Booking It! Casting Director Bernard Telsey on Audition Essentials

By Adam Hetrick
13 Jan 2014

How do you feel about non-union performers waiting to be seen for union EPAs?
Telsey: I love it. Sometimes you just can't get to them. There’s not enough time in the day, or there were too many Equity actors signed up, but you’ve got to go. You've got to go if you're not Equity, because there's that time when a casting director sees the non-Equity person and they get cast. It happens so many times.

Even the other way, I've heard so many Equity actors say that they're not going because it's pre-cast, or that only an associate casting person will be there. The person who is in that room is casting the show, or they're an associate on the project and they're making the decisions on whom to callback. I ask actors, "You're not going to come because I'm not in the room?" I know it's hours and hours of waiting, but people need to go to the EPA, especially if they're not getting the appointments any other way.

What are some tips on how to format an acting resumé? What information is key for the casting directors and creative team?
Telsey: We've got to be able to read it. It's got to be clear, especially for people who are reading something really fast; you just want the info there. I think more information is good, but it's not about trying to impress someone. Just because a director you worked with isn't a famous Tony winner, doesn't mean you shouldn't include them. You don't know if I know that guy. I tell my Juilliard students this all the time. They have guest directors all their fourth year, and I tell them to write their names down on their resumés even if they don't think anyone knows them. I might know the person and then my eyes are already staying on your resumé five minutes longer. So, I could ask to see more or even call them and ask how your Three Sisters was. Give information without impressing us. I don’t expect an 18-year-old to have Broadway credits and have worked with Joe Mantello. But, I want to know who you did work with at Ohio Summer Theatre.

In a callback, how important is it to have your sides memorized?
Telsey: For film and TV you have to have stuff memorized so you can act to the camera. Because if you're looking down at your sides, the camera picks that up and you've dropped out of the scene. For stage, you don't have to have it memorized. You want to be really familiar with it, but I would always say to an actor to hold on to it. We're watching your whole body. If you know you're not fully immersed yet, it's good to be holding on to something and not look too uncomfortable.

What are some challenges that actors face now that are new to the industry as it evolves?
Telsey: It's such a world of the Internet and technology that you've got to, as an actor, be able to self-tape for auditions. The Internet is the great thing. Even with different SAG and Equity rules, we're all self-taping and we're all using taped auditions as a means of getting hired. I'm not saying it's the end all and be all. With theatre you're doing live auditions, but there have been certain plays and musicals that we have cast from tape. That's the exciting challenge. You can be working at St. Louis Rep and not lose out because you can put yourself on tape. If you live in L.A., you don't have to spend $800 on a plane ticket to NYC. You can put yourself on tape, so then when Joe Mantello sees the tape and likes it, he'll tell you to fly in and spend the $800 when you have have more of a chance.

What's not acceptable is when an actor says they can't come in because they're in L.A. or out of town, and they can't self-tape. You can self-tape on your iPhone. You need to be technologically savvy and we are expecting you to understand how to audition for tape. It's all happening so fast. Casting is so much faster now because of the Internet.

Clients expect things tomorrow because you don't have to wait a day to get an actor the material by messenger or FedEx. I can email this material and you can audition in an hour. Can you read the script? Can you find out more about the character before you go in to the audition in that amount of time? I think it’s a good thing because you have access to the Internet and information, but there's less time to prepare and you've got a lot more homework as an actor.