Tips For Actors From A Casting Playwright

This blog could also be called “What not to do when applying for an acting job!”

I am one of the playwrights of ‘Echoes of Ebola’ and also a 33-year veteran television producer. I am admittedly new to theater casting, but what I discovered while going through the casting process for “Echoes of Ebola” just begged a page on this blog.

Firstly, it must be said that if we had ruled out everyone who DID NOT FOLLOW the requirements in the casting call there would have been hardly anyone left to audition. 80% of the actors who applied for the roles had to be chased two or three times to supply what was demanded. Given we had more than 150 applicants, that ate up nearly a full week’s work.

As this was our debut performance we were keen to see as many people as possible, but we won’t be again, because it quickly became clear that if they couldn’t respond properly to a casting call, they also couldn’t prepare properly for audition. And there was no evidence of sheer natural talent to fall back on!

The things we experienced prompted me to write this guide of things actors ABSOLUTELY SHOULDN’T DO when seeking acting jobs.

  1. Do not have a head shot which looks nothing like you in real life. To have an airbrushed photo from 20 years ago might catch a Casting Director’s eye at first glance, but when they come face to face with the “real you”, after they have painstakingly chosen the look required for each cast member, they will be annoyed you have wasted their time and you will forever have a black mark against you.
  2. Do not put your age range on as 18 – 88. Don’t even put 18 -48. How old do you look right now? Minimum? Maximum? That’s your age range. Selecting anything else just really annoys the Casting Director when he puts the age he needs into the Backstage database and he gets back a host of toothsome twenty-somethings when he wanted women in their early fifties.
  3. Do not apply for a role if it is not for your age bracket. We had actors in their twenties applying for the role of a man in his forties. Even after the hardest party night that is not going to wash.
  4. If the cast calls for two black guys and a white girl, and you are a white guy, don’t apply? Obvious? Not to some of our applicants. I am sure they thought that at least they had drawn the Casting Director’s attention to them and he might think of them for something else. Wrong! Each one would likely never be contacted again for wasting the Casting Director’s time.
  5. Stating the obvious with this one, but if the casting call asks for a self-tape, send one. If you can’t be bothered to make a self-tape, don’t bother with the role at all. Don’t reply telling the Casting Director to take a look at your existing showreel. He wants a self-tape so he can see how you might act in the desired role, not how you act in any role. Also, don’t reply saying you are available for audition, because if you don’t send the pre-selection self-tape you certainly won’t get an audition. And absolutely don’t send your CV or a link to your backstage profile with no cover note at all. How lazy is that, and where are your manners? You wouldn’t just toss a CV at a Casting Director walking down the street and expect to get hired. No courtesy, no role. But don’t send an essay about yourself either.
  6. Regarding those self-tapes, don’t leave the television on in the background; don’t do it in a messy room that looks like it has been struck by a tornado so the Casting Director spends the whole time looking at that rather than at you; don’t tell the Casting Director on camera that you are “doing it without any acting, just raw, so that you can be moulded anyway they want”; don’t spend two minutes of your self tape saying how you are having a bad hair day or you’ve been a bit stressed because your girlfriend left you, even if you think it is relevant to the role. That’s why it is called acting! (The only exception we made for this is when one actor said they had lost family in the Ebola epidemic. But it has to be that relevant!)
  7. Be aware that if you are the first to send in a self-tape you have the full length of the tape to impress the Casting Director, unless you are awful. But if you are the fiftieth to submit your self-tape, you have five seconds. Any good? No! Next! As you can never know if you are the first or the fiftieth, you must record every self-tape as if you have five seconds.
  8. If the casting call asks for two sides, send two. Don’t pick your favorite and just send that one. It wasn’t for you to choose.
  9. Learn the text off by heart so you can deliver it naturally and with passion. Don’t look up and down every two seconds, and don’t stop mid-sentence to move the cursor.
  10. Self-tapes are here to stay, and they certainly cut down hassle and inconvenience for actors and Casting Directors. If you are under 40 and you don’t know how to do a good one, learn. If you are over 40, that is what children and grandchildren are for.
  11. Never tell the Casting Director that you would like to “come in and explore the role further.” Which teachers tell acting students to do that? They must because it is common. The Casting Director wants to hire you to act, not join them in business. Do you want the role or not? That’s all a Casting Director needs to know. If you get it you can explore it in rehearsals. If not, your view is of no interest. Every Casting Director knows what this phrase actually means is: “I am not sure if I might get a better offer, so can we kick this down the road a bit until I decide if I am interested or not.” Fast route to the blacklist!
  12. If you get offered the role answer your email immediately. Don’t wait longer than 24 hours to reply to the Casting Director or they are already lining up second choice.

Oh, and one very last point, when you receive an email saying: “Thank you so much for your self-tape/coming to an audition but we don’t think you are quite the right fit for this production,” do not feel tempted to send back a note saying “Your loss”, or “Your losses” as one actor wrote to us, rather ruining the impact.

However, all this bizarre behavior does have one benefit. It leaves a much clearer playing field for all those actors who do pay attention to what is required, prepare well, never lose their manners and simply turn up. They will be the cream of the crop.






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