I’ve seen this happen to at least one person every show I’ve ever cast. Sometimes its a person I’ve worked with before, sometimes it isn’t. Invariably, someone who absolutely earned their callback with a great first audition completely bombs. There is more than one reason why this happens, but the reason I want to talk about is self-sabotage.
For the love of theatre! Get out of your own head and don’t try to get inside mine!
I was casting a callback when a very hilarious and charming actress made a mistake. I don’t remember what the mistake was, because it really wasn’t a big deal. She asked to start again and of course we said yes. She started again, but you could see how she was carrying that mistake with her. She was rattled. I wish she had taken the moment to breathe, relax, let it go, whatever she needed. But she was embarrassed and wanted to get past it quickly, so she just jumped right back in even though it was obvious she was tense, getting emotional, stressed and still focused on the mistake, not on the task at hand which was acting in the moment. You can’t do that if you are focused on the mess up moment you just had. Or if you are focused on not screwing up the moment again so much that you aren’t acting the moment before it, or acting at all, just freaking out about “ahhhh! here it comes!!! don’t mess up!!!” She set herself in a downward cycle. What you focus on is where you will aim. She was focused on the mistake. She made another. And another. It didn’t need to happen. I was so sorry for her because I have been there. It feels awful and huge. The thing is it isn’t awful or huge until the actor makes it so. Her mistake wasn’t bad until after she decided it was bad.
Here’s another example. The first audition had convinced me that this actress would be great in the lead role. Other people on the team felt really great about her too. Then callbacks. She didn’t do the callback. Life got in the way. That’s understandable. That happens sometimes. Because of the nature of that callback, there was still an opportunity to see her second audition. I reached out and gave her time. She didn’t respond. Later I heard from her something to the effect that while there were legitimate obstacles, she was convinced that no one would see her as a lead anyway. I think if she had known how exhilarated I was about her first audition and how badly I wanted to see her callback, she would have done it. It would have been possible. But because she didn’t think she had a real shot, she didn’t make the effort. I was so disappointed. I’m still convinced she would have been fantastic, but someone else threw herself into the callback void, so that’s how casting went.
I’m not going to tell this specific story, there are too many examples. Instead, I will describe the pattern of what I’ve seen happen the very most. It’s callbacks and no one is gifted a seat in the room. Everyone deserves to be there. You can see the actors and actresses glancing at each other, sizing each other up. The room feels a little anxious. And it’s plain as the nose on a face when a person views someone else’s success as their own failure. Behind the table, you’re hoping everyone does their very best. You are hoping they show you everything they’ve got. You try to encourage, support and do the job of the callback. You want with all your heart for magic to happen. Vulnerability, creativity, authenticity and individuality. But then you see it. It comes out in some of their eyes, their posture while they are still seated, the way the hold the paper, the way they look at you when you call their name and ask them to read with so-and-so. They’ve decided who you’ve cast, and they’ve decided it’s not them. Which is ridiculous, because you haven’t decided yet. Even if you’ve loved something you’ve seen, you’re hoping you’ll love the next thing you see too. But they’ve made up their mind. And now they see their task as futile, or embarrassing–or they see themselves as a failure or insufficient. And seeing that in themselves, that is what they show you. That’s when I sit there thinking, “Oh, don’t do this to yourself! I wanted to see you in this role and you are throwing yourself out of it and into your own head. Get out of there!”
Sometimes, I catch the actors watching me. Usually it’s indirect, or discrete, but again, you can totally tell. They are trying to read you for what decisions you are making or what judgement you are making. Don’t try to get into my head. You don’t need to be a mind reader. If I need you to try something I will say so, but first I want to see what you do, what your talent brings, what your experience and personality bring. Only you can perform the role your way, so show me that! Don’t try to guess what I’m looking for–I am looking for you! And when I see you play the role the way only you can, then I admire your abilities, have affection for your humanity, and want to work with you. Doesn’t mean I’m going to cast you in that role, because there are so many factors, but you’d better believe that I’m going to be excited every time you walk into one of my auditions. I’ll be looking for a way to work with you. I won’t forget what I saw.
Here is a somewhat recent example of a time self-sabotage didn’t happen.
Technically, this happened on his initial audition. The actor started off great with his introduction but almost immediately upon singing, he forgot the words, practically all of them. You know what he didn’t do? He didn’t get upset. He didn’t ask to start over (though that would have been fine). He smiled. The accurate pitches continued to come out of his mouth. He kept going. He didn’t apologize, he continued to perform with the tools he had even though the lyrics were no longer one of his tools. It was clear he had prepared, and that he messed up, and that he had the presence to handle it with grace. Also, the vowels and consonants that made it out of his mouth were nice to listen to. We got enough out of that 16 bars to know that he had a really nice voice. We got enough out of his reaction to know that he would be jolly to work with and could roll with mistakes. And that was all we needed to know to get him to the next round. Of course, if at the callback he had fumbled we would have wondered if he had a consistent problem with memorization or recall. But he didn’t fumble. It was a one-off. A really, really blatant mess up. But we learned all the good things we needed to learn from that mess up. It didn’t sabotage his chances because he didn’t let it. And I promise you, I’m assuming your mistake is a one-off and not a big deal unless your behavior convinces me otherwise.
I’m gearing up to cast another show. There are some roles in that show that a few people really, really want. And that’s cool, unless they decide that this is a high stakes thing and it psychs them out. So, to close, a few things I hope everyone remembers in their next audition, including me because I still audition sometimes too. All of these come from a Pinterest board I have. I like to review these things often, regardless of which side of the casting table I am on.
We are rooting for you. Don’t get caught in your head. Don’t worry about if we like you. Don’t try to guess what we want. Just enjoy playing the role for the length of the cutting you were given. Enjoy singing the music for those 16 bars. Seize the moment. Fight for the character’s objective. Make choices. Imagine. Pretend. Play. And remember it’s just theatre.