this answer needs a whole novel written in response to it — and not by me! But because I’m in a position of power by virtue of being a director who hires people, it is something I think about a lot, particularly this year. So, I’ll answer specifically in relation to the audition process.

I’d say most importantly — I think we need to open up the pool. The oft-heard ‘well we didn’t cast an actor of color, because no actors of color came in’ just doesn’t fly. It is incumbent on us–those with hiring power–to do the outreach to the performers and communities that we are hoping to see in our rooms, because in many cases, they have received the message time and again that our rooms are not places that are welcoming to them. It’s our job–not theirs–to change that.

Do you have any changes you plan on implementing in your own process that might help other directors on that path?

Yes! I’ve been thinking a lot about putting the onus on myself to get to know actors beyond those who are making it into the audition room — by seeing more work in educational settings, seeing more work outside of New York City, keeping an eye out for actors who are putting out their own work online, etc. And then on a project-by-project basis, working with paid consultants or specifically chosen casting directors who are familiar with amazing performers who don’t get called in as much as they should.

 

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.

Heidi Marshall

Pronouns: She/Hers

Occupation: Director, Independent Filmmaker, Acting Coach, Teacher

Link to Heidi’s work: 

www.heidimarshall.com

Credits:

MUSCLE: Short of the Week

Upcoming Feature: American Bubble

Getting to Know You

Who are you? What’s your artistic background / what started your journey into the arts?

*Heidi provided her bio from her website*

After studying at Carnegie Mellon University and Pittsburgh Filmmakers, Heidi initiated and received the first directing internship at Humana Play Festival at Actors Theater of Louisville. Here, she directed Balm in Gilead and assisted John Jory, Anne Bogart, Tina Landau, and Lisa Peterson.

Heidi then completed a fellowship through The Drama League and headed to New York City, where she began working as an assistant for Bernie Telsey’s casting office. It was an “accidental” stopover in her 20s that led to a career launch: her first casting project was RENT. In the midst of RENT’s explosion into mega-hit status, Heidi became the show’s lead Casting Director—for seven years, she found and developed talent for its Broadway casts and national/international tours. Heidi also served as Casting Director for Baz Luhrmann’s La Bohème on Broadway for which the rotating cast all won a TONY Award for Excellence in Theater.

Baz’s artist mentorship led to a shift away from casting; Heidi was then hired as Resident Director on La Bohème, which had a critically acclaimed Broadway run. She later directed La Bohème for Baz at the Ahmanson Theater in LA.

Her work as a director continued when she was selected for the prestigious American Film Institute’s Directing Workshop for Women.

She returned to Broadway as an acting coach for The Color Purple and worked with Fantasia, Chaka Khan, and Bebe Winans. She also served as an Associate Director for The Adamms Family musical from development through opening night.

Today, Heidi’s directing experience spans film, television, documentary, theatrical events, regional theater, off-Broadway, and Broadway.

Her film Muscle has won 7 awards and has played at over 30 festivals worldwide, including Oscar-qualifying fests. She continues to work as a director, independent filmmaker, acting coach, and teacher.

Heidi actively champions inclusivity in front of and behind the camera. Over 4,000 actors have been taught and coached through her private studio in the past 20 years. She  purposefully surrounds herself with passionate actors, collaborative filmmakers, theater lovers, and driven artists who care about Community

What is your “mission statement” as an arts professional? What drives you to continue in this industry?

To encourage artists to find their confidence and trust what each unique person brings to their art.

Within your artistic profession, what other industry roles do you work with most closely?

Filmmakers

What do you wish was more widely understood about your profession?

Acting coaches and teachers put the actor first.

Auditions and You

In your experience, what is the most common pitfall that actors make with auditions?

Not taking time to prepare the material. Self-sabotaging before the actual audition by taking prep shortcuts (especially in text analysis, running the scene with another person, setting up self tape space).

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?

Like. Actor gets to work on the material in their own time and space. No commuting for everyone so there’s less inconvenience in everyday life.

Not like. Magic happens in the room. People don’t get to know each other as easily. It’s generally easier to read a personality in person.

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?

Hard to simplify my answers because I spend extensive time analyzing this in classes and coaching! I’d say the main differences are above.

Advice. Practice practice practice. Invest in a light and a background and get practicing. Prep. Film. Watch. Repeat.

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?

Make sure we can hear and see you! And then make eye contact with your scene partner off-camera. Play all of your focus to that other character. It will anchor you!

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?

Word of mouth. I trust that amazing people lead me to amazing people.

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?

They’re prepped which shows their commitment. They’re into the work and love to play and change it up and keep discovering nuances. I love actors that are like shifting sands moment to moment. Always in flow.

Looking to the Future

What excites you about the future of the arts and auditioning in particular?

Actors are becoming more and more empowered every moment. They’re creating shows. They’re having a say in what stories and characters are represented.

What are your concerns?

I would like to see funding for the arts taken seriously in our country. Hopefully, the pandemic is bringing light to how the arts bring valuable and necessary culture and income to communities! We need to subsidize American artists in significant ways so that they can have resources to sustain their families and survive reasonably. Rarely, even before the pandemic, can artists make a living as full-time artists. Gone are the days of making a living in NYC from only theater (Broadway and Off-Broadway). The cost of living in a metropolis and solely being an artist/actor is a huge and often impossible challenge. Generally, being an actor requires outside income for any real sustainability. How can our government support the arts? I think the content created from artist commissions would be an incredible burst of expression and development in the arts.

 

Post-Pandemic, how prevalent do you think virtual auditions will be / what role will they play in the day-to-day casting process? 

They will never go away. Here to stay. Already was happening. But now producers are justified in not needing to fly an actor in for a callback. It’s also just easier to see more people now. So probably more auditions will be available to more people.

Are there aspects of virtual auditions you’ve found that you prefer?

It’s finally causing the self-awareness of working the camera frame for the actor. Now they’re getting it!

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?

I’ve got blogs on this! So I’d tell folks to Google and read tons of tips online.

And. Team up with others! Share resources! Equipment and being readers for each other!

Then. Start with a blank wall. Save for a light or rig the best strongest light sources you can! And use natural light from windows! Then. Save for a good smart phone with great camera and sound and the rest will be solid.

If you could rebuild the audition process however you’d want, what would it look like?

No clue. I’m too entrenched in it to have an outside eye???

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?

It all goes back to the stories being told. So I pass this to the writers and the ones making decisions about which projects to fund and distribute.

Especially how can we apply this to the audition process?

Actors, don’t wait for the perfect role to come to you. Generate it.

 

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.

Dominque Kelley

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Occupation: Choreographer/ Dancer

Link to Dominique’s work: 

Dominique’s Choreography Reel

Credits:

Choreographer for Mariah Carey’s “Magical Christmas Special”

Choreographer for DCPA’s “Oklahoma!”

Choreographer for “Masked Singer”

 

Getting to Know You

Who are you? What’s your artistic background / what started your journey into the arts?

My name is Dominique Kelley, originally from Bridgeport, CT, and I’m a choreographer, dancer, educator, and consultant. I played basketball, football, tee-ball, went to the museum weekly, but nothing held my attention like dance. My earliest memory of dance infatuation was trying to learn Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video but being horrified by the zombie and werewolf transformations. My mother told me I would take my arm and block out the top of their bodies from view so I wouldn’t see their faces but still try to learn the choreography to the best of my ability.

When did you set out on your current career path?

I was discovered by Savion Glover and Dianne Walker when I was 12 years old. My mother “encouraged” me to bring my tap shoes to their performance and pulled some strings so I could show them my steps. Shortly after, they sent out an APB to all the dance competitions in my area and located me through one of my dance teachers at the time, Liza Minelli. I auditioned and booked my first job doing the European tour of “Black and Blue”, thus starting my dance career.

What is your “mission statement” as an arts professional? What drives you to continue in this industry?

My mission statement is “train it until you gain it” instead of “fake it ‘til you make it”. I love to train in many different genres of dance and inspire others to keep learning and research as many aspects of the business as possible. My goal is to empower others to enter the industry as prepared as possible while feeling empowered to maintain their artistic point of view.

Within your artistic profession, what other industry roles do you work with most closely?

I love working with non-dancers. Whether actors, recording artists, athletes, or even the laymen: I enjoy translating pedestrian movement into dance pedagogy. I love educating educators also. My platform is inclusion and decentralizing white supremacy in dance as well as body positivity, mental health support, and body maintenance. Growing up, many trauma responses were “chalked up” to a rite of passage and I try my hardest to dispel that myth.

What do you wish was more widely understood about your profession?

Ironically, being a choreographer is the most competitive job in the world. There are few that can actually sustain a living from just choreographing alone. The pool of choreographers is soo small so whenever you do see someone who can thrive doing this profession deserves acclaim.

Auditions and You

In your experience, what is the most common pitfall that actors make with auditions?

The most common pitfall that actors make with auditions is a twofer for me. Preparation is key as well as being present in the moment. Memorizing sides, researching the role, warming up, arriving on time are all important to getting into the room with confidence. After you are inside, that’s where you have to drop into character and leave all the nerves outside. Sometimes, I love to give actors notes to see how they can modify their reading, abandoning all the things they’ve rehearsed before they got there.

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 love watching self-tapes because I see the best of the auditioner. One can look their best, sound their best, and do as many takes as necessary until one feels comfortable with the final product. I dislike not seeing the person in the room and getting a sense of their vibe and energy. You can’t get or give immediate feedback nor get a sense of how quickly the actor can adapt to situations which can be a bummer.

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?

The advice I have for people who have less experience with virtual auditions is ask for help. Many tv/film/musical theater actors you’ve seen have gotten hired for work from a self-tape. In an ever-changing world that is becoming more and more technically advanced, don’t get left behind and lose out on work that you would be perfect for. If you are someone who likes to prepare and do it one time, then do that. Do a “one and done” and send that.. After making sure you’ve checked the frame and audio first of course.. haha.

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?

Breathe… literally breathe. Oxygenate your brain. Slow down your pulse. Take deep cleansing breaths. Quickly meditate and go for it.

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 only try to expand my network by being myself and having an honest, human interaction. Although it sounds cliche, asking people about themselves and finding common ground leads to better interactions instead of boasting, bragging, and “schmoozing”. We see right through it… And by we… I mean me… When I interact with a performer, I like honesty and confidence. Whether it’s a good day or a bad day, I love to know and see how it affects your performance and point of view in and out of the audition room.

Looking to the Future

What excites you about the future of the arts and auditioning in particular? What are your concerns?

What excites me about the future of auditions is the thought of it coming back. The pandemic has tested everyone’s patience and perseverance so the thought of a long audition process seems like a birthday party at the moment. The reservations I have about auditions in the future are fielding expectations, especially for people not computer savvy in front of and behind the camera.

 

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 believe we will keep the virtual audition process because now no one has to actually go into an office to hold the audition. Not only can people film from home but the creatives casting do not have to leave the luxury of their homes to hire talent. I enjoy virtual auditions because I can cut my audition time in half. When holding dance auditions, they can last 10 hrs. Virtually, I can take less time and get through more auditions.

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?

Use your cellphone. Find a clean wall behind you. Invest in a ring light with a stand if you don’t feel comfortable with someone in the room filming you. We can see through the environment if you give a riveting performance. Remember, we want you to be wonderful and get the job. We have the same goal… To hire you.

If you could rebuild the audition process however you’d want, what would it look like?

I would love to find more avenues to source marginalized communities into the room to be seen. It starts there.

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?

I believe we need to meet people where we are. I have no clue how to do so but I will support the cause wholeheartedly. As someone who was found by unconventional means, I’m all for it. The more the merrier. No actor left behind…

 

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.

Taibi Magar

Pronouns: She/Her

Occupation: Director, Cultural Worker

Link to Taibi’s work: 

An album of the songs from Capsule, a theatre-film that premiered at Under The Radar/The Public Theater, that I co-directed with my husband, Tyler Dobrowsky, and the incredible writer/performers Peter Mark Kendall and Whitney White. An album I co-conceived with Daniel and Patrick Lazour call Flap My Wings: Songs From We Live In Cairo. Coming up on April 15 – May 9, a theatre-film, of A Play For The Living In The Time of Extinction by Miranda Rose Hall, at Baltimore Center Stage.

Credits:

Underground Railroad Game (Ars Nova)

Is God Is (Soho Rep, 2018 Obie Award)

We Live In Cairo (A.R.T.)

Getting to Know You

Who are you? What’s your artistic background / what started your journey into the arts?

I’m the daughter of an immigrant. I’m an artist. And I’m a cultural worker. My parents were worried about me as a child, and their psychic suggested that “Taibi should get into theater.” Hilarious.

When did you set out on your current career path?

When I was 17 years old, my acting teacher told me I was a director. I visited his rehearsal room later that night, and there it was: the rest of my life.

What is your “mission statement” as an arts professional? What drives you to continue in this industry?

My work is deeply invested in the skill of Imagination. I believe this skill is the theatre’s incredible gift to culture and humanity because Imagination and Social Justice are deeply intertwined. We have to be able to imagine it in order to fight for it.

Within your artistic profession, what other industry roles do you work with most closely?

I teach directing for my alma mater, Brown/Trinity MFA Program. And since the pandemic, I have been co-producing with my husband and artistic partner, Tyler Dobrowsky.

What do you wish was more widely understood about your profession?

Just because us theater makers love what we do, does not mean it isn’t also a job. The theatre-industrial complex takes advantage of this in countless ways.

Auditions and You

In your experience, what is the most common pitfall that actors make with auditions?

Not even attempt to get off-book. When an actor is off-book I am naturally going to find them more engaging because I can see their face. Also, make physical choices! I want to be sure you will be collaborative in generating behavior with me.

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 find self-tapes are not as draining to watch as a full day of auditions. Probably just because of the amount of energy I/we give to make the actor feel comfortable (which I love to do, it just is kind of draining). But, it’s a double-sided coin, because you also don’t get that liveness, that sense of being that exists in the in-between moments of an audition.

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?

I think virtual auditions are really valuable because it really opens up the field. Actors do not have to be in the same city, or at a specific place at a specific date/time. As someone who does a lot of work with actors of color, this is really exciting. The only drawback is that because of the framing, and lack of space or adequate sound, I don’t think virtual auditions give you the truest sense of their physicality, how much space the actor is capable of taking up. My advice for those new to virtual auditioners? Commit! I think these things are sticking around. Get the equipment that helps you make it an easy process! Do a lot of them so you can get good at it! And lastly, for me as a director, really getting the maximum amount of body in your frame is helpful.

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?

Treat it like a rehearsal. A well-prepped rehearsal. I’m treating it like one, so you can too.

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 watch things! I go see a lot of shows, I watch as much TV/movies as I can. I keep my ears open when people talk about what they’ve seen, if they pull out a particular actor’s performance, I’ll look them up later. What inspires me? Performers inspire me when they have a point of view about the work and the world. I don’t consider actors blank slates, I don’t want them to be blank slates. I want the whole of their humanity brought to the table, what makes them giggle, what makes them enraged. I want to sense an honest connection between the performer and the material. I also wanna know you’re gonna fight for this character. There’s a great quote I use a lot from Anne Bogart: “The actor directs the character, the director directs the play.” I’m also just looking for someone who I can talk to and enjoy exchanging ideas with. We don’t get paid enough to not enjoy going to work.

Looking to the Future

What excites you about the future of the arts and auditioning in particular? What are your concerns?

I’m excited that because it is easier to submit (not limited by time or physical space) it might open the pool of actors more. However, because it’s easier to submit, I worry actors will be asked to audition more. I think actors should get paid to audition!

We really appreciate you bringing up this point. For performers there can be a lot of fear that if they turn down an audition they’ll never be asked again. In a world where actors are being asked to audition even more this could be exacerbated. In your experience is this something they should be worried about? How do you feel about performers turning down your auditions?

Oh, I don’t keep track of who turns down an audition. Sometimes I’m puzzled, if I really think the artist would be excited by the material. But I generally assume they have other things going on, or there are other offers on the table, or maybe they can’t afford to take a terrible paying off-Broadway contract. Maybe casting directors think about it differently than I do, but I certainly don’t hold it against an actor in the slightest.

 

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

They will be very prevalent. I predict most first rounds will be virtual/self-tapes. The things I prefer is that I can take breaks more often, and I can rewatch in order to give better notes for callbacks.

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?

All that technical gak helps, but the performance will shine through. Just get enough light on ya.

If you could rebuild the audition process however you’d want, what would it look like?

I think we would pay actors to audition! It’s a hell of a lot of work. I know the rationale is probably “well, people don’t get paid to apply for regular jobs” But we’re not regular jobs! And a regular employee doesn’t work in an industry where they have to get a new job every 2-3 months! I also wish the industry worked in a way where I could spend more time with actors. Unfortunately, as it stands, to make ends meet I’m usually running show to show and barely have time for auditions. It’s a lie to pretend we can get to know each other in 10 minutes.

That’s totally true. How do you personally get to know people, and folks you want to work with, without overextending yourself?

I call or write people they’ve worked with. I have to make sure it’s someone I trust, and someone who has worked with them extensively. Usually I try to make contact with a director, but otherwise. another actor or stage manager they’ve worked with. I also make sure to have time for conversation in the audition, it’s not much but you can get a little bit of a feel of who they are.

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?

We need casting directors of color. Lots of them. Lots and lots and lots of them. It’s the only way. And pay people to audition! Have I said that enough???

 

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.

Judy Bowman, CSA

photo credit Peter Hurley

Pronouns: She/Hers

Occupation: Casting Director, et al. (teacher, creative team member)

Links to Judy’s work:

www.judybowmancasting.com

IMDB Page

Credits:

“Big Dogs” season 1(Amazon)

“I’ll Be True”(upcoming feature film)

“A Matter of Choice” Off-Broadway, because it was a small production that launched a couple of great careers.

China Dreams: workshop with Stefani Kuo

Jess McLeod for the Kitchen Theatre Co/Ma-Yi Theater.

Hurricane Bianca (feature film)

 

Getting to Know You

Who are you? What’s your artistic background / what started your journey into the arts?

Judy Bowman, Casting Director. I Love new plays, old plays, indie films, great writing, all kinds of people doing all kinds of things. I was an actor as a young person and through college: very passionate about it. Eventually, I realized that I was equally excited by very talented people, and I was just as fulfilled by working with actors, directors and writers, as I was being on stage. I am glad I studied, though, and had those performance experiences. It helps me tremendously with my work in casting. I am also a proud Queer Woman, with North African and Lithuanian/Polish/Ukrainian Jewish Heritage. I identify as an American from the East Coast. I am a dog lover, and a whiskey drinker. I come from a family of immigrants who fled violence in their homelands to find freedom in Whales, South Africa and The U.S in the early 20th century. I support the Black Lives Matter movement and stopaapihate.org politically, emotionally, and financially, and will stand in front of and next to any human being who is threatened by injustice. My answers below, reflect my personal point of view and experiences, and no one else’s.

When did you set out on your current career path?

Upon graduating from Tufts University with a double major in Drama and Spanish, I began looking for work in the industry in New York. A friend of a friend notified me of an assistant job in a talent agency. My work there exposed me to Casting Directors and producers. I left the agency job and began freelancing with a few different casting offices. So, graduation 1992, Agency 1992, and Casting 1993 until now.

What is your “mission statement” as an arts professional? What drives you to continue in this industry?

My mission statement is, and has always been, to work on interesting and unique projects with a talented diverse team, and to bring actors of all backgrounds & qualities, with good skills, intelligence, and creativity to collaborate. I have been lucky enough to work in a way that I choose with all kinds of teams on all different projects. Most of my projects fit this criteria, and I understand exactly why they’ve approached me. I work extremely hard, and I am able to introduce directors and writers to artists who can realize their vision, challenge their preconceived notions, and elevate and/or complement the material. I love bringing people together. Often, the relationships that I have introduced lead to lifelong collaborations. Actors find artistic homes. Writers find theaters who want to continue to produce their work. It’s very satisfying and fun. I want my creative team to be excited and inspired, rather than anxious and frustrated, and looking at casting sessions with dread, lol. My early influences were working with Jose Rivera on his early plays, the Humana Festival, A.R.T, and I was able to explore those at INTAR & LAByrinth; the work I saw at Ma-Yi inspired me as well. These experiences fulfilled and reinforced my mission statement. I have always gravitated towards books and plays that are about a specific place in the world, or a piece that had all kinds of people in it. Playwrights like Naomi Iizuka, Mona Mansour, Rajiv Joseph, Dominique Morisseau, Stephen Adly Giurgis, Ayad Akhtar, Carlos Murillo: they knew that people from different communities or specific communities would understand their work and stories. At that time, this was spearheaded by the writers: the material had to be there, to dictate what the cast might look and feel like. INTAR and Ma-Yi had writers’ workshops that developed stories that were meaningful to them personally. This work that was written for, by, and about people from a part of world or a part of the country; this work and these writers were specifically supported and encouraged to develop the stories they wanted to tell. I wanted to connect performers with those writers, and provide a talent pool that could connect with them on a much deeper level.

Working with Cleveland Play House on “The Invisible Hand” with Pirronne Yousefzadeh; “The Convert”,  “Familiar”, and “An Octoroon”  at Woolly Mammoth;  working with Michael John Garcés (from INTAR, to Humana Festival, to Woolly Mammoth, Arizona–we’ve had a long collaboration!) , Chay Yew, Nataki Garrett–these are very meaningful experiences for me.   Recently, working on “Molly Sweeney” with Keen Company, casting a blind/low-vision actress in the lead role; this was very meaningful to me, to work on it, and see the production this way.   It’s been great to work with all communities and continue to get to know their members and cross-pollinate.  Getting to know more low-vision/blind performers allowed me to introduce them to other projects that were not specifically written for someone like them.   If someone comes to me, they tend to know what my mission is, and that they are going to get a casting session full of all kinds of actors, some of which they may not have had access to in the past.

Within your artistic profession, what other industry roles do you work with most closely?

Producers, writers, directors, Artistic Directors. Agents, and actors.

What do you wish was more widely understood about your profession?

Casting Directors are hired because a creative team does not know–or cannot access–talent on their own. We should be thought of like a set or costume designer. We are skilled, creative, and should be included and utilized to the fullest. There are times we are looked at as an Admin, just here to set up appointments from a list that magically appears, and that is obviously not what we are trained to do, nor is it satisfying or the best use of our skills. One of our inside jokes: We are the first person to be thought of, and the first person they forget. From invitations to the first rehearsal, to being left out of the program, there are times that we feel like once the actors are hired, we cease to exist. I have had many good experiences, but the timing of our work in pre-production creates a feeling that no one remembers how the actors got into the project. As for actors, I think performers do understand our profession. But because we intersect with so many different aspects of the industry, they sometimes forget that we are part of the design team, hired to do a job. I take a lot of chances in casting, but sometimes we cannot. We might have 1 casting day to set multiple roles, and have to whittle down our choices. These limits are dictated by the budget of the production, or the time the director has to see people. While we often create a huge opportunity for actors, we must also provide a selection of talent that is in line with what has been discussed in our creative conversations. The limits of age ranges and skill requirements; these must be taken into consideration. While we have some creative leeway, we are indeed being hired to provide what has been discussed. We do not make the final decision about who is cast. Sometimes we have a lot of influence, and other times, no. Perhaps a more compassionate understanding of each others’ hardships, goals, and obstacles would be something to strive for? I read some Facebook posts from actors who’ve had bad experiences in their day-to-day auditioning. I always give those a hard “think” about how that could have been avoided, if that has ever happened in my sessions: always to take into consideration what it’s like in someone else’s shoes. Casting Directors also have challenges to navigate: a very shy director who doesn’t give adjustments, a difficult creative team, an anxious or inexperienced writer, or relationships between the team that are tense. If we are able to understand each other’s jobs, that might lead to empathy on both sides. There are times I’ve felt that actors are mostly concerned with me helping them to get an agent, rather than what I might offer them in advice or conversation. There are times I feel like my side job is to help actors get an agent. I understand why they ask me, but it’s not always possible and I’d rather give advice about Casting. As for laypeople understanding us, I often have to explain the difference between a Talent Agent and a Casting Director. We do different jobs, though we work together very closely.

Auditions and You

In your experience, what is the most common pitfall that actors make with auditions?

Don’t give a “general”, “middle-of-the-road” read. Make choices that show your intelligence, creativity, personality and soul. The level of competition is high; treat it like a callback. Know that you need to do more than just walk through it. Actors who consistently do well are those that come in with a Point of View. Their preparation includes thought: not just memorization or making it all seem logical. They add to it. Musicians don’t just play a piece perfectly: they use artistic interpretation and add character to the piece. That is artistry and showing that you are a creative, thinking individual. If directors don’t like that, then maybe you don’t want to work with those directors. I sure don’t. We want each actor to interpret and digest and show us something unique. 2. Don’t apologize for your choices before you make them, or ask too much permission. You have agency and dignity to show us your best with confidence. If you have a question, ask the Casting Director outside the room: very often we have a good answer for you, or will say, “Ask the writer or director in the room”: your question might be the same question every actor has asked, indicating some confusion in the material. Let us help you. 3. If you are having problems, tell us what those are before you come in the room. If you haven’t been able to prepare or you are running late to see us, or you weren’t able to read the script due to extenuating circumstances, it’s always better to tell us outside the audition room so we can help you. Sometimes we can bring you in on a different day or give you some guidance. 3. When you finish your audition, try to project the fact that you will be a good person to work with. Say goodbye in a professional way, the way you would leave a job interview.

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?

It’s most important that we see you and hear you. Your reader should be helpful: not louder than you, or distracting. Most actors should be comfortable with tapes by now–we were using them before the pandemic. If you’d be happy sending your tape to HBO or Lincoln Center or Broadway, then your tape is probably pretty good. Feel free to send 2 takes of 1 side, if you want to offer a wider shot, or another choice, especially if it’s a theater audition. The Team might not need to watch both takes, but at least they have the option. If you self-adjust, they might not need to do so much work in the callback, and it puts you ahead of those actors who only did 1 take.

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?

There is no substitute for in-person auditions. I have worked on projects that have used self-tapes auditions and callbacks on Zoom, but there is still nothing like being in the room together, where you can look each other in the eye. Or shake hands, and have a real-time interaction. It becomes very clear when an actor is uncomfortable in a Zoom audition. Practice makes perfect, and you will learn how to appear at ease, know where to ‘look’, and how to navigate those conversations, even on Zoom. Practice with your friends, record the Zoom, and watch it back. It should be very obvious where there is room for improvement. Once you figure out the tricks of it, and establish a routine, it will seem as comfortable as an audition in the room–IF those are comfortable at all! Lol.

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?

Make a plan. Have a road map. Think about how you might train for playing an instrument, or a softball game. You practice, and then in the game, you try to relax and focus and do what you did in practice. If you’re taping, do all your preparation, rehearse it, and record. WATCH IT AFTERWARDS. Think, “would I hire this person? Is the performance level strong enough? Would I definitely need a callback after seeing this person? What questions does my performance provoke? About the work, and about me?” So, prepare, and evaluate yourself. After every audition, think–while the experience is fresh–what would I do in the callback, if I get one? Make a few notes about the experience, what the director said in the room, and if the CD gave you any notes for your callback. If there are no notes from the CD, then you have your remembrance from the audition written down, and your goals to expand on that and evolve what you already did.

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 love seeing work in different spaces with different companies. I watch a ton of tv and film, and work with a lot of emerging writers and directors. I meet some actors in a teaching exchange or in a showcase. I am also open to recommendations. Some of my creative team have introduced me to actors I didn’t know before, by requesting that they are added to the session. Certainly the conservatory showcases are helpful to meet who’s coming out of those programs. The most fun for me, though, is to meet new actors in auditions. I don’t bring in the same group of actors for everything, so I meet new people all the time. When I was coming up, there was a Casting professional who said he was only interested in actors who’d been on Broadway. I responded in the opposite way: I like to meet actors BEFORE everyone knows who they are. It’s very fun to introduce an actor to an experienced director, and hear them say, “wow, where did you find this person?” Many of these actors, or even the audition reader, make connections with the creative team as we’re working, and go on to work with that writer or director on future projects. It’s a high form of flattery when an actor who came in for my auditions, whether or not they got the job, met someone on the creative team during that process, and ends up working with that team member in future readings, auditions, or is hired by them for other projects. Those are the best seeds to plant.

Looking to the Future

What excites you about the future of the arts and auditioning in particular? What are your concerns?

I am glad that inclusivity is being demanded and expected, instead of some of us ‘specializing in diversity’. I have always liked that technology is allowing for a greater amount of actors to participate in the casting process. Because we aren’t able to be in the same room together, we are interacting with actors all over the country. Some of the projects I’ve cast during the pandemic were audio only, or workshopped, and we could easily work with actors from all over. Doing projects that are working on Zoom or being shot instead of with a live audience presents a different way of working: It can be less rewarding, but there is an ability to explore and develop work, if that’s what you want to do. Now more than ever, I think the Unions should be completely overhauled and brought up to the modern era: not just because there’s a pandemic. Actors’ health insurance is one aspect that should undergo serious reform. This year has exposed so much about our process that should be brought up to date and reconsidered. I am certainly concerned for the future of the arts, theaters, security for actors. During this time, one can’t help but to re-evaluate everything we do and how we do it. Not just in our industry: we are all struggling. Restaurants, hospitality, anyone who has to work for a living or wants to interact socially. There was a time where if you were in the arts, you were ‘always struggling’. Now, everyone is and it’s times like these where maybe some financial sectors can relate better to one another. We can see how our success and failure is so connected and relies on one another.

 

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

There are directors who are comfortable casting off of a tape, and some who don’t like it at all. It’s going to be dependent on who we’re working with, but it’s also our duty to shed light on the process. We can explain what is possible, and what the limitations are. I don’t want live auditions to turn into an excuse for not getting in the room with actors, or doing it virtually to save money on a plane ticket. It’s important that these things continue to happen in person. But if it’s the difference between not doing it and doing it, we can be a good intermediary so that everyone is comfortable. I’ve had to explain how we do it on tape so many times this year: once they understand how it’s done, they really enjoy being able to see and hear actors, even in a pandemic. We all feel grateful that we CAN make work if we want. Casting Directors may have to do more hand-holding, but it does bring us together even more: we are able to see and watch actors, and re-watch their work. We won’t forget the audition at the end of the day, because it’s recorded! Ha. But the pandemic should not be an excuse to not cast authentically. Many theaters are using audio productions of their plays. Just because we can’t see the actor, does not mean we won’t be casting representatively. Just recently, I cast the role of Nabo in Lynn Nottage’s LAS MENINAS. He is written as a man from Africa who has dwarfism. I cast an African-American man who is a Little Person. However, a lot of submissions were of average height. Some had notes saying that they do a lot of voiceover or IF I didn’t find a LIttle Person or short-statured actor, to consider these actors. The aspect of the voiceover was clearly misleading about what we were seeking, but I was as clear in the breakdown about what and who we were seeking. Luckily, there are organizations for Diversity and Inclusion, and specific agents that specialize in representing talent with unique qualities, getting those actors seen for projects that are specifically seeking them, as well as any other project that doesn’t specify a particular physicality.

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?

I just heard a very accomplished Casting Director say that it doesn’t matter that the tape looks high-tech, and that she tells her clients the hard truth that it’s more important that we see an actors’ work initially, than expecting them spending tons of money and time to make their tape look like it was shot on a film set. Casting Directors are also complaining that they spend hours editing tapes so they look high-end. I’ve also heard some CDs say they feel compelled to call actors who send in beautiful-looking tapes to say that it doesn’t have to be so high-end! This confirmed what we already knew: we need those tapes to come in, sometimes quickly. It’s more important that we receive a tape with good choices on it—as long as we can see you well and hear you well. If it looks beautiful but the acting choices aren’t exciting, what’s the point? It’s an audition: Not a film shoot. It’s not the actors’ job to spend a lot of money on a crazy edit. Basic decent lighting, and not showing every personal item in your house in the background. We can lead the charge with our clients and make sure they come to it from a place of gratitude, rather than “why doesn’t this look amazing?” The answer is, “it’s a pandemic. You’re lucky these actors are able to tape for you at all.” If you are tech-savvy, you are certainly ahead of the game and it may be very easy to re-do your reel, or work on your website, or make a self-tape that looks very professional. Self-tapes are not a big deal if you know what’s important. For some, it’s daunting. Better to learn now, while things are slower. There surely are resources with SAG-AFTRA and AEA. I’ve heard that SAG-AFTRA has given free studio time to self-tape, and have other resources to help its members. Actors have networks with each other to be readers for each other when they need them. Some CDs have put out a document that lists the best points of self-taping, shared on the CSA website. These tools are out there, waiting for anyone who needs them.

Here are some resources we found:
– Casting Society of America – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8s5UJ_l0Dyw
– SAG-AFTRA – https://www.sagaftra.org/casting-directors-dish-self-tape-tips
– ActorAesthetic.com – https://www.actoraesthetic.com/blog/makeshift-selftape

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?

Personally, I work on a lot of projects that are seeking to cast actors of a specific identity.  Legally, we are not allowed to ask actors how they identify.  It is both to protect the actor, and also to make the process fair.  For example, we tell directors that they are not allowed to ask an actor their age.  We have to talk in terms of how the actor presents. Some actors read older or younger than they actually are.  So, we cast actors fairly, based on how they present.  We explain that the audience won’t be looking them up on the internet to check their ages.  However, if we are casting a role that is written for an actor to play a person who is non-binary, we are not allowed to ask someone how they identify.  If we have a relationship of trust and respect, most performers will tell us or will proudly identify.  I’m sure there may be moments where that actor doesn’t want that identity to be used to exclude them from playing characters that are not non-binary.    We live in a discriminatory, unfair, and litigious world.   So, when we are seeking to cast actors authentically, it would be nice to easily connect with those actors who are comfortable enough to say, “here I am.  This is me.  I am right for this role.”  And know that it will not eliminate them from future roles that they could play if the other qualities fit.  But employers are afraid to be sued for descrimination, and actors don’t want to be biased against.  I do think that dialogue should be opened, but it is up to the actor and their comfort level.   CDs can research organizations, Facebook groups, and get recommendations from our colleagues.  I have not discussed this with Breakdown Services, but there are limitations on what we can say in a breakdown and how we say it, from a legal standpoint.   Often enough, our breakdown might not reflect exactly what we are seeking.  Or we are afraid to say it.  If we are seeking ONLY actors of color, we are counselled to say “any ethnicity”, which might not really be what the team wants.  Because of our inability to legally express what we are seeking, without excluding others, we should consult with descrimination attorneys to get closer to authenticity in representation.   We are able to say in a description, “Actors who self-identify as…”   When casting a role written for a Little Person or short-statured actor, I often have to have second and third conversations with agents and actors about what we really want and why that’s important.  They want to contribute to this process fairly and no one wants to waste anyone’s time.  But often, what we are able to say in a breakdown is limited by the legality of language used.   We must take responsibility for doing this better, and collaborating better and finding ways around it, rather than accepting what the limits are.  Things that are or were once there for protection are now a potential barrier for the right people getting into the right rooms.  The casting community is having a lot of discussions about this BY, WITH, and FOR the BIPOC community so we can all work together to find work-arounds and create more comfort and authenticity.    If there are limits in our process, we try to find ways to get around them, or include a legal perspective so we can all get what we so desperately want and need from the casting process.   Instead of saying, “the director makes the final decision” and that we are not responsible, I am optimistic that we are standing up and calling things out when they are wrong, racist, inauthentic–discovering that we have more power than we thought.  If we all do this, then things can change for the better.  Members of the creative team who are narrow-minded and racist will no longer be able to enforce their stupidity if all Casting Directors prioritize justice and fairness in the process.  Sign-in sheets alone have graduated from listing your social security number and agent phone to your preferred pronouns.  We are moving that forward even more, trying to welcome information that will only help the process.   Granted, my interactions are not on the highest Hollywood level: but hearing from THOSE CDs, and what they have to say?   It’s invaluable to all of us.  There are some amazing discussions with and by my colleagues in CSA.  Very proud to be among them.

It is also why I added how I identify in the first paragraph, so my point of view is also understood.  I should not be thinking that someone might not hire me because I am gay, Jewish, or have any of the above identities.   It should be seen as an asset, and something I would, in today’s climate, be proud to say.

 

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

Audition Headshot for Reggie White. Reggie looks into the camera in front of a light blue background while wearing a red sweater with a blue and white stripe along the outline of the neck cutout.

Pronouns: He/Him

Occupation: Artist/Educator

Links to Reggie’s work:

Lessons in Survival (now streaming through The Vineyard Theatre until June 2021)

Credits:

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.

Meet our three new team members rounding out the launch crew!

Public Beta Release for Summer 2021 and introducing our new tech co-founder!