March 1, 2017

Hello, friends! Welcome to The Other Side of the Table, a place where members of our casting team (and occasional special guests!) share tidbits, insights and experiences related to the wonderful world of casting, and our process in particular. Our casting team consists of Emjoy Gavino, Charlie Hano, and Stephanie Diaz, and we couldn’t be more honored to serve the Chicago theatre community! Please remember that casting directors are as varied and individual as actors, so the sentiments contained herein are in no way intended to serve as a catch-all for some kind of universal casting intel; rather, this series will provide a glimpse into the minds, hearts and processes of your faithful Casting Team. We hope you will enjoy and find it valuable in some way. Happy auditioning!

This week, Stephanie shares her favorite piece of advice for actors looking to improve their audition experience, as well as a few things we wish actors knew coming into the room.

I’ve been asked on more than one occasion what piece of advice I’d offer, as a casting director, if I could only offer one. My answer is always the same: try and get in on the casting process as soon as you can, in any way you can, so that you can experience auditioning from a different perspective.

There are various ways you can do this --be an audition reader, volunteer to help monitor (and ask to observe if the opportunity arises; that’s how I got my start!), become a casting intern, etc-- and all are worthwhile to your growth as an actor, because as an actor myself, I can tell you that much of the process was a complete mystery to me until I began observing and participating from the other side of the table! There are things you just can’t know until you see/experience them for yourself; no amount of casting wisdom or audition platitudes can take the place of seeing those lessons unfold before you, and there is NO substitute for watching another actor trying to get a job when you yourself are out of the equation as a competitor.

You will see beautiful, well-prepared auditions that will light a fire under you, inspiring you to up your game, and you’ll also see those lovely auditions not book the role, and why. You will see actors hit walls or behave in self-sabotaging ways that do not put the work front-and-center, and recognize yourself in them. You will see artistic personnel disagree, sometimes bitterly, about an actor and ask yourself how everyone could have such a different reaction to the same audition; and you’ll see entire artistic teams agree wholeheartedly, depending on the combination of people in that room, that day. You’ll see just how much precision, attention and time goes into scheduling auditions, sometimes juggling many actors’ schedules and preferences as you try to see as many candidates as possible in service to the script, director and playwright... and how tangled and difficult-to-manage that carefully-wrought matrix of roles, times and artists can become when people cancel last-minute, don’t show up, or ask repeatedly to be rescheduled. You’ll see the time, thought and effort that goes into carefully assembling the puzzle pieces of each production, from principals to understudies, sometimes with the delicacy and care of a house of cards (which in some cases can be toppled instantly when an actor pulls out unexpectedly with little time to recast). And so on and so forth.

However, the relatively low number of people in casting positions tells me that most actors are unlikely to pursue this particular avenue to enlightenment, so I’m going to do my best to share a few things here that I wish actors knew going into the room to spend a few minutes with us:

1.  We LIKE actors. I personally like them a lot. If there is any element of invitation involved in the audition, you are there because we like you. We like you, you in particular! We want to see you being you, and doing your version of this role. It is sometimes very clear when an actor is delivering their idea of how a role “should” be done, as opposed to bringing their own unique essence to the part. As one of my own agents likes to say: “Put your stank on it!” Also, you are entering the room as our colleague; we’re not “above” you in any way, we’re all peers, just here for a few minutes together to see if we can solve this problem. But we are happy to see you. Yes, YOU.

2.  I feel like sometimes actors spend a LOT of energy trying to get memorized for theater auditions, not because it’s the process that works for them, but because they think it’s expected of them by casting personnel. Don’t get me wrong-- know the part well enough to be able to continue with the scene should your pages be unexpectedly raptured from your hands mid-audition, and at the very least well enough that we can see your face while you’re working (as opposed to the top of your head if your nose is buried in it). But you are not being tested on your memorization skills, and in fact, I’ve watched many an audition where it’s abundantly clear that the actor’s dogged determination to get through the script off-book is completely eclipsing their ability to tell the story. I’ve worked with directors who have asked such actors to please just use the script. Now, if being completely off-book for your theatre audition is part of your process, then by all means-- do what you need to do to feel loose and free! But if holding your paper gives you looseness and freedom, please know that this is no strike against you. We want to see you do the best, most creative work possible; we want to see you play. Do whatever you need to do to be relaxed, prepared and invested in the story you’re about to tell… paper or no paper. PS: It’s completely obvious when you don’t prepare. Trust me.

3.  The only thing --the ONLY thing-- you can control is the work you bring into the room that day, and how you prepare yourself to share it. Here is a short list of things you can’t control in an audition: the reader; the director and/or playwright’s idea of the character; the clock; who else got called in; who you’re paired to read with in a callback; whatever cuckoo thing your hair/skin/body decides to pull on you that day; other actors’ material/looks/experience/attitudes; other people in general; world events; the weather… you get the picture. Simplify your audition experience by focusing on what you can control-- your relationship to the material, your state of mind, and your attitude. Does this mean you make a playlist for that audition and keep those earbuds in until right before you go in? Make sure you get your yoga on that morning, or the night before? Meditate? Prepare your butt off and then think of anything BUT until your “moment before”? Eat a hearty breakfast? Eat no breakfast? We’ve all got our little tricks to keep us in the zone and ready to focus on the work when our name is called; find out what yours are, and make them a priority. Everything else is just noise-- and a distraction!

4.  You are not necessarily just auditioning for that show. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve remembered (and ultimately hired) actors from auditions they didn’t book when casting another show, and called them in again. We see so many wonderful actors that we can’t use on a given production; again, I encourage you to join us on the other side of the table as soon as you get a chance, so that you can see all this for yourselves! But in the meantime, please believe me when I say that there is no such thing as a wasted good audition-- every opportunity to spend time in the room with you has larger implications for us. I encourage you to try and see your auditions the same way: as an ongoing dialogue between artists. When you bring us your most creative and honest work, we remember, and appreciate it, and endeavor to find opportunities for you long after that audition is over.


Now we’d like to hear from YOU-- do you have topics or questions you’d like to see addressed from The Other Side of the Table? If so, please feel free to comment below or send us a message. We look forward to reading your thoughts, and hopefully sharing an audition room with you sometime soon!

December 30, 2016

Stephanie Diaz, The Chicago Inclusion Project casting associate discusses this past year's brightest moments and her wishes for the new year.

Listen, kids, there’s no doubt that 2016 was a world-class shitshow. But even I can admit there were some real bright spots, and here are some of mine, in the order in which they occurred to me:

1.  Casting for Will Davis at ATC. My God, what a gratifying process for any casting director who champions inclusivity. The experience of having a gifted, accomplished director so willing to truly consider each and every actor you bring before them is, sadly, all-too-uncommon (or has been in my experience). The result of this collaboration is two tremendous, exciting casts that I simply can’t wait to see in action, not only for their collective talent, but for the impact they will make on the Chicago theatre landscape. Welcome, Will!

2.  Sitting around the table with Sean Graney as he laid out his vision for The Hypocrites moving forward, and how The Chicago Inclusion Project would figure into these plans. Discussing the dismantling of the still-prevailing, white-by-default model of season selection and the casting thereof with a bona-fide, white cis-het man leading the charge was thrilling, and an excellent example of using one’s privilege for the greater good. With this in mind, I know The Hypocrites will re-emerge, fortified, and resume their position at the vanguard of Chicago storefront theatre. ¡Adelante!

 3. The brilliant casting (featuring a lot of Chicago talent!) on my favorite new network show of the season, FOX’s The Exorcist: diverse and packed with top-notch artists, from producer Charise Castro-Smith to Mexican lead Alfonso Herrera to guest stars like Michael Patrick Thornton, James Meredith, Kirsten Fitzgerald and Mouzam Makkar. If you weren’t watching this show, you can still catch it online (and I will try not to hate you if it doesn’t get a second season, but I can’t promise).

 4.  Speaking of Michael Patrick Thornton… participating as an actor in The Gift Theatre’s annual anthology of new plays, TEN. Performing a solo piece by Jacqueline Lawton, gorgeously and simply detailing one refugee’s experience, in a cast of more than thirty performers of all stripes, was, to put it plainly-- a gift. TEN is one of the best things going in Chicago, and lucky for us they do it every year!

5.  The day a well-known, respected Chicago AEA actress came into my audition room and announced to us that despite how she’d been classified in the past, and despite her somewhat-ethnic-sounding name, she was not a POC and would not feel comfortable letting us believe she was (for the record, I knew, but deeply appreciated her refusal to participate in whitewashing and brownface). In fact, I can think of several such actors who have begun declining auditions for which they are not suited, because they understand that accepting these audition slots can often result in someone actually qualified for the role not being seen, simply because they don’t yet have the same kind of name recognition these fine actors may have (and for many other reasons too numerous to list here-- look for a whole ‘nother blog post on that!). I am proud to call them friends and applaud them in all their endeavors, and look forward to more of our colleagues following suit because of their example.

Now, looking forward to 2017, I’ve got a few wishes.

It’s always been my practice, on New Year’s Eve, to make a list of things I dearly wish for myself in the coming year rather than draft a resolution. I read about this practice one year in one of my mom’s nightstand magazines (Better Homes? Good Housekeeping? One of those) and it has served me well ever since-- going back at least a decade! So in that spirit, here are my wishes for Chicago theatre in 2017:

1. White actors-- for the love of little green apples, I wish for you to PLEASE stop trying to pass for brown. Just stop it. I know for a fact that there are white actors, working right now, in some of the biggest houses in town, who are being repeatedly cast with the understanding that they are POC --and are classified as such in casting files-- because they have allowed casting personnel to believe as much in a bid to remain employed. These actors are benefitting from creative teams trying to do the right thing by diversifying their casting, while simultaneously undermining that goal. (Please note that this is different from a creative team knowingly hiring a white actor, who has not actually misrepresented themselves, to assume a role intended for a POC. That is not what I’m talking about here, and it’s been discussed at length elsewhere, so don’t even try to come for me with that discussion in relation to this item. Just don’t.) Also-- if I have to sit through another round of auditions with white actors coming in to read for, say, Latinx roles, assuming cartoonish accents and adding Speedy Gonzalez ad libs --yes, this really happened this year-- I will lose my everloving mind. Y’all, it’s about to be 2017. Let’s put the minstrel show to bed, shall we? And then let’s just go right ahead and burn the bed.

2. Another one for actors-- I wish for as many of you as possible to get in on the casting process in any way you can. This might mean volunteering to be a reader in auditions, or being an intern at a casting agency, or offering to assist the CD at your favorite storefront theatre. If you’ve never participated in the casting process from the other side of the table, I GUARANTEE (as an actor myself) that doing so will provide you with a sense of perspective and insight that can only boost your skills the next time you get in front of a casting team. Even if you’re “just” helping out with scheduling generals, managing those spreadsheets will give you an appreciation of what actually goes into organizing auditions-- and this will help you to understand your place, as an actor, in that ecosystem. Being in the room and watching other people audition from a hiring perspective can be nothing short of a revelation. The result of taking the time to give yourself a glimpse into how your profession works from another angle is the demystification of a process to which you’re not ordinarily privy-- and that demystification will help you to prepare better, perform better and possibly even feel less fear/anxiety. Give it a try-- you miiiiight even find yourself drawn to a second career!

3.  Directors-- I wish for you to give the people that we, your faithful Casting Directors, suggest to you, a chance to audition. You don’t have to hire them! Just SEE them, even if you think you already know them. Let us bring them into the room. After all, you’ve invited us to your table because you want our input, yes? So please let us provide it! Allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised. We get to be surprised all the time; it’s one of the perks of the job, and I promise-- it’s fun! And who knows? Your show may be all the better for it!

4.  Casting directors-- I wish for us ALL to get out there and see more shows. I am no longer willing to be the go-to person for Latinx talent (and diverse talent in general), providing the same list over and over again, simply because we can’t be bothered to get out of our comfort zones. I know! Seeing a bunch of plays can be hard, especially when you are a working artist yourself! I totally get it, because if you ask me to call in a bunch of young white folks… I will look at you like you just asked me something related to calculus (which I never took because I was careful to avoid it). We all have our blind spots! So how about we identify what those are, and then choose what shows to attend accordingly? I’m down if you are!

5.  ALL OF US -- I wish for us to try and receive the art we’re so blessed to witness here in this great city with a spirit of wonder and acceptance, with eyes primed to appreciate. I firmly believe there is something to love in every show. I wish for us to find that something to love, not only in the shows we see, but in the art we create. Let’s find the joy. The joy will keep us alive and kicking in the coming storm.

Please reload

Featured Posts


October 22, 2019

Please reload

Recent Posts
Please reload