December 8, 2009

I’ve been in auditions since last week for a show of mine that, God Satan Fannie Lou Hamer willing, will open off-Broadway in February. This is the first set of auditions I’ve been to on this scale, and I’ve learned a lot of very interesting things during the process, but one thing has struck me with significantly more force than the others:

The life of an actor has got to be a wretched, wretched thing.

Last Monday, I sat in a room with six or seven other people (the casting director, the artistic director of the theater, her assistant, the choreographer, the accompanist, and a few others) for seven hours while a seemingly endless stream of people ran into and out of the room. Actors would walk in, and this is more or less how it went after that:

ACTOR (brightly): Hi!
SOMEONE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE TABLE (SOTOSOTT): Hi. What are you going to sing for us?
ACTOR (brightly): I’ll be singing [Name of Song].
SOTOSOTT: That’s great.
ACTOR (to accompanist, sotto voce, pointing to the sheet music for [Name of Song]): We’ll start here, and then after sixteen bars we’ll cut to here. Then we’ll take the key change and through the end.
ACTOR (brightly): Okay.

(ACTOR sings truncated version of [Name of Song].)

SOTOSOTT: That was terrific. Thanks very much.
ACTOR (brightly): Thank you! Have a good day.
SOTOSOTT: You too.

(ACTOR exits.)

This whole process took about three minutes. We saw over a hundred and fifty people that day, each of whom had to walk into the room, knowing absolutely nothing about what we were looking for, sing a song that might or might not show us what we wanted to see/hear, and leave, not knowing anything at all about how the song had actually been received, and pretend to feel chipper about the whole thing.

At first I smiled broadly at everybody who came in, because I wanted people to feel at least a little bit welcome, but by the afternoon my face muscles were too tired to manage it and I basically stared at people with a sickly half-grin that made me look like a deathly ill Colombian drug lord.

And actors have to deal with this, several times a day, basically forever.

I remember a television program in the early 2000s called, if memory serves, The It Factor. It followed four actors—three from New York and one from Los Angeles—as they went about their careers, or what they were hoping would eventually be their careers, or what they desperately wanted to be their careers. This one girl got audited by the IRS at some point during the season and she went to her friend who’d done her taxes with this big box with receipts and statements stuffed in it and falling out every which way. It made me want to peel my skin off.

But the thing I remember most about The It Factor is a piece of information given in the introduction to every week’s show, which is that, at any given time, of all the professional actors in New York, exactly 1% are working.

One percent.


There are a lot of terrible things about being a writer, let me tell you, but I don’t think any of them can compare with the hideousnesses actors confront every day.

Hats off to you. For there is none of you so mean and base, that hath not noble lustre in your eyes.

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7 Responses to I’ve been in auditions since last week for a show of mine

  1. Stairs says:

    As the brother of such an actress, I empathise entirely.

    Fortunately there is no vested interest here, so I don’t need to threaten your life on her behalf.

  2. David says:

    Years ago, when I was considering pursuing acting, I read a book – written for actors – that pointed this fact out in boldface capital letters at the very beginning of the book. The book also stated the belief that unless you were utterly unsuited for any other kind of employment that exists, you might want to rethink your pursuit of an acting career. I took those words to heart and am glad I did.

  3. Lucas says:

    Now you see my pain. I only attend an audition once a week at most, and I’m STILL in hell!

  4. Lucas says:

    And since we’re on the topic…if you’re ever looking for actors… *raises hand shamelessy*

  5. Penguin says:

    And if actors saw how often decisions are made because of factors heartbreakingly trivial (e.g., the ingenue shouldn’t be a half-inch taller than the already cast male lead…).

  6. FortWorthGuy says:

    Just curious…what is the benefit to the “process” if the person up for the part does not know anything about the role or the music or anything? It would seem a waste of time for someone to come in and sing a Verdi aria when the anticipated music form was to be closer to rap or hip hop.

  7. Ian says:

    This is slightly off topic, but…

    I LOVE YOU!!

    I have just finished reading your book for the second time and i love it! I have never laughed at one moment and then felt so poignant the next.


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