How do I get useful things out of people in an audition scenario?
March 17, 2014 3:44 AM   Subscribe

I'm not an actor/director/casting professional (outside of that one play I directed in college that wasn't very good), but I need to audition roughly six actors this week and I don't know how to do that in a constructive way.

We need two actors for a corporate event (one exec. and one exec. assistant). There's not going to be much scripted stuff apart from one short speech that the exec. will make at the end of the day - it's mostly going to be improv and interacting with our staff.

We don't need a massive amount out of the actors, apart from the ability to think fast enough that the improv stuff won't be too challenging, plus some solid American accents (we're in the UK). We've stated upfront what we're expecting from them, so the candidates we've got should have a basic idea of what we're looking for.

American accents I can test for at audition - but what kind of questions do I need to be asking to figure out if someone is basically smart enough to interact fairly naturally with our people and improvise coherently?

If it makes any difference, the interviews will be taking place over Skype rather than in person due to availability/location needs.

posted by terretu to Work & Money (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'd think you'd want to actually improv with them--even over Skype. Go over the scenario again, set up a simple situation, and then you should play the role of one of your staff interacting with the characters. Just interviewing won't really give you a sense of what they can do, how quickly, or how naturally.
posted by Mngo at 4:03 AM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah, you need to workshop this with them. Do you work at this place or have a good feel for what they do and what they'll expect? Do as much research about this event as possible, if not.

Feed the auditionees ideas about what the event is about, broad outlines as to characters it would be reasonable for them to be and see what they come up with. Have them audition en masse if possible and circulate amongst them and take notice of whether they are able to sustain a character whilst adlibbing.

Explain when posting your audition notice that auditions will be based on improv so that they know what's going to be expected of them.
posted by h00py at 4:44 AM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Work up some role playing scenarios and work with the actors on them.

Also, I'm an American business person, I can role play....
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:25 AM on March 17, 2014

How long is the event? If it's an all-day affair, you may also ask if the actors have any experience in immersive theater or as guides/actors in tourist spots. Those folks know how to keep a character going all day long, when fatigue sets in.
posted by xingcat at 6:28 AM on March 17, 2014

If you Google the phrase "It is usually rather easy to reach The Virginia Theatre" you'll find a short text which contains all the pronunciations in American Standard that Brits tend to trip up over. You may want to incorporate this somewhere within the audition, either prepared or as sight reading. (If you do decide to include sight reading in an audition, you should warn the auditionees beforehand. The number of awesome actors with dyslexia is surprisingly high.)

Do you have a Skype account which allows multi-way video conferencing? (I think the free version only allows two videos at once.) The process will be smoother if you can have auditionees interact with each other while you assess their performance. It's very hard to audition somebody and to play against them in an improv context at the same time without one of those activities suffering.

In terms of how you score the actors, have a list for each performer before you begin of the things you want them to be able to do.* Throughout the audition, tick off the skills as they are demonstrated, then immediately after each audition, scribble a few notes about the performer while they're fresh in your mind. Audition notes made in this way are infinitely easier to work from than trying to judge people from memory at the end of a long day!

*This might be things like bringing quiet delegates out of their shell, talk knowledgeably about the company's product, raising a few laughs to break the ice or other things. It's better to have a list that's too long than too short here as it will help you to break ties.
posted by the latin mouse at 8:02 AM on March 17, 2014

You should look for two people from improv backgrounds (in a US city I would call around to the various improv schools like Second City, Upright Citizens Brigade, etc.) and specify that they need to be able to pull off an American accent.

At the audition, I would probably just have them play some improv games in lieu of reading lines or doing prepared monologues or anything like that.

If you're not providing costumes, you may want to mention that they should provide their own corporate attire.

Is there a group like Billionaires For Bush in the UK? Approaching people who already dress up as executives and improv in public would probably remove the necessity of even auditioning people, aside from the need to ascertain a baseline of, like, can you show up on time.
posted by Sara C. at 9:59 AM on March 17, 2014

Greet the actor, ask if they have any questions, then observe their first pass at the material. Always praise their first take. Then give them some actionable direction and a second try at the material.

That was great. I loved that. Awesome. So funny. Really nice.
I'd like to see it again, and this time, can you.... [insert actionable direction here].

The actionable direction: This should be an objective that the actor can actually do, ideally to another person.
Good direction uses a verb. Weak direction relies on adverbs.

Weak direction: Louder, more energy, angrier, sadder, happier, etc.
These notes aren't as helpful because they tell the actor "how" to do things, but not "what" to do, and this can make the character feel driven by "attitude" instead of objective.

Strong direction: Tell the actor what her character wants from another character, or what they're trying to do to another character. Use strong verbs.
Seduce him. Convince her of your point of view. Insult him to his face without his noticing. Antagonize her. Passive-aggressively criticize everything she says but make it sound like a compliment. Agree with everything he says and magnify his ideas to a ridiculous level. Take everything she says completely literally. Backhandedly compliment everything she says and does. etc- Those directions give an actor lots of things to do, not just ways to do things, if that makes sense.

There are great reasons to give the actor multiple takes:
(a) The actors will feel respected when you engage with them. Letting them show their range shows a respect for their intelligence and craft. Actors are capable of infinite variation, but often people casting seem to think that how an actor does it once is the only way they can do it.
(b) You'll see the actors' working style more clearly- do they take direction well, can they adapt well, are they flexible and creative, are they rigid or defensive, are they naturally funny.
(c) You'll actually get a better sense of what you're looking for and more rounded ideas for how the scenes work if you see permutations of them.

Giving an actor 2-3 takes is great, and will make them feel that you really like their work. More than 4 takes is perhaps a bit much- at that point, unless you end up hiring them, they may feel they are being mined for ideas.

When improvising with them, look for traits like:
- They remember little details from early in the scene and bring them back at the end of the scene
- They create strong and varied relationships with their scene partners
- They make choices that make sense and react in a way that is emotionally truthful, rather than being wacky or zany just for the sake of being wacky or zany
- They "yes-and" the ideas others give them in a scene- which means if another character adds a detail, they can add that detail to the scene's continuing reality and keep the story consistent and logical
- They use their voice and body and face well, with interesting variance of energy, volume, physicality, movement, stillness, etc

Sounds like a fun project- Have fun!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:33 AM on March 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

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