Monday, November 22, 2010

#2. Boston Casting for ABC

This was not an audition. This was a casting call for an unknown ABC television program. Casting calls are different from auditions in that they are even less pleasant for everyone involved.

I had never been to a Boston Casting call before, though I had seen announcements for them, some even asking for actors with acting experience. This is no sleight against Boston Casting. They perform a duty that needs to be performed. It just happens to be a duty that fits the business of acting into a really depressing perspective.

My first mistake was entering the opposite side of the building that I was presumably expected to enter. I squeezed through a narrow hallway past actors who were attending a callback for Body of Proof. I came to a new hallway were I found Dana, an Emerson alumni of the film and video persuasion. She asked if I was here for the open call, already knowing the answer.

My second mistake was signing in as "Terence Torres" as opposed to "Terry Torres" - on the whole, I sign most official-looking documentation with my full name. My name is a weird problem. You'd be surprised how many people refuse to believe that "Terry" is a derivative of "Terence", especially since "Terence" has only one "r". I use "Terry" because it flows better, that's how everyone knows me, and it's my name. Also, that's what it says on my resume.

It was a little after then that Joe walked in, excited and bewildered. He was pointed toward the sign-in table. He looked around at all of the fresh-faced actors and wannabe-actors, stepped towards me, held my shirt and asked very pointedly, smiling, "What are we DOING here?"

What sucks about acting is that it is an art and a business. It has specific needs, but the things that fill the needs are fluid. Despite the constant demand for good talent, a casting director can't turn away three dozen schmucks with resumes that are all blank except for a single sentence reading, "Well, all of my friends agree that I'm good-looking," because, gosh darn it, YOU NEVER KNOW! Talent and ability helps an actor stand out to be sure - not because that ability is treasured intrinsically so much as it makes the director's job easier - but in a bit part for a television show those qualities are far less important than appearance. Not just in terms of comeliness, but type, whether or not an actor is recognizable as the kind of character they're playing.

In casting calls with a huge number of people in attendance, a casting director would be stupid not to immediately lighten the workload by dismissing all that don't look, sound or "feel" the part. As such, rather than hating the casting director, many actors will just choose to hate everyone around them. I at least tried to wait until it was all over before I let my bile bleed into my attitude.

Having been lined up in a group of 15, each of us were handed scripts by an intern (interns and actors; I can't think two creatures more committed to doing stupid things for intangible reasons). She looked at us and, seemingly using skills gleaned from her time at Boston Casting, handed us sides for the most appropriate character. The popular tough guy, the weirdo and the girl - all teenagers. You can guess which I read for.

On line I met Emerson alumni Dan Cohen on his way out, and a girl I interned with at Speak Easy Stage Company. There were a lot of girls there, and at least two of you had similar names. I'm really sorry for not remembering your name. But then I don't think you remembered mine, either.

The Woman In Charge told us all to come into one of the studios and stand shoulder-to-shoulder by the far wall. Looking at her, I considered everyone I had seen so far - the calm but green Dana, the more stressed girl handing out sides, the Woman In Charge - and realized that if I stood them in a row and rearranged them, I would be witness to all of the evolutionary phases of a new, Boston Casting-themed Pokemon.

"This is real acting," she said, seeing us lined up. "You're going to need thick skins in this business. I'm going to read with each of you now. I'm going to ask some of you to stay, and I'm going to ask the rest of you to go. That doesn't mean that it was a waste of time, and it certainly isn't a waste of time to read with me. You know, you were here last week," she said, pointing to a guy to my right. (Joe said she pointed someone out in his group, too. Wonder if she just picked someone at random? That would be funny) "My mind is a Rolodex. I remember everyone."

Part of me wanted to roll my eyes at the initial chest-thumping super-professionalism in her spiel, but I quickly saw the value in it, hoping that some of the non-actors would lose their nerve and slip up in their readings.

She went to the first girl at one end of the line, took her resume and asked her who she was reading for. She did this with every girl, despite there being only one female role. She read a few lines with her, and then stepped to the next girl when she felt she had heard enough. The rest of us stood and listened.

This is a devious method of auditioning for two reasons. For the non-actors, it's because of the added anxiety of reading in front of many others vying for the same role. For the actors, it would be hearing others' performances and fighting the urge to alter their own readings in response to theirs, resulting in an unnatural performance. At least that was my concern.

She got to a guy who was reading for the same part as me. He was pale, big-eyed, like me, but also... something else: he looked like a creep. Not to say he wasn't a a handsome fellow, he just was a little creepy on top of that. His voice quivered with a combination of fear and anger, masking some deeper regret. I couldn't tell if he spoke this way because he actually was a vengeful misfit, or because he was a really good actor. The moment I asked that question in my head, I realized I was fucked.

She stepped to the guy directly before me, who was reading for the tough guy. At the end of the side, the jock completely jilts the girl he's talking to. There were some chuckles. She stepped to me, took my resume, and then immediately turned out to everyone else. "Y'know, when I was younger, I used to be beautiful - like you, and you - and I got tons of marriage proposals in those days."

She turned back to me. "David," I said, the name of my character. She already had the appropriate side in front of her - of course I wasn't reading for the jock. I waited for her to give me my cue and did my reading, not deviating from the somewhat rebellious tone I had decided on utilizing as soon as I looked at the side. She stopped before the end of the first page.

"How old are you?" she asked me. She did not ask anyone else this question. "23," I said. I had shaved, for the first time in a while, just before leaving my house - I guess I didn't realize how youthful I looked without facial hair. Then, remembering the wisp of chest hair barely visible at the top of my shirt, I realized that's probably not why she was asking.

It went on like that. She asked one girl to stop, bring it down a few levels because "this isn't theatre," and start again. Aloud, she cursed the lack of staples in some actors' paperwork, mourning the time wasted flipping through the resumes and amateur headshots individually. There were lots of cute girls with nice dresses and no apparent ability.

Four people were called back, including the only other guy who read for the same part as I did.

I bet he felt great about that.

8 headshots remain.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

#1. Bad Habit: Book of Days

Let's play some basketball. I mean, let's audition. It's a new round of headshots, and we're starting at a new audition location, a rehearsal room at the Huntington's Boston University Theatre for Bad Habit's production of Book of Days.

I gotta tell ya, nothing exacerbates audition anxiety like a tiny communal space with a bunch of actors crammed in. Not that it was COMPLETELY inhospitable, just that it was a long hallway on the second floor with no place to be alone. Everyone seemed to crack cute or nonsensical jokes to liven the mood, including myself, and we all regretted saying/hearing them.

All males in attendance were studying the same side as me - a man in love with cheese and the process that goes into making it. Sounds awesome right? The tough thing about working with it, though, is that it contains a list.

A "list" is how actors refer to a piece of text that includes a sequence of numbered descriptions or actions - "First we did this, and then we did that, and it was tingly, sour and purple." The trouble with these as that human beings innately increase the urgency and intensity of their speech during a list until it peaks at the last item in the list. This sort of delivery is usually expected, and deviating too far from that style just makes your character seem like someone whose first language isn't English. It makes it much more difficult for each actor to find their own unique beats, the things that make actors stand out from each other. From there, it's not far from the sinking feeling that the only thing separating you from everyone else is how "right" you look for the part.

I ran into Grant MacDermott, ol' Emerson buddy and fellow Jersey native, who's in Nicholas Nickleby right now. He had the same side, which was referred to as Side B. Presumably Side A was reserved for older gents.

I auditioned for the director/producers, a very plain performance. I was asked about With These Hands, and if I had experience with a Southern Accent. I said, Only when I'm making fun of other people on the train.

9 headshots remain.