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The Audition Process

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The audition process
selects for the most blatant (and not even the most attractive) of the supplicants. As a hiring tool, it is geared to reject all but the hackneyed, the stock, the predictable—in short, the counterfeit.  The producers are not interested in discovering the new. Who in their right mind would bet twenty million dollars on an untried actor? cont… They want the old – and if they cannot have it, they want its facsimile.  These gatekeepers understand their job to be this: to supply the appropriate, predictable actor for the part. They base their choice on the actor’s appearance, credits, and quote—as if they were hiring a plumber. 

Teachers of “audition technique” counsel actors to consider the audition itself the performance, and to gear all one’s hopes and aspirations not toward the actual practice of one’s craft (which takes place in from of an audience or a camera), but toward the possibility of appealing to some functionary. What could be more awful?

For much of the beauty of the theatre, and much of the happiness, is in a communion with the audience. The audience comes to the show prepared to respond as a communal unit. They come prepared (and expecting) to be surprised and delighted. They are not only willing, but disposed to endorse the unusual, the honest, the piquant. Everything the audition process discards.

I knew a man who went to Hollywood and languished jobless for a period of years. A talented actor. And he got no work. He came back at the end of the period and lamented, “I would have been all right if they’d just sat me down on day one and explained the rules.”  Well, so would we all. But who are “they”? And what are the rules? There is no “they,” and there are no rules. He posited the existence of a rational hierarchal group acting in a reasonable manner.  But show business is and has always been a depraved carnival. Just as it attracts the dedicated, it attracts the rapacious and exploitative, and these parasites can never be pleased, they can only be submitted to. But why would one want to submit to them?

The audience, on the other hand, can be pleased. They come to the show to be leased, and they will be pleased by the honest, the straightforward, the unusual, the intuitive—all those things, in short, which dismay both the teacher and the casting agent.

Keep your wits about you. It is not necessary to barter your talent, your self-esteem, and you youth for the chance of pleasing your inferiors. It is more frightening but it is not less productive to go your own way, to form your own theatre company, to write and stage your own plays, to make your own films. You have an enormously greater chance of eventually presenting yourself to, and eventually appealing to, an audience by striking out on your own, by making your own plays and films.

But how will you act when you, whether occasionally or frequently, come up against the gatekeepers?  Why not do the best you can, see them as, if you will, an inevitable and preexisting condition, like ants at a picnic, and shrug and enjoy yourself in spite of them.

Do not internalize the industrial model. You are not one of the myriad of interchangeable pieces but a unique human being and if you’ve got something to say, say it, and think well of yourself while you’re learning to say it better.   … David Mamet

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