Monday, July 30, 2012

Audition Nightmares or "What's That Tongue Doing There?"

Personally I long for the days when Clark Gable swept Scarlet up Tara's stairwell and the rest was imagination. (Gone with the Wind and if you haven't seen it, you should!) I prefer bosoms and the rest of the anatomy covered. However, I recognize that that attitude puts me somewhere the other side of the dodo bird. Extinct.

I once played an aging woman (no stretch, that) whose husband had died in his late 20's. In one scene I imaginatively recreate a debutant ball my young husband and I attended 30 years earlier. It was blocked so that I stepped up to another platform and joined the dead husband, who was still young and very handsome, in a slow waltz. Youth and age. Numerous audience strangers said the scene was more powerful, more poignant, more laden with overtones of loss than any kiss etc. could have ever been. Slow waltz. Not deep throat, or furious ripping off clothes.

So perhaps at an "intimate" audition, try touching his/her cheek (keep the hand about an inch from the face, however). Maybe it will be so lovely that the director will keep the near-touch rather than the deep throat, etc.

Sex in all its variations seems to be a permanent part of stage and screen. There used to be gratuitous car chase scenes. These have been replaced with gratuitous sex scenes.

As a "mature" female actress, even I have faced a "now what?" situation. I was cast as the lead in a 35 minute independent film being directed by a Brit who had had some success in England before coming to the states. I wanted to work with her, mostly because it would look good on my resume. The role, the lead, was an aging wealthy courtesan who spends her last night with her favorite client. I was promised there would be no nudity, no physical contact-was told that the gentleman would be seen leaving my boudoir and then the camera would watch as I die happy (heart attack, or something). We rehearsed, we discussed, we walked through the scene. We had lunch. Jolly. Then comes the shoot. The boudoir doors slide open and shut and suddenly the favorite customer crawls into "my" bed and the director is telling me where to place my hands and legs. I was furious. I refused, threatened to walk out--not that it mattered much, since it was my last scene both in the film and the shoot. I found the idea itself distasteful and the director's sneakiness disgraceful. I must, embarrassed though it is, say I have often wondered about my reaction if the "visitor" had been the Tommy Lee Jones or the Russell Crowe type. Not sure my response would have been quite so vehement-or even rated 1 on the vehement scale at all!

So what does an actress do when auditioning for a script that calls for intimacy, sex scenes, nudity or deep throat kissing? My immediate response is a resounding "Do what you want." Some actors shrug these scenes off with indifference, some with grace, some think they are fun, some think they are business as usual. Other actors are confused, timid, intimidated, uncertain, frightened to say "no" because they don't want to offend.

Recently a coaching student told of a self-submitted indie film audition she went to. The ad had called for a monologue, which she and I worked on. My own red flags went up based solely on the Internet site where the audition was listed. I mentioned my reservations to her. She was sure everything would be just splendid. It wasn't.

She arrived at the audition and was handed a scene to cold read. No, there would be no monologue. Yes, the audition would be on camera. She said the scene read like hard porn. She was so upset that she said she couldn't do a good cold reading. I asked why she didn't leave. The answer: "I don't want to get a reputation of being a diva." Although her response was emotionally understandable, intellectually it just didn't make sense. She'd rather be considered a bad actress (give a terrible cold reading) than walk out on an offending audition (and be considered a diva)? We actors are so hungry for roles that we drop most of our brain cells outside the audition room door.

So? What to do at an audition when the script calls for intimacy? Go with the flow and keep your fingers crossed? Please read the following sentence with a fanfare, a veritable flourish of trumpets. DO NOT GO WITH THE FLOW. Go with the decisions you made months earlier about what you would and would not do at an audition or in a performance (stage or screen). Face this question now and answer it now. Yes, I will. No, I won't (kiss, deep throat, strip, simulate sex, etc.). And stick to your decision. (Unless it is Tommy Lee Jones or Russell Crowe, of course. Then all decisions, along with that errant common sense, head out the window!)

Usually intimate scenes are acted out only on the third or fourth callback, if at all. I have rarely heard of the initial audition requiring kissing or nudity (run fast, if it does) or even passion. Check AEA and SAG. It's my impression that the unions generally forbid nudity at auditions.Oh, moan, will the director think I am a _____ (you fill in the blank)? Answer: What a director expects is irrelevant. What is relevant is what you, yourself, want to do. If they threaten not to hire you, wish them well and leave.

Intimidation reeks of future sleaze. There will be other roles and other directors. Refusing intimate exchanges never undid a career. Keep it in perspective. Remember it is a role you are losing, not a kidney or an arm.

Exception: If you know in advance that the scene you will be reading is sexually charged, then you must refuse (or accept) before the audition. Tell them immediately so that your audition spot can be given to someone else. If you know about the scene before you get there, and then suddenly back out once you are there, that is unprofessional.

If you learn about the scene when you get to the audition, you can tell the monitor you would prefer not to read for the role. Then leave. Remember that phrase: "I would prefer... " It's a bit more firm than "I feel uncomfortable... " In this profession, one needs a small lexicon of handy phrases. Please add "I prefer not... " to your list. In fact, "I prefer not" deserves a spot in all every-day conversation, when refusing something.

Here comes an annoying question: Is it possible that your headshot is leading casting offices to make certain assumptions about the roles you will play? Need I be more descriptive? This headshot question certainly applies to both men and women. Our headshots are supposed to look like us, which certainly includes what kind of roles we are interested in be considered for. Therefore look to your headshot. If your hairy chest is the center focus of your headshot or the female equivalent-a blouse open to your belly button with little between it and your shoulders--then a casting director rightly makes certain assumptions. Need I be more explicit? "I prefer not" to verbalize more suggestively!

PS: I strongly suggest that you do not attend an audition in a hotel room or in someone's apartment unless you take a friend with you. There are people out there who know our desperate need for a role. They play on our insecurities. They misuse our desire to be cast, sometimes criminally, for their own shady purposes.

Just be careful. Lots of werewolves and a few wicked witches lurk on the yellow brick road.

Ruth Kulerman is an American acting coach teaching British technique in NYC. After retiring as an English professor (Ph.D. in English Lit), she followed a delayed dream, studying with British coaches in NY and London. During her 20 years acting on stage, in film, TV and commercials, she amassed over 80 reviews, including 4 in The NY Times.
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