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      Audition & Performance Horror Stories

      All actors have experienced a horrible audition or terrible performance at some point or another - and likely more than once. And while such incidents can be a nightmare at the time, they often make for a great story later. With Halloween approaching, I decided to put a request out on social media for actors to share their memorably horrible experiences, and they certainly delivered. Here are a few, starting with my own.

      1. I was a kid in my first professional acting gig - a play at Stage One in Louisville, KY. I had just finished a scene and exited the stage, feeling SUPER good about the job I had done. I made my way to the dressing room and thought it was weird that no one else was in there. Where did everyone go? I thought. Through the speaker mounted to the wall I heard the next scene taking place - one that I was a huge part of - and I was not on stage. I froze. Had I ruined my entire career at the tender age of twelve? As the scene was already going on without me I felt it best to stay out of the way, and listened woefully as my fellow castmates made up for my mistake.

      2. I was on stage in the middle of a performance when the actress I was on stage with looked directly at me and said aloud, “That’s not your line.” I was stunned. Aside from the fact that I couldn’t believe she said that in the middle of the show, I actually had said the correct line. I just pretended she hadn’t said anything and we awkwardly continued with the scene. - Mike P., Actor

      3. This story from a casting assistant is a real doozy:
      I was running a casting session for The Amityville Horror remake - that one with Ryan Reynolds. Auditions were going pretty well when an actress came in to read for a small, three-line role. As is typical, she set her shoulder bag and belongings on the floor by the wall. About halfway through the audition I noticed that the bag was moving. Then a small dog poked his little head out, wiggled free of the bag, and started to sniff around the corners of the room. We were almost done at that point so I figured the path of least resistance was to just let the tiny dog walk around while we filmed the scene (first mistake). Suddenly in the middle of recording I see this actress’s eyes dart to the floor and she screams “No no no no noooo!!!” I turn off the camera (second mistake), she picks up the dog and as she begins to move it towards her bag, the little fella gets a mean case of diarrhea. Volcanic, jet-propelled diarrhea. It hits the wall, the floor, and suddenly it’s everywhere - an impressive amount for such a small animal. Eventually the stream of diarrhea ends, the actress offers a weak apology and then just leaves. And I had to clean it all up.

      4. I was doing an eight-week run of Assassins. There was a guy in the cast who was into me and after one terrible date with him I declined his advances. We had to do a scene together in the show in which we were in a tableau and supposed to be completely still. For the rest of the run, he would try to tickle me or pinch me during this scene. - Anonymous (*Thankfully this actor made it through okay, but it should be noted that harassment like this is intolerable)

      5. I've never been known as what might colloquially be referred to as 'a singer'. At least not by my songbird musical theatre colleagues. I have other strong suits as a performer – anyone want to see me walk on my hands? And yet even after doing everything in my power to avoid musicals in college I've still landed a few singing roles during my professional career. I remember a particularly harrowing audition about a decade ago – I've found that the worst audition experiences are the ones where you feel things are going well and then... Anyway, owning my deficits in that department I had prepped extensively for the singing portion of this audition at this big regional theater. I worked with a vocal coach ahead of time and everything. I went in confidently, nodded at the accompanist, and sang my little heart out. I remember beaming at the end of the song not just from relief, but because I thought I had miraculously done a passable job. The music director finished the accompaniment, let out an exasperated breath, and took a moment to collect himself. He then calmly folded his hands on his lap and asked if I might be able to just sing "Happy Birthday" a cappella instead. I complied, then showed myself out, walking past the director who was already looking at someone else's headshot, and wishing, for that moment at least, that I could simply avoid future birthdays altogether. They ended up going in another direction. - Eric S., Actor

      6. I was doing a highly publicized run of a show by William Finn (Falsettos, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee). He traveled from NYC to see us and there was to be a party for him after the show. The huge song I had in the middle of the show came up and I was center stage. This show was on a thrust stage and we were very close to the audience. When my spot went out and gave way to brighter stage lights, I accidentally looked directly at William Finn and promptly forgot the lyrics. Luckily the music director picked up on this and brought me around to the chorus, but I was so embarrassed. As the composer, there was no way he did not know! - Erin P., Actor

      As harrowing as they might be in the moment, we love hearing your embarrassing, horrific or just downright insane audition and performance tales. Have one you'd like to share? Shoot us an email or reach out to us on social media at @shoptheatrik!

      Answers to Your Self-Tape Questions: Part Two

      Three speech bubbles with question marks

      Self-tapes continue to plague even the most talented and tech-savvy. While you shouldn’t stress too much about your self-tape, you do want it to look and sound fantastic while giving your best performance (no pressure, right?). However, sometimes your character needs to do things in the scene that you’re just not sure about in an audition setting. This post (a continuation from July’s blog post "Answers to Your Self-Tape Questions: Part One"), is meant to alleviate some of those worries when it comes to challenging scenes.

       

      What do I do if there is a kiss in my scene?

      I have recorded countless self-tapes for actors in which the scene involves a kiss. Obviously in a self-tape situation (and any initial audition, generally speaking) you are not expected to pull your reader in for a lip lock (and shouldn’t, fyi). What you can do, however, is play the moment before the kiss happens. There is often a look, a movement, an acknowledgment of some sort. Enjoy this moment. In other words, don’t skip over it just because the physical kiss isn’t actually going to happen. The powers-that-be who watch your tape are going to be looking for those moments. The same idea applies to the moment after the kiss takes place, as well.

       

      The breakdown describes my character as either nude or scantily clad. Am I really supposed to be nude in the self-tape?

      No, though this can vary slightly depending on gender. For example, if you identify as male and your character is shirtless in the scene, it’s a pretty safe option to remove your shirt when appropriate. However, those identifying as female should not appear nude in a self-tape. You never know who will be watching your tape and where it might end up. You can, however, choose a skin-colored tank top and shorts which will accomplish the look of being scantily clad, and also suffice for a scene which calls for nudity. In general, you will not be expected to remove your clothes during a self-tape or initial audition. If you get far enough along in the casting process where it becomes imperative that you show your body, you will be given instructions on what is needed from you. When choosing how much to reveal during a self-tape, follow this rule of thumb: if what you're doing feels uncomfortable, you probably shouldn't be doing it.

       

      My character uses a weapon in the scene. How do I play this?

      Well, for starters, don’t use an actual weapon. You should never bring a weapon into an audition room - trust that any props you need will be provided by the casting director. If recording a self-tape, you don’t want to scare your reader by waving an actual knife around. There are two ways to approach the scene: you can either use an object similar to the weapon (think fake knife or something similar to the shape and size of the weapon) or you can mime the action without using any props. The key is to not let any prop you use overshadow your performance.

       

      Stay tuned for a future post titled "Answers to Your Self-Tape Questions: Part Three" regarding the technical nitty gritty of editing and sending your self-tape files.

      Answers to Your Self-Tape Questions: Part One

      Self-tapes are here to stay, and for those new to recording their own auditions it can be a confusing and sometimes frustrating territory to navigate. I've compiled a list of a few of the questions I've received followed by my answers, and will be answering more in later blog posts. If you have a self-tape question you'd like answered, reach out on social media @shoptheatrik, or email hello@shoptheatrik.com

       

      Do I have to have a reader or can I pre-record the other characters’ lines and play them from my phone?

      A reader who is there with you in person is always your best option. It gives you someone to play off of in the scene. However, there might be times when having a reader there with you is not possible. You could pre-record the other characters’ lines but then you’re likely stuck constantly hitting pause and play during your take. It’s hard to concentrate on acting when your focus is on cueing up the other lines, unless you time your recording just right that you can play it straight through and still get your lines in. An alternative is to reach out on social media - there are Facebook groups specifically for actors looking for readers. Additionally, there are a number of apps designed for this very purpose. A quick internet search should lead you to a healthy list. You can also check out this Backstage article “13 Apps Every Actor Should Use.”

       

      For musical auditions, should I sing a cappella or try to find an accompanist?

      Unless your audition instructions specify otherwise, you’ll likely want to have accompaniment. You could certainly hire someone to play the music for you live, or you could record them playing it and make your self-tape without them present. However, finding an accompanist is not always possible. Playing the music from your phone is totally acceptable and pretty standard for a self-tape. If the music isn’t provided by the casting office, you can likely find it on the internet.

       

      Is light from a window sufficient?

      Natural sunlight is great and usually looks good on camera. However, you shouldn’t rely on a window as your sole lighting component. What if the sun moves or is covered by clouds in the middle of your recording? The lighting will change on camera and might not be consistent throughout your audition. What if the sun is so bright you have to squint to get through your audition? Or what if you have to record at night and don’t have the benefit of natural sunlight? You’ll want to invest in a good lighting kit to ensure you can be clearly seen on camera.

       

      How do I prevent shadows from showing up on my backdrop?

      Shadows appear when you are standing too close to your backdrop. Moving closer to camera and further away from the backdrop will reduce shadows. You can also adjust your lighting device to a different position to help prevent shadows.

       

      Are “ring light eyes” really a big deal?

      Yes. If you are using a ring light, depending on how it’s positioned the ring of light can completely cover the irises, so the actor’s eyes appear to be “glowing.” If this happens it becomes difficult for a director to focus on the performance because, as you can imagine, glowing eyes can be rather distracting (not to mention creepy). If you use a ring light, try turning it around and bouncing the light off a white wall or reflector screen, or adjusting the height of the light so it’s not directly centered on your face.

       

      Do I need a backdrop or can I use a plain wall?

      A wall works just fine if you can paint it a light color that flatters your skin tone. White or beige walls usually don’t look great on camera and are often unflattering for the actor.

       

      What color backdrop is best to use?

      You should use a color that is flattering for your skin tone. Light blue tends to look good on all skin tones, but light gray and light pink are also great options for some. Avoid yellows and greens - these colors tend to make your skin look yellow or green on camera. Many actors use a dark blue backdrop, as it is widely available on such sites as Amazon, but the color isn’t flattering for everyone. You should also avoid colors that are too bright - you don’t want your backdrop to distract from your performance. Muted, light colors work best to ensure the focus remains on the actor’s performance and not what is happening in the background.

       

      Is an external microphone necessary or will the mic from my phone suffice?

      While it’s fine to use your phone’s microphone to record your sound, an external mic will enhance the overall quality of your audition. Lavalier microphones are great because they are small and can clip onto an actor’s clothing. The sound is clearer than a phone’s mic and it is easier to cut out the background noise.

       

      Keep those questions coming! Confused about how to edit your takes and send the file? Unsure what to do when the scene includes a kiss? I'll be answering more of your self-tape questions in future blog posts.

      The Art of the Slate, Part 2

      Personality Questions horror banner

      This post is a follow up to the previous entry about slates titled The Art of the Slate. In that post I discuss the basics of giving a clean, professional slate while still allowing your personality to shine. But what about those slates that ask for answers to specific personality questions? They’re the dreaded “tell us a little about yourself” type of questions that require actors to think on their feet while being funny/charming/approachable/charismatic/professional all in one. These types of questions range from such topics as favorite color to “If you had to choose between being a giraffe or an octopus, which would it be?” Um, what? Or the questions could be a bit more vague, with instructions to “give your name and tell us three things about yourself.”

      "...there are two types of personality questions:

      the kind you can prep

      and the kind you can't."

      So how does one prepare for these types of questions? First, let’s talk about their purpose. The reason these are sometimes included in an actor’s slate instructions are simply for those watching your audition to get a sense of who you are. They are trying to determine if you are someone they want to work with and would be compatible with the others booked on the job. Second, there are two types of personality questions: the kind you can prep and the kind you can’t. Obviously if you are submitting via self-tape you can rehearse your answers to all the questions, which has its pros and cons. Pros: you can ease your nerves about having to think on your feet and deliver a polished yet funny/charming/charismatic answer. Cons: your answer becomes too polished and you lose that sense of personality in your delivery. It’s a bit of a Catch-22. If you are in fact asked to answer personality questions in your self-tape, try not to allow yourself too many takes. You want your answers to feel genuine and not overly rehearsed.

      If you are auditioning in person, the thought of answering personality questions can be a bit daunting, so let’s first focus on the answers you can prepare in advance:

      • Have your “favorites” locked down. These include things such as your favorite color, food, movie/book, etc. You probably won’t get asked these often, which is why if you do it’s easy to get thrown off. If you have answers already prepared for these you’ll find it’s easier to talk about why they’re your favorites, which in turn will allow your personality to come through.
      • Have a short joke prepared. In fact, have two. Every once in a blue moon you might be asked if you know any jokes. This isn’t meant to throw an actor off - it likely means the director likes you and just wants to get a feel for your sense of humor when it’s not scripted on the page. Having a joke or two in your back pocket will keep you calm in this situation and allow you to actually have fun rather than freak out.
      • Identify some fun or interesting facts you can share about yourself. Perhaps you have a unique talent, such as you can hold a handstand for nine full minutes, or you’ve been taking clogging lessons for fifteen years. Maybe all the females in your family are twins, or you’re the first in your family to graduate college. When given the dreaded prompt, “Tell us a little about yourself,” many actors resort to basic info such as “I’m from Milwaukee and I have two dogs.” While that’s fine, it doesn’t really say a lot about the person. If you can highlight some of the unique things that make you you, your audition will be far more memorable.
      • Make note of anything particularly funny or interesting that occurs during the week. Funny observations can often be useful in an audition setting, and are another tool to have in your back pocket.

      For those questions in which the answers are impossible to prepare, such as, “If you were an ice cream flavor, which would you be and why,” it can be easy to get caught up in your head thinking of the “right” answer. The thing is, there is no right answer, which in a way is really freeing. Oftentimes these types of questions are asked simply to catch different facial expressions, particularly if the scene is MOS (without sound). Have fun with these! You honestly can't give an incorrect answer. Directors really do just want to see your personality shine through.

      Preparation, along with knowing why you are being asked these questions in the first place, can help take the awkwardness out of your slate and make for a far more successful audition.

      3 Tricks to Ease Audition Anxiety

       Casting sign

      Scenario: You just received a notice from your agent for an audition. The sides are four pages for a new Netflix show and the audition is in two days. Normally, four pages wouldn’t be such a big deal. You’d spend the next 48 hours trying to get off book, break down the beats of the scene, and then forget about the audition an hour after you left the casting office.

      But this is different. Because the show was created by her, your idol, your “OMG if I ever get to work for her then I’ve definitely made it” idol. And the role is perfect for you. It’s like she created the part with you in mind, despite having never met you before. So you begin to freak out. You start to hype this audition up like it can make or break your career.

      Walking into an audition room is always going to be a bit nerve-racking, no matter how experienced you are. Being as prepared as possible - familiarizing yourself with the script, doing your scene work, developing strong character choices - will naturally ease some anxiety. But there are tricks you can play on your brain to help calm your nerves during those few minutes of an audition. That’s really all it is - just a few minutes out of your day. You only need a few minutes of confidence out of the entire day and then you don’t have to think about it anymore.

      These might not work for everyone, but here are three specific tricks I used repeatedly as an actor when I had an audition:

      1. Pretend the role has already been cast with another actor.
      There is a common phrase actors hear often from casting directors: “We’re rooting for you. We want you to be good!” It’s meant to ease an actor’s nerves, to let them know the casting director is on their side, but too often it ends up having the opposite effect. Hearing a casting director say “we want you to be good” puts unnecessary pressure on you, the actor, as though you don’t already have enough to worry about. However, if you pretend the role has already been cast, what do you have to lose? I don’t mean you should tell yourself, “Oh, they’re probably going to go with so-and-so,” I mean actually tell yourself, “They’ve already cast so-and-so in this part.” Telling your brain there is no way you can get the part in turn tells your brain there is no way you can fail.

      2. Make yourself unavailable for the project.
      I don’t mean actually make yourself unavailable - what would be the point in that? You just want to trick your brain into thinking you are unavailable for the project. Case in point: I was planning to visit my family who lived out of state, but I hadn’t yet picked which dates I would travel. An audition came up for a lead in a play that I really wanted. It was a cool script and I’d get to work with fun people, plus it was the lead, you know? So I chose to book my trip for the opening week. I was telling my brain this audition didn’t matter because I wasn’t available for the project anyway. I didn’t list the trip as a conflict (obviously) knowing I could reschedule my plans should I land the role. However, telling my brain I wasn’t available freed me from placing too much emphasis on this one audition. It also allowed me to walk into the audition room with an aren’t-you-sad-you-can’t-work-with-me attitude - not in a cocky way, but with an air of confidence. I booked the role.

      3. Act as though you’ve already been cast in the role.
      Instead of following the first trick I list where you pretend the role has been cast with another actor, you can try the opposite. Regardless of whether it’s an initial audition or a callback, telling your brain you’ve already been cast is yet another way to take the pressure off. When approaching an audition I often hear actors say, “I don’t want to mess this up.” How can you mess up if you’ve already booked it? Believing you’ve already landed the role can provide a much-needed boost of confidence.

      Most audition rooms are closed for the time being due to the pandemic, forcing casting sessions to be held online. These same tricks still apply, only now you get to use them from the comfort of your own home. And when it comes to self-tapes you can REALLY have some fun. Think about it: you get to try the audition as many ways as you want. Mess up a line? Just re-record. Want to try something that seems like it could be a little risky? Try it! Watch the playback and see how the take reads. Self-tapes, though they can be annoying and even frustrating at times, are incredibly freeing and an excellent learning tool.

      While nothing can substitute for preparedness, using brain tricks that take the pressure off can help you get through what seem to be “make it or break it” auditions, no matter how nervous or anxious you are. Maybe you already use other psychological techniques to calm anxiety during auditions. I’d love to hear about them! Email us at hello@shoptheatrik.com or reach out via Instagram, Facebook or Twitter @shoptheatrik.  --Kate McCoy