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Dear West End Producer: ‘Should I turn down commercial castings in which I’m made to dance like a freak for media folk?’

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This is absolutely normal for a commercial casting – and, to be honest, one of the more tame things I’ve heard. Commercial castings are an actor’s worst nightmare, where they have to leave dignity, art and pride at the door.

Why? Because you are simply a ‘look’. They want someone to fit a certain brand, and don’t really care about who you actually are. And that’s fair enough, I suppose, particularly when there’s the potential to make lots of money.

I’ve spoken to lots of actor colleagues about this, and they all say the most annoying thing about commercial castings is that they usually run late. And we’re not talking 10 minutes here – it’s more like a couple of hours. I know many actors who now just book an entire morning or afternoon off when going in for a commercial – which is a pain, particularly if it means cancelling paid work. But it’s easy to see why it happens.

Getting actors to stand in front of a camera, state their name and agent, and then show their profiles can be very time consuming. Add on to that five minutes in front of the camera when you are told to ‘be a bingo ball’, ‘ride a pretend horse’, or ‘show me the face of a man with his first erection’ (I hear the Viagra campaign was very well paid, dear), and before you know it castings are behind schedule.

Expect the casting director to be chained to a radiator and ask you to do the most ridiculous thing you can imagine

I understand: it’s a high-stress environment, with high stakes for the director and casting team. So, perhaps the way to approach it as an actor is by just having a laugh. Turn up and expect the audition to be running late. Expect the casting director to be chained to a radiator and ask you to do the most ridiculous thing you can imagine (reciting Stoppard while wearing a tutu?). Expect to question your life choices – ‘I thought acting would be so much more glamorous, dear’ – it’s all part of the job. But that job is so much easier if you’re laughing too.

Think about it, these casting directors can’t be enjoying it that much either. Shuffling actors through a cattle-market, trying to please the producer and producer’s boyfriend – all while attempting to find the right ‘look’. God, it must be hard.

But, in terms of self-respect, you simply have to ask yourself if the job is worth it financially – and of course, if you feel comfortable doing it.

I have one old colleague who used to be the face of premature ejaculation pills. Now, this wasn’t too bad, as it was just an online advert – until they started putting his image above men’s urinals’ up and down the country. Yes, he got another £3,000 for it, but still, he felt embarrassed every time he stopped at a service station.

Eventually, he decided to grow a beard and change his casting bracket until the advert stopped running. That was five years ago. And he’s still got his beard. Bless.

Anyway, it’s a difficult one. But follow your instinct. If you don’t mind dressing up as a camel and having your nipples sucked by Gary Lineker for £5,000, then go for it, dear.

Send questions to your dear agony aunt via Twitter @westendproducer. Read more of West End Producer’s weekly advice columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/westendproducer

The Green Room: Have you experienced any degrading commercial castings?

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