To act is to audition

I am often asked the question “How do I get into acting?” to which I answer, study, study and study, followed by working in every possible opportunity that avails itself to build a resume and gain experience.

It is not an easy adventure no matter where you call home but if you love it, the art will feed you soul, although you better have some other means to feed your tummy and your creditors.

One of the most common and perilous aspects of acting is the audition. If one seeks to be successful, though this ritual seems unnatural at first, being able to grab a hold of it and run will mean the difference between gaining the attention of decision makers and toiling in obscurity in your craft.

In my career, I have seen times that it is not unusual to face several auditions in a week, although today they are commonly requested via internet submission with me going into my video room at home and performing for a camera with the aide of a friend reading the other actor’s lines.

On occasion you still get a request to visit in person with a casting director. This is the way that I became accustomed to gaining employment. After a dry spell after “In the Heat of the Night” I eventually learned the audition chops that landed me roles.

After taking a hiatus for several years and coming back to the business in 2009, I found while many of the techniques remain the same, the approach to delivering the auditions seem to be tempered with the effect not only of acting but of the dynamics brought to the medium by reality television as well.

Where during my years of training under some of Hollywood’s greatest TV actors and directors from Carroll O’Connor to Larry Hagman, the performers took their character’s time in delivering what they were sharing. Today, as in life, I am finding that the demands are for not taking the time but rather pushing through to accomplish the desired result to engage in a faster paced artistic dance with the other actors.

I strive to accomplish that goal without leaving behind the skills initially shared with me.

Let’s talk briefly about the audition process, now I am not sharing this as a coach, so I suggest you find a good one, if that is your desire, I am sharing what I do to prepare.

Say I receive a request today for an in-person audition tomorrow. Initially, I review the script, and look for any additional information about the show that is available. The Internet now is a tremendous resource to learn more about the characters in a television show even sometimes seeing their performances.

If not armed with a full script, once I know the character, then I begin building his history – married, single, divorced; children or no children; parents – living or deceased; feelings about his job and his co-workers. I work on his relationships with others and consider his habits. This is a simplistic view of the process.

Then on top of that I add the script and try to bring the character I have built to life through the dialogue the screenwriter has prepared. Slowly, working to commit to memory the words that will carry the character through the scene.

Eventually the audition time arrives; you are where you should be following the instructions provided in ample time; you’ve signed in; your name is called; you walk in the room that is sometimes you and the casting director and sometimes producer or director; you are attentive and respond to the directions provided. Usually, you stand in front of a camera that will capture your performance for other decision makers to review, if you should do well enough for the casting director to recommend you, and you share what you have prepared while working with the reader in the room and hoping you are doing exactly what is needed.

While the process of preparation seldom fails me as the actor, sometimes I, the actor do fail the process walking out of the room knowing that I was not what I needed to be to make the sale that day.

In the early days of my career, I lived and relived those moments over and over again trying to fix them. I learned however, just like the performance, once done you can’t go back. You can only go forward, learn from it and do a better job the next time.

Film and television actors are actually in the business of auditioning because most of our work occurs in that room or on tape in front of a casting director. It is only after that skill is mastered that you can show you are an actor.

The most unique audition I ever did in my career came in 2009 when I returned to the business. It was an improvisation audition with director/actor Robert Townsend and 30 other actors chosen and placed in scenarios with no written dialogue. After an evening of participating in several of these, Robert gave me the greatest compliment I ever received; unprompted; he walked up shook my hand and said, “You ARE an actor.” That audition won me a series role.

Whenever I hit one of those auditions where I don’t feel I am an actor, I just think back to he and all the other professionals who before and after him invested their faith and energies in me to be an actor, and that helps me persevere until the next opportunity.