Master of Auditions

[This is one of several posts about the Theatre Puget Sound unified general auditions, which presented ~400 actors to ~40 auditors, agents, and directors over 4 solid-packed days.]

Last week was the first time I’d sat through the TPS Unified General Auditions.

On Day1, I sat up close.   I couldn’t see the 40 or so other auditors behind me, but I could hear them.  When an actor would finish, sometimes there was a chorus of appreciative “Thank You!” or maybe just a few thank you’s, or sometimes, very little response at all.

Except one voice, which said the same warm, professional “Thank You” after every performer, without fail.

To the brilliant guy who just moved from Chicago, the voice said “Thank You.”

To the novice in the tiny dress and too-tall shoes, the voice said “Thank You.”

To the guy who was two beats ahead of the pianist, the voice said “Thank You.”

To the many people doing terrible Southern accents, and the people who lost their lines, or tried to walk out the wrong door, or became hypnotized staring into the spotlight, the voice waited patiently, and then said “Thank you.”

I didn’t know whose voice it was, but I deeply appreciated its capacity.  The Universal Thank You symbolizes my core feeling for all artists:  underneath all the variations in style, skill, look or experience, there is still an inherent honor in auditioning.

Even the worst audition is an offering to some obscure sort of god, so we show some respect.


On Day2, I changed seats, hoping for a better view of the performers’ eye focus.  Soon I realized my new seat had landed me next to the mystery “Thank You” voice.  She seemed a friendly, open and very normal person.

But over the next few days, I decided she’s not normal, she’s a Zen master.

She’s the long-time casting director for one of the most important theaters in the region, having held her position through 6 different Artistic Directors.  I felt stupid for not knowing who she was.  She knew who I was, though, from work I’d done — get this — 17+ years ago:  “I recognized that jawline,” she said.  Good lord, that’s a brain for remembering people.

I asked about which of the 6 Artistic Directors she enjoyed most.  I knew full well that some of them had rough reputations.   She was gracious about all of them.

Wait, to be in theater and not be tempted to gossip?

A fellow behind us complained about this or that auditioner, in the casually feline way some theater folks do; she neither agreed nor rewarded the commentary with attention.

The fellow in front of us slyly mocked what he saw as low-stakes delivery from the actors; she smiled at him, but added nothing.

One session block was particularly difficult, with very few skilled performers and very little interesting material.  My eyes were drooping, but hers never did.  I asked her if this was normal, this quality-lull.  She said “In every set of generals, there are days where you just see more people who haven’t yet developed their technique.”

…Haven’t yet developed their technique.

Holy shit, how light a touch is that?  How many times have I used a hammer like “that guy can’t act his way out of a paper bag”  or “she stank up the place” or just rolled my eyes and quipped “Oh, honey, no”.    Maybe not recently, because I’ve mellowed over the years, and never in FRONT of the performers,  but third person/different room?

Sure, I’ve said that stuff, I’ve done that.

She doesn’t do that.  She’s a pro.

She’s not trying to prove something, or win something, or demonstrate social dominance.  Instead, she’s doing her job, as effectively and pleasantly as possible, integrating what I think are crucial elements of professionalism and mastery for so many fields:

A head for remembering people
A discipline of attentiveness
Discretion about colleagues
The flexibility to work for different people successfully
And most importantly to me:
                              A habit of respect for the people taking the risks.

So, to the Zen master casting director I got to sit next to:

Thank You.