‘They are not giving me anything!’
How often have we heard this statement? The actor opposite you appears to be doing nothing, leaving you grasping at proverbial straws for some sort of real relationship. You are acting your littles socks off and your scene partner is stuck in monotone, not moving and seemingly non responsive to anything that you throw in their direction.
This really is a common complaint and what’s worse, that scene partner can be the casting director or assistant at an audition, leaving you flailing and desperate when there might be a job on the table.
The frustration that builds in a scenario like this can begin to turn your attention inward when the thing you want to do is pay attention outward. An internal wrestling match begins where you are fighting to remain ‘in the moment’ and outwardly attentive but are having a conversation with yourself about how annoying this whole thing is.
This results in self criticism, bitterness toward the other reader and a breakdown in connection. None of it good.
So, how do we deal with such a thing. I suggest that there are several responses:
- It’s not their fault
In an audition setting we may need to demonstrate enormous grace and patience. The plain fact is that whoever is reading opposite you may very well not be an actor. They are likely to be a casting assistant or professional who is there on an administrative level but has been asked to read for convenience sake.
This may be the last thing that they have trained for or are interested in but they have to do it anyway. Reading freely off the page, especially with very confident actors in front of them may terrify them and they cling onto the paper for dear life giving you next to no eye contact.
By remembering that in the moment, you will likely find yourself much less annoyed by being empathetic to their situation. Try not to make your frustration obvious and definitely do not complain.
If you are lucky, the casting team may draft an actor in to read for the day, giving the auditionee as much chance to play well as possible. I was once asked to do this for a Disney film and read all day long with some wonderful actors, it was amazing practice – and very tiring.
I will never forget a particular actor whose name I will not disclose. She was very famous and was as nice as pie when she came in while she worked out who everyone was. She then said goodbye to everyone except me at the end having realised I was but a minion. Still makes me laugh when she pops up on my screen to this day.
- It’s not your problem
Ultimately, you’re the one being auditioned, not the other reader. It is easy to think that we are only as good as our scene partner but that is not necessarily so. If we know what we want from the other character we should be able to ‘lock on’ and be open to whatever little thing comes your way. Even the smallest change in rhythm can offer you something to work with. The casting team are professionals and it is literally their job to know what a quality performer is. You must trust that they will be more than aware of what you are working with and will give you the benefit of the doubt.
Equally, it’s worth remembering that you have been invited to the audition because you are good enough, so let that settle in your head and heart and play honestly with whatever you have in front of you. It’s not your problem.
- Challenge it
I have been brave enough once or twice in my career to challenge the situation when I am not getting any life from my scene partner at audition (again, usually a casting assistant). Before I explain, please know that this is not about making them uncomfortable or belittling them in any way, it’s more about inviting them into relationship. If I feel that I am getting no eye contact or any contact for that matter, I might stop speaking and look to them until they notice that something isn’t quite right. They normally look up from the page to check that I have not lost my place, then realise that I am looking at them, prompting them to continue with greater connection.
When I have done this I have been cautious not to stare aggressively but encourage them with my eyes. This is essential, the last thing you want is for the other casting professionals to think you are bullying their staff member. The best outcome is that suddenly, life fills the room and the scene comes to life, possibly for the first time that day.
- Change it
The obvious, but sometimes most frustrating choice is to use tactics in the scene to change your scene partner. John Wright, the brilliant practitioner and author of WHY IS THAT SO FUNNY? talks about having a difficult scene partner and ‘dropping them in the sh%t!’. What he means is, if your fellow actor appears to be ignoring any sense of play in the room, do something bold that they can’t possibly ignore. Force them into a position where they have no choice but to engage. You can do this by playing something surprising (but relevant!) tactically that they may never have seen before. Again, please do this in the spirit of play and not out of blatant frustration. We have a duty of care over our castmates and any kind of discord between ensemble members can be hugely destructive to the morale of a company.
- Accept it –
At the end of the day, if you feel that you were given nothing by the other person and no matter what you did there was no change, you can only rest assured that you brought what you needed to bring. No more and no less.
It is the same when you do a performance and you don’t have the ‘emotional response’ that you hoped for. If you have told the story clearly, played truthfully with the other actors and been heard by the audience. You have done your job and can go home proud.
Any one of these suggestions may get you out of a frustrating and tight spot. We must always remember that none of us are perfect and on any given day, we may be the ones not offering anything to someone else, though we may feel like we are.
The beauty of our craft is that it is impulsive, raw and very often, live. Even a film can only capture what is happening in one moment of time. Allow that element of danger to excite you. The fact that whatever may happen between you and your castmates could be thrilling…or lifeless. Therein lies the joy. The moment by moment newness of possibility.
To you, the artists.