BY LEWIS WILKENFELD
After auditions are completed, I frequently get inquiries from actors who don’t receive a callback, or, later, don’t get cast in a role. “Thank you for seeing me at auditions. Can you please provide me with any feedback that might help me for future auditions?” Now, I received advice many years ago from a respected director to NEVER ANSWER THIS QUESTION HONESTLY. A stock phrase like, “It just wasn’t a good fit,” or “It’s all a big puzzle” is often the norm for this sort of response.
I have to say that I’ve always taken it more seriously than that – I’ve gone with the assumption that the actor really wants honest feedback.
And I’ve been right about half the time, wrong the other half.
One actor, upon receiving my feedback, then began to “negotiate” in a series of e-mails, batting back each comment like a tennis match, hoping to argue each micro-issue one at a time. It became clear that he hoped to win the role on appeal, and I finally just stopped responding, realizing that this would never end. He wasn’t really after feedback to improve; he was actually continuing the audition long after the acting, singing and dancing had ended. So in that case I was WRONG to offer honest feedback.
Another actress asked me for some broad strokes feedback on a role that was primarily vocal, and was somewhat befuddled when I wrote back with a detailed message from our musical director, listing exercises and training that she could do to eventually handle the vocal demands of the role. I give her credit for thanking me and, I believe, taking the feedback to heart: she ultimately brought the response to her vocal coach and improved her game. So in THAT case, I was RIGHT to offer honest feedback.
Both of the above anecdotes get to the truth of many of these requests: Actors frequently don’t want to actually know what they can do to improve; they want US (the staff) to improve, by casting them, now or in the future.
But I put both of these in a very positive category: At least they wrote back and thanked me for taking the time to respond. One of my pet peeves (and, yes, someday I’ll do an essay on pet peeves!) is folks who ask for feedback, and, when I give it, they don’t even respond with a thank you, or anything else. I know part of this is generational – and I know this makes me old! – but, seriously, if you ask for someone’s feedback and they give it, at least write back. Even a cold “My friends and I don’t agree with you” is more responsive than silence.
After an audition early this year, an actress acquaintance asked for some honest feedback after not punching through for about three auditions in a row. I took my time and gave her what I thought was a very positive and forward-focused response – specifics that could help her at future auditions. The reaction – nothing! I have no idea whether I helped her, confused her, or angered her. I hope it helped! But I don’t really know. And won’t it be a challenge for me to put all of that out of my mind at her next audition?
In short: If you ask the question, act like you want to hear the answer. And if you get an answer, be courteous and respond.
My favorite stories – the ones that make me glad I respond in a detailed and positive way – are variations on this: A talented young actress had not punched through with a major role in several auditions in a row, and asked if we could chat about it. Our conversation – which went on for over an hour – seemed to unlock something for her, and she’s “found her voice” ever since, booking lead roles in show after show. Did I have anything to do with that? Not much – I think she regained her focus through her search for answers, not in the answers themselves. But it felt good to be asked. And the “thank you” at the end didn’t hurt, either.
(Lewis Wilkenfeld is the Artistic Director at Cabrillo Music Theatre. Its next production is “Kiss Me, Kate.” See our Calendar of Events for Dates and Show times.)