The Low Side of High Level Auditions; Listening

The Low Side of High Level Auditions; Listening Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column offers advice about listening, dealing with agents, and how to handle post-audition stress. I invite actors of all ages to continue write me with any problems encountered at auditions, in class, or anything you feel could be standing between you and your talent. Make sure to check the previous columns to see if your question, or one like it, has been answered already!
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Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column offers advice about listening, dealing with agents, and how to handle post-audition stress. I invite actors of all ages to continue write me with any problems encountered at auditions, in class, or anything you feel could be standing between you and your talent. Make sure to check the previous columns to see if your question, or one like it, has been answered already!

Question
I read last weeks column and noticed a question regarding agents. Well, I laughed at your joke about complaining whether you have one or don't. . . True. Here is my complaint: My agent sends me out on fabulous auditions. In fact there are few B'way shows I haven't gone in for. Sounds great, eh? Not exactly. This is my problem: I'm young, and so I don't have an impressive resume at all . . .[So I don't get cast]. How do I get an agent to really be concerned about developing my career rather than just sending me in for excellent shows -- which in a lot of ways is like taking a chance at the lottery. In the meantime I am bored and listless without some inspiration from performing. I have done a few readings this year which I got on my own, but it would be nice to go in for some auditions for some different kinds of projects. I am a firm believer in learning through doing, but how can I do that if I'm "waiting for my big break". . . There is a lot of work out there that I'd like to try, that might not necessarily bring me or my agent cash, but who cares, right? Apparently that seems to be the concentration in my agents eyes....could that be?
Thank you!!
Jen

Dear Jen,
Two things I suggest for you. One is to have a heart-to-heart with your agent. Find out what your agent is thinking by repeatedly sending you to these high profile auditions. Express to him/her that you feel you need to be sent out for multi-level productions for some time, even if it means less potential money for him. If you get cast in some quality smaller scale things, even if they don't pay as well, you'll gain more exposure and confidence which could naturally lead to getting cast in higher paying, higher profile jobs.

Get up the courage and rehearse your talk with friends, making sure that you are clear and to the point. Rehearse it with someone who can act like your agent. This will prepare you to deal with any backwash.

Speak with your agent more for the simple sake of taking care and standing up for yourself, than on the outcome. Things may not change with him or her, but you will change -- and this may open the door for opportunities. Also, remember that what you are doing now is planting seeds. Even though you don't have many credits, you are being seen by some big people. If you keep going to these Broadway auditions, they will begin to recognize you.

The other thing is to become absorbed creatively. Join a class, get together with your friends and discuss starting a company, do a showcase -- something. This will help you channel the frustration and also learn by doing. Write directors you've worked with, contact writers you know, and see if there are any projects in the works that you could be a part of/help out on. Or write your own show about how frustrating it is!

I'm sure you have a lot to contribute in one way or another.

Question
Dear Blair,
I recently did a scene in class, and my teacher's feedback was focused mostly on my partner. But I was told that I wasn't listening deeply enough, that I need to learn to listen better. Do you have any suggestions for how to rehearse and improve my listening?

Dear Cotton Ears,
I'm so glad you brought this up, because I get to stress the importance of being able to listen as an actor. Many actors have trouble hearing more than just the words that their partners are saying -- if they get as far as the words. Some think they are listening, but from watching them it is obvious they are not allowing what is being said to sink in below the neckline, and therefore, their responses are equally shallow, reflecting what they think their character should do or say next. Actors must work at developing the openness and focus it takes to allow what their fellow actors are saying to affect them on a deep level.

By simply bringing your attention to listening, you will start to improve. Remind yourself that, as the character, you've never heard these words coming out of this other person before, at least not quite in this way. As you open up, you may experience some uncomfortable feelings that kept you from listening in the first place, and if you allow them to be a part of your work, they will make your own performance ten times better.

If your scene partner is willing to work with you, I have found Meisner's Repetition exercises are great calisthenics for learning to listen. They also make great warm-ups for rehearsals. There are many levels and different ways to do Repetition, but basically, two actors stand facing each other, and repeat one word or saying back and forth to each other over and over, until an impulse to change it is very strong. The idea is to focus on the other person, and allow your instinctual reactions to them to come through the word(s). It forces you to listen and respond more deeply.

An example of beginner-level repetition: One actor will start and say something inspired by the moment and the other person; such as "You're smiling," and the other will repeat the words "You're smiling," or on a more advanced level "I'm smiling."

Meisner's book On Acting is a good place to learn about listening and repetition.

Question
Dear Blair,
I wanted to ask you a (few) question(s).
The first is: Do Equity actors have more "preference" casting wise? I know that they are auditioned first, but will they necessarily be cast before a non-equity?
2. What kind of legal obligations are there for companies who hire minors? If the minor can do the job, do they just use a tutor or do they still attend school? My semi-friend (we met through a mutual friend) Eric McCormick is in 1776 and I was wondering how he is still completing his education.
3. I just attended the RENT audition (my first B'way audition and it was for my favorite show.) I think that I had a good audition, especially since it was my first time auditioning on B'way. The only thing is that I am 17 (but look like I'm in my 20s). At first I was cut after the "type-ing", but then they came and asked me to stay, (this was after the casting woman read through my resume, and only glanced at the others). Then I had a pretty-good audition. It's not that I'm upset, I just want to know if: I was good enough for the show, did they just not call me back because of my age? Thanks for your time.
Sincyberly, Rich Sweeney
P.S. - I also called the casting agency (I don't know why -- I must have seemed like an amateur) and asked them about the age thing. The woman that answered said that it would have an effect, and that there was no one back from the auditions, so she couldn't answer my question, though she did listen to my whole story. I also don't know if I should try to call the agency again. If you can help me with this problem to, I will be SO grateful. Thanks again.

Dear Rich,
Congrats on having a great RENT audition. It's a great accomplishment to say you feel good about your first Broadway audition. Some answers:

1) Equity actors are generally preferred for Equity shows, but do not let it deter you -- if they want you badly enough, they'll find a way to cast you. Especially in a show like Rent, where they are really concerned with casting people who are suited for it.

2) The requirements for minors vary from show to show and age to age. Please call Actor's Equity for more information (212) 869-8530. Or ask Eric what he's doing.

3) I recommend not calling agencies. I believe actors need to learn how to do an audition and let it go. You may spend some time after the audition noting what you want to improve, and feeling the anxiety and stress of waiting for the telephone to ring. But I would try not to waste your time trying to figure out why you didn't get cast. This is NOT easy to do, mind you, but if it can be learned, your life will be SO much easier!

Post-audition anxiety can be lessened by going into the audition focusing more on the opportunity of the audition, and not so much on getting the job. Again, not easy to do, but worth retraining yourself for.

Congrats again and good luck!