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Careers Clinic: How do I prepare for a line-reader job?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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I have done a couple of auditions for a well-known casting director, including some for big series roles. Even though I haven’t been lucky with the job yet, she has always given very good feedback.

Imagine my excitement when her name popped up on my phone. The call wasn’t quite the recurring part I was hoping for: it was her assistant asking if I would be a reader for a casting she is holding next week. I’m sure it’s a positive step forward and the money is welcome but, having never done this type of job before, I wanted to ask for any other tips you can give me on doing it well.

Much as I want to do a good job for my fellow actors, I’m also hoping you will include some suggestions about how to use my time with this ‘mover and shaker’ to keep myself on the radar for parts of my own.

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE I was once sought out for advice by a talented singer who had decided to switch from teaching to session and backing vocal work as her main source of side income. Her problem was that several auditions to join the backing vocal teams for various high-profile rock and soul tours hadn’t panned out as she hoped. She told me she couldn’t understand why, because she gave excellent performances at every audition, and, in her own words, “usually out-sang the lead vocalist”. I felt it important to remind her what the job of backing vocalist actually is.

Singing well is certainly a key requirement, but it’s how you use those skills that counts. And in this case you use them to make the person you are backing sound like a better singer than you are. It takes skill, as does reading well, so congratulations on being considered good enough to do the job. It’s certainly a stepping stone if you handle the opportunity properly.

The first step you can take is to be aware that just because the job is called ‘reading’ that’s not necessarily the only task required. By all means, if there are sides to work with and you get them in advance, make sure you put the prep time in so that you get your head and mouth around the lines and avoid any stumbles on the day that might throw the other person off or switch the focus to you. However, fresh or amended sides can turn up during the casting itself, so make sure your sight-reading skills are also up to scratch.

Keep your energy up, and try not to be influenced by how well or badly you feel the actor opposite is doing. Certainly be generous and supportive (what goes around comes around), but if you can keep your work reasonably consistent, you will help the casting director make a more objective assessment.

You’ll also need to be flexible if an auditionee is asked to try different approaches with the same scene, remembering it is the actor’s improv skills that need to be highlighted and you are there to provide good eye contact and well-timed feed lines rather than to take things in your own direction – no matter how inspired.

As for networking, your best connection with the casting director and crew will come if you demonstrate you are ‘on the team’ by doing your duties well and with minimum fuss. Even if you don’t become bosom buddies, rest assured that almost every actor I know who has been a reader says it has greatly increased their sense of what works and doesn’t in the casting room, something that comes in handy when their own turn to audition comes around.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne

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