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The Other Side of the Table: What Are Casting Professionals Really Thinking in the Audition Room?


We spend so much time as actors trying to figure out what casting professionals want. What kind of material will they find boring? Do they like me better with short or long hair? Do they prefer glasses or no glasses? Should I walk into the room and try to make friends or keep it cool and professional?

I recently went through live auditions for a show I’m directing. It’s certainly not my first time on the other side of the table, but it’s always a fascinating perspective shift. Here I am to shed some light on a few of the things (in my experience at least) that are really going through the director’s head during an audition.

Please be the Answer

It’s an oft-reiterated idea in acting classes, but it bears repeating. No one on the other side of the table is waiting to judge your failure. We want you to succeed! Our job becomes a million times easier if you do really well. Truly, we are pulling for you.

They’re Perfect, But I Can’t Cast Them

The audition felt amazing in the room! The director was super responsive, everything clicked and they really seemed to love you! So why didn’t you book?

Sometimes talent has nothing to do with it. It could come down to how you fit in the demographics of the group. Maybe they aged up your character’s love interest and now have to age up yours to match. Maybe there’s a certain look they’re going for. Maybe the producers have a preference.

I had to cede a casting choice to our music director because they rightfully pointed out my first choice had a voice type too similar to others we had cast and we needed diversity of vocal range. You can truly do everything right and still not book the role due to reasons outside of your control.

I Know How That Feels

While this certainly does not apply to all directors, many have experienced auditions from the other side. When someone drops a line or has to start over, my first thought is almost always some variation of “Oh God, I know exactly how that feels, I hope they’re not too shaken up.”

Often, directors are acutely aware of any circumstances that might contribute to messing up. We know you only got the new sides last night. We know the accompanist started playing double time (do not take it out on the accompanist even if they’re wrong, you’ll make instant enemies of everyone in the room).

While flubs are not ideal, if you can gracefully recover and put in a great performance anyway, that’s the thing I remember.

The Internal Monologue

Directors are humans too. During the audition I was hyper-aware of how I was greeting people, trying to judge whether I was being too friendly or not friendly enough, thinking of all the things I wish I had done to make actors feel better, more welcome, more prepared, etc. Sometimes the weird look on my face had nothing to do with the actor’s performance and everything to do with the heading I was starting, courtesy of the fluorescent lighting.

The point is, lots of times it’s not personal, it’s just business. As an actor, your end of business means coming in on time, showing off the best of what you have to offer, and moving on to the next. Thankfully, the only internal monologue you really have to worry about is your own.

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