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The Audition Room: I'm Way More Nervous Than You

Zach Kaufer describes the audition process from the director's perspective. logo

My casting team for Much Ado About Nothing. We may look confident, but we just want a Benedick and Beatrice who like each other. Please like each other. (Courtesy Zach Kaufer)

I'm sitting in the audition room with a play in my hand. No actors have come in yet; we haven't started. I need to have a cast of actors capable of handling this play.

Questions immediately begin to race through my mind as I consider every possible outcome of this terrible adventure of auditioning. Will there be enough men? What if someone gets cast in something else? Will there be someone for even the most specific role in the show? I'm able to push these questions from my mind with the promise of a fresh face and a new monologue. "Hi! Thanks so much for coming in! Hope you weren't waiting too long." I try to maintain a calm and collected attitude as I can feel the actor's eyes staring me down and judging every move I make. "I'm fine, a little nervous but good." If only that person knew what it felt like to be in my shoes. I'm praying for them to be right for this part so that I can end this anxiety-ridden torture of dashed dreams and broken pencils. "Don't be nervous!" She thinks I'm talking to her but I'm trying to shut down that vampire in my head who keeps saying that I'll never find who I'm looking for. "What do you have for us today?" "I've prepared a piece from A Midsummer Night's Dream." "Oh, great! Whenever you're ready." As the actor in front of me begins her monologue, I notice a certain ease about her. There's playfulness in her Helena that I've never seen before. She's not fighting the text; she's relaxed into it. As I watch her sail through the piece, I begin to relax myself and enjoy. I've found my actor. For most directors, this is exactly the experience that we fear most about putting on a show. The casting process is the most arduous and anxiety-ridden part of mounting a production. John Frankenheimer says that "casting is 65 percent of directing" and he's absolutely right. If the show isn't cast correctly, it doesn't matter what I do in the rehearsal room because the chemistry won't be right. The play will not work if I do not succeed in my job. So, trust me. I'm WAY more nervous than you. So here's a few tips from a director for all you actors out there that will make both our jobs easier and might even make the audition room a pleasant place:

1. Have fun. I hate to think of the audition room as a scary place. It's a laboratory for you to show me why I should hire you. You have nothing to prove to me. If anything, I should prove myself to you by recognizing the talent I see before me and giving you the job! As a director, there's nothing I love more than watching someone shake off the nerves and gliding through a monologue or a song. 2. Any correction I give to you is a good thing. If I'm working with you, it means that I see potential in you and want to see what you'll do with a little coaching. 3. Conversely, if I give you no direction, it's also a good thing. Maybe you blew me out of the water and I've already written your name on a cast list. If I see the spark in you from the get go, it's a done deal and we can both go home. See you at rehearsal. 4. If you mess up, PLEASE start over. There's nothing worse for a director than watching someone struggle through a monologue or a song because they screwed up the beginning. If you're worried about appearances and not wasting my time, you're doing yourself a disservice by not putting your best foot forward. To close, I want you to succeed. I'm shaking in fear and so are you. Let's both relax so we can begin this wonderful journey of making theater!


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