Embrace the Humiliation
I'll never forget an audition that I went into where I was being auditioned by the Casting Director and some of the creative staff. It was probably one of the most strange and humiliating experiences i've ever had because of the little no no's that the Casting Director and some of the other people committed. Now, the audition process, as many of you know who have been through it, is normally a lopsided affair where we as performers come in and are treated...however which way the people in charge on the other side of the table decide to treat us. We do what they ask of us and then we are sent out of the room. The way it should be and the way it is with a lot of the wonderful Casting Directors I've worked with, is there is a mutual respect for the actor.
Now you're never on even footing unless you're an award winner or you've got some special relationship with the Casting Director. It never feels like you're on even footing anyway and usually they don't treat you like you're on even footing, but there are those times when you can walk into a room like this time that I did and see some of the more subtly humiliating things. Have some of the more subtly humiliating things done to you. There's a couple of things that all actors should be aware of and honestly be offended by if a Casting Director or someone else tries to do these things to you. Obviously one of those is if they're just disrespectful and they treat you with disdain. Like something they found on the bottom of their shoe and why are you here? That's extremely disrespectful and there are times when Casting Directors will do that.
Fortunately, none of the ones that I have gotten the chance to work with have done that to me but I've heard stories. I's extremely prevalent in the more cattle call situations.
So, I'm in this audition room and I am asked whether I want to sing or act first. I said let me sing and so I sang. I got a few notes on that and I sang again. It was great and it was fun and everything was going well and then we got to the book scene. So I'm in there with the Reader, the Casting Director, a few of the other creatives. I read the scene with the Reader and then the Casting Director comes up. This is great because normally this doesn't happen. Because it was a sort of a workshoppy situation, the Casting Director came up and started giving me notes.
This is a wonderful thing to have happen because when you sit there and you read the scene with a Reader and they go, Thank you..That was great….and then you leave the room. You don't get any feedback. When a Casting Director actually comes out from the other side of the table and says, well, if you think about this or try this, or have you thought about that? Or what would happen here if we did that? That's great! If a director comes out and they do that it shows that they're really interested in what it is that you have. Seeing where it is that they can take you, how far they can push you. Sometimes they just do and say things and make you do and say things to throw you off or to just kind of do some Wackadoo idea to see if you'd go with it, to see how flexible you are to see how well you take adjustments. This one was particularly interesting because this Casting Director started giving me line readings. Now if you don't know what a line reading is, let me hip you to it. Let's say there's the dialogue of, "Hi, how are you today?" That's it. Just, “Hi, how are you today?”. I'm giving an interpretation of that if I said, “Hi, how are you today?” (monotone) That is zero emotion, right? Zero, just robotic, whatever. Now, when someone gives you a line reading, they come up to you and if you said in this scene, “Hi, how are you?” and the Director or Casting Director goes, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Stop. Nope. When you come in, I want you to be a little more sad about it. Like, like this watch like this. Like,”Hi, how are you?” They tell you how you should deliver the line….That's a line reading. That's what a line reading is. When someone tells you how you should be delivering the line. Which is insulting frankly, because we as the actor, our job is to deliver the lines and if you want us to deliver it differently, then please give us a note and say... Well, what would happen if that were a little more sad? That's just a different way of doing exactly what I did before. Which instead of giving you a line reading and telling you how to say it, you trust your actor and you believe that all the money and time and effort that they have spent on their education, that they can come up with their own interpretation of the line.
I’m very passionate about this as you can tell, because it's insulting. Because we do work hard. People spend hundreds of thousands of dollars over the lifetime of a career. Certainly tens of thousands of dollars easily just to go to school. Then $50 $60 $70 a week just for a dance class or just for an acting class and then you add all that together, we spend thousands of dollars a month, often times to have the skill sets necessary to deliver lines in a unique way using our understanding of the text, our connection to the text and our unique interpretation of the text. So please don't give me a line reading! Oh, but that's what happened.
So the Casting Director comes out, and says, no, you just, you know, like this. And she acts out the scene with the Reader and frankly it was humiliating. Some of you may be like, oh, that's not that big of a deal. I mean, I wish somebody would come do that to me. Believe me, when you get to a certain point and when you have invested enough time and when you believe in yourself and in your craft and truly, truly do the work,
It's like someone coming in at Thanksgiving. You have had this wonderful apple pie recipe that your Nona's, Nona's Nona's Nona's handed down. Your Grandmother's Grandmother's Grandmother handed down through the ages. It's like some stranger coming into your house at Thanksgiving, sitting down, taking a sample of that family recipe that you have cooked, that you baked it and you're proud of it. Your Nona was with you when you were a child and you did the dough together. She taught you. You know what I'm saying? And this isn't for anybody, but this example is. She's there, she and you have worked hard and this is your thing that you do at Thanksgiving, right? And everybody's like, oh, I can't wait to have…Nona's as Apple Pie.
You make it so wonderfully and then this stranger comes into your house, takes a bite of it and says, oh, no, no, no, no, no, this apple pie is all wrong. Here's how you should make it. Then not only do they offer you advice on how you should make it but they actually go into the kitchen and they say, where's your dough? Now where's the.....and they start to make it and they start to show you how to but they don't let you participate. They say, here's how you do this. Here's how you cut the apples. Don't use too much of this, what he's doing, I don't know. This recipe is terrible here. Would you not be insulted? Wouldn't your whole family not being insulted? Would your Nona, not be rolling over in her grave? I think the answer would be yes. You would be...I was. And every actor worth their salt should be offended. Now, not only does the Casting Director start giving me line readings, but the Reader... the Reader got up and was like, no, no, no, no, let's try it. I was being directed by damn near everybody in the room.
No, no, no, no, no. I would appreciate it if I was being directed by people in the room. I was being told what to do and how to act by everybody in the room. I love being directed. I take direction very well. And if I completely botched something or it's not what the director intends and they're like, let's try something else, I don't get my feelings hurt, I just do the work and i make the adjustment. But Oh God, don't tell me how to do it. Don't tell me how to make my apple pie. Offer me suggestion..direct me. Don't hold me by the hand and or drag me through the street.
So, the whole point of this is, instead of getting upset about it in that moment, instead of railing and not taking the adjustments, which people do. There is someone who I know who finally made it to Broadway, finally got there due and ended up shooting themselves in the foot because they could not make adjustments quickly and efficiently. They have worked so hard their entire life to finally make it and the people who have worked with them are all like Huh? I mentioned this person because they became difficult, they became hard to handle because they dug their heels in and did not make the necessary changes and were poisonous. Because that is a poison to a cast and certainly to a creative team where you're have this obstinate actor and they won't make the changes that they need to make in order to see your vision through.
So instead of doing that, I just embraced the humiliation. And that's really it folks. Sometimes you must embrace the humiliation. I was watching the Critic's Choice awards tonight and Christian Bale won for Vice and he said… You know, it's just sometimes there's nothing more, there's just nothing more humiliating than being an actor. And he's right!
I don't know that there's nothing more humiliating but he said something to the effect of…..it's just, I've suffered so much humiliation through my career that's really, because they're playing more things humiliating than an actor, although not very many. Humiliation is something that we suffer daily, not only within our own minds, but having it heaped on top of us. But sometimes you have to just embrace the humiliation and realize that it's all part of the game. So I allowed this Casting Director and the Reader to give me line readings and I just took it and we ran with it. I gave them what they wanted.
I did a study. A questionnaire about some of the humiliating things that have happened. I reached out to a bunch of my friends who I've been in Broadway Shows with and a bunch of people who are all phenomenal actors in their own right. Here is what one woman said. I said, give me the cliff notes of your audition nightmare stories and here are some of the responses.
“When I first started auditioning in the city, a very prominent Casting Director told me after my audition that I had a good voice, but it was too bad that I had nothing else going for me.”
Ouch. Can you imagine that? In what other job does someone who basically is on the level of your boss come up to you and say, Gosh, you got a good voice, but no. You're a really great worker or you're really, really pretty, but too bad you got nothing going on upstairs or man, you get a lot of stuff done, but you really could look better when you come to work. I mean it Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding, HR. That person would be fired.
Another one; Another woman said:
“I went in for the show of my dreams and after doing the song rather well, the Casting Director told me I had pitch issues and I definitely botched the second song because I got in my head.”
I mean, it's one thing to have pitche issues, we all have them. Everybody has them. Most of the people you hear on the radio have them very badly, but you would never know it. Not all people. I mean, say what you will about Justin Bieber, but that boy can sing, say what you will about Ariana Grande Day but she can SANG. Okay. Exceptions. But can you imagine how humiliating that must've been for her to be in there? We've all been there. We were like, yes, I nailed it after the first song was so great. And then you either get nothing or you get just crapped on by the people on the other side of the table.
Let's keep going. I know there's a couple more of these.
“I start singing a song and get super nervous and my voice gets weak and wobbly and cracks full on panic attack. They look rather unimpressed and say thank you.”
Oh, oh, you worked so hard. You work so hard to prepare for something and it feels so good at home and then when you get in there and you get in front of the auditors, it all goes south.
I've been there.
Another lady said, “Most of my audition nightmare stories have to do with being talk down to by a male director interrupted or ridiculed for my choices. Sometimes I get feedback that I'm just too smart for the role, which makes me want to light everything on fire.” Only in this job would you BE told that you are too smart for the role. That you're overqualified,
I mean insane and then talked down to and look, especially, and this came from an another lady. I can't imagine what it must be like to be a woman in this world. Much less in the world of entertainment, much less in the world of musical theater, much less being talked down to by male directors, interrupted or ridiculed for your choices. Last one. Ooh, here we go. This one is from a male and he said
“I went in and tried to lighten up the room by saying, what's up? What's going on guys? This multi Tony Winning director and equally grumpy music director said, um, your audition, let's go. And they greeted my warm welcome with frigidity.”
I mean, I've done a podcast on not lying when you walk into the room and in essence, you know, he went in, he tried to lighten up the room and there's nothing wrong with that. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that and unfortunately sometimes you will have people who just don't care and don't want to hear it and want to get through their casting session. The other part of his audition nightmare story was
“I also went to audition for a Director/book writer that I considered a hero of mine. He ended up being a total a-hole in the room. I went in twice for this man. Was recently called in again for something else and I actually said no because this Director's mind games and auditions was such a mind job. And the thought of putting myself through that and eight hours of rehearsals a day, sounded like a nightmare.”
I mean that's crazy. Can you imagine, and this person has been in a Broadway show,
I know it. I think I know who this person is. All of these questionnaires were anonymous, but I think, I know who this person is and they have been in plenty of Broadway shows. Could you imagine meeting your hero and finding out that they're just awful, like an awful person, like a significantly awful person. Some of you may have had that experience already and if you go see a Broadway show, I would encourage you to wait by the stage door and greet the people as they come out the stage door. Because 9.9 times out of 10, the people that are coming out that stage door are sweet, kind, humble. We'll give you autographs, take pictures and they are the true stars on Broadway and in theater. I hope you never ever, ever have to experience what some of these people have gone through. I'm going to try just one more. Let me see. Here we go. Last one from a young lady.
“I had two songs prepared but the casting people didn't like either one. They stopped me and had me going through other songs that I just knew. Finally, I picked some random Gospel Song that I sang once as a teenager. They were such jerks that I had absolutely no interest in the gig afterwards.”
This is the type of humiliation that we all on some level, no matter what level we're at have to embrace, but just know that you're not alone whether you are performing in your living room and some family member says something flip about what you are doing, whether you are performing in a church group and people are either eating or not paying attention or talking or whether you're in some sort of local theater or regional theater. I mean, I was playing Bobby in Company and in the second row, which was less than 10 feet away from the stage where I was down center, the entire cast was down center, in the second row during the opening number, which was very exciting by the way. Someone was sitting there in a darkened theater in the second row looking at their cell phone for all the world to see and we were right in front of them. They were dead center and it was the opening number of the show, which if you've ever seen or heard any music from Company is a very lively, interesting number and they were looking at their cell phone. It doesn't matter. It's happened on Broadway.
I'll tell you one last story. I know this is going a bit long, but Rameen Karimloo, wonderful guy, amazing performer, funny, fun, love him was Jean Valjean in Les Mis and singing probably one of the most beautiful songs written for theater, Bring Him Home. And so he's there and the moment has come and the stage is lit for him and he goes to take a breath before singing "God on high" and the whole theaters is quiet. The lights are dimmed. No one's moving on the stage. It is his moment. And he takes the breath and right before he sings "God on high", someone loudly farts in the theater. I mean, if it were me, It have been over. I'd have broken, I would've had to. I don't know how he did this and I've gotten confirmation cause I wasn't there. I've gotten confirmation from people who were on the stage, in the show that it truly did happen. Yet this brave, brilliant man just (Singing) "God on high" and kept going without cracking. There were people on the stage who were cracking up.
Absolutely humiliating the things that happen to us, at the highest of levels, probably even more so humiliating. I don't know if it was a more, so I don't want to compare it, but the more ridiculous the higher you go up. So this humiliation that we have to suffer all the time, we all do it. You are not alone.