Over the summer, I worked as a seasonal photographer for a company that specializes in school registration and ‘picture day’ photography. It was a ‘survival’ job, or ‘thrival’ job, how some actors like to call it; and I’ll never do that kind of photography work again, but that’s another story… What I DID take away from it was a huge, eye-opening lesson: Actors, it really IS all about the ‘listening’.
Have you ever gone to an audition, all prepared and memorized, and you were SO sure of how you were going to play your part? And then the casting director gives you different sides or wants you to do a completely different role, or you suddenly have to work with a scene partner, or the director gives you directions you never expected; you know, the little surprise that can happen in any audition? THAT’s where the listening part will really save your ass! My very first acting coach here in the U.S., Robert Wald, is BIG on listening and reacting, getting out of your head; and he drummed this into me for a year! I guess at some point it took and I’ll always do my best to remember this before walking into the audition. And I’m thankful for his oft repeated drills, because if you can’t take direction or aren’t even listening, you just lost the role.
I’ve always understood intellectually how important listening was, but I didn’t get HOW important it was, until I worked that photographer gig. It was my job to engage kids, to talk to them and get a real smile out of them. You’d be surprised how many of them had already been coached by their parents or family to pose a certain way and put on a ‘showy’ big smile. No matter what I said or suggested, trying to get an honest smile or grin, they’d always go back to what they had prepared (or been taught) and they’d stick to it. After photographing a few thousand children of all ages over the summer, I developed somewhat of an instinct about kids and how they’ll act in front of the camera. I could tell within the first 10 seconds if they would do their rigid, inflexible, fake smile or if they would actually listen and react to what I had to say (most of them did, by the way). If I saw that it wasn’t happening in those first 10 seconds though, I lost interest in trying, because I just knew better and I didn’t have the time.
See what I’m getting at here? I can now imagine how an experienced casting director will instantly see the same in an inflexible actor during an audition. They’re pressed for time, have hundreds if not thousands of actors to look at and certainly have an instinct about you the minute, err, second you’re in front of them.
Are you listening?
My two cents for the month ;)