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Working with People – Playing Between The Lines

Wow it’s the end of the year. Tired? Ready for a break? Cool. You probably deserve it, and the timing is great. As pros we should be breaking with the industry, resting and preparing to meet its needs as the seasonality permits.

The industry will take a hiatus at the end of next week for about two weeks and then things will start to build back up and before we know it we’ll be in the fervour of Pilot Season. In a recent workshop with Casting Director JJ Ogilvy, a perspective hit me that I hadn’t quite put my finger on, and a bunch of ideas I’ve been espousing all fell into place with each other. JJ made the point “You have say 4 minutes in the room with me. That means maximum we get 3 takes. The actors that I can collaborate with to take things the furthest are the actors I want to give that audition space to”.


We’re there to collaborate with casting to create interesting and viable character options for their (and our) client. The better prepared we are, the more fully explored, nuanced, open our characters are, the further we will go in the room, and the more frequently we’ll be invited back. Your audition prep time is everything. Anything and everything that helps you get further with your preciously scarce preparation time is crucial.

Lately in class I’ve been advocating that we look at the tiny 18-24 hours of audition prep time we have to work with the same way a play producer/director looks at a rehearsal schedule. Manage it, time it, work it so that come ‘opening night’ aka ‘call time’ we are hitting the peak. Understand your personal audition life cycle (which starts when you become aware of the audition, and ends when you’re no longer thinking about it). Understand it so that you can improve it, and get more out of the time, so that you can be removed from the result-oriented perspective of of the book/no book and you can productively focus on being a better collaborator.

That makes sense, and actors nod their heads away. But what to focus on? Where’s the opportunity?

I’m in a unique position to comment on this. I have coached thousands and thousands of film and TV auditions in the past couple years – with five weekly classes, and many CD workshops, I have a living survey of the landscape. It’s apparent that there’s a majorly underdeveloped skill out there: the combination of quickly deducing the stylistic range of a show PLUS the personal practice of playing in it.

There’s a myriad of styles with subtle and not-so-subtle differences around. A lot of the time, some of the styles can feel ‘false’ or ‘not like acting’ or simply ‘untruthful’. Our truth alarm (or bullshit meter as some call it) starts screaming ‘you’re faking this, stop that!’. And we check out. We’re missing the point – and the opportunity – when that happens. We’re making the mistake of going for “full truth” rather than the stylized truth of the show. Hallmark is not there to give the same style of ‘truth’ to their audience as AMC because their audience doesn’t want it.

As professional actors, we have to understand this, but we also have to practice freely, fully, and playfully inhabiting truth within a defined range. Think about when you first learned to drive and you were keeping the car between the yellow lines. You were doing that and pretty much nothing else. You stayed there, but probably a lil white-knuckled, and tensely. After a while though, you became comfortable and could stay within the lines without even thinking about it.THAT is the level of familiarity we need to craft for ourselves, so we can show up and collaborate.

Then we’re ready to get further with JJ and his colleagues than simply be coached onto the road. To do this, you don’t need to watch and be deeply familiar with the plot of every show in town. You need to think like your client, the network. You need to understand how they connect with their audience, and how that defines their lines, then you need to practice it. Come the pilot season madness when that 18-24 hours is more precious than ever, if you have prepared to prepare, you will get further every time. This industry is about collaboration – the more prepared we are to collaborate, the further we will go.

Work with people by working with people.

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