Casting is what really held me back as an actor. Ok. Maybe it was lack of talent or laziness. But I’m going to keep telling myself it was casting.
I fell in love with the theatre in the fourth grade. Somehow, Gene Kelly dancing in Brigadoon rocked my entire world and I wanted nothing more than to meet a beautiful Scottish girl in a magical village in the highlands and sing and dance away the years together.
I spent years doing every show I possibly could. Shows at school shows at church — I was totally hooked. And then, as a sophomore in college, one of my Theatre professors pulled me aside and pointed out that the little liberal arts college I was attending was the wrong place for someone who wanted to be an actor. If I was serious, he told me, I’d drop out and go find an acting conservatory.
It was a put up or shut up moment and I took the leap. Over the next two years, I took a college course or two, but mostly I took acting lessons, dance lessons, voice lessons and I did show after show. And between shows, I sent off applications to conservatories all over the world.
In January of 1997, I arrived in Manhatten for the first time to audition for the Julliard School. It was the logical conclusion of all of my efforts to that time. I was well prepared, and I carried with me an excellent letter of recommendation from a group one graduate (the very first class of actors to graduate from the school).
At that point, I had been performing and auditioning for nearly a decade and in all that time, I’d only been rejected once. As a general rule, I didn’t go into auditions worried that I wasn’t going to get a part. I went to auditions worried that I might not get the part I wanted. But there was this one niggling little doubt.
You see, when I’d dropped out of college, I’d auditioned for a prestigious acting workshop. It was a video audition, so I never knew who watched my tape, or even if anyone did. All I knew is that I’d never heard back. The posters announcing the audition showed big photos of the man in charge of the program. He looked serious, important and absolutely no-nonsense. In my head, this grim-faced man was the only person who had ever not cast me.
On the day of the audition, I showed up at the Kennedy Center. All the young actors were herded into a room for a warm up. Various professors moved around the room, but it was clear who was in charge: the guy. The serious no-nonsense guy who’d rejected me. He was running this show.
I tried to shake it off. It would be okay. I probably wouldn’t even audition for him. What were the odds? Less than 20%? After the warm-up, they put us all in a room and we waited to be called. I should have been okay. I knew my monologues cold. They were rich with character arcs, subtext, and surprising choices. I had brought my A game.
I don’t know how long I waited. It felt like hours. There was a kid on a bench across from me who looked like he could have been Marlon Brando’s grandchild. He was so calm, I think he fell asleep. I stewed and worried and freaked out as person after person came and went. Some of them came back happy to grab their things and leave. Others were just silent. I didn’t talk to anyone.
Finally, it was my turn. I walked into the audition and there he was. He smiled at me, but it seemed fake. Did he remember me? Was he already remembering my audition tape from two years ago and thinking, “oh no, not this clown again!” I sat down across from him and he asked me about my background. I tried to impress him with the name of my acting coach, but he didn’t know her.
Finally, I got up and did my monologues. Sort of. I said all the words. I moved in the ways I’d rehearsed. But I felt nothing but my own fear. I lost the characters entirely and made zero connection with my audience. And it was like something broke.
From that moment forward, I walked into every audition with the same sick feeling that something would go terribly wrong. Preparation didn’t matter. I would be rejected again.
Virtually every successful casting experience I had after that was someone who already knew me and what I could do. Even when auditioning for directors I knew well, I would often suddenly forget the key I was singing in and lose the text of my monologue or the lyrics to the song I was singing. My fear of auditions wrecked me.
In an odd irony, six months later, I was accepted to the prestigious acting workshop. There I sat in a room full of actors and listened to a young director explain that when you walk into an audition, the director is hoping desperately that you are the one. They want to cast you as badly, or even more badly then you want to be cast. I didn’t believe him. Not for years. But having spent my time now on the other end of the table, I know it’s absolutely true.
We were watching audition videos today from actresses trying out for the lead role in our trailer. Every time I click play, I’m thinking, “let this be the one. Please. Please. Blow me away!” I feel as though I’m on their team, cheering for them to succeed. Because, selfishly, I want to work with a really great talent.
I may never be a great actor, but I can spot one. And I hope it’s you!
Have you ever auditioned for anything? I’d love to hear your casting stories in the comments.