Whenever I go home and visit my old music teachers and friends, they all ask expectantly, “Are you auditioning?”
Every time they ask, I offer up my standard line: “I am writing and producing my own material, as opposed to spending time performing someone else’s work.” Or something like that.
Even though I have that line, there are plenty of times I feel like I ought to be auditioning. I mean, what kind of New York musical theatre performer can I be without the regular audition to kvetch about?
In producing Episodes 8 and 9, however, I am happy to say that I was able to get my first taste of the New York audition experience — albeit on the other side of the audition table. Now if and when I start auditioning in the City, I’ll have some valuable insight to help me through. Four insights, to be exact:
1. Being a full-time actress is the hardest thing in the world.
Every person who has considered a performing career knows the odds of getting regular paid work aren’t good. With acting, you hear all the horrific statistics. My theatre teachers at Interlochen told our class of eager, young musical theatre performers that 92% of actors are out of work at any one time. For me though, the number never registered until I posted my first casting notice on Backstage.com, looking for a young woman in her early twenties to play Amy’s New Roommate and a middle-aged caucasian lady to play Amy’s Mother.
As I released the notice, I was not prepared for the onslaught of talent that applied to be a part of 59 Days. As over 400 emails piled into my inbox over the next two days, I finally started to understand just how impossible this industry really is. The vast majority of responses came from Amy’s New Roommate candidates – most of them boasting impressive resumes, beautiful headshots, and all willing to put in a days worth of work for $50.00. Of the mothers, on the other hand, only some 20 women applied. I was shocked at the difference in numbers. Either women in their 40s through 60s were not interested in webseries work – or more likely, relatively few actress were able to stick it out long enough to have a midlife career.
Another thought also depressed me as I sorted the headshots. Mandira, our 59 Days in New York director, and I had already decided that we would only call back 20 women because we could only afford to rent an audition room for two hours. With 20 women to see, I was sad to realize only 5 percent of the 400 would even get a call back. If this was the reality of my low-budget webseries, I could only imagine what the odds must be like for theatre gigs, television ads, or God forbid, big budget movies.
2. Sometimes, the unexpected person is the perfect fit!
Narrowing down 400 women to just twenty candidates was no easy task. But on audition day, making the final selection was even trickier. We had excellent candidates for the New Roommate and Amy’s Mother parts – all friendly, professional, and talented.
At the end of seeing all our scheduled candidates, however, there was still one blonde woman sitting in the hall, carefully not looking at us. We had ten minutes to spare in the rented room — and wanting to get our money’s worth, Mandira and I awkwardly asked if she would like to audition for the part of Amy’s Mother.
Luckily for us, the blonde woman in the hall turned out to be an improv teacher — and not only was she game to audition, she was fabulous! After she kept us laughing hard through the whole audition, we knew she was the right mother for 59 Days.
Coincidence, or some Dolly Parton magic, I know not…
3. Looks matter – but not in the way you think!
One of the things that weirded me out during the audition process was realizing that looks mattered. Even stranger, it was how the person looked compared to me that made a difference. In casting Amy’s mother, we had more constraints in the appearance department. But even for Amy’s New Roommate, looks were a big consideration.
For the New Roommate character, I primarily wanted a person who had a “wide eyed” feel, much like Amy at the beginning of the webseries. Apart from that criteria, I left the casting call open to all types of young women. Secretly, however, I wanted to cast a woman who would physically contrast Amy. The contrast, I hoped, would suggest that the 59 Days in New York experience was not just for Amy alone (or even women like Amy), but built on more universal themes. In my head, that nixed a lot of the white, blonde young women with medium-length hair from the list of 400, even if the posting didn’t specify it.
On the audition day, the same concerns about looks returned. “She was fantastic,” I would say, but then Mandira would point out that the same talented actress did not visually pair as well with me as another.
Going through 59 Days, I understand better why my old acting teachers used to say: It’s not all about your talent or even your looks. Sometimes, it’s about looking good compared to the person next to you.
4. If you don’t hear from the casting director, please don’t take it personally.
I remember in 7th grade when I had just moved to a new city and went to my second casting call at the local community theatre. I gave a pretty decent audition, my 7th grade self thought. And, since I had already gained a reputation for my voice in my last hometown, I was sure I was a shoe-in.
But weeks went by, and I didn’t hear anything after the audition. I was devastated. I cried to my mother,
“At least they could tell me ‘no.’ That would be so much better than waiting and never hearing.”
Knowing what that felt like, I wanted to write to the people who auditioned for 59 Days and tell them personally that we had chosen another actress. Yet, in the days following the audition, I went straight into recording tracks and filming. There was hardly enough time for me to notify the people that we cast!
I’m sure these women are hardened professionals and scarcely noticed my poor correspondence skills. But to my 7th grade self and that part of me who might still feel a little bit, in her heart of hearts, the same way today, I just want to encourage some understanding. The person behind the casting table is human too. Please forgive her!