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.

Liz Carlson

Pronouns: She/Her

Occupation:

Artistic Producer, New York Stage and Film

Personal occupation descriptor: Creative Producer and Director for plays and musicals in-development

Links to Liz’s Work:

Personal website: www.elizabethjcarlson.com

NYSAF website: www.newyorkstageandfilm.org

Credits:

Selected artists supported as Creative Producer: Keelay Gipson, Jessica Huang, Monet Hurst-Mendoza, Brian Quijada, Nygel D Robinson

Selected artists supported as Director: Jahna Ferron-Smith, The Lobbyists, Catya McMullen, Don Nguyen, Max Vernon

Getting to Know You

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

I am Liz Carlson (she/her). I am currently the Artistic Producer for New York Stage and Film. I’ve been on an artistic journey for as long as I can remember, with music being my main foundation. My siblings and I were taught to sing and play piano from a very young age. Visual art was my first true love, though. My great-grandmother was a painter and she lived across the street from me until I was 15, so I took lessons from her. I even studied Art History in undergrad and my job throughout college was painting the sets for the theater department. The performing arts were just a hobby at first — never an intended career path. Until I discovered directing, and then the alignment of visual, verbal, musical, and physical expression clicked for me and I knew I found my path.

When did you set out on your current career path?

I didn’t realize I wanted to pursue a career in directing for the stage until the beginning of my senior year in college. And I didn’t know a damn thing about it — I didn’t have the vocabulary, the training, the sense of how one pursues it professionally… So I decided to apply to some graduate schools and attended The New School for the Performing Arts’ MFA in Directing program. During my two summers between classes, I interned at New York Stage and Film and Signature Theatre (NYC), which helped me determine that I wanted to be in proximity to new and developing plays and musicals. Those internships also introduced me to creative producing, which is what I do now full-time. After graduate school, I was a freelance director and producer for about 3.5 years. And then I was the Artistic Director for Naked Angels for 3 years. And then I returned to New York Stage and Film where I’ve been since 2016! (phew!)

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

My guiding principle as an arts professional is very similar to how I try to be a parent: It is not my job to tell you how to create; it’s not my job to tell you what your voice is. It’s my job to see you as you are / to hear your voice and create an environment in which you and your voice thrive. I want to help you be most authentically you in this moment and for this project. My drive persists as long as there are stories to tell — as long as there is the need to examine and express questions about the human condition.

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

As a creative producer, I am in proximity to many other practitioners and artists: playwrights, directors, actors, choreographers, designers, stage managers, technicians, literary agents, casting agents, technicians, fellow producers…

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

I find producing — especially for new and developing work — to be incredibly creative and inspiring. And I’ve also earned an appreciation for how mindful one needs to be in that position. It’s a privilege to be in a position to help artists and their projects along their trajectories — one the comes with responsibilities that must be respected: creating space where process can happen effectively; thinking about communication and what it means to give “notes”; what are the avenues of access?; in what way are we creating harmful restrictions?; how do we create opportunity?; are our structures and resources equitable?

Auditioning and You

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

I’m hesitant to place any kind of “blame” on actors when it comes to auditions. I believe it is an organizations’/the producers’ responsibility to be transparent about needs and expectations. Though I do understand that that’s not always the case. So perhaps I’ll offer the thought that if anything about a role/project/organization/opportunity is unclear going into an audition, do what you can to request information up front. And if there’s any hesitancy about being transparent about anything, be mindful of what you’re potentially getting into.

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 think self tapes can offer a lot of advantages: they don’t require a commute or an uncomfortable wait in a lobby for a process that’s probably running behind schedule; they allow actors to be comfortable in their own space and shoot the tape when they’re ready; and they might help humanize this community even more–much in the same way as Zoom has. On the other hand, not everyone has private, comfortable space accessible to them, and self-tapes require a level of technical proficiency/wi-fi access, which not everyone has, so there is an inherent level of inequity.

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 virtual audition doesn’t allow for the in-real-time human interaction that allows you to personalize one another (on both sides “of the table”). In any audition, I’m interested in what makes the actor more comfortable/authentic. For a self-tape, if that means letting me see a bit of your real life, great. Neutral background? Okay! A little banter at the top to say hello, sure! (Granted: this is just me!)

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?

Auditions have always been an odd concept to me because they feel like the antithesis of what we’re often trying to do in theater — it’s such a singularly focused process for an artform that is meant to be collaborative. So maybe that’s just a preface to say: I may not be the best person to ask about this. BUT. I think you should always remember to breathe. And take whatever steps you need to feel grounded and connected. And ultimately remember that it’s okay if it feels artificial…because it is!

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 am in the fortunate position that my network is constantly expanding by way of script submissions, artist introductions, and multiple developmental processes that NYSAF supports on an annual basis. In an audition setting, I love getting to meet new artists and to get “reintroduced” to artists I know by watching them interpret new work. I am inspired by curiosity, point of view, and an ability to acknowledge what is vulnerable/not fully formed yet.

Looking to the Future

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

The past year has been devastating for our community — between personal loss, job loss, financial hardship, trauma, the persistence of racism, anti-Blackness, and white supremist systems despite the global and industry reckoning, the unfathomable narrative of whether artists are “essential” or not, etc…so it’s hard to feel “excited” per se. But I do want to feel hopeful about some things: I think it’s a good thing that we literally are unable to go back to “before” — we will not be able to simply forget the past year that we had, and I am hopeful that there are enough individuals working during this pause to restructure before work actually begins in earnest. I am hopeful that because we learned that theater can be made more accessible by way of digital mediums, we hold onto those avenues — for meetings, auditions, performances, audience engagement, etc. However, I do believe that there will still be people and institutions that just want to pick up where we left off, and that will be a painful process to get through.

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 suspect that virtual auditions will definitely remain for at least part of the process. They offer access regardless of geography, which can ease financial burdens and reduce travel emissions. They may allow for initial screenings to be done in a more efficient way that’s less burdensome to the actors. But again, there are technical requirements of virtual auditions, so we have to ask ourselves if we’re going to offer alternative audition opportunities for individuals who do not have access to the technical resources, and/or will we provide them?

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 someone is not confident in their own technical knowledge, I would encourage them to reach out to their community of fellow artists and see if someone will offer a lesson or support — there are so many artists who have intersected with technology now, I’m hopefully that a friend/colleague would be willing to help. If it’s a financial matter, my hope is that the artist could express a transparent concern to the organization/producer and that they would receive the proper support.

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts’ Tech Kits for Performing Artists

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

My preference would be to always host group round-robin auditions, so actors have the opportunity to work in collaboration with other actors. And they would be framed as working sessions, in which actors are encouraged to make different choices, ask questions, be vulnerable. I would want them to resemble a rehearsal day, really. And I believe actors should receive a financial stipend for auditioning, since they are technically working.

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?

Yes, it does. This is a huge question that needs to be considered in every single facet of art-making: education, “apprenticeship”, leadership, administration, curation, budgeting, fundraising, community engagement, communications, etc etc etc… I believe there are a number of ways the industry can evolve, and that those efforts need to have similar things in mind: the process must be truthful and authentic to the institution, and not driven by any version of virtue signaling; the process must be iterative and one that can accept challenge and growth; the process — especially by PWIs/cis-centered/heteronormative/etc spaces — must be cognizant of the labor that has been done already and be able to recognize and acknowledge that without taking away from others. In terms of how we apply this to the audition process, I think we need to always be asking ourselves evolving questions, such as: who has access to this audition and who does not? Why are certain people restricted? How do we open it up? Who is hosting the audition? Who is “in the room”? Might this be a harmful/triggering space for anyone? How do we build in support structures? Is there anything about the communication process that might discourage anyone from bringing their full, authentic self? … These questions are by no means definitive. With every process, we must be willing to listen, rethink and adapt so we may be on a constant journey towards progress.

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.

Michael Goddard

Pronouns: he,him

Profession: Talent Agent, CGF Talent, founded January 2012

Biography Questions

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

Michael Goddard.  After studying Marketing in college, I started performing and acted professionally in Musical Theatre for 16 years.  I did Broadway, National Tours, a European Tour, a Cruise Ship and many regional theaters.

When did you set out on your current career path?

After that I started in the agency business and have been an agent for 15 years since 2006.  I always knew that becoming an agent would be a great marriage of my love for the art and my degree and understanding of Marketing and Business.

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

As an arts professional I strive to help make the dreams come true for my many clients.  I’m extremely passionate and active in figuring out goals and dreams and creating opportunities for actors to walk into the right rooms.  I love when the business works correctly like a machine and allows everyone to do their jobs in the ways that they know how.

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

In my profession as an agent, we work closest with Casting Directors in order to create the opportunities for our actors to audition for projects.  We work closely with actors who we represent, and we work closely with General managers and producers to come up with the best deal possible for our clients.

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

What I wish was more widely understood is that having an agent isn’t a guarantee invite into audition rooms.  It’s the actors job to always deliver in the audition room, to gain fans and bring their best work into every opportunity.  It’s my job to build business relationships with the casting directors and gain trust so that I can get you in the rooms.

Audition Industry Questions

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

Biggest pitfalls that actors make with auditions is when they self-sabotage the audition, they start to do the casting director’s job and talk themselves out of the roles.  They lose confidence and belief in themselves and that can be seen so clearly from the other side of the table.

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 good self-tapes and I dislike bad ones.  I like that the actor has the chance to “get it right” on their own time, but I don’t like that there isn’t an opportunity to show your authentic self like when you used to walk in the room and really share your energy with casting directors and directors.

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?

My adivce:  Get out of your head.  Give a full out performance of that character as you would do on your opening night or shoot date.  Don’t keep thinking about what you think that the casting director or director wants, and just give the performance.

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?

Show what makes you special not what you think they think is special.

How do you expand your “talent rolodex”? 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’m looking for an actor who truly knows who they are and is so comfortable in their own body. To see an authentic artist is so inspiring and makes me excited to see what may be next for them.

Looking to the Future Questions

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

I’m most excited about arts and auditioning coming back and having more in person opportunities. The concerns I have are that many of the self-taping opportunities have been a reliable and successful way of auditioning. This can mean that self taping will probably be a larger part of our future than it was in our past.  Making art and auditioning is a collaborative experience so I’m excited about people making art in this world today as we’ve continued to process and experience so much life in 2020 and 2021.  I’m excited about opening the opportunities to be inclusive of all actors and telling stories that have never been told.

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 will definitely continue to be a part of the auditioning process.  People just need to get used to it, but nothing beats an in person meeting to really understand the energy of the artist.  Also direction and playing is always better in the room.

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?

It doesn’t take a lot of money to make a good self tape.  It takes a lot of skill and brains. Figure out the lighting, figure out a background and figure out the sound.  This can all happen with an iphone.  Just do it smartly.  The excuse of money isn’t necessary (although it can be helpful) to create a great self-tape.

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

If I could rebuild the audition process — it would be me suggesting my actors for the jobs and then they would get them.  That would be my most favorite process ever!

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 Arts industry needs to focus on telling new stories, creating new heroes and really finding the artists who are ready to tell them and create them.  Marketing and Business decision makers in the arts need to understand that there is a business and an audience for all of these different stories.  Expand their views and ideas and the industry as a whole will be very surprised, and will thrive like never before.

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.

Stephanie Klemons

Pronouns: She/Hers

Occupation: Choreographer & Performer

Website: www.StephanieKlemons.com

Credits: Associate Choreographer & Original Cast Of Hamilton Original Cast of In The Heights Choreographer of Viral “Time of your Life” Super Bowl Commercial featuring Eli Manning & Odell Beckham Jr

Getting to Know You

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

I’ve loved dance since before I can remember. I don’t try and superimpose some adult justifications; I have always just been passionate about dance. I began as a dancer after graduating college with two degrees : Genetics/MicroBio & Modern Dance. I knew nothing about making it and just did what I knew best: I took class. In class I met my first agents, booked my first commercial and met some folx who would become my second family. A steady trajectory from that which I knew, dance, to that which I wanted followed. I made my Broadway debut in In The Heights three years after moving to NYC.

When did you set out on your current career path?

My sophomore year in college. I was working as a camp counselor over the summer on break. I had signed up to be a dance counselor and when I arrived at camp they made me aware that they overbooked dance and came up with a new role for me, “Resident Choreographer of the Summer Musicals”. I choreographed 4 musicals that summer including Godspell & A Funny Thing… I had never done a musical before that summer even though it was my dream to be on Broadway since before I can remember. I was 19.

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

I am teaching a course at Rutgers and this was the first thing I made my kids do. I have been in love with dance since before I can remember. The ability to speak with bodies allows me to connect with the world around me and create catharsis for humans and my goal is to continue to do this in a way that is pioneering and thought-provoking, garnering just enough attention to have a platform to highlight the importance of art in the lives of terminally ill children. www.katiesartproject.org

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

Directors, Stage Managers, Music Directors, performers

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

That choreographers own the intellectual property and associates pave the road for that river to flow.

Auditioning and You

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

Trying too hard to appear friendly. Not being prepared, no amount of talent can get you out of that mistake.

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?

That I don’t have to travel into Manhattan 1000’s a week. I live on Long Island and have for 10 years.

Many NYC performers we talk to feel you NEED to live in extremely close proximity to midtown. What has made you choose Long Island and have you ever felt living there affected your career negatively?

I get that. It would make my life easier and my quality of living FOR ME worse. I choose to create longevity by living by a beach, another dream of mine. So i can’t always get drinks after work; my liver thanks me. I miss being able to pop into the MET or eat at 1 of a zillion cafes in spring.

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’m new to the self-tape world myself. My advice follow newsletters like “Mel Mack Acting” and “one-on-one” to get helpful, up-to-the-minute tips.

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?

Get your lighting right.

How have you set up your lighting for self tapes?

A ring light really sets apart those that are “self-taping” for a living  and the rest. Also if you’re like me and you have no empty walls, get one of those pop up backgrounds to make the lighting worth it! Can get that all for under $30 on Amazon.

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?

Authenticity, authenticity, with a side of authenticity.

Looking to the Future

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

The pandemic has cracked open the possibilities for creatives of tomorrow. I’ve written up proposals for preposterous ideas that would have never come up prior to our expansion into the virtual space. I can’t wait to see what the kids who grow up in This do.

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 is NO SUBSTITUTE for in-person auditions. But maybe a first round weed out. I don’t prefer them other than a reduced commute.

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?

The self-tape equipment you need is available on Amazon for $40 or less. If you cannot manage to find $40, find $20 and just buy the light, skip the mic and pop-up back-drop. Or ask a friend or family member for a $40 loan. Believe in yourself, and invest in yourself. If you’re really unable to find $40, shift your focus on getting pandemic specific work and build up your funds while the industry is relatively quiet.

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

We would throw out all the exclusive language we use. Dance auditions would welcome trans and non-binary performers in their language and execution. Using words like “exotic, and ethnic” would be replaced with what the creatives actually mean. The teams that cast would be representative of the shows they are casting.

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?

It starts with opportunities being available to be cast in which starts with creatives and management who looks like the Broadway of today. The Hamiltons & new Oklahomas and Once on This Islands, (I am not suggesting casting hire live-stock) would be led and built and would benefit the members of the communities which they are portraying.

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.

CELESTE DEN

Pronouns: She/Hers

Occupation: Actor/Producer

Links to Celeste’s Work:

WEBSITE

REEL

IMDB

Credits:

David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly at the Cort Theater on Broadway, directed by Julie Taymor

World Premiere of Jung Chang’s Wild Swans at American Repertory Theatre and Young Vic in London, directed by Sacha Wares

World Premiere of Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s The King of Hell’s Palace at Hampstead Theatre in London, directed by Michael Boyd

 

Getting To Know You

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

My name is Celeste Den, I’m a performer and occasional dabbler in producing. My artistic background is Theatre. What started me in performance was a one act play at the end of my senior year in high school. I still remember the feeling of letting go in that audition – the rediscovery of a childlike sense of play. The opening night of the one act was my 18th birthday, and it went perfectly. I remember when the lights blacked out, and everybody started applauding, I looked up in the dark and thought “Well, this is fucking IT!” And when I went to college a couple months later, I was like “Okay…Theatre!” but having never taken a Theatre class I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know what upstage was, what downstage was, I didn’t know what scene work was, I didn’t know anything. I was just like “I’m a Theatre major now. This is what I’m gonna do.”

When did you set out on your current career path?

Pretty much as soon as Theatre was in my consciousness – feeling like this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. From day one at my undergraduate, I got involved in every aspect of Theatre making, not just the acting bit. I took classes in set construction, lighting, costumes, props – you name it – and did production hours for all of them. I wanted to learn everything. I assistant stage managed and was able to observe the rehearsal process that way before I was ever cast in a mainstage show. I also got super involved with the student producing organization – acting in them, yes, but also producing them and producing events for the organization.

I was also lucky that there was a regional theater by my undergraduate school, a small LORT D theater. I went to see shows there. I started to meet the people there. I did a dramaturgy internship at that regional theater which evolved into assisting the Artistic Director as well as a few weeks of company managing. It gave me a lot of insight into what a life in professional Theatre might look like.

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

Those are questions I come back to regularly, and the answers continue to evolve. I don’t know that I’ve ever had a particular “mission statement” other than “I want to be an actor.” But then I became an actor, luckily a working one, and was like “and now what?” I started because I loved it. It gave me a sense of belonging and a sense of being able to contribute, regardless of socioeconomic background or race. It was a way for me to examine myself – the way I relate to myself, to other people and to the world. All fairly self serving reasons to be honest. At some point though, I started to ask “What greater purpose does it serve? How am I being of service? There’s got to be more than just making myself feel good, right?” The answer I keep coming back to –  although to some extent it can sound like just a sexy grant proposal soundbite, but it doesn’t make it any less true – is that storytelling – hearing stories and telling stories – is the best and maybe only way to practice empathy, and to generate empathy where there may not be any. I firmly believe that. And it may not be brain surgery and I may not be saving the world from climate change and other disasters, I may be only playing pretend for a living, but I think on a human to human, cellular level, there is no greater service I can provide than to move someone intellectually, emotionally, spiritually – giving them insight into a perspective that they didn’t have access to before, or reflecting and validating someone’s experience of life and making them feel less alone. That’s an invaluable service to humanity, I think.

But I’ve also recently come to realize the flip side, which is that it can’t just be all about the greater service either – it still has to be tied in with what it does for me. So I literally went all the way around. I went from “I do it just because I love it” to “No It has to have a greater meaning!” to “No, no, no, it has to be both. It has to be both simultaneously.” Otherwise, why bother?

As someone who’s worn many different hats in the industry, what are the roles you most identify with?

On most things I put: Actor/Producer, though to be honest I feel mad imposter syndrome calling myself a Producer. Firstly, it’s been a while since I’ve done any producing, and secondly the projects I’ve produced have been so eclectic – from a large scale concert for a string quartet to radio commercials, non-scripted TV shows to 99 seat musical theatre workshops to a site specific play in my house. I’ve tried a little bit of everything throughout the years, so I really feel more like a jack of all trades than anything else.

I think I just really enjoy being part of the creative process and getting things done – the feeling of accomplishment. I’ve found that the difference between Theatre and Screen work is that, as an actor, you’re not really let into the creative process much for Film and TV unless you’re there from the beginning as a series regular/one of the main characters. The only time I’ve felt the same “work family” feeling that I love most about Theatre while in the Film and TV industry was when I worked in production. I’ve never felt it as a co-star or guest star on set. I’d love to feel confident enough to just call myself a CREATOR one day.

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

Speaking specifically to acting – it requires a lot more nuanced skill than non-industry people think it does. There are definitely those folks who have a light inside them and are super charismatic and they can get off the bus in LA and be like “I’m an actor now!” and make it as a huge star. But if you’re not one of those people or – let’s face it – someone who’s won the genetic lottery, acting is a fucking hard skill. Actually, even for those super shiny people it still takes dedication and hard work. In fact, it’s taken me a long time to even feel comfortable calling myself an “artist” because to me acting feels like a blue collar craft or trade. Maybe because I’m from Theatre to me it feels like a thing that you roll up your sleeves to do with your whole body, and you need the hours and years of training to develop the skills to do it well. So it really bothers me when people don’t think you need to learn how to act or put in the work. I mean no one is saying “I love brushing my teeth, I’m really good at brushing my teeth. Minnesota is a state with great dental health, I’m going to go to Minnesota, and now I’m a dentist!” You can’t just do that. I feel like people underestimate the amount of craft it takes.

Auditioning and You

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

Trying to do it “right” is the biggest pitfall that I can speak to personally. Thinking that what you have to do is go in and give them what they want, instead of going in and doing your thing.

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 tapes. I’ve loved them forever. A lot of my big Theatre gigs started with initial self tapes which then led to follow up in person callbacks. Some jobs were booked off tape alone – for Theatre and TV – and this started back in 2011 so I’ve been doing tapes for a LONG time. It’s how I’ve managed to grow a healthy Theatre career while based in LA. Sometimes for big auditions I will do two sessions. I’ll do a casual first session just to kind of see what I’m doing, so I can watch it and be like “That thought transition doesn’t quite connect…is there a stronger perspective I can have in this moment…ah I should cheat my face more towards camera there and lift my eyeline a bit.”  And then I’ll give myself at least another 24 hrs to digest before I do the final tape.

It’s a catch 22, really. I love that I can do as many takes as I want until I get one I’m super happy with, but it also means I can fall into a bad habit of doing too many and they are all only slightly different. So now I’m still letting myself record my rehearsals as much as I want, but when it’s time to tape, I only give myself 3-5 takes.

The biggest drawback is definitely not getting immediate feedback or that little bit of redirection in the room that might make the difference in your interpretation of the material. For TV shows that have been running for a while you can easily get a foundation for that world from old episodes, but if you’re auditioning for a new project there’s only so much research you can do. You can research the creatives, production company, network/studio etc. but otherwise you’re just making choices in the dark if it’s just you and your camera. This is why having a casting director who can give you a bit of guidance and insight is worth making your way through LA traffic to be in the room. I also miss making that personal connection with the casting office and the people.

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 mean, the main difference is that now we as actors are responsible for the tech. We’ve traded the commute for the tech set up. I’ve done fewer live virtual auditions than I’ve done self tapes but I set up for them in pretty much the same way. The only thing I find a little awkward is being in the “waiting room” when everything is ready to go and I’m in frame and just waiting there. I don’t know when the session will suddenly turn on and I don’t want them to find an empty frame or catch me doing some weird warm up so I feel a bit stuck there.

The biggest piece of advice I have for actors who are really new to virtual auditions is to not be afraid of the tech. Do the best you can to make sure they can see and hear you, and you can see and hear them. That’s it – just start there. With practice you can slowly figure out how to make the process more comfortable for yourself.

Self tapes might have been around for a while but virtual auditions are so new for fucking everyone – on both sides, so if you don’t know what to do just ask. If you need to adjust your camera setup after the audition has already started and they have to watch you move the camera, it’s fine. It’s fine. All good. Don’t sweat it. We’re all just figuring it out.

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?

Do whatever you want. Honestly, if you’re confident that you’ve done all the preparation you can beforehand, then do whatever the fuck you want. Trust it. Be free.

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’m not great at networking honestly…I tend to attach myself to people I’ve gone to school with or worked with or have some sort of shared experience with. Otherwise I’m pretty terrible at making lasting relationships with strangers. The only way I know how to grow my network is by working and I didn’t do ANY Theatre in 2020 so now I’m like “I have no new friends!” Usually I’m drawn to people who are capable of removing their personal ego from the process. If someone can have their version of fun during the process, and they’re open, that’s the kind of energy that makes me go, “ok you’re dope let’s be friends.”

Looking to the Future

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

Let’s be positive. I’m excited that there is a lot of initiative in making the arts more equitable. But we’ll see. Because, as it is, how many people of color can afford to continue in this field? So that’s what I’m excited about and my concern. And specifically, as it pertains to auditioning, I’m excited for there to be more perspectives on the other side of the table. Everyone from producers to writers to showrunners to casting directors…people of color, women of color in those positions who can see different perspectives of the same story. I would really like that to be a trend that continues instead of falling apart because we cannot afford it economically.

Mostly I’m just hoping that we continue to carve out more room for complex characters and intersectional perspectives on storytelling. Besides being beyond tired of the pervasive White lens, I’m also tired of the generalization of black and brown experiences. Our stories don’t always have to be rooted in oppression or immigration or trauma or violence – they are definitely a part of our cultural inheritance but they don’t define our experiences. I’m still waiting for a character that speaks to all the aspects of who I am. Most of what I go out for are characters that may be similar to me in personality, but I have yet to come across any material that reflects my personal journey.

Have you thought about creating something yourself? That speaks more to your experience? Personally?

That’s what I’m trying to do right now. Failing very spectacularly at it, but I’m just gonna keep plugging away because what else am I gonna do? Keep waiting around for someone else to create a platform that can showcase me the way I want? Knock on doors for jobs the rest of my life? No thanks.

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 it will be a combination of both virtual and in person. For 1st reads, whether it’s for film/tv or commercial, why not do it virtually? But for callbacks, and definitely by the time you get to something like a chemistry read, I should hope they bring us in the room. I don’t even mind a 1st audition for Theatre virtually as long as callbacks are in person. I’m sure beyond the efficiency aspects in terms of creative process, there are economic forces that will dictate what combination of the two we will experience in the future.

I think virtual auditions can, in part, make opportunities more accessible in terms of casting a much wider net in an actor search, but we also have to acknowledge that there are people who don’t have access to the hardware, the knowledge of the tech, or even adequate internet connection. I don’t know that the process can ever be as inclusive or equitable as we want it to be. But, speaking selfishly, virtual auditions and self tapes mean I can make travel plans, live my life, without always needing to stay in town just in case I get an audition.

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?

Don’t sweat it too hard. If they can see you, if they can hear you – that’s all you need. Don’t feel like you can’t do your best if you don’t have fancy 3 point lighting or a thing on your wall to let you pull down different backdrops. I mean, if you’re into that, if that’s your hobby, if you have the resources – great, go for it. But pretty much every single person I’ve ever heard from has said “At the end of the day, if the acting and the essence are what they’re looking for, it doesn’t matter how you fucking filmed it.”

Just be smart about the things that you can do. But don’t sweat the tech – focus on the acting. Literally, the only things you have to worry about are “Can they see you? Can they hear you?” If you’re not technically savvy AT ALL – like, you’re so analog you don’t know how to use a smartphone then…I don’t know. Get somebody to help you, I guess.

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

If I had the answer I would have already reinvented it and be a millionaire. I guess for me, whatever makes everyone work smarter not harder, would be great, as long as we can keep encouraging more humanity so everyone feels like the system, process, space, etc. allows them to feel safe enough, free enough to do their best work.

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 would get a Nobel Prize if I had an answer to this question.

For so long now the doors to opportunities, to the process of how things get made, to where the money comes from – to basically the access of knowledge – has been closed. Most of us are just wandering around in the dark looking for a door but we don’t even know what the door looks like much less how to open it. Thankfully that’s shifting but, you know, will it ever be truly inclusive and equitable? I don’t know.

For most of my life I’ve thought the solution was: we need the predominantly able-bodied cisgender white males in power to point us to those doors that they’ve had access to for forever and show us how the locks work, how we can get a key made, where the hitches and squeaks are, and give us tips on how to walk through it without it caving in on us. We need that allyship, we need them to make room for other perspectives and educate the others in their community to do the same. To a certain degree I still think that’s true, but that’s because my default is learning how to operate within the system that already exists. I’m not good at generating my own material (though I’m working on it) – I was trained to play the game. But now with the ever evolving platforms for storytelling, the innovative narrative voices coming from all different communities – unapologetically nuanced and specific in their perspectives – there are people inventing their own games left and right and that’s hella inspiring. I think about it a lot – whether we should just be like “You won’t let us eat at your table? Fine. We’re all gonna go over here and make our own table and you’re not invited.” I really, optimistically, maybe naively, would just fucking love it if it was just one big fucking table that everyone sat at. But, you know, if their table won’t make any space, all we can do is go make our own. Maybe it’s a combination of both.

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.