I’ve been auditioning lately. Or rather, I’ve been on the panel in auditions, rather than auditioning for a role myself. It never ceases to amaze me what actors can achieve in these circumstances.
In as little as 15 minutes, they can do a deep character dive, sing their hearts out or learn a complex dance routine (okay, that may take a tad longer). But the openness, nerve and verve that auditioning requires is worth noting.
Due to the short window of time, all behaviour gets placed under the microscope – on both sides of the room. Actors are deciding if this is the right team for them. Creative team members are weighing up whether they want to spend time in rehearsals with these actors.
They say impressions are made in the first 15 seconds of meetings. So, the walk through the door is important. The greeting, the eye contact, the manner. But those impressions can be overturned by a surprising performance (positively and negatively). High hopes from a pleasant chat can be dashed either when a singer’s tuning is not quite up to scratch, or when, after a monosyllabic ‘hello’, a voice emerges that was pleasantly unexpected.
The chatter throughout the meeting is also important. How an actor responds to questions and comments – and how they listen – can be as revealing as what they say. A negative throwaway comment can sometimes stick in the memory. A sly jibe at how a tour is going or any unconscious diffidence at the prospect of joining the production can be magnified somehow. That’s not to say that overly Pollyanna-ish behaviour automatically enlists a creative team either. In fact, a lack of realism can sometimes worry a sceptical team.
Overall, thankfully, it is the talent that wins the day. If the personality also endears itself, then all the better. More and more, I’m working with creative team members who want to collaborate with conscientious, positive and generous cast members – people who feel they have a contribution to make, who are open to change, and who are invested in the ideas discussed in the meeting.
It’s a tough process for actors. Some people we met recently were zigzagging across London to attend singing auditions, followed by dance calls, then reading auditions. Spring is a busy time for casting. Some actors had travelled from far afield (Paris, Glasgow, Wolverhampton) to be with us promptly, before returning to appear in their respective productions that night. None of this is paid, of course. It is merely in prospect of employment. It takes dedication and stamina – and our creative team, for certain, is incredibly grateful.
Daniel Evans is artistic director of Chichester Festival Theatre. Read more of his columns at: thestage.co.uk/author/daniel-evans